There were seven silent movies based on H Rider HAGGARD's She: A History of Adventure (1886), the last being She (1925), dir G B Samuelson and starring Betty Blythe. In addition, there have been two movies based directly upon the novel, however loosely, and one extending it (all three discussed below). Of related relevance is the very violent, semi-pornographic, post-Apocalypse Italian sf movie She (1985), dir Avi Nesher and starring Sandahl Bergman in the title role as the leader of a nation in which women have enslaved men. S.H.E. (1979), dir Robert Lewis and starring Cornelia Sharpe, tips a hat to Haggard but is in fact a sub-Bond spy caper, Sharpe being codenamed S.H.E. [JG]
1. She US movie (1935). Radio Pictures. Pr Merian C Cooper. Dir Lancing C Holden, Irving Pichel. Vfx Vernon Walker. Screenplay Dudley Nichols, Ruth Rose. Starring Nigel Bruce (Horace Holly), Helen Gahagan (She), Helen Mack (Tanya Dugdale), Randolph Scott (Leo Vincey). 89 mins. B/w.
An old Vincey family tale tells how the 15th-century John Vincey quested to the Arctic to find the Fountain of Youth. Now Leo Vincey and manservant Holly follow that trail, picking up orphan Tanya on the way. Among the glaciers they are taken in by a cannibalistic Lost Race; but these people are ruled by another, much more civilized people ... who are in turn ruled by She. She lives behind a wall of flame and has been waiting centuries for the return of John Vincey, and immediately assumes Leo is John's Reincarnation. Allured by her ethereal sensuality and her promise of Immortality, yet repelled by her cruelty, Leo opts instead for sensible, mundane Tanya. Arrogantly demonstrating in the immortality-granting Flame of Life how Tanya will wither and age, She inadvertently inflicts the full effects of the millennia upon herself, and dies.
Scott displays the sensitivity of a plank; Bruce previews the stalwart Watson he would play to Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes; Mack is pretty and petite, but little else. Only Gahagan's performance conveys any sense of fantasy; she never made another movie. The screenplay, with its bizarrely gratuitous changes from the original, lumbers along; it is hardly helped by extended Busby Berkeley-style dance routines representing Human-Sacrifice rites. Yet S is not without importance: Frank Capra must have been influenced by it when he made Lost Horizon (1937). [JG]
2. She UK movie (1965). Hammer/Associated British Picture Corporation/Warner-Pathé. Pr Michael Carreras. Dir Robert Day. Spfx George Blackwell, Bowie Films Ltd. Mufx Roy Ashton. Screenplay David T Chantler. Starring Ursula Andress (Ayesha), Bernard Cribbins (Job), Peter Cushing (Major Horace L Holly), Christopher Lee (Billali), Rosenda Monteros (Ustane), André Morell (Haumeid), John Richardson (Leo Vincey/Killikrates). 105 mins. Colour.
Three demobbed British Army servicemen – Vincey, Holly and Job – are en route home after WWI when Vincey is picked up in a Palestine bar by the improbably beautiful Ustane, and lured into the presence of Ayesha, a cruel ruler who has gained Immortality through bathing in the Secret Flame. For Vincey is the Reincarnation of Killikrates, High Priest of Isis, the lover whom Ayesha slew millennia ago. After an arduous desert journey to Ayesha's lost-city civilization, the three men are accepted as guests while Ayesha woos Vincey. But Ustane, who has fallen in love with Vincey, follows the party, and his affections oscillate between her and Ayesha with bewildering swiftness. Ayesha eventually kills Ustane and turns Vincey into a catspaw, with the aim of giving him, too, eternal youth by having him bathe with her in the Flame. But her renewed immersion in the Flame reverses her immortality, and within minutes she ages until she is merely dust. Vincey is left to face eternity without her.
This was certainly one of Hammer's more stylish productions, and was commercially very successful – leading to a sequel, 3. Viewed today, it seems dated, with chanting painted natives seemingly plucked from a Tarzan Movie (Ayesha's own soldiers are, puzzlingly, kitted out as Roman legionaries). But its brio allows much to be forgiven. [JG]
3. The Vengeance of She UK movie (1968). 20th Century-Fox/Seven Arts-Hammer. Pr Aida Young. Dir Cliff Owen. Spfx Bowie Films Ltd. Mufx Michael Morris. Screenplay Peter O'Donnell. Starring Olinka Berova (Carol/Ayesha), Derek Godfrey (Men-Hari), Edward Judd (Dr Philip Smith), Daniele Noel (Sharna), John Richardson (Killikrates), Noel Willman (Za-Tor). 101 mins. Colour.
A modest sequel to 2, reversing the sexes. Mini-skirted amnesiac Carol wanders vaguely towards North Africa, psychically guided (largely through Dreams) and magically protected by Magi in the service of Killikrates, who believes her the Reincarnation of Ayesha. She gains the affection of psychiatrist Philip, who – after adventures – accompanies her to Killikrates's mountain fastness. There her mind is enslaved by scheming magus Men-Hari so that she becomes persuaded she is Ayesha, and prepares to pass through the Secret Flame and indeed become her alter ego. Killikrates' slaves rebel. Aided by slave-girl Sharna, who loves Killikrates, Philip confronts the pair just as Carol prepares to enter the Flame, and uses psychological suggestion to return her memory. When all is revealed as a plot by Men-Hari to attain Immortality for himself, Killikrates suicides by entering the Flame. Rebel leader Za-Tor calls down destruction upon all for having turned from white to black Magic – only Carol and Philip escape the disaster.
Berova, presumably chosen for her resemblance to Andress, is sweet but buxomly vacuous in the Hammer style, and the hole left at the movie's core by her lack of presence remains unfilled. Yet there are some good moments, notably the Ritual sequence in which Men-Hari calls up a Demon to destroy the lone psychic who attempts to break the Spell placed on Carol. [JG]