Cast & Crew
In the 14th Century B.C., in Thebes, Egypt, physician Senmut and his wife adopt a baby found in a basket floating in the Nile River. Although Senmut is one of the few practitioners of brain surgery and could be wealthy, he dedicates himself to the poor, and his values are instilled in his foster son, Sinuhe, who grows up to be a physician. When Sinuhe begins his own practice, he quickly learns that even the poorest people are reluctant to patronize an inexperienced doctor. One day, while roaming the streets looking for patients, Sinuhe meets Kaptah, a loquacious, one-eyed slave who volunteers to be his servant. Then, after failing to save an injured slave, Sinuhe is comforted by Merit, a tavern girl who deeply loves him. Soon after, Pharaoh Amenhotep III dies, and Sinuhe goes out drinking with his best friend, the warlike Horemheb. Horemheb is furious that he has been refused a position with the palace guards because of his lowly birth, and as dawn approaches, persuades Sinuhe to accompany him on a lion hunt. As they pursue a lion, they see a frail young man praying to the rising sun, and Horemheb kills the lion just as it is about to attack him. The man then falls into an epileptic fit, and while Sinuhe tends to him, the palace guard, led by ambitious priest Mikere, arrives and arrests him and Horemheb. When they are taken to the palace, Sinuhe and Horemheb are horrified to discover that the man they helped is the new ruler, Akhnaton. Although Mikere urges Akhnaton to sentence the captives to death for touching him, Akhnaton, who does not believe in treating pharaohs as living gods, refuses. Instead, Akhnaton appoints Sinuhe the court physician and allows Horemheb to join the palace guard. As he is leaving, Sinuhe is questioned by Taia, Akhnaton's mother, and the ambitious Baketamon, his sister. Taia is unusually intrigued by Sinuhe's past, but Sinuhe soon forgets the incident. That night, Horemheb takes Sinuhe to a party at the home of Nefer, a Babylonian courtesan, and Sinuhe is overwhelmed by Nefer's sultry beauty. Although Nefer herself warns Sinuhe to stay away, he becomes obsessed with her and vainly attempts to match the rich gifts given to her by other suitors. As time passes, Sinuhe gives Nefer the necklace given to him by Akhnaton, his medical instruments and house, and even the deeds to his parents' house and their tombs in the City of the Dead. While Kaptah and Merit lament what has happened, Baketamon urges Horemheb to help Sinuhe by pursuing Nefer himself and allowing Sinuhe to find them together. Even proof of Nefer's infidelity does not sway Sinuhe, but eventually, she tires of toying with Sinuhe and banishes him from her home. In a rage, Sinuhe attempts to strangle her, and after Nefer's guards toss him into the street, Sinuhe goes to his parents' home, where he learns that they have committed suicide. Overcome by grief, Sinuhe takes their bodies to the House of Death, where mummies are prepared for the passage to eternal life. Without funds, Sinuhe is forced to work in the abysmal surroundings in order to pay for his parents' embalming, and after ninety days, sneaks their bodies into the City of the Dead, where he intends to bury them. Kaptah tells Merit of Sinuhe's predicament and she follows him into the desert, where she offers him the simple, unconditional love she believes he deserves. The following day, Sinuhe and Kaptah are forced to flee Thebes, as Akhnaton's daughter died while Sinuhe could not be found and the pharaoh has passed a death sentence upon him. Sinuhe and Kaptah spend the next ten years wandering the world, and although he grows increasingly cynical, Sinuhe's fame as a healer spreads and he becomes wealthy. One day, Sinuhe agrees to operate on a Hittite warrior about to lead an army against Egypt, and in exchange for his work, Sinuhe requests the Hittite's sword. Kaptah is puzzled by Sinuhe's bizarre request, then alarmed when Sinuhe returns with him to Thebes, where they are arrested. Sinuhe's motive becomes clear when he gives the sword, made of iron, to Horemheb, now captain of the palace guards, and tells him that without this new metal, the Egyptians will suffer defeat. Horemheb begs Akhnaton to allow him to fight the Hittites, but Akhnaton, whose devotion to Aton, the sun god, has grown, refuses to sanction any bloodshed. Although Horemheb is still devoted to Akhnaton, he tells Sinuhe that the jealous priests of the old gods are tearing apart Egypt in their attempts to bring down the monotheistic pharaoh. Akhnaton forgives Sinuhe for his past mistakes and again appoints him court physician, although Sinuhe turns his back on the poor and treats only