Celebrating with Sheba
As New Year’s Eve commemorations approach, those needing to spruce up their festivity skills might check out some movie moments where the characters knew how to party in style. Among recent fare, Baz Luhrmann’s Jazz Age spectacular The Great Gatsby (2013) is the perfect primer for formal wear and flapper frivolity that spilled off the 3D screen. But for bacchanalia most bombastic, you have to go back to the Biblical times of King Vidor’s gorgeously shot sword-and-sandal epic Solomon and Sheba (1959), where the magnetically beautiful co-star [and partial producing financier] Gina Lollobrigida as the Queen of Sheba leads a notorious-for-its-time orgy sequence that jeopardizes her burgeoning romance with Israel’s moody and God-fearing King Solomon, incarnated by Yul Brynner. A fabulous feast of thrusting and undulating excess with no actual nudity but enough suggestiveness to provoke the prudes, the Sheban Festival number dedicated to the God of Love proved a tantalizing marketing hook for what would become the legendary Vidor’s final film, which United Artists unveiled on American moviegoers during Christmas week of 1959. Behold – The Many Sins – The Pagan Revels – The Wine-Bathed Orgy Before the Graven Image! Opening a month earlier, that year’s dominant spectacle Ben-Hur also had a swinging Roman orgy sequence – but it didn’t have a lovely Lollobrigida commanding center screen. The gorgeous screen siren and her shimmying ensemble definitely provide major moves to study. Of course, Solomon and Sheba, beautifully rendered on an eye-popping Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, offers much more to explore than its brazen rituals and is commendable beyond its partying animal magnetism. Stunning Freddie Young Technirama/Technicolor cinematography, the bombastic Mario Nascimbene score (available on an Isolated Track), canny special effects in its climactic Pharoah’s army charge scene with sun-reflecting battle shields and supporting players George Sanders, Marisa Pavan, David Farrar and Finlay Currie all make noteworthy contributions. But the alluringly clad Queen Gina reigns triumphantly and would be an asset to the guest list of any party, holiday or otherwise.