The tab for this expensive production was unexpectedly hiked when Tyrone Power died in mid-production (although insurance covered much) and the subsequent hiring of Yul Brynner necessitated new writing as well as new shooting. A figure of over $5 million, judging by the spectacle, color and location expenses in Spain seems a reasonable one.
The story [by Crane Wilbur] concerns the clash between Solomon and his brother Adonijah when King David crowns the poet-philosopher instead of the warrior. From then on it’s political intrigue, with Egypt conniving with Sheba to bring down Israel, which is flourishing under the wise rule of Solomon, and the treacherous manner in which the Queen of Sheba undermines Solomon but falls in love with him in the process.
The fascinating clash between the two brothers is only spasmodically developed and, inevitably, plays second fiddle to the relationship between the queen and her infatuated target. Often what should have been a moving, gripping romance turns out to be little more than an affair between a couple of people at the local golf club.
There are some magnificent production scenes. Three startlingly effective battle sequences, the stoning of Sheba, her arrival in Jerusalem, the terrifying wrath of God which razes the Temple of Jehova and Sheba’s God of Love, the scene where Solomon gives judgment over the baby, the sight of the plains of Israel made bleak and arid and, above all, the startling dance-ritual to the God of Love which develops into an orgy.
Gina Lollobrigida virtually portrays three different Shebas. First, the arrogant, fiery, ambitious Queen; then the voluptuous, wily, seductress; finally, the Sheba who involuntarily falls in love with the King and risks all by denouncing her own gods.
Lollobrigida not only looks stunning but shows the queen to be a woman of sharp brain as well as sensual beauty. Brynner, surprisingly subdued, also does a fine job in presenting a Solomon who credibly suggests a singer of songs, yet finally is a man of ordinary flesh and blood who cannot resist Sheba.