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The Egyptian (film)

The Egyptian (film)

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The Egyptian is an American 1954
1954 in film
The year 1954 in film involved some significant events and memorable ones.-Events:*May 12 - The Marx Brothers' Zeppo Marx divorces wife Marion Benda...

 epic film
Epic film
An epic is a genre of film that emphasizes human drama on a grand scale. Epics are more ambitious in scope than other film genres, and their ambitious nature helps to differentiate them from similar genres such as the period piece or adventure film...

 made in CinemaScope
CinemaScope
CinemaScope was an anamorphic lens series used for shooting wide screen movies from 1953 to 1967. Its creation in 1953, by the president of 20th Century-Fox, marked the beginning of the modern anamorphic format in both principal photography and movie projection.The anamorphic lenses theoretically...

 by 20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation — also known as 20th Century Fox, or simply 20th or Fox — is one of the six major American film studios...

, directed by Michael Curtiz
Michael Curtiz
Michael Curtiz was an Academy award winning Hungarian-American film director. He had early creditsas Mihály Kertész and Michael Kertész...

 and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Darryl F. Zanuck
Darryl Francis Zanuck was an American producer, writer, actor, director and studio executive who played a major part in the Hollywood studio system as one of its longest survivors...

. It is based on Mika Waltari
Mika Waltari
Mika Toimi Waltari was a Finnish writer, best known for his best-selling novel The Egyptian .- Early life :...

's novel
The Egyptian
The Egyptian is a historical novel by Mika Waltari. It was first published in Finnish in 1945, and in an abridged English translation by Naomi Walford in 1949. It was adapted into a film in 1954....

 and the screenplay
Screenplay
A screenplay or script is a written work that is made especially for a film or television program. Screenplays can be original works or adaptations from existing pieces of writing. In them, the movement, actions, expression, and dialogues of the characters are also narrated...

 was adapted by Philip Dunne
Philip Dunne (writer)
Philip Dunne was a Hollywood screenwriter, film director and producer, who worked prolifically from 1932 until 1965. He spent the majority of his career at 20th Century Fox crafting well regarded romantic and historical dramas, usually adapted from another medium...

 and Casey Robinson
Casey Robinson
Casey Robinson was an American producer and director of mostly B movies and a screenwriter responsible for some of Bette Davis' most revered films...

. Leading roles were played by Jean Simmons
Jean Simmons
Jean Merilyn Simmons, OBE was an English actress. She appeared predominantly in motion pictures, beginning with films made in Great Britain during and after World War II – she was one of J...

 (Meryt), Victor Mature
Victor Mature
Victor John Mature was an American stage, film and television actor.-Early life:Mature was born in Louisville, Kentucky to an Italian-speaking father from the town Pinzolo, in the Italian part of the former County of Tyrol , Marcello Gelindo Maturi, later Marcellus George Mature, a cutler,...

 (Horemheb), Gene Tierney
Gene Tierney
Gene Eliza Tierney was an American film and stage actress. Acclaimed as one of the great beauties of her day, she is best remembered for her performance in the title role of Laura and her Academy Award-nominated performance for Best Actress in Leave Her to Heaven .Other notable roles include...

 (Baketamon), Michael Wilding
Michael Wilding (actor)
-Early life:Born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England, Wilding was a successful commercial artist when he joined the art department of a London film studio in 1933. He soon embarked on an acting career.-Career:...

 (Akhnaton), Edmund Purdom
Edmund Purdom
Edmund Anthony Cutlar Purdom was a British actor.-Early life:Purdom was born in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England and educated at St. Augustine's Abbey School, Ramsgate, then by the Jesuits at St. Ignatius Grammar School and Welwyn Garden City Grammar School...

 (Sinuhe), Bella Darvi
Bella Darvi
Bella Darvi was a Polish-born French actress.-Biography:Darvi was born Bayla Wegier to Chaym Wegier, a baker, and his wife, Chaya . She had three brothers, Robert, Jacques Wegier, Jean-Isidore, and a sister, Sura. Robert died in a concentration camp.Jailed by the Nazis during World War II, she...

 (Nefer), Peter Ustinov
Peter Ustinov
Peter Alexander Ustinov CBE was an English actor, writer and dramatist. He was also renowned as a filmmaker, theatre and opera director, stage designer, author, screenwriter, comedian, humourist, newspaper and magazine columnist, radio broadcaster and television presenter...

 (Kaptah) and Tommy Rettig
Tommy Rettig
Thomas Noel "Tommy" Rettig was an American child actor,computer software engineer, and author. Rettig is best remembered for portraying the character "Jeff Miller" in the first three seasons of CBS's Lassie television series, from 1954–1957, later seen in syndicated re-runs as Jeff's Collie...

