East End Memories

THE EMPRESS, MARE STREET, HACKNEY

PART SIX – THE EGYPTIAN AND THE RISE OF SOCIALISM

I went to the Empress perhaps five or six times, no more. Naturally, I would have liked to have gone there many more times, but this was not to be. As I said earlier, the first time I went there was to see How to Marry a Millionaire. I went as I could not wait for it to be shown at the Essoldo Bethnal Green. Although still quite young, I had secretly ventured up to Hackney on the trolleybus without difficulties and returned with equal ease. After that, there was no reason why I could not do so again when necessary. Although this was possible, I was not altogether comfortable with further deception. Besides it being a blatant abuse of the trust in me by my parents, there was always the possibility of letting slip something during an innocent conversation that would reveal my underhandedness.

I learned at an early age the value of truth. I learned that no matter how terrible the truth might appear to be, it was better to tell it than to lie. Should my parents think that I had lied or suspected that I had deceived them, it would have most certainly meant their loss of trust in me and once trust has been lost, it is difficult to regain it. Loss of trust would mean no longer being free to wander around The Waste or go to friends’ homes, as well as the loss of other privileges such as going to the cinema. I could not have my travel limited. Any restriction on my comings and goings had to be avoided at all costs.

The necessity of being able to travel to the Empress Hackney on occasion soon became apparent once I learned that many of the films I had to see were not being shown at the Essoldo Bethnal Green. This situation was both vexing and frustrating, to say the least, especially since these films were being shown in a vast number of cinemas all over London without restriction. I took this slight personally! I concluded that our local Essoldo in Bethnal Green had been singled out for such shabby treatment and felt insulted.

It greatly amuses me today to think that I considered the failure to show every one of the 20th Century Fox films produced in CinemaScope at the Essoldo Bethnal Green in this manner and believed it to be yet another affront to all Bethnal Green dwellers. I have to admit that during my childhood there seemed to be ample proof that the Borough was looked upon in a somewhat denigrating manner. It had the reputation of being home to both rough and undesirable members of society. Sadly, my poor mother was somewhat instrumental in sowing the seeds that led me to believe that Bethnal Green was singled out for discrimination.

As a child, my mother was regularly sent out to clean homes by her mother and stepfather. Once she was about seven years old, she was required to knock at doors and offer her services as a cleaner instead of being sent to school. My mother often joked that at some time she had scrubbed the floors of almost every house along the Hackney Road. Naturally hearing this tale of mistreatment at a young age I could not but take her remark literally and so believe that she endured the most terrible of hardships as she got down on her hands and knees and made to scrub every floor and stair in every house on Hackney Road for a mere pittance! I remember that sometimes when we went along Hackney Road, my mother would talk about the fine houses and of the wealthy people who lived in them when she was young. What I did not realise at that time was that any home where decent parents made a warm, safe and loving home for their children would seem fine to my mother since her childhood was spent in an environment where she was constantly in fear of violence at the hand of her stepfather, cold through being inadequately dressed, insufficiently fed and decidedly unloved.

During my early childhood Bethnal Green was certainly not home to the elite of society and looked dilapidated compared to other boroughs. This must have seemed to be direct proof that we were considered second class citizens! It was then no wonder that I soon thought of those citizens living in Hackney, who had easy access to the Empress as privileged and dismissed them as toffee-nosed little toads!

Naturally I felt the films produced in CinemaScope by MGM and Warner Brothers and which were shown in place of the missed 20th Century Fox films at the Essoldo Bethnal Green were inadequate compensation. I would like to think that this insult was the seed of my awareness of social discrimination and led me to develop a keen sense of justice and a demand for equal rights for all men. I also like to think that out of this mistreatment of the people of Bethnal Green came early socialist leanings. Whether such thoughts were true or merely fanciful is academic, for if I am honest, I fear that my true feelings about the situation were perhaps that it was unfair and that my initial response to it was a good old fashioned sulk!

