The Egyptian (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Curtiz|
|Produced by||Darryl F. Zanuck|
|Screenplay by||Philip Dunne
|Based on||The Egyptian 1945 novel
by Mika Waltari
|Music by||Bernard Herrmann
|Edited by||Barbara McLean|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release date(s)||24 August 1954|
|Running time||139 minutes|
|Box office||$4.25 million (US rentals)|
The Egyptian is an American 1954 DeLuxe Color epic film made in CinemaScope by 20th Century Fox, directed by Michael Curtiz and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. It is based on Mika Waltari's novel of the same name and the screenplay was adapted by Philip Dunne and Casey Robinson. Leading roles were played by Edmund Purdom, Jean Simmons, Peter Ustinov and Michael Wilding. Cinematographer Leon Shamroy was nominated for an Academy Award in 1955.
The Egyptian tells the story of Sinuhe (Edmund Purdom), a struggling physician in 18th dynasty Egypt (14th Century BC.) who is thrown by chance into contact with the pharaoh Akhnaton (Michael Wilding). 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 (Jean Simmons), and his corrupt but likable servant, Kaptah (Peter Ustinov).
While out lion hunting with his sturdy friend Horemheb (Victor Mature), 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 seizure, with which Sinuhe 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 worship of the sun, referred to as Aten. Akhnaton intends to promote Atenism 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 while falling obsessively in love with a Babylonian courtesan named Nefer (Bella Darvi). 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, 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. 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 Sinuhe's superior Egyptian medical training gives him an excellent reputation as healer. 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 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 (Tommy Rettig) (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 (Gene Tierney); 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.
Enlightened by Akhnaton's dying words, Sinuhe allows Horemheb to become pharaoh as he is still indignant that his old friend had considered murdering him and has begun to preaching the same ideals Akhnaton believed in his final moments. Banished to the shores of Red Sea, Sinuhe spends his remaining days inspired by the glimpse of another world he has been afforded through Akhnaton and died of old age after writing down his life story in hopes that it may be found by Thoth or his descendants. The film concludes with a caption reading, "These things happened thirteen centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ".
- Edmund Purdom as Sinuhe
- Victor Mature as Horemheb
- Jean Simmons as Merit
- Bella Darvi as Nefer
- Gene Tierney as Baketamon
- Michael Wilding as Akhenaten
- Peter Ustinov as Kaptah
- Judith Evelyn as Taia
- Henry Daniell as Mekere
- John Carradine as Grave robber
- Carl Benton Reid as Senmut
- Tommy Rettig as Thoth
- Anitra Stevens as Queen Nefertiti
- Peter Reynolds as Sinuhe, age 10
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 to represent Akhnaton's "new" religion reflects a popular and esoteric belief in the 1950s that monotheistic Atenism was a sort of proto-Christianity. 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 that God is much more than the face of the sun is actually found among Waltari's best-known writings.
Some of the sets, costumes, and props from this film were bought and re-used by Cecil B. DeMille for The Ten Commandments. 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, Michael Ansara and John Carradine, and a handful of extras, appeared in both pictures. The Prince Aly Khan was a consultant during filming, he was engaged to Gene Tierney. Marlon Brando was to star as Sinuhe, but did not like the script and dropped out at the last minute. Farley Granger was the next choice and considered the role, but then decided he was not interested after having just moved to New York. Dirk Bogarde was then offered the role but also turned it down. Finally it was handed to young up-and-coming contract actor Edmund Purdom.
Marilyn Monroe coveted the role of Nefer, only to discover that it was earmarked for the protegee (mistress) of producer Darryl F. Zanuck, Bella Darvi. This would be the second of only three American films featuring Darvi, who returned to Europe and later committed suicide.
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 score recorded for the film was released by Film Score Monthly in 2001.
- Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p248
- Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p225
- 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
- Taylor Ellison, The Ancient Ankh, part of the Tour Egypt background material, website found 2009-01-03.
- The Worship of Aten, part of the Tour Egypt background material, webpage found 2009-01-03.
- The Egyptian at the Internet Movie Database
- The Egyptian at AllMovie
- The Egyptian at the TCM Movie Database
- The Egyptian at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Complete listing of recordings of the film score