the rich. One day, a diseased Nefer comes to Sinuhe for help, and the physician is surprised to find that he no longer desires revenge against her. Feeling renewed, Sinuhe walks through his old neighborhood and runs into Merit and her son Thoth. Sinuhe and Kaptah deduce that Thoth is Sinuhe's son, and the delighted physician promises to start life over with Merit, who has become a follower of Aton. Later, Sinuhe is summoned to the palace, where he learns that the Hittites have invaded Syria and are progressing to Egypt, although Akhnaton continues to refuse Horemheb permission to fight. When Sinuhe examines Akhnaton, his failing health becomes apparent, and the pharaoh, believing that Aton has forsaken him, asks Sinuhe to release him from his pain. Sinuhe demurs and is then confronted by Horemheb and the priests, who ask him to kill Akhnaton so that they will be able to defend Egypt. Sinuhe refuses and laughs bitterly upon discovering that the priests intend to make Horemheb pharaoh after Akhnaton's death. Before he can leave, Sinuhe is summoned by Baketamon, who also asks him to kill Akhnaton and reveals that as the son of one of Amenhotep's other wives, Sinuhe is her half-brother and therefore entitled to rule with her as his consort. Sinuhe is astonished by the news, which Baketamon says was told to her by Taia when he first came to the palace. When Sinuhe sees a statue of Amenhotep in the City of the Dead and recognizes the physical resemblance between them, he realizes she is telling the truth. On their way back to town, they see that Horemheb has begun a massacre of Aton's followers, and Sinuhe rushes to find Merit and Thoth. Sinuhe sends Thoth away with Kaptah, then finds Merit in the Temple of Aton, which is being attacked by soldiers. Sinuhe is unable to save Merit, who is killed by an arrow. Blinded by anger, Sinuhe now agrees to poison Akhnaton, whom he blames for Merit's death because of her belief in Aton. While Akhnaton is dying, however, he praises his god, and his simple belief in a world created in love, in which all men are equal, moves Sinuhe deeply. Sinuhe, who had also intended to poison Horemheb, declares that Horemheb is the pharaoh that Egypt deserves and saves his life. Later, with Baketamon by his side, Horemheb interrogates Sinuhe, who has been arrested for praising Aton and Akhnaton. Horemheb sentences Sinuhe to banishment, and many years later, Sinuhe dies after writing a chronicle of his life in the hope that one day Thoth will find it.
Carl Benton Reid
Carmen De Lavallade
De De Gainor
Tiger Joe Marsh
Tuffy, A Cat
George W. Davis
Paul S. Fox
David "scotty" Mcewan
Edward B. Powell
Walter M. Scott
Keith C. Seele
Darryl F. Zanuck
The story of The Egyptian has nothing to actually do with the Bible but uses the same solemnity and time period as many an Old Testament epic. Taking place 14 centuries before the birth of Christ, the tale begins with the titular character, now an old man, writing his memoirs in hieroglyphs on papyrus, while stranded in exile awaiting his eventual death from old age. That character, Sinuhe (Edmund Purdom), is a former physician who was sent down the river in a basket made of reeds (sound familiar?) only to be rescued by a physician who, despite his talents, works only for the poor. Sinuhe grows up with the medical expertise he has learned from his father and also vows to help only the poor, with the help of his one-eyed assistant, Kaptah, played by the great Peter Ustinov. Eventually, Sinuhhe befriends the loud and, yes, brawny, son of a cheesemaker, Horemheb (Victor Mature) and the two become an unlikely team. Horemheb gets Sinuhe drunk on a regular basis, to the chagrin of a beautiful serving wench, Merit (Jean Simmons), who loves Sinuhe and thinks Horemheb a tactless oaf, which of course he is.
One day, Horemheb takes Sinuhe hunting lions and while pursuing a male lion in their path, spy a man kneeling in prayer to Aten, the sun, giver of all life. The man doesn't seem to notice the lion approaching, nor does he seem to care about anything other than worshipping the sun, when Horemheb kills the lion with his arrow. When Sinuhe asks if the man is okay, he falls into a seizure and the two men put him on their chariot whereupon they are instantly beset by the Pharaoh's guards and arrested. The man, it turns out, is the Pharaoh (Michael Wilding) and now the two men fear they will be killed for laying hand upon him. When the Pharaoh grants them audience later, he instead thanks them for their efforts and makes Sinuhe the court's official physician. As Sinuhe's life become more rarefied in the company of the court, he loses sight of his original principals.
