Solomon and Sheba (1959)

 

 

Director:    King Vidor; his final film as a director

Starring:     Yul Brynner (Solomon),  Gina Lollobrigida (Sheba),  George Sanders (Adonijah),  Marisa Pavan (Abishag),  David Farrar (Pharaoh),  John Crawford (Joab),  Finlay Currie (David),  Harry Andrews (Baltor),  Jos Nieto (Ahab),  Maruchi Fresno (Bathsheba),  William Devlin (Nathan),  Jack Gwillim (Josiah),  Jean Anderson (Takyan),  Laurence Naismith (Hezrai), and Julio PeZa (Zadok).

Hey, it can't be all that bad with Gina Lollobrigida as the Queen of Sheba and Yul Brynner as King Solomon.  Originally, Tyrone Power played the part but he died during filming in Spain.  Replacement Brynner had to refilm the early scenes.

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

On the borderland between Egypt and Israel the fires of hatred and conflict reigned.  The Israelites always had to be on the alert.  King David's army was under the command of David's son and heir Adonija.  Adonija has set a trap for the Egyptians.  The enemy will attack an empty Israeli encampment and then the Israelites will descend upon them.  Prince Solomon, Adonija's brother, comes out to help his brother.  The Egyptians attack.  Adonija waits until they have thrown a lot of their spears and then attacks the Egyptians.  The Egyptians have to retreat after a good beating. 

Lawyer prince Adonija wants to expand the empire of Israel.  He is very much a war hawk.  Solomon is more of the poet.  He quotes his father saying to defend, but never attack.  A prisoner of war from the kingdom of Sheba is captured and brought in.  Adonija wants to kill him, but Solomon prevents this.  The King's chancellor arrives to tell the brothers that David lapsed into a coma two days ago and he grows weaker.  The troops of Adonija quickly proclaim their leader as the new king.  This offends both the chancellor and Solomon.  Solomon tells his brother that he seems more concerned about being king than about the health of their father.  Solomon goes to see his father while Adonija takes some men and rides out to overtake the Sheban queen and her men.  Adonija soon catches up with Shebans.  He and his men ride down a mountain onto the plain where they ask the Queen of Sheba to stop.  She does so.  Adonija wants to know basically why they attacked Israel.  He tells the Queen that David lies dead and that he is the new king of Israel.  Adonija then asks the Queen to renounce her alliance with the Pharaoh of Egypt for he will himself overthrow the Pharaoh.  So it's "glory with Israel or disaster with Egypt."  Sheba's answer is to use her whip on Adonija and leave him with a nasty cut on the left side of his face.  The Shebans continue their journey. 

Solomon arrives home to Jerusalem.  Abishag greets Solomon.  She came as a kind of hostage to insure the loyalty of her father and his forces and is now like one of the family.  Then Solomon's mother greets him.  Solomon goes in to see his father still in a coma.  But as Solomon speaks to him, David stirs and then wakes from the coma.  He is very happy to see Solomon.  But where is Adonija is his next question.  David sends for the twelve tribal elders and the Council.  He says he has had a vision.  He also sends word to Adonija to come home immediately.  David reflects on his service of 40 years as king of Israel.  He is happiest about leaving behind a united Israel. 

Adonija arrives.  David introduces his two sons as the two halves of himself:  the soldier and the poet.  He asks his sons if there is any jealousy between them and Solomon says there is none.  David says that only in peace can Israel prosper.  He speaks of his vision which told him that it is not Adonija but Solomon who is the chosen one.   Adonija reacts very badly.  He is furious.  He blames Solomon for poisoning his father's mind against him.  He says:  "I claim what was mine."  But David crowns Solomon king. 

David becomes ill.  He speaks of his dream of constructing a great temple.  But he sinned against God and failed to build the temple.  He asks that Solomon pledge to him that he will build the temple.  Solomon pledges to build the structure.  David dies.  Solomon prays to God and He says he will give Solomon a wise and understanding heart. 

Adonija tells his right-hand man that he should have killed Solomon when he had the chance.  Solomon speaks with his brother and offers him the job of being the head of the army of Israel.  Adonija says he will take a while to think about it.  Under Solomon there was a long era of peace.  Israel grew and prospered.  And Solomon built his father's temple.  