SOCIAL LEADERS
(click the title to hear L'Internationale)
Top Row: Karl Marks, Frederick Engels, Leon Trotsky & Vladimir Lenin;
Middle Row: Kier Hardie, Mary Harris Jones (Mother Jones), David Lloyd George & Leon Blum;
Bottom Row: Jack Reed, Louise Bryant, Aneurin Bevan & Mao Tse-tung (Zedong)

20th Century Fox produced a number of spectacles in the early days of CinemaScope, most of which were especially appealing to me at that time. The first and perhaps the grandest spectacle after The Robe and Demetrius and The Gladiators was The Egyptian. This film, released in 1954, had a staggering budget of five million dollars. What child could resist seeing a film about the Pharaohs and the Pyramids of Egypt, especially when it was punctuated with lots of swordplay! As soon as I saw the advertisement for this film in the newspapers, I could not wait to see it. The film was shown in the West End for what seemed to be an inordinate length of time and looked unlikely to go on general release quickly. Since going to the cinema in the West End was much more costly than waiting for it to come to the local cinema, it meant that one had to wait.

For the kids in my class at school, going to the pictures was of great importance. Most went to Saturday Morning Pictures and many were taken to the cinema each week. Some were even allowed to go with their friends. We were in agreement on the kinds of films that we liked on most occasions. Swashbucklers and Cowboys & Indians topped our lists of likes while love stories and most musicals were way down at the bottom! There was much less agreement when it came to the question of favourite actors however.

By this time we had all seen The Robe and White Christmas and there had been a number of heated debates regarding the respective virtues of CinemaScope and VistaVision. Naturally, we each had our preference and it will come as no surprise that I was decidedly in favour of CinemaScope. Regardless of preference, all of the kids in my class wanted to see The Egyptian and we spoke about it a lot while we were waiting for its release with much anticipation. Even our teacher fanned the flames of our interest when she began telling us about the real Egyptians and their habits. Once she had mentioned mummies, grave robbing of the Pyramids and the great battles, our wish to see the film grew. However, my own wish to see it and to see it as soon as possible grew exponentially.

At long last The Egyptian went on general release and the newspapers published a list of London cinemas where it was to be shown. I looked at the list and was horrified to see that there was no mention of the Essoldo Bethnal Green. My heart sank. It was to be shown at the Granada Woolwich, the Granada East Ham, somewhere in Ilford and even in Tooting, but nowhere in Bethnal Green! Surely this was an oversight? Surely it had to be shown there, but when? I noted that the announcement clearly showed that it was to be shown at the Essoldo Hackney. Instead of making me breathe a sigh of relief, I became consumed with jealousy. The situation was made worse the following weekend when the event was much heralded in Dalton’s Weekly, which stated that continuous performances were to begin at 1.35 p.m. on the following Monday. By now I was very upset. I felt like I was the only kid in the class not invited to a birthday party. And for the first time in my life, I tasted the bitter fruit of discrimination!

I walked around with a very long face that weekend. Not even a trip to Paul’s Record Stall to listen to the latest tunes cheered me. Paul was somewhat concerned at look of sadness. Even when he asked what’s up? I was both too annoyed and too upset to say. Occasionally I felt an odd moment of comfort when I managed to convince myself that the authorities would eventually toss me a crumb and allow the showing of The Egyptian at the Essoldo Bethnal Green. However I was plunged back into that bottomless pit of despair when I realised that this would only be allowed once everyone in London had been given their chance to do so! These thoughts festered in my mind and fed the belief that we, the people of Bethnal Green, were viewed as nothing more than second class citizens! What was I going to do?

I knew that I could not slip away this time and take the trolleybus up to Hackney, as the showing of The Egyptian did not coincide with a school holiday. I could not go after school as I would arrive home once it was well and truly dark and this would bring panic to my parents. My situation was desperate.

As a child I was brought up not to read other people’s letters nor listen to other people’s conversations. Such actions were not considered polite. I have always believed that if others speak loudly then one can hardly be blamed if one hears what others have to say. I also believe that it is also not one’s fault if one then profits from any information gained from such eavesdropping. One can hardly be blamed for the actions of loudmouths!

