AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The Egyptian
Director: Michael Curtiz (Dir)
Release Date:   Sep 1954
Premiere Information:   World premiere in New York: 24 Aug 1954; Los Angeles opening: 1 Sep 1954
Production Date:   3 Mar--8 May 1954; addl seq mid-May 1954
Duration (in mins):   140
Duration (in reels):   16
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Jean Simmons (Merit)  
    Victor Mature (Horemheb)  
    Gene Tierney (Baketamon)  
    Michael Wilding (Akhnaton)  
    Bella Darvi (Nefer)  
    Peter Ustinov (Kaptah)  
  and Edmund Purdom (The Egyptian [Sinuhe])  
    Judith Evelyn (Taia)  
    Henry Daniell (Mikere)  
    John Carradine (Grave robber)  
    Carl Benton Reid (Senmut)  
    Tommy Rettig (Thoth)  
    Anitra Stevens (Nefertiti)  
    Carmen de Lavallade (Egyptian dancer)  
    Donna Martell (Lady-in-waiting)  
    Mimi Gibson (Princess)  
    Sharon Altman (Princess)  
    De De Gainor (Princess)  
    Harry Thompson (Nubian leopard attendant)  
    George Melford (Priest)  
    Lawrence Ryle (Priest)  
    Tiger Joe Marsh (Libian guard)  
    Karl Davis (Libian guard)  
    Ian MacDonald (Ship's captain)  
    Peter Raynolds (Sinuhe, age 10)  
    Joan Winfield (Governess)  
    Mike Mazurki (Death house foreman)  
    Richard Allan (Cadet)  
    Tyler McDuff (Cadet)  
    Wilma Reid (Nefer's maid)  
    Saye Sumi (Nefer's maid)  
    Paul Kruger (High Priest)  
    Angela Clarke (Kipa)  
    Geraldine Bogdonovich (Tavern waitress)  
    Eghishe Harout (Syrian at Nefer's)  
    Don Bender (Boy)  
    Aurilo Galli (Boy)  
    Harry Shearer (Boy)  
    Edmund Cobb (Patient in dispensary)  
    George Chester (Nubian guard)  
    Paul Salata (Egyptian official)  
    John Mooney (Officer)  
    Michael Granger (Officer)  
    Harry Corden (Hittite officer)  
    Michael Ansara (Hittite commander)  
    Don Blackman (Nubian prince)  
    Tuffy, a cat    

Summary: In the 14th Century B.C., in Thebes, Egypt, physician Senmut and his wife adopt a baby found in a basket floating in the Nile River. Although Senmut is one of the few practitioners of brain surgery and could be wealthy, he dedicates himself to the poor, and his values are instilled in his foster son, Sinuhe, who grows up to be a physician. When Sinuhe begins his own practice, he quickly learns that even the poorest people are reluctant to patronize an inexperienced doctor. One day, while roaming the streets looking for patients, Sinuhe meets Kaptah, a loquacious, one-eyed slave who volunteers to be his servant. Then, after failing to save an injured slave, Sinuhe is comforted by Merit, a tavern girl who deeply loves him. Soon after, Pharaoh Amenhotep III dies, and Sinuhe goes out drinking with his best friend, the warlike Horemheb. Horemheb is furious that he has been refused a position with the palace guards because of his lowly birth, and as dawn approaches, persuades Sinuhe to accompany him on a lion hunt. As they pursue a lion, they see a frail young man praying to the rising sun, and Horemheb kills the lion just as it is about to attack him. The man then falls into an epileptic fit, and while Sinuhe tends to him, the palace guard, led by ambitious priest Mikere, arrives and arrests him and Horemheb. When they are taken to the palace, Sinuhe and Horemheb are horrified to discover that the man they helped is the new ruler, Akhnaton. Although Mikere urges Akhnaton to sentence the captives to death for touching him, Akhnaton, who does not believe in treating pharaohs as living gods, refuses. Instead, Akhnaton appoints Sinuhe the court physician and allows Horemheb to join the palace guard. As he is leaving, Sinuhe is questioned by Taia, Akhnaton’s mother, and the ambitious Baketamon, his sister. Taia is unusually intrigued by Sinuhe’s past, but Sinuhe soon forgets the incident. That night, Horemheb takes Sinuhe to a party at the home of Nefer, a Babylonian courtesan, and Sinuhe is overwhelmed by Nefer’s sultry beauty. Although Nefer herself warns