 (Thoth). Cinematographer Leon Shamroy
Leon Shamroy
Leon Shamroy, A.S.C. was an American film cinematographer. Together with Charles Lang, he holds the record for most number of Academy Award nominations for Cinematography...

 was nominated for an Oscar
Academy Awards
An Academy Award, also known as an Oscar, is an accolade bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers...

 in 1955.

Plot


The Egyptian tells the story of Sinuhe, a struggling physician in 18th dynasty Egypt (14th Century B.C.) who is thrown by chance into contact with the pharaoh Akhnaton. He rises to and falls from great prosperity, wanders the world, and becomes increasingly drawn towards a new religion spreading throughout Egypt. His companions throughout are his lover, a shy tavern maid named Merit, and his corrupt but likable servant Kaptah.

While out lion hunting with his sturdy friend Horemheb
Horemheb
Horemheb was the last Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty from either 1319 BC to late 1292 BC, or 1306 to late 1292 BC although he was not related to the preceding royal family and is believed to have been of common birth.Before he became pharaoh, Horemheb was the commander in chief...

, Sinuhe discovers Egypt's newly ascendant pharaoh Akhnaton, who has sought the solitude of the desert in the midst of a religious epiphany. While praying the ruler is stricken with an epileptic
Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a common chronic neurological disorder characterized by seizures. These seizures are transient signs and/or symptoms of abnormal, excessive or hypersynchronous neuronal activity in the brain.About 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, and nearly two out of every three new cases...

 seizure, with which Sinhue is able to help him. The grateful Akhnaton makes his savior court physician and gives Horemheb a post in the Royal Guard, a career previously denied to him by low birth. His new eminence gives Sinuhe an inside look at Akhnaton's reign, which is made extraordinary by the ruler's devotion to a new religion that he feels has been divinely revealed to him. This faith rejects Egypt's traditional gods in favor of monotheistic
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

 worship of the sun, referred to as the Aten
Aten
Aten is the disk of the sun in ancient Egyptian mythology, and originally an aspect of Ra. The deified Aten is the focus of the monolatristic, henotheistic, or monotheistic religion of Atenism established by Amenhotep IV, who later took the name Akhenaten in worship in recognition of Aten...

. Akhnaton intends to promote Aten-worship throughout Egypt, which earns him the hatred of the country's corrupt and politically active traditional priesthood.

Life in court does not prove to be good for Sinuhe; it drags him away from his previous ambition of helping the poor, and is the means of his falling obsessively in love with a courtesan named Nefer. He squanders all of his and his parents' property in order to buy her gifts, only to have her reject him nonetheless. Returning dejectedly home, Sinuhe learns that his parents have committed suicide over his shameful behavior. He has their bodies embalmed so that they can pass on to the afterlife
Afterlife
The afterlife is the belief that a part of, or essence of, or soul of an individual, which carries with it and confers personal identity, survives the death of the body of this world and this lifetime, by natural or supernatural means, in contrast to the belief in eternal...

, and, having no way to pay for the service, works off his debts in the embalming house.

Lacking a tomb in which to put his parents' mummies, Sinuhe buries them in the sand amid the lavish funerary complexes of the Valley of the Kings
Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings , less often called the Valley of the Gates of the Kings , is a valley in Egypt where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom .The valley stands on the west bank of...

. Merit finds him there and warns him that Akhnaton has condemned him to death; one of the pharaoh's daughters fell ill and died while Sinuhe was working as an embalmer, and the tragedy is being blamed on his desertion of the court. Merit urges Sinuhe to flee Egypt and rebuild his career elsewhere, and the two of them share one night of passion before he takes ship out of the country.

For the next ten years Sinuhe and Kaptah wander the known world, where their superior Egyptian medical training gives them an excellent reputation as healers. Sinuhe finally saves enough money from his fees to return home; he buys his way back into the favor of the court with a precious piece of military intelligence he learned abroad, informing Horemheb (now commander of the Egyptian army) that the barbarian Hittites plan to attack the country with superior iron
Iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

 weapons.

Akhnaton is in any case ready to forgive Sinuhe, according to his religion's doctrine of mercy and pacifism. These qualities have made Aten-worship extremely popular amid the common people, including Merit with whom Sinuhe is reunited. He finds that she bore him a son named Thoth (a result of their night together many years ago), who shares his father's interest in medicine.