On the following Monday I was back at school and feeling decidedly gloomy. The teacher had moved on from the Egyptians and was now telling us about the excavation of the City of Ur and the Mesopotamians. Normally I would have been spellbound by such tales, but not today. Seated in front of me in class were two kids from Hackney. Despite my recent disdain for all things Hackney, the Hackney Empire and these kids did not seem to figure in this. They were quite reasonable kids, as far as I can remember, and shared common interests with me. I remember them talking, loudly, about going to see The Egyptian later that week. Naturally they were looking forward to this outing. As I half-listened in my gloom and despair, suddenly the penny dropped and my spirits soared as I saw a possible solution to my problem.


Mesopotamia & The City of Ur

In those days, for us children, Bethnal Green and Hackney were in different worlds. Although only a short bus ride apart, children from one borough did not organise playing with children from the other. But then I remembered that I had seen these kids in the queue outside the Empress while waiting to see How to Marry a Millionaire. They had asked me to sit with them and the adult accompanying them, but I preferred to sit alone and become surrounded by the action on the screen and not be interrupted by the conversation of others! What a donkey I was! Fortunately children do not see this sort of thing as a slight and generally don’t hold grudges. I heard myself asking them when they would be going to the Empress to see The Egyptian. They said that they would be going after school on Wednesday. I knew that they were met each afternoon by either their mother or sister and took the 653 Trolleybus home from the Aldgate Bus Terminal. I asked if I could come too and they shrugged their shoulders and said that they would ask their mother, but they felt sure that she would say yes. Now all I had to do was to ask my parents to let me go to the cinema on Wednesday after school with friends!

I knew that the problem about my excursion would not be the going, but rather the coming home. I remember thinking that I could ask the adult with the kids to see me on the bus home, not that I needed her for this, but I knew that my mother would look more kindly on my request if she was told this. I remember thinking that I would even allow this to happen. I was that desperate to go and so would have agreed to anything! Now all I needed was to think of a plan that would be agreeable for me to cross Cambridge Heath Road at the Mile End Gate since our shop was on the other side of the road from where the bus stopped.

I set my mind to thinking about this problem for the rest of the day, as I wanted to broach the subject of my going to Hackney once I got home. By lunch time, I decided to tell my parents that I had just discovered that very day and quite by chance that The Egyptian was currently being shown at the Empress! Imagine that! I planned to add that this was such a surprise since it wasn’t going to be shown at the Essoldo. I would say that I had been very disappointed about that since my teacher had recommended that we see this film since, as my parents knew, we had been learning about the Egyptians of late. Of course my parents knew of this, hadn’t I been driving them mad with all things Egyptians and hadn’t they promised to take me to the British Museum soon and also to walk along the Embankment so that I could see Cleopatra’s Needle? Fortunately my father was somewhat of a big kid and also wanted to see the mummies at the Museum. He knew Cleopatra’s Needle well and was far from being averse to seeing it again.

My mother had very little formal education, but she knew of its value. As long as something had educational value, my mother was in agreement with any outing, any book or any film. Getting her to agree to my excursion required her believing it to be educational. Fortunately, since we had been learning about the Egyptians in class, this should not prove too difficult. However, it was the business of crossing the road that would require much convincing and finding a way to achieve this was proving more difficult.

Unfortunately my devious mind proved not to be as devious as I had hoped and I was unable to come up with a convincing plan that would be acceptable to my parents so that I could be allowed to cross the road. Despite this, I launched into my pitch and began telling my parents about the film and that our teacher recommended it since we had been studying the subject in class. This proved to be enough for them. My father was very interested in the film and wanted to know all about it. As I did, he suddenly looked far away, as if off in a dream.  I was convinced that he was off, perhaps sailing down The Nile with Cleopatra, and enjoying the delights of her barge!  Naturally, once he returned to shore, he was greatly in favour of my being allowed to go. All now depended on my mother. And then, as parents will often do, they will surprise you by suggesting the solution to your problem.

I remember my mother asked me if the adult would be sure to see me on the bus and if I promised to sit close to the exit then she would wait at the bus stop for me and bring me across the road. I could have wept with joy. Truth won out again. No need to lie when one can offer the truth. I embraced my parents with joy and happiness and did not kick up a fuss that evening when I was told that it was time to go to bed.

