Solomon and Sheba (1959)

Many elderly people come to sunny Spain to lengthen their lives; Tyrone Power came to Spain to shorten his, although that probably wasn’t his intention at the time.

Power was the co-producer and star of the Hollywood blockbuster, directed by King Vidor, set in Egypt and therefore, logically, filmed near Zaragoza.

Power had completed shooting more than half of the film when he collapsed after a gruelling duelling scene with George Sanders, and died of a heart attack a few minutes later. Curiously, Power had recently filmed an advertisement for the American Heart Association. Power was replaced by wig-toting Yul Brynner, who redid all of Power’s scenes. Power, however, is still visible in the film in long shots. 

Filming near Zaragoza had its advantages. The military academy there was only too happy to lend soldiers to the film company to die in droves and kill without mercy.

George Sanders, who shared Power’s last scene, would return to Spain in 1972 in order to commit suicide in a hotel in Castelldefells near Barcelona. 

Power’s own demise took place at the Sevilla Film Studios in Madrid’s Avenida Pio XII, number 3. The studios, created in 1943 were used in such epics as Alexander the Great, El Cid, Patton and King of Kings. Unfortunately, in 1973 the complex was redeveloped as an area of villas and a shopping centre.

In the great battle scene with the dazzling shields, the producers wish to point out that no toy horses were injured in the making of this film.

For all the battle scenes and scenes with people riding through the wilderness, the scenery of Valdespartera, near Zaragoza, belonging then to the Ministry of Defence, was employed; and in several of those scenes, a lonely distant castle on top of a hill can be seen.

This castle is the XIII century Santa Barbara, now separated from the city by a motorway. However, as a direct result of the filming of Solomon and Sheba, all the streets nearby been given the names of films.

So, as you wander the streets, you come across names such as (in Spanish of course) The Birds, Singing in the Rain, An American in Paris or Casablanca, and The Searchers (Centauros del Desierto), which leads you to a tunnel under the by-pass, through which you enter the wasteland surrounding the castle, today graffitied to death and abandoned to its fate.