Cannon Films reportedly shot King Solomon's Mines (1985) and its sequel, Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold (1987) back-to-back on location in Zimbabwe. As noted in DVD Talk's review of King Solomon's Mines, the first film is a not very good but action-pack fantasy adventure modeled quite deliberately after the Indiana Jones movies. Somewhat surprisingly, Allan Quartermain is completely different in terms of style, content, and pacing. It starts out promisingly, with more character-driven scenes in its first minutes than in all of King Solomon's Mines, but the picture gradually unravels into a chaotic, uninspired (if entertainingly ridiculous) mess. According to some sources, the film was partly reshot in Los Angeles under a different director. More on that later.
The story is set some months after the events in King Solomon's Mines, with fortune hunter Allan Quartermain (Richard Chamberlain) engaged to geologist Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone). However, he's reluctant to move with her from his African estate to a humdrum existence in Iowa, and is quietly appalled by the business suit she gives him and expects him to wear. Soon enough though, Quartermain gets word about a long-lost brother who may have found, well, a lost city of gold, and the pair are off on a new adventure.
Accompanying them this trip are Umslopogaas (James Earl Jones), an African warrior wielding a battleaxe he swirls constantly like a high school majorette showing off with a baton; and Swarma (Robert Donner), a cowardly Indian fakir-type. Eventually the band finds Allan's brother (Martin Rabbett) and the Lost City, a utopian society were it not for sadistic high priest and former slave trader Agon (Henry Silva) and hench-woman Sorais (Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson).
What starts out looking like a more leisurely, introspective (elegiac even) tale quickly collapses under a mountain of hoary clichés. Once the adventure gets underway, the journey to the Lost City is filmed very much like the John Dark-produced Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations of the mid-1970s. Like those movies, Allan Quartermain is replete with crummy-looking rubber monsters and patently phony miniatures. Conversely, Quartermain lacks even those films' sense of adventure and wonder, shoddy as they were.
Once the quartet arrive at the Lost City, the film goes downhill further and faster than ever, and it's here where most of the post-production tinkering seems to have been concentrated. The city and its residents look neither ancient nor lost, but instead appear stuck in a mid-1980s timewarp. Completely lacking the grandeur of anything in the first film, the Lost City looks like a New Age retreat somewhere near Victorville, or maybe they shot these scenes at the Zimbabwe Hilton. In any case, the city-folk, dressed in white polyester robes and looking like MTV generation Eloi, are nothing compared with veteran character actor Henry Silva. Bedecked in flowing purple and gold robe and sporting a frizzy heavy metal hairdo, Silva looks like a demented Doug Henning.
Indeed, Quartermain and Jesse and all but lost amid a sea of absurd and often racist characterizations. Worst among these is Swarma, a stereotyped Indian who is at once cowardly, greedy, and a constantly praying religious fanatic. He faints, quivers, shakes, and bugs his eyes out, all courtesy Donner's lispy, blackface performance. Where's Eduardo Ciannelli when you need him?
Conversely, James Earl Jones is so completely wasted and his character so inconsequential it begs the question why he bothered to accept the role at all. Wearing a leopard skin, tooth necklace and a single feather of a headdress, Jones has few lines and only one scene where he does anything at all that furthers the story. Cassandra Peterson, playing a character whose name sounds like a skin ailment, has no lines at all.
The cheap looking climax might very well have been those "additional scenesEcredited to Newt Arnold. One clue may be Silva's wild hair, which is gray in some shots (probably his own) and jet black (definitely a wig) in others. More evidence of the film's tampering is its score, credited to Michael Linn but most if not all of which sounds like stock cues written by (an uncredited) Jerry Goldsmith for the first picture. Readers knowing who shot what are invited to email this reviewer who will happily post the information.
Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold deserves credit for not being as jokey as its predecessor. But where that film was (mostly) competently made and sometimes amusing in its audaciousness, its sequel is simply tired and contrived.
Video & Audio
Unlike King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold has been given a full 16:9 anamorphic transfer. Though a bit on the grainy side (perhaps inherent in the original negative), the image is an improvement over the 4:3 letterboxed DVD of the film that preceded it. The Ultra-Stereo 2.0 sound is decent enough, with ample directional sound effects. A French track is offered, along with English, Spanish, and French subtitles.
The lone extra is a 16:9 trailer, which surprised 1987 audiences who barely remembered the first picture, and were taken aback to learn that a sequel had even been made.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films. He is presently writing a new book on Japanese cinema for Taschen.