One of my favourite adventure novels is H. Rider Haggard’s classic story King Solomon’s Mines. Written in 1885, it pretty much kick-started the lost world adventure genre. The story has been made into a film about six times and Hollywood’s interpretation of the novel only gets worse with each new adaptation.
The first adaptation was in 1937. It greatly changed the novel by adding a white female character. In the original novel the only female character was a village native who forms an interracial romance with one of the supporting characters. She has never been included in any of the movie adaptations, instead a new white female character has been continuously added to the story, usually as a love interest to Quatermain.
Kathy O’Brien (Anna Lee) and her father cross paths with Allan Quatermain (Cedric Hardwicke). They persuade him to take them to the coast. Along the way they come across an injured Umbopa (Paul Robeson). Umbopa’s critically injured friend has a map to the fabled lost diamond mine and O’Brien’s father tgrabs the map and takes off looking for it. Quatermain, O’Brien, Umbopa and two of Quatermain’s friends end up chasing after O’Brien’s father and discover a lost village that the legendary lost mines are located at. The lost village is ruled by an evil king who usurped the throne and Umbopa it turns out is the rightful ruler.
The 1937 film has African American actor Paul Robeson as the top billed actor and Cedric Hardwicke as Quatermain comes in at second. This follows the original story as Quatermain, while the narrator of the novel, isn’t the hero of the story. The 1950 remake changes this. The character Umbopa takes a backseat to Stewart Granger’s Quatermain. Deborah Kerr is top billed in this version as another new female character, this time as a woman looking for her husband who went missing looking for the lost mines. Along the way Quatermain and Kerr fall in love. The 1950 version was nominated for Best Picture and won Oscars for best cinematography and editing.
After the 1950 version there was a crappy 1959 sequel Watusi featuring Quatermain’s son as the lead. In 1979 there was a bad Canadian / British remake and in 1985 a really bad version starring Richard Chamberlain that tried to cash in off of the popularity of Indiana Jones. It had a really bad sequel. Quatermain (played by Sean Connery) was the lead character in Fox’s crappy adaptation of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In 2004 there was a bad TV adaptation starring Patrick Swayze and in 2008 Asylum Studios pumped out a really crappy version called Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls in an attempt to capitalize on the recent return of Indiana Jones.
The first couple of versions are easily the best of the adaptations. I believe the still could be an awesome movie made from the story but it isn’t going to be happening anytime soon.
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