The next day, the kids said that if was fine with their mother if I came on the bus with them and that she said that she would see me on the bus. This was now Tuesday. Only one day to live through and then we would be floating down The Nile ourselves! I felt that sitting where others wanted to sit was a small price to pay for the chance of seeing The Egyptian!

I was very excited that evening and probably drove my parents nuts with my talk of Egypt and The Egyptian. I was up early the next morning and could not wait to get to school. However, fate can often intervene in one’s life and set things on their head. When I went into class, I saw that the seats in front of me were empty. Where were the Hackney kids? Not to fear, they were probably late due to the traffic congestion at Gardner’s Corner. How many times had I been late thanks to the mass of lorries, cars and buses at that notorious intersection?

Our teacher called the Register and since they were not there to call out Present, she marked them Absent. Where were they, I wondered? I imagined all kinds of things having happened to them, but decided that they most likely had not been kidnapped and sold into slavery, but were rather keeping an appointment with their mother that they had omitted to tell me about. I felt certain that they would appear at any moment or perhaps after lunch time at the latest. Lessons continued and morning playtime came and went. By lunch time, I was becoming a little concerned. What if they did not come? What would this mean? I was getting more than a little concerned now, especially when I recalled all those terrible things that I had said and thought about the people of Hackney! Lunch time came and went and there we were once more having the Register taken again. And sadly, the Hackney kids were nowhere to be found. Again, an Absent was placed against their name. I was in despair.


School, St. Botolph's Church, Aldgate Pump and Sir John Cass' bust

At home time, I felt lost. They had not come. I had to face this fact. I knew that they and their mother were not going to suddenly materialise outside. I went outside to Duke’s Place and sadly proved that they weren’t. What was I going to do? Suddenly I was seized with the idea that I could go to Hackney and see the film! Yes, that was what I thought to do! Why not? I had been given permission to go. I had the money to buy my ticket. I knew how to get the bus home. I would sit close to the exit. I did not have to worry about crossing the road home as I was going to be met at the bus stop by my mother. And then it hit me! I saw my mother standing at the bus stop. She would have been there for sometime just in case I got out of the cinema early. It would be cold at that time of day. She would be concerned as she would be thinking that this was the first time I had taken the bus home from Hackney! The whole deception of the situation suddenly came home to me with force. It would not be the first time that I had taken the bus home. I wondered if I could pretend that it was, especially since I had been trusted.

I remember trudging along Duke’s Place with the group that I normally walked with. There were several parents in this group who saw us across the road to Aldgate Bus Terminal. I got on the 653 Trolleybus that day and paid the conductor for my ticket. It was with great sadness that I did not stay on the bus until Well Street, but got off at the Mile End Gate! I felt so sad and was on the verge of crying by the time I got home.

I had been given a key to the door at an early age and I used it to enter the shop, which was empty as my parents would be resting before getting ready to open up for the evening session. I went upstairs. My parents were sitting in the front room and were surprised to see me and wanted to know why I had not gone to the pictures. I told them that the Hackney kids had not come to school that day and so I had come home. It was then that I received one of those great surprises that come periodically in your early life. My mother looked at me with a look of pride on her face and then kissed me on my cheek. At the time I did not understand her action, but of course, with time I did.


My Class including The Hackney Kids



THE FILM & WHERE TO SEE IT

The Hackney kids did not come to school for the remainder of the week and I don’t recall them offering me any reason for their absence. In fact I don’t recall them even mentioning our missed excursion. I remember being surprised by their action or lack of it.

Since that time, a number of people have made me promises and then failed to keep them. I suspect that this is not a surprise to readers. After all, things change, situations alter and we no longer feel compelled to keep an agreement that we might think of less importance now. Throughout my life I have always tried to keep my word when I have given it. If for some reason I was unable to, I have always attempted to explain why. I am sure that I have not always been successful and that there are some disappointed people that do not find me as honest as I would hope. For this, I am sorry.

