Land of the Pharaohs

Architect Male Middle Eastern Howard Hawks William Faulkner, Harry Kurnitz, Harold Jack Bloom 1955 USA Adventure


In 2900 B.C., Egyptian pharaoh Khufu, who is considered a living god by his people, returns from war with his soldiers, laden with stolen treasure and slaves. After reuniting with his wife, Queen Nailla, and his loyal and wise priest, Hamar, Khufu turns his attention to planning a burial vault, which will safely house his treasures and the needs of his afterlife. Aware how easily he has raided the tombs of others, Khufu orders his architects to draw plans for an impenetrable tomb, but none can devise a structure that will keep his wealth safe throughout the ages. With admiration, Khufu remembers how a defeated Kushite city was so skillfully laid out that his army nearly perished trying to overtake it, and sends for the enslaved architect and leader of the Kushites, Vashtar. After negotiating for the release of his people when the tomb is completed, Vashtar presents an ingenious design: An elaborate labyrinth of passage, in which the only access point to the inner sanctum will be completely filled with huge stones after Khufu is laid to rest. Vashtar explains that walls of heavy stone will be stacked on sand-filled jugs and when the jugs are broken, the sand will pour out and the stones fall down into place, setting off a chain reaction until the whole structure, except for the inner chamber, is solid stone. Because only Hamar and Vashtar are familiar with the design of the labyrinth, Vashtar knows that, upon Khufu’s death, he will be executed to keep the maze’s secret intact. Hamar will be entombed with his ruler and childhood friend to assist him in his next life. Thousands of willing laborers, recruited by Khufu with promises of an afterlife, joyfully begin the building of the tomb, singing as they work, despite the difficulties of quarrying and cutting the stone, dragging it to the site and then securing it on the rising pyramid. After fifteen years, the quarries are depleted and the men, now exhausted, are beaten if they stumble under the heat of the sun. Meanwhile, Khufu has grown less tolerant and more obsessed with the tomb. Needing funds to feed the laborers, Khufu claims tributes from his conquered countries. Only Princess Nellifer from Cypress refuses his demands, telling Khufu that he must choose between possessing her or his tribute. She is whipped because of her insolence, but her pride impresses Khufu and before long, he makes her his second wife, unaware that she has seduced Treneh, the captain of the guards, into aiding her in seizing Khufu’s power and wealth for herself. Nellifer gives Nailla’s son, Prince Zanin, a flute and while he plays it, secretly releases into his room a cobra trained to respond to music. Seeing the cobra poised to strike her son, Nailla throws herself upon it and dies from its venom. Over the years, Vashtar’s sight has diminished, so his son Senta learns the way through the labyrinth to help his father. Although he tries to keep his knowledge secret, one day Senta and Khufu are alone in the sepulchre when a stone falls and injures the pharaoh. To prevent the pharaoh’s death, and therefore, his father’s, Senta carries Khufu through the maze to seek medical help, knowing that he will later be put to death because of his familiarity with the labyrinth. In gratitude, Khufu offers Senta a reward of anything but long life, and Senta asks for the slave Kyra, who has been mistreated by Nellifer, and soon the two slaves fall in love. When Khufu survives an assassination attempt that she planned, Nellifer frames Treneh for the attack and tricks Khufu into fighting him. Although he kills Treneh, Khufu is mortally wounded and before dying, realizes that Nellifer, who wears a necklace stolen from his burial treasure, has betrayed him. Hamar realizes that when the tomb is sealed, the knowledge of the labyrinth will no longer present a threat and orders that Vashtar and Senta be released with their people after the burial. During the burial ritual, Hamar tricks Nellifer into entering the sepulchre to pay the pharaoh last respects. He seals the tomb, and after the new queen realizes that she is trapped inside with him, Hamar tells her that this is the kingdom for which she schemed and murdered. Outside, Vashtar, Senta and Kyra watch the tomb’s stones fall into place and then begin their journey home.

Actors Who Play Architects:

James Robertson Justice
[Vashtar, the Master Architect]