Wednesday, 23 March 2011

She (1965)

Dir: ROBERT DAY
Country: UK

First serialised in 1886 H. Rider Haggard’s exotic fantasy adventure She provided just the right ingredients for the early pioneers of silent cinema. Adaptations of the durable tale appeared in 1908, 1911, 1916, 1917 and 1926. RKO raised the bar considerably in 1935 with a lavish version of the tale which cast Helen Gahagan as the eponymous immortal and Randolph Scott as Leo Vincey. This rendering still remains the most impressive thanks to excellent sets, costumes and optical effects. Thirty years later Hammer Film Productions were attempting to diversify their output further, and Haggard’s source material provided the company with the possibility to develop a strain of lost world/prehistoric adventure films. In 1965 Hammer were enjoying one of their most lucrative periods, and the evidence of this is illustrated by the increased budget and epic scale afforded to She. But this is Hammer’s interpretation of the word ‘epic’ and despite shooting in cinemascope the film never quite reaches the grandeur of the 1935 film, nor does it do full justice to the rich imagery of Haggard’s novel. But perhaps the greatest failing of David T. Chantler’s screenplay is that for large periods of the film very little happens. This has to be one of the most limp and lifeless epic adventures of all time; in short She is a crashing bore.



The film opens in Palestine in 1918 and we are introduced to the characters of Major Holly (Peter Cushing - sporting a very cool beard), Leo Vincey (John Richardson) and Job (Bernard Cribbins). The trio have completed their military service in the Middle East and are now looking to unwind and enjoy the nightlife. We get to see Peter Cushing dance, Cribbins get into a fight, and Richardson lured to a solitary apartment by a stunning and mysterious babe. Unfortunately the moment that Richardson becomes the focus of the film She begins to unravel. Richardson is abysmal here, he is utterly unconvincing, uncharismatic, and totally wooden. But he does resemble the ancient love of Ayesha (Ursula Andress) who believes him to be the reincarnation. If it isn’t bad enough that the male lead possesses the animation of a corpse, we also have to endure the utterly bereft acting talents of Andress. Of course she wasn’t cast for this reason, and she does bring the requisite glamour and gravitas to such a powerful character. Andress is at least an engaging screen presence, her problems begin when she has to deliver dialogue. These casting choices create a terrible imbalance in the film. The film is led by two talentless morons, but the supporting cast is terrific. In addition to Cushing and Cribbins we have Christopher Lee and Andre Morrel.



Major Holly is the most interesting character by some margin. He is an adventurer and archaeologist and has a genuine chemistry with his comical sidekick Job. When the opportunity to discover the lost city of Kuma presents itself Holly is unable to resist the temptation. I only wish he had, because we have to endure an interminable trek across some countryside we are asked to believe is a desert. This seems to go on and on in a most aimless fashion, and the dullness is only fleetingly alleviated by a dreadfully unimaginative encounter with a band of cutthroats. This journey should have been the epic centrepiece of the narrative. The adventurers first encounter some native savages who are slaves to the tyrannical Ayesha. Here the Hammer filmmakers indulge with typical delight in retrograde ethnic representations. Why for example are these people wearing such utterly absurd wigs? However the presence of a tribe of slaves utterly terrified of Ayesha, but constantly on the tip of revolt is the first indication that Kuma might not be the exotic paradise the adventurers think it will be.



The city is in fact a clearly demarcated society, and one in which Hammer’s ever present statements about class can flourish. This a world of oppression and cruelty. The most effective sequence sees Ayesha order the deaths of fifteen slaves, her look of curiosity and satisfaction as they are one by one thrown into a molten pit is chilling. Unfortunately these moments of sadism are inter cut with the soporific and vile scenes of romance between Andress and Richardson. These gag inducing moments come replete with a swooning leitmotif courtesy of James Bernard who produces a less than average score for once. The themes of immortality, divinity, treachery and matriarchy are intriguing enough. But the key moment in which Ayesha breaks Vincey to her will and watches as he kneels before her lacks any kind of impact because of Richardson’s simpering wetness. The reduction of his masculinity is inconsequential, because he never really had any to begin with. A subplot featuring the travails and tribulations of high priest Billali seems only to have been included to give Christopher Lee something to do. But Lee almost single-handedly saves the last third of She thanks to a debate with Holly about the nature of oppression, and a classy sword fight with Vincey. Perhaps the best moment of the film is the finale, simply because it offers an ending that is surprisingly downbeat. After watching Ayesha shrivel away to dust after a second trip into the fires that grants immortality Vincey must now take her place as an immortal and yearn for her return. A cruel reversal of fate perhaps, but this is all that a dullard like Vincey deserves.

