The sheer scope of Howard Hawks’ historical epic impresses a certain gravitas on the deceptively poignant personal tragedies emerging from each catacomb and dimly lit lair. Betrayal, assassination, and slavery define an otherworldly Egyptian past of technicolor hues and dark intentions, where Hawks constructs in massive detail a society descending down a road of greed and self-destruction, spearheaded by a figure blinded by the allure of gold and power. Talk about universal.
I’m relatively unfamiliar with the late films of Hawks (El Dorado and Hatari are next up), but Land of the Pharaohs seems like a haunting progression for a director so attuned to patterns of professional existence and relationships. Hawks paints a revelatory picture of where this overt professionalism might lead if tainted by absolute power. Also, the religious devotion between servant/master becomes a problematic state of mind, where the Egyptians, supposedly the more evolved race, gladly follow their deity to the grave, while the barbaric “slaves” are free-thinking and innovative survivors.