The Egyptian (1954)
The Egyptian (1954)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 19 min.

Release Date: August 24th, 1954 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Michael Curtiz Actors: Edmund Purdom, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Gene Tierney, Michael Wilding, Bella Darvi, Peter Ustinov, Judith Evelyn, Henry Daniell

 


 

M

ighty monuments are all that remain of the ancient Egyptians. 33 centuries ago, this tale begins, with Sinuhe the Egyptian (Edmund Purdom) exiled on the shores of the Red Sea, writing down his life’s story as he waits, alone, to be eventually overtaken by wild jackals. “No monument will mark my resting place.”

“You must never fear death.” Sinuhe was adopted after being found floating on the Nile in a reed boat as a baby, taken in by a doctor (Carl Benton Reid) who had mastered the art of opening skulls – early, primitive brain surgery. As a teenager, Sinuhe studies with the priests, becoming a physician – a far less glamorous career than his friend Horemheb (Victor Mature, playing a role nearly indistinguishable from his turn in “The Robe” a year earlier – and its sequel “Demetrius and the Gladiators” released just months prior), a celebrated warrior (though his less than noble upbringing proves an obstacle for securing a position with the pharaoh). Setting up shop on the waterfront, far from his father’s house (to avoid competition), Sinuhe quickly discovers that even the poorest patients don’t trust such a young, inexperienced physician. When he travels around the capital, one-eyed beggar Kaptah (Peter Ustinov) offers to be his assistant, insisting that he can improve the reputation of the struggling entrepreneur. Yet their first trial involves a slave crushed by a log (used for transporting giant stones), who succumbs to his wounds – though the event does draw the attention of beautiful tavern wench Merit (Jean Simmons, also from “The Robe”; yet another similarity to that award-winning work), who has quietly admired Sinuhe all her life.

“I may be ragged, but I’m intelligent.” Ustinov immediately steals the scenes he’s in, coming across as unexpectedly authentic, despite being used primarily for comic relief. The rest of the introductory sequences contain a hint of excitement – such as when Sinuhe and Horemheb go lion hunting, though the green-screen effects are terribly unconvincing. Later, they’re arrested and brought before a new pharaoh (Michael Wilding as Akhnaton) at the royal palace, though this circumstance seems as if merely one in a long line of opportunities to exhibit elaborate sets, a considerable collection of costumes, and engaging cinematography.

“All existence is vanity.” Problematically, there’s a slowness wafting about the entire picture – from location changes to segues to ceremonial procedures to conversations. There are plenty of things to look at, with vibrant colors emanating from every background prop and article of clothing, but it’s not enough to maintain interest – or justify the pacing, even if it’s designed to feel epic. Even the pharaoh’s sister Baketamon (Gene Tierney), icy as she may be, and Babylonian seductress Nefer (Bella Darvi) can’t bring enough visual titillation to expedite sluggish storytelling. Competing love yarns are intermittently amusing, but Sinuhe is a routinely unsympathetic protagonist, falling victim to his own stupidity too often; his occasional tragedies and downfall are completely his fault.

“Everywhere, we saw injustice and misery.” As Sinuhe grows more despondent – again, due to his own idiocy – and Merit focuses her efforts on saving him (an act he doesn’t deserve and one driven by unseen, unknown, and unbelievable [and surely unhealthy] motives), the Egyptian transitions from a naive, idealistic healer into a cold, cynical, opportunistic profiteer. Commentary on religious persecution (here, a specific monotheism), sacrifice, revenge, war, and, ultimately, redemption, populated by historical figures and places, are lightly educational but still rarely able to be thoroughly entertaining. Fortunately, a long-awaited reunion or two impart some genuinely emotional moments, while the third act boasts complexities and revelations (and violence) that make the many delays largely acceptable. By the end, “The Egyptian” does muster the epic vibe it sought to obtain, even if it fails to match the grandness of “The Robe,” which it so clearly borrows from – and from which it cannot escape comparisons.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10