Solomon King (1974) Review

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Long considered lost, the 1974 blaxploitation film Solomon King has been restored by the folk at Deaf Crocodile Films. Working from the print at the UCLA Film & TV Archive which was badly faded but the only known complete one they did a full 4K restoration. They then matched it with the film’s score and soundtrack elements which the filmmaker’s widow, Belinda Burton-Watts had stored in a closet. The results of their work premiered at this year’s Fantastic Fest.

There’s trouble in the royal house of a wealthy Middle Eastern nation. Prince Hassan (Richard Scarso, Cain’s Way, Massacre Mafia Style) has launched a coup. But Manny King (James Watts) who was there overseeing the oil fields escapes with Princess Oneeba (Claudia Russo, Stato di ebbrezza, Sconnessi) and heads back to Oakland. Why Oakland? Because his brother Solomon (Sal Watts, Big Time) is there and he’ll know what to do.

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Solomon, apart from being a successful businessman with ties to the oil industry, is a former special forces operative as well as a former CIA agent. When we first see him he’s in his Masseratti talking on his car phone, that’s how successful he is. And he quickly shows us how savvy he is as he exits his car and sneaks up on the CIA goons tailing him. But when they kill the princess it becomes a personal matter.

Unlike many blaxploitation films, Solomon King wasn’t the product of a studio and/or made by white filmmakers such as Larry Cohen (Bone, Hell Up in Harlem), William Girdler (Abby, Sheba Baby), or Jonathan Kaplan (The Slams, Truck Turner). Sal Watts not only starred in the film he produced, financed, and wrote it as well as co-directing it with Jack Bomay. Not only that, the men’s stylish outfits came from his chain of clothing stores.

While this meant it isn’t full of the usual cliches and has a more authentic feel to it, it also means there was a lot less money available and the production sometimes reflects that. Most of the cast weren’t professional actors, something that is painfully obvious at times. Even stock footage of Saudi oil fields was out of the question and we see a couple of small wells in California instead with most of the Arab characters played by white actors in turbans.

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Once you get past that, however, Solomon King has a lot going for it with a plot that starts out as an urban action film complete with rogue government agents and plenty of double-crosses. But then in the final act, it switches up and becomes a budget Dirty Dozen as O’Malley (Louis Zito, Savage Streets, Drive-In), his old boss at the CIA, tells him to round up his old Green Beret buddies and stage a counter-coup. You can’t say Watts didn’t try to go big.

For a non-actor, Watts makes a likable leading man with enough charm and bravado to carry off not just the fight scenes but not lose the viewer’s sympathy when almost immediately after Princess Oneeba dies in his arms he lets another woman console him between the sheets. The film ends with an opening for a sequel and I wonder how far Watts could have taken Solomon King if this film had received decent distribution.

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The film itself looks wonderful. You can see in the comparison video below just how much work was needed to restore it. And music fans should take note of Solomon King’s soundtrack which, apart from a great funk score that’s as good as any studio film of the era, features a pair of performances at a club he owns. I believe the eventual Blu-ray release will be from Vinegar Syndrome and a CD of the music would be a perfect extra.

Fans of 70s action films in general as well as the blaxploitation genre and vintage independent cinema should all enjoy Solomon King. It’s currently expected to play the festival circuit into the new year. A general release will come at some point after that. You can check Deaf Crocodile’s Facebook page for announcements of festival screenings and the eventual release date. FilmTagger can suggest some similar films to watch while you wait.

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