The part of Sinuhe was originally offered to Marlon Brando who found the script unsatisfying and backed out. He chose On the Waterfront instead, won an Oscar and made movie history. Next up was Farley Granger who, also unimpressed, turned it down. Third on the list was Dirk Bogarde who, like Brando and Granger before him, gave the movie the pass. At this point, with Victor Mature and Jean Simmons already signed and providing more than enough star power for the marketing department, 20th Century Fox got Edmund Pardom on loan from MGM. Pardom does a fine job but never took off as a star in his own right.
Directing was the great Michael Curtiz, a director who never found a script he couldn't make skip along in the editing room. No matter what the story, Curtiz always found a way to make his movies, well, move. Eleven years after his all-time Hollywood triumph, Casablanca, Curtiz wasn't getting the scripts he'd gotten in the thirties and forties but still made the best with what he had. Pardom didn't have the charisma of a Bogart or Cagney, certainly, so there wasn't a lot that even Curtiz could do with the many dramatic scenes between Pardom and Bella Darvi, playing his ill-fated lover, but the scenes with Pardom and Mature are a lot of fun, enough to make one wish the whole thing had just been an extended buddy movie, Biblical epic style.
Gene Tierney, in a small role opposite Mature, was nearing her final year in Hollywood before making a comeback in the early sixties. Suffering from bouts of depression and finding it hard to concentrate on the set, Tierney's roles got smaller and smaller until, after one more movie the following year, The Left Hand of God, with Humphrey Bogart, she dropped out of the movies until her comeback performance in Advise and Consent, in 1962.
Jean Simmons was making her fourth and final movie alongside Victor Mature with The Egyptian and though she stayed in movies for years to come, preferred the stage and spent more time before an audience than before a camera. She had become a respected actress, and an Oscar nominated one, for her performance in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet in 1948 but found most of the roles she received unsatisfying. By the mid-seventies, she found steady work on television and remained active in acting straight into the 21st century.
The Egyptian didn't break the box office in 1954 nor did it win a slew of awards. It did, however, prove two things. One, Michael Curtiz was a great director no matter what the genre or period. And two, Victor Mature, despite his own constant self-deprecation, could keep an audience's attention and make a movie hum. It's no small talent to "make with the holy look," and Mature had it in spades.
By Greg Ferrara
Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)
He was born Peter Alexander Ustinov on April 16, 1921 in London, England. His father was a press attache at the German embassy until 1935 - when disgusted by the Nazi regime - he took out British nationality. He attended Westminster School, an exclusive private school in central London until he was 16. He then enrolled for acting classes at the London Theater Studio, and by 1939, he made his London stage debut.
His jovial nature and strong gift for dialects made him a natural player for films, and it wasn't long after finding theatre work that Ustinov moved into motion pictures: a Dutch priest in Michael Powell's One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1941); an elderly Czech professor in Let the People Sing (1942); and a star pupil of a Nazi spy school in The Goose Steps Out (1942).
He served in the British Army for four years (1942-46), where he found his talents well utilized by the military, allowing him to join the director Sir Carol Reed on some propaganda films. He eventually earned his first screenwriting credit for The Way Ahead (1944). One of Sir Carol Reed's best films, The Way Ahead was a thrilling drama which starred David Niven as a civilian heading up a group of locals to resist an oncoming Nazi unit. It was enough of a hit to earn Ustinov his first film directorial assignment, School for Secrets (1946), a well paced drama about the discovery of radar starring Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Richard Attenborough.
After the war, Ustinov took on another writer-director project Vice Versa (1948), a whimsical fantasy-comedy starring Roger Livesey and Anthony Newley as a father and son who magically switch personalities. Although not a huge hit of its day, the sheer buoyancy of the surreal premise has earned the film a large cult following.