Sinuhe to stay away, he becomes obsessed with her and vainly attempts to match the rich gifts given to her by other suitors. As time passes, Sinuhe gives Nefer the necklace given to him by Akhnaton, his medical instruments and house, and even the deeds to his parents’ house and their tombs in the City of the Dead. While Kaptah and Merit lament what has happened, Baketamon urges Horemheb to help Sinuhe by pursuing Nefer himself and allowing Sinuhe to find them together. Even proof of Nefer’s infidelity does not sway Sinuhe, but eventually, she tires of toying with Sinuhe and banishes him from her home. In a rage, Sinuhe attempts to strangle her, and after Nefer’s guards toss him into the street, Sinuhe goes to his parents’ home, where he learns that they have committed suicide. Overcome by grief, Sinuhe takes their bodies to the House of Death, where mummies are prepared for the passage to eternal life. Without funds, Sinuhe is forced to work in the abysmal surroundings in order to pay for his parents’ embalming, and after ninety days, sneaks their bodies into the City of the Dead, where he intends to bury them. Kaptah tells Merit of Sinuhe’s predicament and she follows him into the desert, where she offers him the simple, unconditional love she believes he deserves. The following day, Sinuhe and Kaptah are forced to flee Thebes, as Akhnaton’s daughter died while Sinuhe could not be found and the pharaoh has passed a death sentence upon him. Sinuhe and Kaptah spend the next ten years wandering the world, and although he grows increasingly cynical, Sinuhe’s fame as a healer spreads and he becomes wealthy. One day, Sinuhe agrees to operate on a Hittite warrior about to lead an army against Egypt, and in exchange for his work, Sinuhe requests the Hittite’s sword. Kaptah is puzzled by Sinuhe’s bizarre request, then alarmed when Sinuhe returns with him to Thebes, where they are arrested. Sinuhe’s motive becomes clear when he gives the sword, made of iron, to Horemheb, now captain of the palace guards, and tells him that without this new metal, the Egyptians will suffer defeat. Horemheb begs Akhnaton to allow him to fight the Hittites, but Akhnaton, whose devotion to Aton, the sun god, has grown, refuses to sanction any bloodshed. Although Horemheb is still devoted to Akhnaton, he tells Sinuhe that the jealous priests of the old gods are tearing apart Egypt in their attempts to bring down the monotheistic pharaoh. Akhnaton forgives Sinuhe for his past mistakes and again appoints him court physician, although Sinuhe turns his back on the poor and treats only the rich. One day, a diseased Nefer comes to Sinuhe for help, and the physician is surprised to find that he no longer desires revenge against her. Feeling renewed, Sinuhe walks through his old neighborhood and runs into Merit and her son Thoth. Sinuhe and Kaptah deduce that Thoth is Sinuhe’s son, and the delighted physician promises to start life over with Merit, who has become a follower of Aton. Later, Sinuhe is summoned to the palace, where he learns that the Hittites have invaded Syria and are progressing to Egypt, although Akhnaton continues to refuse Horemheb permission to fight. When Sinuhe examines Akhnaton, his failing health becomes apparent, and the pharaoh, believing that Aton has forsaken him, asks Sinuhe to release him from his pain. Sinuhe demurs and is then confronted by Horemheb and the priests, who ask him to kill Akhnaton so that they will be able to defend Egypt. Sinuhe refuses and laughs bitterly upon discovering that the priests intend to make Horemheb pharaoh after Akhnaton’s death. Before he can leave, Sinuhe is summoned by Baketamon, who also asks him to kill Akhnaton and reveals that as the son of one of Amenhotep’s other wives, Sinuhe is her half-brother and therefore entitled to rule with her as his consort. Sinuhe is astonished by the news, which Baketamon says was told to her by Taia when he first came to the palace. When Sinuhe sees a statue of Amenhotep in the City of the