© Shaun Anderson 2011

13 comments:

  1. "She" might well be a "Crashing Bore" but its still light years ahead of any of the laughable, pathetic, unwatchable garbage thats produced by the British film industry now.

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  2. In general I'd have to totally agree with you.

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  3. Cheers geezer, its great to know that i`m not the only person in the world who realises what a ludicrous joke and laughing stock the British film industry has become over the last 30 years since the demise of Hammer and Amicus.

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  4. jervaise brooke hamster29 March 2011 at 22:52

    I actually think Rosenda Monteros was even more gorgeous than Ursula Andress, in fact when she was a young bird back in the 50`s and 60`s Rosenda was one of the most incredible little sexpots i`ve ever seen.

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    1. Have to disagree, Rosenda was lovely, and was enchanting in her first appearance in the Night Club, but as soon as Ursula appeared, she took beauty to a truly legendary status.

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  5. @ Anonymous - Some would argue that Hammer and Amicus were a laughing stock! But in general I agree about the poverty of quality, or even interesting, genre films. I really don't think the British horror film has ever truly recovered from the Video Nasty era and the draconian censorship of horror on videotape throughout the 1990's.

    @ Jervaise - I think Andress just wins out for me, and I think Monteros incredibly irritating in SHE.

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  6. The people who argue that Hammer and Amicus were laughing stocks are ludicrous, pretentious, posturing, highbrow, elitist, racist, snobs who wouldn`t know a good film if it walked up to them and said "OI GEEZER, I`M A GOOD FILM ! ! !".

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  7. jervaise brooke hamster31 March 2011 at 00:43

    Shaun, do you know of any films from that period where Rosenda Monteros appeared naked ?.

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  8. @ Anonymous - Why racist?

    @ Jervaise - Can't help you I'm afraid, I know nothing about her filmography apart from her performance in this film.

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  9. Simply because people who are ludicrous, pretentious, posturing, highbrow, elitist, snobs are very likely to be racists as well.

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  10. I've yet to see this version from start to finish. A lot of Hammer fans over here were shocked that instead of it getting a respectable DVD release, it instead came out on as part of Warner's On Demand DVD-R service with a less than stellar print.

    The loosely based (and that's an understatement) 1983 version also called SHE is a riot, Shaun. I reviewed it some time back, and if you haven't seen it, I would love to read your thoughts on that one. It's a top piece of trash!

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  11. The Optimum Region 2 DVD isn't a fantastic print either Brian - I'm surprised too that such a high profile Hammer film should get the On Demand treatment. They also put out CRESCENDO On Demand I believe, which is a more appropriate title for this method of distribution - obscure in other words.

    I haven't seen the 1983 version, but I read a little about it during my research for this review. I'm going to head over to CAC and have a read Brian...cheers!

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  12. I saw this film when it first came out. At the time I remember there was a cosmetic soap ad featuring Ursula on TV. And I had seen a ravishing portrait of her in one of the Film magazines at the time. I also just happened to have recently read the Rider haggard books and become fascinated. I became obsessed with Ursula and drew a pretty good portrait hat won a prize. In those days Hammer was almost the sole provider of "X" certificate movies, the truly trashy series(but enjoyable) of Hammer horrors( now of course would not be shocking at all. I think the movie is a simple pleasure, Ursula and Richardson both fill the bill, Rosenda charmingly pretty. And stalwarts Cushing & Lee, provide all that is required. Ursula was well cast as the Goddess, and this along with "Perfect Friday" remain my favorites of her work.

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