In the land of Sheba, the Queen's chief adviser Baltor speaks of the upcoming conference of all the kings initiated by the Pharaoh.  The Pharaoh worries about Israel as it gets militarily much stronger.  And then there is the danger of the idea of monotheism.  A belief in one God undermines the religions of the other kingdoms.  It is regarded as a threat to all kings and queens.  The Pharaoh asks for soldiers and supplies from the kingdoms of Moab and Chaldea.  They will attack Israel from the north, east and south.  The Pharaoh asks the Queen of Sheba what she will send for the war effort.  She says that she will send nothing.  Instead she has a plan to discover the weaknesses of Solomon himself.  She will visit Jerusalem and seduce the Israeli king.  In return for her success she wants the port of Millish (?) on the Dead Sea. The Pharaoh accepts the bargain. 

The Queen travels to Israel and Jerusalem.  Solomon receives her.  He tells her that he offers her the friendship of Israel.  Sheba in turn gives Solomon and Israel a great deal of gold objects and a huge gold chest filled with gold coins.  Abishag comes with a message for the Queen.  Sheba gives her a tour of her encampment, which impresses Abishag a great deal.  Abishag tells the Queen that the Israelites are an austere people, not used to such a display of wealth.  Sheba gives her a gold bracelet.  

The Queen is very frustrated.  She can't get close to Solomon.  She prays to Ragan, the God of love, to send Solomon to her.  Adonija comes to visit Sheba.  He reminds her that they have met before.  He tells Sheba that he wants her to ally with him and usurp Solomon's throne.  Sheba rejects the idea and Adonija leaves with nothing. 

As Sheba stays longer, the people of Israel start to complain about a pagan being allowed so much influence. 

Solomon is presented with a civil case of two women saying that the same child is theirs.  He tells a swordsman to draw his sword and divide the child into two part.  The woman who is the accuser of the other dives over her child to save the baby infant.  She would rather have the child go with the other woman rather than see him killed.  Solomon decides that this woman is the true mother.  The other woman will be punished.  Sheba admires Solomon's wisdom and tells Solomon that only queens have ruled over Sheba.  Then she complains to him that although she has visited him personally many times, he has never come personally to her encampment to visit her.  He agrees to visit her personally. 

At Sheba's encampment, she almost succeeds in getting Solomon to kiss her, but he stops himself at the last second.  She makes another appointment to meet him.  She gets all dressed up, but Solomon is a no show.  She is very exasperated at the delay in achieving her goal of seducing the man.  She says:  "How dare he treat me this way?"  Then she throws a tantrum and starts breaking dishes.  Solomon is visited by Abishag.  She pledges to him that she will always be at his side.

Solomon visits his harem, but all he does is walk through assessing the women.  He walks in, he walks out.  He says nothing.  He comes to Sheba late in the night.  He asks her to be truthful:  "Why did you come to Jerusalem?"  He acknowledges that she is after all a very clever woman.  Sheba says that he has found her out.  The Pharaoh pays her as a spy.  She has been trying to entrap him.  Solomon gets close to her and she tells him to hold her, love her.  Solomon finally succumbs to her charms.  On a small boat Solomon recites a poem to her.  They are both very happy.  In fact, they both say they have never before known such happiness.

Adonija learns about the affair between Solomon and Sheba.  The people are greatly bothered by the open scandal of a pagan now living in the palace with a room next to Solomon's.  The high priest and the chancellor come to visit Adonija.  He tells the two men to talk to Solomon privately about the situation.  He sends them away saying that they have his sympathies and best wishes.  Adonija is very happy about Solomon's troubles.  He wonders if the Council might condemn him for his illicit affair. 

Sheba asks Baltor to arrange for her safe conduct out of Israel.  Baltor is worried.  He tells her that he has noticed a chance in her, a softening, and reminds her of her duty to the kingdom of Sheba.  Sheba denies she has gone soft on Solomon.  She says she has known for days how to handle him.  Sheba will ask to celebrate one of their gods at a festival in Jerusalem.  When Solomon grants her desire, it will cause an uprising against the king.  Baltor is satisfied by her answer. 

Solomon meets with Sheba and asks her to join with them, but she says too much stands between them.  Their gods, for instance, are not the same.  She adds that she must leave Israel in order to celebrate a very important religious festival.  Solomon is very upset and says:  "I can't let you go!" 