Dead and recognizes the physical resemblance between them, he realizes she is telling the truth. On their way back to town, they see that Horemheb has begun a massacre of Aton’s followers, and Sinuhe rushes to find Merit and Thoth. Sinuhe sends Thoth away with Kaptah, then finds Merit in the Temple of Aton, which is being attacked by soldiers. Sinuhe is unable to save Merit, who is killed by an arrow. Blinded by anger, Sinuhe now agrees to poison Akhnaton, whom he blames for Merit’s death because of her belief in Aton. While Akhnaton is dying, however, he praises his god, and his simple belief in a world created in love, in which all men are equal, moves Sinuhe deeply. Sinuhe, who had also intended to poison Horemheb, declares that Horemheb is the pharaoh that Egypt deserves and saves his life. Later, with Baketamon by his side, Horemheb interrogates Sinuhe, who has been arrested for praising Aton and Akhnaton. Horemheb sentences Sinuhe to banishment, and many years later, Sinuhe dies after writing a chronicle of his life in the hope that one day Thoth will find it. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Michael Curtiz (Dir)
  William Eckhardt (Asst dir)
  Ray Kellogg (2d unit dir)
  Richard Talmadge (Fill-in dir)
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck (Prod)
Writer: Philip Dunne (Scr)
  Casey Robinson (Scr)
Photography: Leon Shamroy (Dir of photog)
  Leo Tover (2d unit dir of photog)
  David "Scotty" McEwan (2d unit asst cam)
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler (Art dir)
  George W. Davis (Art dir)
Film Editor: Barbara McLean (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Walter M. Scott (Set dec)
  Paul S. Fox (Set dec)
Costumes: Charles LeMaire (Ward dir)
Music: Alfred Newman (Mus)
  Bernard Herrmann (Mus)
  Edward B. Powell (Orch)
  Ken Darby (Vocal supv)
Sound: Alfred Bruzlin (Sd)
  Roger Heman (Sd)
  Al Ross (Sd ed)
  Richard Kupper (Sd ed)
  Dick Jensen (Sd ed)
Special Effects: Ray Kellogg (Spec photog eff)
Dance: Stephen Papich (Choreog)
Make Up: Ben Nye (Makeup artist)
  Helen Turpin (Hair styling)
Production Misc: Elizabeth Riefstahl (Tech adv)
  Norman Stuart (Dial coach)
  Frances Richardson (Research dir)
  Gertrude Kingston (Research asst)
  Frank Inn (Animal trainer)
Stand In: John Epper (Stunts)
  Saul Gorss (Stunts)
  Terry Wilson (Stunts)
  Louis Tomei (Stunts)
  Stubby Kruger (Stunts)
  Charlie Regan (Stunts)
  Jack Stoney (Stunts)
  George Robotham (Stunts)
  Bill Catching (Stunts)
  Bert LeBaron (Stunts)
  George Dockstader (Stunts)
  George Cernak (Stunts)
  Michael Granger (Stunts)
Color Personnel: Leonard Doss (Col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Hymn to Aton," music by Alfred Newman, lyrics by George Steindorff and Keith C. Seele.
Composer: Alfred Newman
  Keith C. Seele
  George Steindorff
Source Text: Based on the novel Sinuhe egyptiläinen, viisitoista kirjaa lääkäri Sinuhen elämästä n. ( The Egyptian ) by Mika Waltari (Helsinki, 1946).
Authors: Mika Waltari

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 25/8/1954 dd/mm/yyyy LP4070

PCA NO: 16965
Physical Properties: Sd: Western Electric Recording
  col: De Luxe
  Widescreen/ratio: CinemaScope
  Lenses/Prints: lenses by Bausch & Lomb

Genre: Epic
Subjects (Major): Egypt--History
Subjects (Minor): Akhnaton
  Brothers and sisters
  Fathers and sons
  Foster parents
  Grave robbers
  Thebes (Egypt: Extinct city)

Note: Intermittent voice-over narration by Edmund Purdom, as his character “Sinuhe,” is heard throughout the film. At the end of the film, an epilog reads: “These things happened thirteen centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.” As portrayed in the film, Akhenaton [spelled Akhnaton by 1950s sources] was a pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, ruling from 1379 to 1362 B.C., who renounced the worship of the old gods and founded a monotheistic belief in a sun god named Aton. Akhenaton was married to Nefertiti and was the father-in-law of Tutankhamen.