I remember when I went to live in France, I was stunned by the number of times promises were made and words were given and not kept. At first, I was upset by this, then disturbed and finally annoyed! Whenever I confronted a breaker of promises, I was met with a surprised look on their face and our discussion generally ended with their thinking me unreasonable and too rigid in manner. Eventually someone explained the essence of the word promise in French. It seems that it is not used in quite the same as in English and does not mean I will positively do such-and-such and you can positively count on me to keep my word. This proved to be quite a shock for me since, as I was taught a promise is a promise! After all, what does it say on British Bank Notes? I promise to pay the bearer ....... I was told that in France promise did not have that Anglo-Saxon sense of importance.

Alas, times change, even in the Anglo-Saxon world and the definition of a promise may have lessened somewhat today and does not appear to be as strictly defined. After all, how many actually understand or think about the word when they promise to honour and cherish nowadays?

The Egyptian was never shown at the Essoldo Bethnal Green and I never did get to the Empress Hackney to see it, as I had hoped. The Egyptian was the first of many such films that were not shown at the Essoldo Bethnal Green and the first to cause me some annoyance.

It wasn’t until 1962 that I eventually saw The Egyptian. At that time 20th Century Fox decided to re-release some of their earlier CinemaScope productions as double features and present them anew. The Egyptian was paired with Love is a Many Splendored Thing and was shown at the Granada Slough. At this time, the Essoldo chain no longer had an exclusive contract with the film studio to screen their films. That right had returned to J. Arthur Rank’s Odeons and Gaumont cinemas, but did seem to be continued with the Granada chain. Essoldo, like the other cinema chains, was experiencing a fall in ticket sales and had found it necessary to reduce the number of cinemas operated. I am sure that their situation was not helped by having to return to the policy of showing lesser known films previously released.

I remember going to see The Egyptian on a Saturday evening. The cinema was packed and all seats in the fifth and sixth rows were filled. This was disappointing as I had hoped to see the film with the whole of my visual field filled with the wonders of Egypt! I had to content myself with sitting at the rear of the stalls.

As the notes on the back of the container of the CBS-FOX Video recording of the film states: The Egyptian is an action-packed all-star epic that sweeps from the banks of the Nile to the four corners of the ancient world, set more than thirty centuries ago when the pagan priests of Egypt, with their many gods, were threatened by the worship of only One. It tells the story of an abandoned infant who rises to become the most famous healer of his time and physician to the Pharaoh and a young soldier who rises with him and who ultimately turns against him. It is a colossal production – a bawdy, blazing blockbuster – filled with torrid passion, merciless brutality and the wonders of the ancient world.

No wonder I was dying to see this film as a kid!!! Who could resist a torrid passion set in the ancient world along with the promise of great battle scenes? Naturally in the 1950s, the censor would not actually allow, merciless brutality, thank goodness, however the simple good clean mercy-ridden battle scenes were much appreciated by the likes of me!

The film is based on the novel by Mika Waltari. When I visited Australia, I found a copy of the book on the shelf of a friend and I started to read it during my visit. The book was very fat and the print was very small. Sadly, I only got to about page 30 before I had to leave. I think that The Egyptian was still setting the scene for his life story, which took less than five minutes in the film.

The film is of interest for a number of reasons. Firstly, it had been a must to see as a child, as I have said. Secondly, its casting is interesting also for a number of reasons. Originally 20th Century Fox offered the role of The Egyptian to Marlon Brando. Apparently, after reading the script, he refused it. This caused a flap at the studio and for some unknown reason the English actor Edmund Purdom was given the role. He had in played a young officer in the studio’s production of Titanic with Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb and was currently making films at MGM, the most notable being The Prodigal with the glorious Lana Turner and The Student Prince, where he had also replaced another actor, an overweight Mario Lanza. Despite being replaced, Mario Lanza had already recorded the soundtrack when he was dismissed. All was not lost to the studio and his recording was used as the voice of the Prince and he was subsequently billed as the singing voice.