Two assassins try to kill Solomon.  Solomon over powers the men and finds out that one of the men is the right hand man of his brother.  The King tells his men to deliver the would-be assassin to he who sent him.  Sheba realizes that for once she did not think of herself.  She only feared for Solomon and his safety.  She is a bit shocked. 

The prophet of Israel warns Solomon of the terrible effects his affair with the pagan queen will bring.  But Solomon gives permission for the pagan celebration.  He says it is the result of the love he has for the Queen of Sheba and it is out of love that he will attend.  The prophet says "Woe unto you, Solomon!" 

The festival looks and sounds more like a mass orgy.  Sheba thanks Ragan, the god of love.  She lights the fire and the celebration erupts.  Abishag comes to visit Solomon.  She urges him to listen to his people and not attend the celebration.  Solomon says:  "I must go."  Sheba dances with her people in a very skimpy costume.  Solomon attends the festival and the Queen beckons him to dance with her.  He follows her around as she retreats.  The couple goes inside a cave opening and kiss.  Abishag prays for Solomon.  She asks that if Solomon must be punished, visit it upon her not Solomon.  As the festival continues a huge storm develops with lots of lightning.  Lightning hits the Temple  knocking huge pieces off the building.  Abishag is killed in the destruction of parts of the Temple by the lightning strikes.  Solomon walks to the temple and sees the dead Abishag.  He moans:  "Oh, no!  Oh, no!"  The prophet tells Solomon that he had warned him.

A funeral is held for Abishag.  Sheba is very upset at what has happened.  She cannot rest peacefully.  Blador urges her to leave Israel and return home.  She replies:  "Yes, let us go, now that I have accomplished my  mission."  Blador is a bit shocked and he says that the lightning was just a coincidence.  He adds that this is her hour of triumph  -- the Pharaoh will be happy and they will be richer and more powerful.  Suddenly Sheba changes her mind and walks among the Isaelites.  She walks to the Council,  Solomon had been called to the Council to answer for his behavior.  Sheba talks to him and admits that she first came to Jerusalem out of hatred and the desire to destroy him.  She adds that she has the greater guilt for she has known what she was doing from the very first.  She tells him: "I love you! . . . My love is not a lie."     

The Council charges that because of his actions, dissension fills the land.  He is breaking the unity of Israel.  "The elders of the tribes deny you as their king and depart from you."  God will smite you, another says.  Solomon ruminates that all is vanity.

Adonija talks with the Pharaoh asking the Pharaoh to strike Israel now.  The Pharaoh wants to know what price he will have to pay to Adonija to strike against Israel.  The answer is the crown of Israel and command of the army the Pharaoh sends against Solomon.  The Pharaoh agrees and tells Adonija to deal with Sheba, saying:  "You will be my punishment of Sheba." 

The outlooks report to Solomon that thousands and thousands of Egyptians are coming.  Their numbers fill the area from horizon to horizon.   Solomon has very few forces, but says:  "We will face them."  Solomon is very much aware that "All Israel knows God has abandoned the son of David."  Sheba tells her personal staff that she carries Solomon's child.

As the time of battle approaches, Sumanites arrive under a flag of friendship.  They have come to Solomon's support.  The Egyptians and Israelites do battle and the Israelites have to sound the retreat.  The Egyptians chase and scatter the few Israelites that are left alive.  As night approaches Adonija tells the Egyptians that he will go now to Jerusalem to take over the crown of Israel.  The few remaining soldiers under Solomon all know that the Egyptians will run over them in the morning. 

The Queen of Sheba walks to the temple to pray.  She tells her staff not to follow her.  They are very concerned that she might be killed.  At the temple she prays to the God of Israel.  She asks God to save Solomon and if He does so, she will return to the kingdom of Sheba alone and will cast down all the false gods and " . . . there will be no other gods before me."  On the coming battlefield Solomon is suddenly filled with hope.  He tells his men he knows what to do.  God showed him the way.  Then suddenly the men of Israel rally to Solomon by the hundreds.

In Jerusalem Adonija assumes the throne.  He crowns himself:  "I take with my own hands what has always been mine!"  Sheba has been found.  She sought refuse in the temple. 