       As reported by numerous contemporary sources, Marlon Brando was originally cast as “Sinuhe,” but just before filming began, left California for his home in New York City. Although, at the time, Brando claimed that he was ill, overworked and needed to be seen by his psychiatrist, modern sources assert that he disliked the script and actress Bella Darvi, the protégé of Twentieth Century-Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck. In early Feb 1953, the studio brought a $2 million lawsuit against Brando, charging breach of contract. The suit was settled in early Apr 1953 when Brando agreed to star in the 1954 production Desiree (see above). According to HR news items, Montgomery Clift, Richard Conte, Rock Hudson John Cassevetes, John Derek and English actor Dirk Bogarde were considered to replace Brando, but in late Feb 1953, Edmond Purdom was borrowed from M-G-M for the role. Michael Wilding was also borrowed from M-G-M to portray “Akhnaton," although late 1953 news items indicate that Kirk Douglas was originally cast in the role. A 2 Mar 1954 HR news item reveals that John Lund, Hugh O’Brian and Michael Pate were also tested for the part.
       A 22 Dec 1953 item in HR ’s “Rambling Reporter” column speculated that Gene Tierney (who plays “Baketamon”) was under consideration for the part of “Merit,” and another column entry on 22 Dec 1953 announced that Flora Robson was cast as Merit’s mother, although no such role appears in the completed film. HR news items listed the following actors as being tested for The Egyptian , although they do not appear in the released picture: Violet Sleigh, Virginia Leith, Margia Dean, Charlotte Austin, Cameron Mitchell and Guy Madison. On 10 Mar 1954, Var reported that "tests for various roles in the picture have consumed a total of 21,000 feet of film, while the release print will require less than 11,000 feet."
       HR news items include the following actors in the cast, although their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed: Leo V. Gordon, Mario Bramucci, Max E. Reid, Raoul Freeman, Jack Ellis, Peter Seal, Michael Tellegan, Israel Garcia, Michael Cirillo, Michael Macy, Alfred Berumen, Nico Minardi, Charles Gonzales, Frank Escalante, David Aherne, Otto Forrest, Murray Steckler, Fortune Gordien, Joe Garcia, Dan Towler, Tank Younger, Diane Gump, Nancy Westbrook, Sylvia Saltzman, Rose Rey, Anna Marie Fontix, Russ Conklin, Laurence Riley, Nestor Eristoff, Esther Brown, Dalyce Curry, Juliet Ball, Joan Douglas, Charles Fleming, Willie Wells, Lawrence Duran, Sid Bernstein, Victor Paul, Frank McGrath, Florence Vinson, Harry Seymour, Ted Doner, Larry Stanton, Jack Richardson, Sheri Jan Altman, Gabriel Curtiz, Asta Harout, Madga Harout, Colleen Vico, Barbara James, Manuel Paris, Paul Cristo, Joe Ploski, Jack Santoro, Ralph Brooks, Jose Portugal, Bob Evans, Cosmo Sardo, Elizabeth Bartilet, Virginia Lee, Maia Gregory, Michael Ross, Johnny Dime, Guy Way, Bob Wegner, Ron Nyman, Jean Gale, Marlene Todd, Ruth Gillis, Peggy Gordon, Mark LaForrest and Marcoretta Hellman Starr.
