Their quest was for more than simple riches! The journey was beset by the very fury of the gods! The discovery of an ancient tomb would reveal the ultimate betrayal! And confirm a great truth! But even more importantly, men would die, camels would snort and a rabbit would cower in a sandstorm for some reason!
Hitch your tan pants up to your nipples and strap on the big brimmed safari hat because it’s time to saddle up the dromedary for another 1950s desert adventure where women embark on a tomb raiding mission in their Sunday finest and perfect makeup and archeologists come equipped with the only things a real scientist needs – a smart mouth and a pistol!
And if Ann (Eleanor Parker), the hottie who comes looking for help from two-fisted dig stud Mark Brandon (Robert Taylor), also comes equipped with a husband, all that means is confirmation that the husband is a no good criminal who will end up dead while Mark and Ann celebrate their hieroglyphic hook up with a romantic boat ride down the Nile straight into the end credits.
While most of these tomb raider movies naturally revolve some awesome desert doo-dad of unimaginable wealth, Valley of the Kings in an apparent bid to tap into the then current popularity of biblical epics, has our heroes in search of ancient tomb that could prove the historical existence of Joseph.
Nowadays Joe is mainly known for his amazing technicolor dreamcoat, but a bit of digging shows he was a big player in the Book of Genesis. However, once I started seeing mention of his 11 brothers and saw words like “vizier” thrown around, it started feeling an awful lot like Sunday School and I gave up trying to figure out the true significance of finding evidence of his existence. Like Brandon, I figured a nice looking woman wants to go on a sand safari and what more explanation do I need than that?
Despite the film’s focus on a mission a bit more high minded than the usual greedy treasure hunting, it still delivers everything else you would expect from a typical Egyptsploitation movie. Shady antiquities dealers, sinister assassins, a scorpion bite, and a booby trapped tomb all make a welcome appearance to keep things moving.
Brandon doesn’t believe that they’ll find anything about Joseph but he not only helps because he’s sweet on Ann but also because her father taught him everything that’s important about archeology! It isn’t just about treasure, but about digging up the past to know the present better! It may sound laughable, but as any man who is trying to impress a woman knows, you can’t do better than lofty philosophical babble showing how “deep” you are. That Brandon also manages to make her dad (whom she was very close to before he died) sound awesome is just the mark of a seasoned pro.
Any concern that with Brandon lusting after Ann that the adventuring will take a back seat to an overheated love triangle proves to be no more than another desert mirage as the husband, Philip, is a slimy Europoof who trash talks America whenever he gets the chance!
At under 90 minutes though the film doesn’t really have time for subtlety. It also doesn’t have time to even explain Philip’s actions beyond “he’s a greedy jerk”. Did he marry Ann for the sole reason of tagging along on the expedition to steal treasure? Does he just hang out at dig sites trying to romance women on the off chance they’ll luck into a big archeological find that he can steal and resell?
Perhaps also owing to the movie’s short running time, Philip is barely given any screen time and his evil antics are reduced to watching his partner kill a guy, killing his partner off-screen and falling off some ruins to his death after a fight with Brandon. Bizarrely, the film even goes out of its way to give him less screen time by having a scorpion bite him thus necessitating Brandon and Ann to spend time together without him.
The moldy story doesn’t do any favors for Brandon’s character either. While he is an appropriately roguish tough guy, nothing he does other than translating some writing on the side of a box at the end of the movie really get them anywhere. A trip to the Sinai to follow up a lead feels pointless when it’s the mysterious antiquities dealer Ann met at the beginning of the film who sells her information on who can provide the location of the tomb they’re seeking. Then this person is located simply because Ann and Brandon happen to run into his tribe after the sandstorm. Other than a silly sequence where Brandon has to best the guy in a fight (Taylor is very good at making Brandon look like he has no idea how to use a native sword and shield) to get him to work with them, he’s barely needed for anything.
Taylor and Parker make a good pairing (they worked several times together) and the movie’s production values and location shooting are decent. While the breakneck pace contributes to the poor characterization and minimal story, it also means you aren’t likely to be bored as the scenes shift quickly from a carriage chase to the Sinai to a sandstorm to the tribal fight to the showdown at the ruins.
It’s a solid B movie adventure so long as you as you keep your expectations realistic. If you really want to appreciate it, try watching another similar, but infinitely more dreadful movie Robert Taylor made 13 years later called The Glass Sphinx and you’ll see that sometimes being a serviceable adventure film with significant flaws isn’t always the most damning of criticism.
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