The Egyptians prepared for a frontal attack.  Solomon has placed his troop on to top of a hill facing into the sun.  The men have all shined their shields.  As the Egyptians get closer to the Israeli lines, the troops shine the reflections of the sun into the eyes of the oncoming Egyptians.  This virtually blinds the on-coming troops and they are not able to see the huge crack in the earth just in front of the small hill.  The troops and horses all perish as they fall into the crack in the earth.  The Israelites proclaim:  "God of Israel, the victory is Thine!"

In Jerusalem Adonija says that by now Solomon is dead by his own deeds.  He then says to the people that Sheba is all to blame for what has happened.  He tells the people to drag Sheba through the streets.  Sheba comes out of the Temple.  She shouts at the crowds:  "Let me pass!"  After some hesitation the people start stoning her.  She is hit many times and is knocked to the ground. At this time Solomon arrives with the Israeli army.  Solomon is very upset to see the nearly dead Sheba.  On top of this, Adonija tries to kill his brother with his sword.  Solomon manages to kill Adonija instead.  Solomon then picks up Sheba and carries her into the Temple.  The prophet tells Solomon what Sheba had said in prayer to spare Solomon.  The weak Sheba gives thanks to the God of Israel.  God answers her by telling her to return to her own land and keep the covenant thou didst make with me."  God then restores the Queen's health.  She tells Solomon that she is pregnant with his child.  Solomon proclaims that she will be Queen of Israel.  But Sheba refuses saying that she has to return to her own land.  Solomon's child will reign in Sheba as the first king of the kingdom.  She tells Solomon:  "That we must part is our atonement."  Solomon accepts the judgment. 

 

The movie was alright.  Most of the story is made up because we virtually know nothing of the Queen of Sheba.  (Therefore, writers fill they have a free hand to make up any story they like using King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba as the major characters.)   I thought Yul Brynner as King Solomon performed very well.  Gina Lollabrigida was pretty good also. The director and producers got away with a sexy performance from Gina because the movie was wrapped within a religious tale, supposedly from the Bible.  My copy of the movie could have been of better quality. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. d.

 


Historical Background:

 

King Solomon (970-928 BC)

Solomon's father was David, from whom Solomon inherited a considerable empire.  His mother was Batsheba, formerly the wife of David's Hittite general, Uriah. It was Batsheba who made sure her son Solomon was crowned king while David was still alive.

Solomon consolidated his position by liquidating his opponents and putting his friends in key posts.  Although Solomon did not have his father's 700 wives and 300 concubines, he did take many wives in order to strengthened his position through marital alliances. One of his wives was the daughter of the Egyptian pharaoh.  

Successful military operations in Syria, where his targets included Tadmor-Palmyra, a caravan oasis city in the desert, midway between Syria and Mesopotamia. His aim was the control of a great overland trading route. And Solomon planted Israelite colonies to increase his military, administrative, and commercial matters.

Palestine prospered because of its strategic location for trade by land and sea. Solomon brings Palestine to its greatest heights.

The Queen of Sheba was from a southern Arabian kingdom laying along the Red Sea route into the Indian Ocean.  Her terrain was rich in gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Solomon needed trade routes for maintaining his commercial network and Sheba needed Solomon's cooperation for marketing her goods. Stories grew of a romance between the two, but there is no real evidence of this.  

On the summit of Mount Moriah near Jerusalem, Solomon built a magnificent Temple dedicated to the God of the Israelites in his capital, Jerusalem, along with a city wall and a royal palace. The Temple became the only central shrine for Judaism and early Christianity.

Solomon gets rid of the importance of the 12 tribes by re-dividing the realm into 12 administrative districts, deviating, for the most part, from the tribal boundaries. Each district had its royally appointed governor, and a chief ruled over the 12 governors.

Solomon was known as a very wise leader, but the maintenance of the gaudy splendor necessitated the use of forced labor on a vast scale and this turned his people against him.

It was said that Solomon neglected the northern tribes for his own tribe of Judah.

Solomon dies in 925 B.C.  

When his son Rehoboam succeeded him, the northern tribes seceded and formed their own Kingdom of Israel, thereby creating two, often hostile, kingdoms. Jeroboam I was king of Israel (to -907), and Rehoboam I was king of Judah (to -917).

 

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