       According to a 14 May 1954 HR news item two days of battle scenes were directed by Richard Talmadge, who was filling in for the absent Michael Curtiz. Although a 14 Apr 1954 HR news item reported that Prince Aly Khan had been appointed a technical advisor for The Egyptian , modern sources note that at the time of filming, he was dating Gene Tierney and most likely was only on the set to visit her. As noted by contemporary and modern sources, extensive research was conducted by Frances Richardson and Gertrude Kingston to ensure the film’s authenticity. The pair consulted more than 260 historical volumes and helped to obtain approximately five million objects, such as costumes and props, to be copied for filming. Twenty museums loaned items to the studio for copying. According to a program for the picture’s opening, technical advisor Elizabeth Riefstahl, who was the Assistant Curator of Egyptology at the Brooklyn Museum, helped to authenticate the sixty-seven sets and thousands of props, costumes and pieces of jewelry. In praising the picture’s historical accuracy, the HR reviewer commented: “The technical research is so exact that even the lions, in the exciting hunting sequence, have their manes dyed black to reproduce the now extinct breed of Upper Egypt.” HR and DV news items reported that background footage and the film's prolog were shot in Egypt, and that the lion hunting sequence was filmed on location at Red Rock Canyon, CA.
       Feb and Mar 1954 HR news items reported that the songs "How Beautiful Thou Art" and "The Crocodile Song," written by Alfred Newman, would be featured in the picture, but they do not appear in the released film. According to a 14 Jun 1954 HR news item, the film was originally planned to include an intermission. On 28 May 1954, HR reported that the studio was "planning [its] biggest trailer campaign" to date for The Egyptian , including a special short subject narrated by studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck.
       The HR review mistakenly lists the picture's running time as 134 minutes. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography (Color). The Egyptian did not re-coup its production costs at the box-office, and according to a modern source, its disappointing gross was the reason for the abandonment of a planned sequel, which was to have starred Victor Mature and Gene Tierney. According to a Jun 1954 HR news item, Zanuck had intended to go to Egypt “to inspect the new archeological discoveries at the tomb of Cheops” to help prepare the proposed sequel. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Beverly Hills NewsLife   22 Mar 1954.   
Box Office   28 Aug 1954   p. 38.
Box Office   4 Sep 1954.   
Daily Variety   3 Mar 1954.   
Daily Variety   25 Aug 1954   p. 3.
Film Daily   25 Aug 1954   p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Sep 1952   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Oct 1953   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Nov 1953   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Nov 1953   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Dec 1953   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Dec 1953   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Dec 1953   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Dec 1953   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jan 1954   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Jan 1954   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Jan 1954   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jan 1954   pp. 1-2.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Jan 1954   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Jan 1954   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Feb 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Feb 1954   pp. 1-2.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Feb 1954   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Feb 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Feb 1954   p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Feb 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Feb 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Feb 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Feb 1954   pp. 1-2.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Feb 1954   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Feb 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Feb 1954   p. 1, 6.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Mar 1954   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Mar 1954   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Mar 1954   p. 12, 14.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Mar 1954   p. 4, 12.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Mar 1954   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Mar 1954   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Mar 1954   p. 3, 10, 12.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Mar 1954   p. 4, 8.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Mar 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Mar 1954   pp. 5-6.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Mar 1954   pp. 2-3.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Apr 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Apr 1954   p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Apr 1954   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Apr 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Apr 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Apr 1954   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Apr 1954   p. 5, 8.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Apr 1954   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   3 May 1954   p. 3, 6.
Hollywood Reporter   5 May 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   10 May 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   14 May 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   25 May 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   28 May 1954   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Jun 1954   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Jun 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Jun 1954   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Jun 1954   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Aug 1954   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Aug 1954   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Aug 1954   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   31 Aug 1954   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Sep 1954   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Sep 1954   p. 5.
Los Angeles Times   15 Mar 1954.   
Los Angeles Times   1 Sep 1954.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   4 Sep 1954   pp. 130-31.
New York Times   25 Aug 54   p. 23.
New York Times   29 Aug 1954.   
New Yorker   4 Sep 1954.   
Newsweek   6 Sep 1954.   
Time   30 Aug 1954.   
Variety   24 Feb 1954.   
Variety   10 Mar 1954.   
Variety   25 Aug 54   p. 6.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.