The remaining members of the cast included Jean Simmons and Victor Mature, who had previously appeared together in several films at 20th Century Fox, along with Michael Wilding playing Pharaoh, if somewhat woodenly, and Peter Ustinov, as a slave who easily steals any acting honours. The final member of the star cast was Bella Darvi who played Nefer, a Babylonian courtesan. At the time of filming, she was the mistress of the film’s producer, Darryl F. Zanuck. Apparently, he had high hopes of making her a star. Although her acting talents were somewhat limited, her look was perfect and she was convincing as the unfeeling courtesan who bewitches The Egyptian! Sadly for Ms Darvi, after making only a couple of films in Hollywood, she fell out with the Darryl Zanucks and returned to Europe. She was destined not to be able to live within her means and was in constant need of loans from friends. Eventually she apparently ran out of options and committed suicide in 1971.

STARS OF 'THE EGYPTIAN'
Top Row: Peter Ustinov, Jean Simmons, Edmund Purdon, Leon Shamroy (Cinematography) & Victor Mature
Middle Row: Bella Darvi (in character), Gene Tireney (and in character with dog), Darryl F. Zanuck & Peter Ustinov
Bottom Row: Michael Curtiz, Peter Ustinov (as Nero), Bella Darvi, Ahkenaton & Michael Wilding

The music for the film is credited to both Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Newman. Bernard Herrmann wrote scores for radio, television and film. He wrote the music for many of Orson Wells’ Mercury Theatre radio productions and was the orchestra conductor on The War of the Worlds, which brought panic to listeners in 1938. His film scores including those to Citizen Kane, The Devil and Daniel Webster for which he won an Oscar, and to many of the films by Alfred Hitchcock. His scores to Hitchcock films include Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho. Herrmann insisted on having the final say on the music used in films that he worked on. Hitchcock recognised the importance of the score to the mood of a film and allowed Herrmann a free hand so-much-so that he often lengthened or shortened a scene to accommodate his score. Hitchcock asked Herrmann to depict the recognition scene, which occurs towards the end of Vertigo, in music. He also had an interest in electronically-produced music and sounds and used it to great effect in The Day The Earth Stood Still and The Birds, where there is no played music as such, only electronically produced bird sounds. He also wrote the opening theme of Have Gun Will Travel. Herrmann’s final film score was for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and was completed just before his death in 1975 and was highly acclaimed.

FILMSCORES OF BERNARD HERMANN

Finally, the film had a screenplay written in part by Philip Dunne and was directed by Michael Curtiz. Michael Curtiz was a respected director who had made numerous films at Warner Brothers with Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart including the highly acclaimed Casablanca.

With such a production staff and with largely a well-seasoned cast together with the glories of CinemaScope and the wonders of four-track stereophonic sound, the film should have been a masterpiece. Sadly, it wasn’t. Although it had sweeping scenes of the desert and the sights of Ancient Egypt, massive court scenes and some battles, all set to some glorious music with haunting themes, I found it long and, at times, tedious. However, to be fair, I suspect that had I seen it in 1954 when it was first released, my sentiments might be different. However by the time I finally saw it, my tastes had obviously changed and my interests broadened. Unfortunately, I could not help but think that the banks of the Nile and the sweeping desert were merely studio sets. I found the acting to lack any kind of feeling except for that of Peter Ustinov, who played his role as if bemused. Again, had I seen the film earlier, I most likely would not have noticed any of this and would have been less critical. After having finally seen the film, it seemingly disappeared from my consciousness. However, obviously it was not lost from my unconscious, as the reader will see!

In 1964, I was in my second year in college and wondering what to do during the summer. Obviously I was going to work, but the idea of working in a factory was proving depressing. I remember I happened, quite by chance, to catch a glimpse of a notice on one of the boards in the Student Common Room that mentioned opportunities to work abroad during the summer. Apparently, these opportunities were being organised by The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE), an organisation founded in 1948 at Imperial College, London. IAESTE was formed to promote better understanding between countries and cultures. Since its founding, the association has grown to include opportunities in over eighty countries and to allow many students to gain technical undergraduate practical work experience and a global perspective.

