Quatermain or Cannon Films’ Indiana Jones

“King Solomon’s Mines” (1985) and “Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold” (1987) were a pair of Indiana Jones rip-offs that Cannon Films put out in the mid-1980s.  To be fair though, they were both pretty watchable films so far as low-budget Indy rip-offs went at the time.  In fact, I’m not sure of many other films that are quite so faithful or blatant in their ripping off of the Indy-style pulp adventure.

The general time setting for both movies appeared to be sort of World War I-ish but it could easily be near-World War II-style Indy-like scenarios.  As with Indy, the Germany military served as the bad guys and raced Quatermain for the same treasure.  One other odd similarity was that “King Solomon’s Mines” featured John Rhys-Davies basically playing the same role that he played in the Indy films but with an eventual turn toward evil.  As a result the films could be eerily confusing since so many of the locations and even characters looked like echoes taken from the “Indiana Jones” films.

Richard Chamberlain as Quatermain wasn’t half bad, but there was a missed opportunity by not embracing the situation and giving him some quirks like Indiana Jones had in his films.  Although doing so might have only further piled on criticisms, the character ended up being rather bland.

Sharon Stone showed up as the co-lead in both films while in the midst of the later-1980s period where it seemed as though she was in every possible film as a supporting actress.  These films were a reminder that she was not an overnight superstar and, of course, we forget about all those roles since she had yet to became famous  Stone played her role as if she spent time closely studying Kate Capshaw in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”  Obviously that was an unfortunate character choice to have spread over two films though, since she played a clueless foil who needed to be frequently rescued and she constantly bickered with Quatermain when they were together.

Both films had J. Lee Thompson In the director’s chair during the twilight of his career.  Thompson was winding up several decades of directing that included hit highs like “The Guns of Navarone” (1961) by making low budget films for Cannon.

Cannon executives were rather wise in spending some extra money to have Jerry Goldsmith handle the score.  The main theme song wasn’t half bad but much of the first film’s score was simply recycled for the second film.

For being low budget, Cannon scored some decent production value out of shooting both films back-to-back in Africa over several months.  That would have been a heck of a location shoot given the cost-conscious nature of Cannon.    It’s one thing to be in the African jungle on a big Hollywood film and seemingly another thing to be there on a shoestring budget.

“King Solomon’s Mines” started off with Quatermain helping a questionably-capable archaeology student played by Sharon Stone in the search for her father.  The opening was much like the Cairo scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and then it moved into a rather nice locomotive ‘chase’ scene that was similar to the “Raiders” truck chase.

After the locomotive sequence resulted in the recovery of Stone’s father, she and Quatermain headed off to find King Solomon’s mines as a way to help complete Stone’s father’s lifelong quest.  Awkward romance also then heated up with Quatermain randomly decided that he was suddenly interested in Stone’s character.  The adventuring duo then stole a biplane together, got into a dog fight, and ended up crash landing amid a tribe of cannibals.  The cannibals built an amusing stew pot that the pair escaped from by rolling down a hill at high speed. The idea was goofy but it worked.

As one might sense, a heck of a lot of varied stuff happened in the first hour of “King Solomon’s Mines”. The last half hour kept up that pace but involved a bit of repetitions as the leads ended up getting again captured by a tribe.  They broke free during a mix of rescue by John Rhys-Davies and also some distraction by the Germans who are also after King Solomon’s mines.  That last half hour did indeed heavily feature the titular mines, with some cave exploration work and such.  An Evil Priestess, a rising water cave room trap featuring the ingenious inclusion of a snake or lizard, a horrifically-acted confession of love by Stone, and, finally, some lava all ensued.

In typical “Indiana Jones” fashion, the leads didn’t end up gaining all of the treasure from the mines but they did reward the audience by revealing that they’d scored a couple of diamonds right before the credits rolled.

Happiness didn’t last forever for the couple though, as they rolled right on into a sequel.

“Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold” picked up seemingly a short time after “King Solomon’s Mines,” with the leads engaged to be married and planning their wedding while still living in Africa.  This film swapped out John Rhys-Davies for James Earl Jones in the third banana ‘name’ actor role.  Jones had to be wondering what had happened to his career though, since he appeared in a ridiculous quasi-tribal warrior outfit during the entire film and spoke in an equally-ridiculous accent.

The plot was introduced amid the opening credits with a friend of Quatermain revealing that he’d found the ‘legendary’ lost city of gold and that Quatermain’s long-missing brother was hanging out there!  Unfortunately, the friend died before giving many details on the city’s location.

Hilariously, Stone’s character didn’t care that her fiancé’s lost brother might be found.  Rather, she was more interested in focusing on her pending wedding and momentarily became upset with Quatermain before finally agreeing to go questing with him.

That quest got rolling with the help of James Earl Jones and an eye-rolling mystic guide.  The party crossed the Sahara Desert and lost some ‘red shirt’ types after encountering a trap.  More ‘red shirt’ types were lost after the party was attacked by a tribe.  My favorite sequence in the film when I was a child involved hijinx on an underground river that contained some nice, foreboding mood due to the potential for various animal attacks, although the rear projection looked better in low resolution.

The last third of the film took place at the lost city and it wasn’t laughably small but it was still pretty modest by blockbuster standards.  There was a not-subtle social message for viewers in that the city was populated by a ‘lost tribe’ of white people who lived in harmony with the city’s black population.  They even had a white Queen and a black Queen as rulers.  The problem was that the true ruler of the city – seemingly propping up the Queens – was an evil priest.

Quatermain’s brother was indeed hanging out at the city though and he teamed with Quatermain to lead a rebellion again the evil priest.  The big showdown at the end involved a gimmick where molten gold was used by the good guys to stop the priest and his supporters in rather gruesome fashion.

 

Conclusions

I came across references to the “Quatermain” films supposedly being knowing parodies of the “Indiana Jones” films and, while I partially believe that claim, I am also skeptical about such a claim serving as a convenient way of explaining the many problems that both films contained.  Maybe there were some attempts at parody that were intentional but the films were mostly straight adventure and that just seems like an excuse.

Instead, both films simply felt like what one might expect if those zany folks at Cannon tried to rip off Indiana Jones.  The scope of the films was limited due to a low budget and the script wasn’t very good but (like most Cannon films) there was maybe just enough to keep someone watching.

In looking back on how successful the “Indian Jones” films were at the box office for Paramount Pictures, it was surprising that more films didn’t hit the market at the time that were as on-the-nose as the “Quatermain” films.

I had seen “Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold” a number of times as a child but never “King Solomon’s Mines” until this recent viewing. Thus, it was interesting to see some familiar characters and actors in an entirely ‘new’ (at least to me) movie.

Sure, neither “Quatermain” film would qualify as a lost gem, but they were given some attention by specialized home video labels that put out high-definition versions of the films in recent years.  Both “Quatermain” films had been readily accessible to viewers for decades though, from running on cable television channels to having VHS and then DVD releases.  In short, both films probably had a lot longer life span than anyone involved ever imagined.

 

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