11/16/11

It Came From TCM: She (1965): Sexiest Pronoun Ever

If you've ever had the desire to see Peter Cushing do his best belly dancing, then you've come to the right place today. For I have for you guys the only film in which Count Dracula cut a Middle Eastern rug, the 1965 Hammer film She. Based on an 1887 novel by H. Rider Haggard, She first made its way to screen in 1899 as The Pillar of Fire. Over the next few years it would become one of the most remade films in formative cinematic history (proving unnecessary remakes have always been the stuff of the movies.) It was next made in  1911 with Marguerite Snow in the title role, then in 1917 a version was filmed for Fox, and in 1925 with the participation of Rider Haggard. Perhaps the most well known version is King Kong director Merian Cooper's   She (1935) which transposes the action from Africa to the Arctic and is thoroughly appointed in the Art Deco style. It has been hailed as one of the best (and first) enjoyable "bad" movies, and the title character's look clearly influenced the design of Disney's evil queen in Snow White. A movie called She, bearing some of the character names, debuted in 1982, but it has little to no relation to the source material, and finally it was  remade within recent memory (if anyone remembers, I certainly missed this one) in 2001. While I've seen most of these versions over the years, it wasn't until TCM, continuing their celebration of movie blondes, showed Hammer's She (I wish they had shown the sequel The Vengeance of She as well.) I finally caught up with the most lavish version ever put to film.

The story begins in Palestine of 1918, shortly after World War I had come to a close. Military men Professor Holly (Peter Cushing), Leo Vincey (John Richardson), and Holly's former manservant Job (Bernard Cribbins) are kicking back in a bar carousing and doing a little dancing. Leo is tempted away from the fun by a mysterious but beautiful woman, Ustane (Rosenda Monteros), and soon he gets knocked unconscious. Upon waking he is met with the even more beautiful woman Ayesha (Ursula Andress), the immortal queen of a lost civilization of Egyptians, also known as She or She-who-must-be-obeyed. She believes Leo is the reincarnation of her long lost love, and she tasks him to follow a map to her kingdom if he wishes to be with her. Convincing his two friends to come along in pursuit of great discoveries, the trio set out across the desert where they run out of supplies, are attacked by warring tribes, and at one time are nearly sacrificed. Finally reaching Ayesha's kingdom, Holly and Job become quite aware of the immortal queen's cruelty, but Leo is blind to his obsession's wickedness and his quest for undying love becomes his undoing.

When I first heard the phrase "She-who-must-be-obeyed", I thought for a minute that my wife, The Lady Bugg, must be around somewhere, but then I realized it was a movie and I could relax and think about how hot Ursula Andress was. And, oh, man, is she ever smoking hot in this film. Andress became an international sex symbol three years earlier when she rose from the ocean wearing a white bikini in the first James Bond movie, Dr. No. (Interestingly her voice in She was dubbed by actress Nikki Van der Zyl who also was her voice in Dr. No and would continue to dub voices for Bond movies for years.) Andress is radiantly beautiful as the wicked queen, especially so in her gold and feathered headdress, and it really comes as no wonder that a man would traipse across the desert to find her. In this early portion of her career, Andress' acting relies on her emotional core as we never hear her real voice. Everything is with the eyes, and from the relief of finding her lost love to the fury of betrayal , she channeled the character to perfection.

It was also very interesting to see Peter Cushing in a Hammer film that wasn't a horror flick, or at least not in the traditional sense. Holly is the grounded force in the film attempting to talk some reason into his young,love struck compatriot, and Cushing gives a tender performance especially his speech on age and immortality which encapsulates the film's meaning in a neat package without spoon-feeding it to the audience. It should be noted that Christopher Lee also appears here as Ayesha's high priest making this yet another Lee/Cushing/Hammer films collaboration. John Richardson, who some may recognize from One Million Years B.C. and Mario Bava's Black Sunday, does a fine job as the obsessed lover. There were several times I wanted to reach into the screen a smack his character for making dumb choices, which always makes me feel like an actor is doing his job. Speaking of those three letters,Bernard Cribbins appears as the biblically named Job, and he provides what little comic relief the film gives.Cribbins would go on to appear in several of the "Carry on.." films as well as making a memorable appearance in Hitchcock's Frenzy.

While none of the versions of She that I have seen are perfect, the Hammer version comes closest. She was the most lavish production Hammer had undertaken, and its budget became the high water mark for all their productions. Director Robert Day successfully widened the scope of Hammer's film making, and brought a dash of Laurence of Arabia to the proceedings. That being said, She moves at a glacial pace, and sometimes it gets bogged down in talk when it could have used a shot of action. The story at its core is one for the ages, as evidenced by the numerous versions and remakes, and even through the slow movement, it managed to keep me entertained and combined well with the well appointed sets.For fans of Hammer films, adventure movies, Lee, Cushing, and especially Andress, She is essential viewing, and if you won't take my word for it, She-who-must-be-obeyed might have a thing or two to say about it.

Bugg Rating

P.S. This is what I call a double feature!

I couldn't find a trailer, but here's a clip of She sedusing her He.

2 comments:

  1. I'm quite fond of this movie as well. It surprises me that do many people dislike it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the Idea of the Double Feature and Raquel Welch!

    ReplyDelete

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