Meanwhile the priests of the old gods have been fomenting hate crimes against the Aten's devotees, and now urge Sinuhe to help them kill Akhnaton and put Horemheb on the throne instead. The physician is privately given extra inducement by the princess Baketamun
Beketaten
Beketaten was an Ancient Egyptian princess of the 18th dynasty. Beketaten was the youngest daughter of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and his Great Royal Wife Tiye, thus the sister of Pharaoh Akhenaten...

; she reveals that he is actually the son of the previous pharaoh by a concubine, discarded at birth because of the jealousy of the old queen and raised by foster parents. The princess now suggests that Sinuhe could poison both Akhnaton and Horemheb and rule Egypt himself (with her at his side).

Sinuhe is still reluctant to perform this evil deed until the Egyptian army mounts a full attack on worshipers of the Aten. Kaptah manages to smuggle Thoth out the country, but Merit is killed while seeking refuge at the new god's altar. In his grief Sinuhe blames Akhnaton for the whole mess and administers poison to him at their next meeting. The pharaoh realizes what has been done, but accepts his fate. He still believes his faith was true, but that he has understood it imperfectly; future generations will be able to spread the same faith better than he.

Sinuhe allows Horemheb to become pharaoh, but the warlord is still indignant that his old friend had considered murdering him. He banishes Sinuhe to the shores of the Red Sea; the physician grows old in solitude, still inspired by the glimpse of another world he has been afforded through Akhnaton.

The film concludes with a caption reading, "These things happened thirteen centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ".

Production


The script was based on the Waltari novel of the same name. It is elaborated in the book, but not the film, that Sinuhe was named by his mother from The Story of Sinuhe, which does include references to Aten but was written many centuries before the 18th dynasty. The use of the "Cross of Life" ankh
Ankh
The ankh , also known as key of life, the key of the Nile or crux ansata, was the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic character that read "eternal life", a triliteral sign for the consonants ʻ-n-ḫ...

 to represent Akhnaton's "new" religion reflects a popular and esoteric belief in the 1950s that monotheistic Atenism
Atenism
Atenism, or the Amarna heresy, refers to the religious changes associated with the eighteenth dynasty Pharaoh Amenophis IV, better known under his adopted name, Akhenaten...

 was a sort of proto-Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. While the ankh has no known connection to the modern cross, the principal symbol of Aten was not an ankh but a solar disk emitting rays, though the rays usually ended with a hand holding out an ankh to the worshipers. The sun-disk is seen only twice; when we first meet Akhnaton in the desert, he has painted it on a rock, and Sinuhe says "Look! He worships the face of the sun." It appears again as part of the wall painting above Akhnaton's throne. With that said, the ankh was used in the original novel. Likewise, Akhnaton's dying revelation
Revelation
In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing, through active or passive communication with a supernatural or a divine entity...

 that God is much more than the face of the sun is actually found among his best-known writings.

Some of the sets, costumes, and props from this film were bought and re-used by Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil Blount DeMille was an American film director and Academy Award-winning film producer in both silent and sound films. He was renowned for the flamboyance and showmanship of his movies...

 for The Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments (1956 film)
The Ten Commandments is a 1956 American epic film that dramatized the biblical story of the Exodus, in which the Hebrew-born Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince, becomes the deliverer of the Hebrew slaves. The film, released by Paramount Pictures in VistaVision on October 5, 1956, was directed by...

. As the events in that story take place seventy years after those in The Egyptian, this re-use creates an unintended sense of continuity. The commentary track on the Ten Commandments DVD points out many of these re-uses. Only three actors, Mimi Gibson
Mimi Gibson
Mimi Gibson is a former child actress. After the early death of her father, her mother took her and her sister to Los Angeles. At only 18 months, she was a popular calendar model, posing with cute animals. By age two she was appearing in movies. During the 1950s and early 1960s she would appear...

, Michael Ansara
Michael Ansara
Michael Ansara is a Syrian-born American stage, screen, and voice actor best known for his portrayal of Cochise in the American television series Broken Arrow, Kane in the 1979-81 series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Commander Kang on three different Star Trek TV series.- Early life and...

 and John Carradine
John Carradine
John Carradine was an American actor, best known for his roles in horror films and Westerns as well as Shakespearean theater. A member of Cecil B DeMille's stock company and later John Ford's company, he was one of the most prolific character actors in Hollywood history...

, and a handful of extras, appeared in both pictures.The Prince Aly Khan was a consultant during filming, he was engaged to Gene Tierney
Gene Tierney
Gene Eliza Tierney was an American film and stage actress. Acclaimed as one of the great beauties of her day, she is best remembered for her performance in the title role of Laura and her Academy Award-nominated performance for Best Actress in Leave Her to Heaven .Other notable roles include...

. Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando, Jr. was an American movie star and political activist. "Unchallenged as the most important actor in modern American Cinema" according to the St...

 was to star as Sinuhe, but did not like the script and dropped out at the last minute. [Dirk Bogarde] was then offered the role but also turned it down. Finally it was handed to a young up and coming contract actor Edmund Purdom
Edmund Purdom
Edmund Anthony Cutlar Purdom was a British actor.-Early life:Purdom was born in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England and educated at St. Augustine's Abbey School, Ramsgate, then by the Jesuits at St. Ignatius Grammar School and Welwyn Garden City Grammar School...

.

Music


Owing to the short time available in post-production, the composing duties on the film score were divided between two of the best-known composers at 20th Century-Fox: Alfred Newman
Alfred Newman
Alfred Newman was an American composer, arranger, and conductor of music for films.In a career which spanned over forty years, Newman composed music for over two hundred films. He was one of the most respected film score composers of his time, and is today regarded as one of the greatest...

 and Bernard Herrmann
Bernard Herrmann
Bernard Herrmann was an American composer noted for his work in motion pictures.An Academy Award-winner , Herrmann is particularly known for his collaborations with director Alfred Hitchcock, most famously Psycho, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo...

.

Newman would later conduct the score in a re-recording for release on Decca Records. Musician John Morgan undertook a "restoration and reconstruction" of the score for a recording conducted by William T. Stromberg in 1998, on Marco Polo Records. The performance of the film score recorded for the film was released by Film Score Monthly
Film Score Monthly
Film Score Monthly is an online magazine founded by editor-in-chief and executive producer Lukas Kendall in June 1990 as The Soundtrack Correspondence List...

 in 2001.

Cast


  • Jean Simmons
    Jean Simmons
    Jean Merilyn Simmons, OBE was an English actress. She appeared predominantly in motion pictures, beginning with films made in Great Britain during and after World War II – she was one of J...

     as Merit
  • Victor Mature
    Victor Mature
    Victor John Mature was an American stage, film and television actor.-Early life:Mature was born in Louisville, Kentucky to an Italian-speaking father from the town Pinzolo, in the Italian part of the former County of Tyrol , Marcello Gelindo Maturi, later Marcellus George Mature, a cutler,...

     as Horemheb
    Horemheb
    Horemheb was the last Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty from either 1319 BC to late 1292 BC, or 1306 to late 1292 BC although he was not related to the preceding royal family and is believed to have been of common birth.Before he became pharaoh, Horemheb was the commander in chief...

  • Gene Tierney
    Gene Tierney
    Gene Eliza Tierney was an American film and stage actress. Acclaimed as one of the great beauties of her day, she is best remembered for her performance in the title role of Laura and her Academy Award-nominated performance for Best Actress in Leave Her to Heaven .Other notable roles include...

     as Baketamon
  • Michael Wilding
    Michael Wilding (actor)
    -Early life:Born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England, Wilding was a successful commercial artist when he joined the art department of a London film studio in 1933. He soon embarked on an acting career.-Career:...

     as Akhnaton
  • Bella Darvi
    Bella Darvi
    Bella Darvi was a Polish-born French actress.-Biography:Darvi was born Bayla Wegier to Chaym Wegier, a baker, and his wife, Chaya . She had three brothers, Robert, Jacques Wegier, Jean-Isidore, and a sister, Sura. Robert died in a concentration camp.Jailed by the Nazis during World War II, she...

     as Nefer
  • Peter Ustinov
    Peter Ustinov
    Peter Alexander Ustinov CBE was an English actor, writer and dramatist. He was also renowned as a filmmaker, theatre and opera director, stage designer, author, screenwriter, comedian, humourist, newspaper and magazine columnist, radio broadcaster and television presenter...

     as Kaptah
  • Edmund Purdom
    Edmund Purdom
    Edmund Anthony Cutlar Purdom was a British actor.-Early life:Purdom was born in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England and educated at St. Augustine's Abbey School, Ramsgate, then by the Jesuits at St. Ignatius Grammar School and Welwyn Garden City Grammar School...

     as Sinuhe
  • Judith Evelyn
    Judith Evelyn
    Judith Evelyn was an American stage and film actress. She was born Evelyn Morris in Seneca, South Dakota.Evelyn appeared on Broadway in the following plays:* The Shrike as "Ann Downs"...

     as Taia
    Tiye
    Tiye was the daughter of Yuya and Tjuyu . She became the Great Royal Wife of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III....