Ustinov made his Hollywood debut, and garnered his first Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actor, as an indolent Nero in the Roman epic, Quo Vadis? (1951). After achieving some international popularity with that role, Ustinov gave some top-notch performances in quality films: the snappish Prinny in the Stewart Granger vehicle Beau Brummel (1954); holding his own against Humphrey Bogart as an escaped convict in We're No Angels (1954); the ring master who presides over the life of the lead character in Max Ophuls's resplendent Lola Montez (1955); and a garrulous settler coping with the Australian outback in The Sundowners (1960).
The '60s would be Ustinov's most fruitful decade. He started off gabbing his first Oscar® as the cunning slave dealer in Spartacus (1960); made a smooth screen adaptation by directing his smash play, Romanoff and Juliet (1961), earned critical acclaim for his co-adaptation, direction, production and performance in Herman Melville's nautical classic Billy Budd (1962); and earned a second Oscar® as the fumbling jewel thief in the crime comedy Topkapi (1964).
He scored another Oscar® nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category for his airy, clever crime romp Hot Millions (1968), in which he played a con artist who uses a computer to bilk a company out of millions of dollars; but after that, Ustinov began taking a string of offbeat character parts: the lead in one of Disney's better kiddie flicks Blackbeard's Ghost (1968); a Mexican General who wants to reclaim Texas for Mexico in Viva Max! (1969); an old man who survives the ravaged planet of the future in Logan's Run (1976); and an unfortunate turn as a Chinese stereotype in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981). Still, he did achieve renewed popularity when he took on the role of Hercule Poirot in the star laced, Agatha Christie extravaganza Death on the Nile (1978). He was such a hit, that he would adroitly play the Belgian detective in two more theatrical movies: Evil Under the Sun (1982) and Appointment With Death (1988); as well as three television movies: Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Murder in Three Acts, Dead Man's Folly (both 1986).
Beyond his work in films, Ustinov was justifiably praised for his humanitarian work - most notably as the unpaid, goodwill ambassador for United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Since 1968, he had traveled to all corners of the globe: China, Russia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Kenya, Egypt, Thailand and numerous other countries to promote and host many benefit concerts for the agency.
Ustinov, who in 1990 earned a knighthood for his artistic and humanitarian contributions, is survived by his wife of 32 years, Hélène du Lau d'Allemans; three daughters, Tamara, Pavla, Andrea; and a son, Igor.
by Michael T. Toole
Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)
Marlon Brando signed up for the lead role, but dropped out at the last minute.
At a cost of five million dollars, the film took two years to research, the designers ultimately cataloging five million items of clothing and properties for the epic.
The voices of the characters played by Mike Mazurki and 'Leo Gordon' were dubbed by other actors for a more classical - and less American-street - quality.
Marilyn Monroe lobbied hard to play "Nefer," but Darryl F. Zanuck had earmarked the role for his then-mistress, Bella Darvi.
Intermittent voice-over narration by Edmund Purdom, as his character "Sinuhe," is heard throughout the film. At the end of the film, an epilog reads: "These things happened thirteen centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ." As portrayed in the film, Akhenaton [spelled Akhnaton by 1950s sources] was a pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, ruling from 1379 to 1362 B.C., who renounced the worship of the old gods and founded a monotheistic belief in a sun god named Aton. Akhenaton was married to Nefertiti and was the father-in-law of Tutankhamen.
As reported by numerous contemporary sources, Marlon Brando was originally cast as "Sinuhe," but just before filming began, left California for his home in New York City. Although, at the time, Brando claimed that he was ill, overworked and needed to be seen by his psychiatrist, modern sources assert that he disliked the script and actress Bella Darvi, the protégé of Twentieth Century-Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck. In early February 1953, the studio brought a $2 million lawsuit against Brando, charging breach of contract. The suit was settled in early April 1953 when Brando agreed to star in the 1954 production Desiree. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Montgomery Clift, Richard Conte, Rock Hudson John Cassevetes, John Derek and English actor Dirk Bogarde were considered to replace Brando, but in late February 1953, Edmond Purdom was borrowed from M-G-M for the role. Michael Wilding was also borrowed from M-G-M to portray "Akhnaton," although late 1953 news items indicate that Kirk Douglas was originally cast in the role. A March 2, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item reveals that John Lund, Hugh O'Brian and Michael Pate were also tested for the part.
