Kings of the Sun

posted 8 May 2018, 06:04 by Paul Woodward

Genre: Adventure / Drama / History

Stars: Yul Brynner / George Chakiris / Shirley Anne Field

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Certificate: PG

Run Time: 1hr 48mins

Year: 1963

A Mayan tribe in Central America lead by Chief Balam are chased out of their homeland by a tribe with superior metal weapons. They escape via the sea and land further north in the Gulf of Mexico where they try to establish a new home and come into contact with the local Native American tribe. The film centres around the Mayan’s and the Native Americans learning to live together and changing certain aspects of their culture so they can live together.

When this film was released in 1963 the film’s theme of different cultures integrating and getting along despite their differences was quite apt and still is today. While many today could argue the film is about assimilation and giving up culture and tradition – I don’t think the film is that subversive and its message of peace and friendship between people of different religions and cultures is actually intended innocently and idealistically. The main thing this film challenges is the Mayan’s religion depending on human sacrifice.

By todays standards this film would be lambasted for having so many white actors in prominent roles as Mayan and Native Americans. But this was standard practice back then as offensive as some may now find it. Extra wise it does seem a lot of people of Latin and native American descent were used – but not in major roles.

Although Yul Brynner doesn’t actually appear on screen for the first 20+ minutes of the film, he is the focus of this film as Native American chief Black Eagle. Brynner was a fantastic actor for his time and has plenty to work with here and delivers a stoic, proud, wise and understanding character.

British actress Shirley Anne Field plays the love interest of both Black Eagle and Balam, Ixchel – this love triangle is a key element in the tribes coming together and also the rivalry between both men which threatens their peace. This love triangle by todays standards is very innocent but it’s still played very emotionally by all involved, from Black Eagle’s sense of betrayal upon learning he’s to be a sacrifice to Balam’s repressed feelings and jealousy and Ixchel been torn between the affections of two very different men. And Damn how beautiful was Shirley Ann Field, she’s totally enrapturing whenever she’s on screen also her acting is superb which only accentuates her appeal and through her performance it’s easy to see why both Black Eagle and Balam are infatuated with her.

I would presume this film had a relatively large budget for its time, it does have an epic feel to it although it’s locations are contained. That said a lot of the costumes and props are laughable by todays standards, because its obvious a lot of plastic, synthetic fibres and even Styrofoam helmets were used to recreate the Mayan’s clothing and attire. For example, a cloak of bird feathers was obviously and clearly not feathers! Don’t let this put you off though, it doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the film – just don’t watch it expecting authentic Mayan attire recreations although I believe it is all based on genuine Mayan clothing. Don’t watch this film expecting to learn about Mayan culture, but it’s clear the writers and producers did their research and have incorporated that reasonably well into the story and its visuals.

One of the things that helps make this film more powerful is the direction of J. Lee Thompson, especially during Black Eagle’s time as a prisoner of the Mayan’s, the use of shadows during the scene he discovers he is to be a sacrifice in particular make Brynner’s realisation of his impending doom more powerful. It’s amazing how much a good director can boost a film through subtle touches like shadows and camera angles, Thompson makes what could be a very standard film stand out far more and captivate viewers.

The film obviously builds to a massive showdown as the Mayan’s who had chased them away appear for a showdown and the two tribes band together in a final action-packed battle. For the time the actions scenes are dramatic, exciting and well-choreographed.

A Genuine classic – well worth watching especially if you’re a massive film fan who can appreciate older films.


Review By Woody