  • Henry Daniell
    Henry Daniell
    Henry Daniell was an English actor, best known for his villainous movie roles, but who had a long and prestigious career on stage as well as in films....

     as Mekere
  • John Carradine
    John Carradine
    John Carradine was an American actor, best known for his roles in horror films and Westerns as well as Shakespearean theater. A member of Cecil B DeMille's stock company and later John Ford's company, he was one of the most prolific character actors in Hollywood history...

     as Grave robber
  • Carl Benton Reid
    Carl Benton Reid
    Carl Benton Reid was an American actor. He achieved fame on the Broadway stage in 1939 as Oscar Hubbard, one of Regina Giddens's greedy, devious brothers in the play The Little Foxes, and made his film debut reprising his role opposite Bette Davis in the 1941 film version...

     as Senmut
  • Tommy Rettig
    Tommy Rettig
    Thomas Noel "Tommy" Rettig was an American child actor,computer software engineer, and author. Rettig is best remembered for portraying the character "Jeff Miller" in the first three seasons of CBS's Lassie television series, from 1954–1957, later seen in syndicated re-runs as Jeff's Collie...

     as Thoth
  • Anitra Stevens as Queen Nefertiti
    Nefertiti
    Nefertiti was the Great Royal Wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they started to worship one god only...

  • Peter Reynolds
    Peter Reynolds (disambiguation)
    Peter Reynolds is the name of:*Peter Reynolds , Australian Olympic swimmer*Peter H. Reynolds , Canadian American author*Peter Reynolds , Welsh composer and creator of the opera Sands of Time...

     as Sinuhe, age 10


Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was an American actress, singer, model and showgirl who became a major sex symbol, starring in a number of commercially successful motion pictures during the 1950s....

 coveted the role of Nefer, only to discover that it was earmarked for the protegee (mistress) of producer Darryl F. Zanuck
Darryl F. Zanuck
Darryl Francis Zanuck was an American producer, writer, actor, director and studio executive who played a major part in the Hollywood studio system as one of its longest survivors...

, Bella Darvi. This would be the second of only three American films featuring Darvi, who returned to Europe and later committed suicide.

Differences with the novel


Several major characters in the novel were omitted from the film, notably Sinuhe's early friendship with the rebellious artist Thotmes (Thutmose
Thutmose (sculptor)
"The King's Favourite and Master of Works, the Sculptor Thutmose" , flourished 1350 BC, is thought to have been the official court sculptor of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten in the latter part of his reign...

), and his first important love interest, the Minoan bull leaper
Bull-leaping
Bull-leaping is a motif of Middle Bronze Age figurative art, notably of Minoan Crete, but also found in Hittite Anatolia, the Levant, Bactria and the Indus Valley. It is often interpreted as a depiction of a ritual performed in connection with bull worship...

 Minea. Since the entire period of his wanderings outside of Egypt (which comprises almost half of the novel) was reduced to only a few scenes, Minea and a host of characters from Babylon
Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...

, Mitanni
Mitanni
Mitanni or Hanigalbat was a loosely organized Hurrian-speaking state in northern Syria and south-east Anatolia from ca. 1500 BC–1300 BC...

, Minoan
Minoan civilization
The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of the British archaeologist Arthur Evans...

 Crete, and the kingdom of the Hittites
Hittites
The Hittites were a Bronze Age people of Anatolia.They established a kingdom centered at Hattusa in north-central Anatolia c. the 18th century BC. The Hittite empire reached its height c...

 did not appear in the film. In the novel, Sinuhe's son dies alongside his mother, which probably would have been too distressing for a 1950's film audience.

Trivia

  • Killah Priest
    Killah Priest
    Walter Reed, better known as Killah Priest, Iron Sheik from the Middle East, or Masada, is an American rapper and Wu-Tang Clan affiliate who was raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant & Brownsville neighbourhoods in Brooklyn. He is known for intensely spiritual lyrics loaded with metaphors and religious...

     samples dialogue from the movie in his 1998 album Heavy Mental
    Heavy Mental
    Heavy Mental is the debut album by rapper Killah Priest, an associate of hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan and a member of the group Sunz of Man. It was released on March 10, 1998, on Geffen Records....

    .

James Morrow borrows themes and imagery from the film in his novel The Philosopher's Apprentice, describing it as his main character's favorite film.

See also

  • List of historical drama films
  • List of American films of 1954
  • List of epic films
  • The Egyptian
    The Egyptian
    The Egyptian is a historical novel by Mika Waltari. It was first published in Finnish in 1945, and in an abridged English translation by Naomi Walford in 1949. It was adapted into a film in 1954....


External links