A December 22, 1953 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column speculated that Gene Tierney (who plays "Baketamon") was under consideration for the part of "Merit," and another column entry on December 22, 1953 announced that Flora Robson was cast as Merit's mother, although no such role appears in the completed film. Hollywood Reporter news items listed the following actors as being tested for The Egyptian, although they do not appear in the released picture: Violet Sleigh, Virginia Leith, Margia Dean, Charlotte Austin, Cameron Mitchell and Guy Madison. On March 10, 1954, Variety reported that "tests for various roles in the picture have consumed a total of 21,000 feet of film, while the release print will require less than 11,000 feet."
Hollywood Reporter news items include the following actors in the cast, although their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed: Leo V. Gordon, Mario Bramucci, Max E. Reid, Raoul Freeman, Jack Ellis, Peter Seal, Michael Tellegan, Israel Garcia, Michael Cirillo, Michael Macy, Alfred Berumen, Nico Minardi, Charles Gonzales, Frank Escalante, David Aherne, Otto Forrest, Murray Steckler, Fortune Gordien, Joe Garcia, Dan Towler, Tank Younger, Diane Gump, Nancy Westbrook, Sylvia Saltzman, Rose Rey, Anna Marie Fontix, Russ Conklin, Laurence Riley, Nestor Eristoff, Esther Brown, Dalyce Curry, Juliet Ball, Joan Douglas, Charles Fleming, Willie Wells, Lawrence Duran, Sid Bernstein, Victor Paul, Frank McGrath, Florence Vinson, Harry Seymour, Ted Doner, Larry Stanton, Jack Richardson, Sheri January Altman, Gabriel Curtiz, Asta Harout, Madga Harout, Colleen Vico, Barbara James, Manuel Paris, Paul Cristo, Joe Ploski, Jack Santoro, Ralph Brooks, Jose Portugal, Bob Evans, Cosmo Sardo, Elizabeth Bartilet, Virginia Lee, Maia Gregory, Michael Ross, Johnny Dime, Guy Way, Bob Wegner, Ron Nyman, Jean Gale, Marlene Todd, Ruth Gillis, Peggy Gordon, Mark LaForrest and Marcoretta Hellman Starr.
According to a May 14, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item two days of battle scenes were directed by Richard Talmadge, who was filling in for the absent Michael Curtiz. Although a April 14, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Prince Aly Khan had been appointed a technical advisor for The Egyptian, modern sources note that at the time of filming, he was dating Gene Tierney and most likely was only on the set to visit her. As noted by contemporary and modern sources, extensive research was conducted by Frances Richardson and Gertrude Kingston to ensure the film's authenticity. The pair consulted more than 260 historical volumes and helped to obtain approximately five million objects, such as costumes and props, to be copied for filming. Twenty museums loaned items to the studio for copying. According to a program for the picture's opening, technical advisor Elizabeth Riefstahl, who was the Assistant Curator of Egyptology at the Brooklyn Museum, helped to authenticate the sixty-seven sets and thousands of props, costumes and pieces of jewelry. In praising the picture's historical accuracy, the Hollywood Reporter reviewer commented: "The technical research is so exact that even the lions, in the exciting hunting sequence, have their manes dyed black to reproduce the now extinct breed of Upper Egypt." Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety news items reported that background footage and the film's prolog were shot in Egypt, and that the lion hunting sequence was filmed on location at Red Rock Canyon, CA.
February and March 1954 Hollywood Reporter news items reported that the songs "How Beautiful Thou Art" and "The Crocodile Song," written by Alfred Newman, would be featured in the picture, but they do not appear in the released film. According to a June 14, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was originally planned to include an intermission. On May 28, 1954, Hollywood Reporter reported that the studio was "planning [its] biggest trailer campaign" to date for The Egyptian, including a special short subject narrated by studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck.
The Hollywood Reporter review mistakenly lists the picture's running time as 134 minutes. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography (Color). The Egyptian did not re-coup its production costs at the box-office, and according to a modern source, its disappointing gross was the reason for the abandonment of a planned sequel, which was to have starred Victor Mature and Gene Tierney. According to a June 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, Zanuck had intended to go to Egypt "to inspect the new archeological discoveries at the tomb of Cheops" to help prepare the proposed sequel.
Released in United States 1998
Released in United States Summer August 25, 1954
Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.)
Released in United States Summer August 25, 1954