I went over to the notice board and read it and decided to look into the matter. I went to the Central College Office and asked about the opportunities. I was asked if I had any particular destination in mind as to where I wanted to go. No, I answered, I did not. Perhaps France? Maybe Scandinavia? The secretary gave me a file to look through. Seemingly the opportunities were to be found here. I sat down and leafed through the pages. I found most locations dull. There were opportunities to pick grapes in France and Germany. I did not fancy this at that time. Perhaps there might be something a little more exciting? I leafed on and suddenly there it was! An opportunity to go somewhere a little more exotic! Somewhere a little more exciting! Somewhere a little more flash! It seemed that the Misr Rayon Company was looking for a few students studying Chemistry to work in their factory during the summer. The thought of working in a factory was dull and the thought of working on chemical reactions during the holiday was, as the French say, mortal! But, when I saw where the Misr Rayon Company was, my misgivings disappeared and I knew that this was the job for me! The factory was at a place called Kafr-el-Dawar, which just happened to be a hamlet a mere twenty eight kilometres from the ancient City of Alexandria, on the Mediterranean Sea, in Egypt!!!


KAFR-EL-DEWAR

Scenes of the town and area, the hospital, railway station, the Cook and the Misr Rayon Company

Naturally my imagination ran away with me and, in the blink of an eye, I found myself lifted up and transported out of the Central College Office and set down on the banks of the Nile! One minute, I saw myself wandering around the great edifices built by the Ancient Egyptians and the next I was gazing at the River of Life, as it flowed through the Delta and out into the sea. And then I was walking through the bazaar and finding myself intoxicated by the mixture of exotic perfumes and spices. And then suddenly I was whirled away and I found myself travelling over the rolling dunes of the desert while a large intensely orange sun slipped slowly below the horizon! Yes, this was indeed the job for me!

Immediately I made application and after a few weeks of waiting I received a letter from someone at the factory informing me that I had been accepted and that they looked forward to meeting me. I spent eight weeks in Egypt in the summer of 1964 and was fortunate enough to travel extensively through the land.

This was a rare and wonderful experience. It was a time not long after the Suez Crisis and hostility towards the British and French was still keen. One still had to duck the occasional thrown stone. However it was several years before The Six Day War and almost a decade before the Yon Kippur War. It was a time when only rich American widows took boat trips down the Nile and when Russians and Chinese worked on the Aswan Dam by day, but sat angrily glaring at each other in the clubs at night. Gamal Abdel Nasser was still laying claim to heading the Arab World while the treasures of Tutankhamun were safely under lock and key at the Cairo Museum of Egyptology and in his tomb in Upper Egypt, long before they begun travelling the world for everyone to see. Wealthy sheiks dressed in white robes and golden head dresses sat on the sand beside their Lincoln Continentals and Rolls Royces at the Pyramids and played with their sons while their wives and daughters sat together at a distance.

I was besotted with what I saw. At that time, Egypt was a land of magic and mystery and I was introduced to a world that no Hollywood could have imagined at that time. I remember seeing women dressed from head-to-toe in black walking slowly to the banks of the Nile just outside of Luxor and filling their earthenware jars in the flowing river and carrying them home perched on their heads just as women had done centuries before. I sat in a tailor’s atelier in the Bazaar at Aswan where I spent a memorable evening talking even though none of use spoke the other’s language and sipped tea and laughed while smoking hash in a community hookah. I remember going into the desert and sitting beside an oasis at sunset and listening to the rustle of the palms and watching the breeze gently move the sand. Egypt was like nothing that I had seen before.

Click here to see and hear the conclusion of the film

When The Egyptian was released on VHS tape, I bought a copy and occasionally watched it. I did so more for sentimental reasons rather than because I suddenly found it to be a great film. Sadly, my opinion of it has changed little since 1962. It seems that I am not the only one who has memories of this film. I was amused once to read of the complaints made at Amazon.com by the people who await the release of the film to DVD. It would appear that it has become a forgotten film by the new generation who run 20th Century Fox and it has been omitted from their Studio Classics collection. Perhaps the sands of time have blown gently to where the original acetate print lays hidden and where it will now lay waiting for others to find sometime in the future when we are all long since gone and forgotten.

I would like to thank Mr. Brian Hall and Mr. Kevin Wheelan for their kindness in allowing many of their pictures to be reproduced here.

Continue to Part Seven - Carmen Jones

Back to Part Five - How to Marry a Millionaire

Back to Home Page

Copyrightę 2010 - : Charles S. P. Jenkins