Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold

November 22, 2011

Richard Chamberlain debuted as the swashbuckling adventurer Allan Quatermain in 1985′s King Solomon’s Mines, a spoofy version of the H. Rider Haggard classic as retooled for the post-Indiana Jones crowd. The world held its breath for the release of the promised sequel, which had in fact been filmed at the same time as Mines.

Cannon Films kept scheduling the movie, then postponing it, perhaps hoping audiences would forget about the first film, a real stinker and a box-office dud. Now they’ve let the other shoe drop—a leaden jungle boot, by all appearances—and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold is upon us.

It turns out that the sequel is a notch better than the first film, though that is a largely irrelevant distinction when comparing achievements this negligible. The opening of the movie finds Quatermain (Chamberlain) in Africa preparing to marry his honey (Sharon Stone) from the previous film when a man stumbles out of the jungle babbling a tale of a hidden city with streets paved with gold, populated by white natives (the latter a racial phenomenon that never is explained).

Of course Quatermain must find the city, and of course his woman must tag and tease along. Screenwriter Gene Quintano and director Gary Nelson throw in broad assortment of complications in their path, including snakes, wormy beasts, collapsing floors (lots of those), cannibals, and a craven Indian holy man who looks, speaks and acts like Sam Jaffe in Gunga Din, and presumably has “comic relief” stitched across his forehead, which remains thankfully covered with a turban.

Not much else to say, except that the film provides work for some fading character actors: Henry Silva doing his high-cheekboned ritual as the evil ruler of the Lost City, James Earl Jones embarrassingly relegated to wrestling with a lion, and the spectacularly built Cassandra Peterson (better known as “Elvira”) as the evil priestess, whose role has no dialogue until she exclaims “Oooh!” just before she is dropped into a vat of molten gold.

That the film is a bit easier to take than King Solomon’s Mines is due to the slightly straighter approach—there’s nothing quite as awful here as Quatermain’s observation in Mines, upon being dumped into a cannibal stew pot, that “At least we’re the main course.”

Chamberlain, who is not comfortable as the bearer of wit, struggles as before. But he can relax, and return to his TV miniseries successes; no one is going to call on him to do this sort of thing again.

First published in the Herald, February 4, 1987

Some strange careers came together for this dismal experience: director Nelson was a TV helmer with a huge list of credits, including, for the bigscreen, the first Freaky Friday and The Black Hole; screenwriter Quintano wrote and starred in the 3-D madness known as Comin’ at Ya! And, of course, Chamberlain, who really seemed like just absolutely the wrong guy to work on this, except you can’t really think of anyone who would’ve been the right guy to work on this.


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