This is a movie I remember from childhood. It may have been the first big-screen color adventure movie I ever saw (it competes with Samson and Delilah – 1949). Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr lead the cast on safari in Africa of 1897. They are in search of the lost diamond mines of the ancient biblical king. The primary appeal of this movie is in the scenes of Watusi dance and ritual. Filmed at several locations in Africa, this film is based on the 1885 novel by Henry Rider Haggard. Granger plays Allan Quartermain. There are several versions of this film but this one is the classic. It cemented Granger’s reputation in Hollywood.
It opens on safari, probably Kenya, with white men killing elephants for sport. A native porter is killed. Quartermain is becoming cynical about his life in Africa. He is approached by a British family headed by Deborah Kerr, who offers him a great deal of money to shepherd an expedition in search of her lost husband, who was in quest of the legendary mines of King Solomon. There are some psychological complexities, but he accepts the offer and they set off across the plains. Deborah rides in a substantial ox-drawn cart. There is the predictable tension between the macho white hunter and the prim British woman. “How dare you!” He even finds the occasion to strip her down to some sensible attire for the African heat. She has been acting the silly fool. They pass through a great savanna with a panoply of African wildlife. Quartermain takes several occasions for nature talks and demonstrations. Entering a village, they find a large tribe and dances of welcome are performed. Allan confers at length with the headman. The company is taken onto a river in massive canoes. Deborah sleeps with her tent flaps open so it no surprise when she is menaced by a leopard. No matter how many times he saves her skin, she is peevish and resentful. One day they are caught in a Serengeti-style stampede set off by a bush fire. It must have been phenomenal on the big screen. Deborah and Stewart begin to feel a reluctant attraction for one another. A very tall and bizarre native man approaches them by a waterfall and asks to join the safari. Further along, they come upon a warning sign and it is necessary to bully the porters into continuing with the expedition. Even so, they desert the safari a little while later. Arriving at a village on the edges of known territory, they meet a solitary white man who begrudgingly offers some information on the whereabouts of Kerr’s husband. The villagers perform a Maasai-like jump-dance that is meant to be frightening but is much too brief. There are intimations of cannibalism (shades of Heart of Darkness). During their escape, Granger has to shoot the white man. Stewart and Deborah wake up next morning in the crotch of a tree looking like a civilized Tarzan and Jane. They kiss. Twice she has near misses with large snakes. They come to a forbidding dessert but determine to cross it out of certainty that the mines are in the distant mountains. The desert is stark white. Half dead, they find a water hole. Climbing into the snow-capped mountains, they find evidence of Kerr’s husband. She confides that she never loved him. They encounter the strange native man who joined them earlier. He divulges that he is a Watusi king returning to resolve a power struggle within his tribe. An elaborate civic ceremony is commenced. The whites are led to a mountain diamond mine where they find a treasure in jewels and the bones of Kerr’s husband. A cave-in seals them in the mine but they find a watery escape passage. It ends with a spectacular Watusi dance and a ritual man-to-man combat in which the rightful king is restored to this throne. All is well, and the whites are given a friendly escort back to their familiar world. There was an indifferent sequel made from unused footage, called Watusi (1959).