Do you really believe all women are like that? Can’t you believe in a love that asks for nothing?
Michael Curtiz directs this film set in eighteenth dynasty Egypt about young physician Sinuhe (Edmund Purdom). He travels the world and discovers new places supported by his companions the eccentric and likeable servant Kaptah (Peter Ustinov) and shy tavern maid Merit(who is secretly in love with Sinuhe). His life changes when he is summoned to Pharoh’s Akenataen’s court along with his friend Horemheb (Victor Mature) to be appointed in his service after being able to cure him of a seizure.
Sinuhe’s original aim was to help the poor, but his new fortune and fame bring him in different circles. He falls obsessively in love with a Babylonian prostitute Nefer (Bella Darvi). He goes as far as selling his parents property in order to buy her expensive gifts. Returning home ashamed, he discovers his parents have committed suicide over his behaviour and as a way to repent, he has them embalmed so they can go to the afterlife and works off his debts in the House of the Dead.
At this point, it is necessary to reinforce the binary opposition in the representation of women in the film. There is the prostitute Nefer who represents the sinful or whorish side to women. In contrast there is the pure and good Merit who makes Sinuhe see sense and provides him aid and shelter. There is also the other two central female characters in the film; the princess Baketanamun (played by the amazing Gene Tiernley) and the queen Taia (Judith Evylyn). (Queen Nefertiti was also in it but only had one line).
Merit warns Sinuhe that he is in danger as he was not present when Pharoh’s daughter died because he was not there to save her. She urges him to work elsewhere. It is at this point that Sinuhe realises that it is Merit whom he loves and they share a night of passion (where it is revealed that they conceived their son Thoth) and he leaves to travel with Kaptah.
They return to Egypt in triumph ten years later and Sinuhe is forgiven by Pharoh and discovers that he is half brother to the princess. Nefer begs Sinuhe for forgiveness and asks if he could heal her of her syphillus (revenge is sweet). He also realises Thoth is his son as he has an uncanny interest in medicine and is reunited with Merit.
Poor Sinuhe is not granted his happiness for long as it is revealed that Merit is a worshipper of the sun god Aten and is consequently killed for her beliefs when the Egyptian army attack. Thankfully, Thoth and Kaptah have managed to escape safely on a boat. It really does make you tear up when the dying Merit is lying there in Sinuhe’s arms and she manages to utter ‘hold me my love’ after knowing her son is safe before she dies.
Sinuhe is exiled from Egypt after being accused of poisoning Akhenaten (ironically by Horenheb) and spends his last days writing his life story, in the hope that Thoth or one of his descendants will read it.
I know I’ve rambled on a bit with this blog post but this is one of my favourite films. I have had a profound interest in Ancient Egypt since I was eight years old and I first watched this film with my Dad when it was on TV some years ago.
Although I got irritated with its historical inaccuracy and the fact that some of the wall paintings are from the wrong era, it is a good, if not occasionally cheesy film to watch (two Egyptian characters sounding very American).
I would definitely reccomend this film if you like Ancient Egypt or just want to watch something new. It is very hard to find it on Dvd but it is on YouTube, either in the full film or in parts. A amusing trivia fact is that they reused a lot of the costumes and props in Cecil B D Mille’s 1956 film The Ten Commandments. The film is also based on Mika Waltari’s novel The Egyptian.
‘These things happened thirteen centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ’
My rating: 4/5