Saturday, November 26, 2011

SHE (1935)

This earlier version of Haggard’s "She" has a good reputation and does have its moments, but isn't quite as much dumb fun as the later film. It also changes the plot details considerably. In this film, Leo is set on the trail of eternal youth by his dying uncle; it seems that 500 years ago, a relative of theirs named John went off to the great frozen north in search of a mystical Flame of Eternal Life and may have found it, though he never returned. Leo and his friend Horace head off for the Shuko Barrier in the Arctic, and are joined by a gruff trader and his daughter Tanya—she takes the place of the more exotic Ustane from the book. Once they get to the mysterious land past the Barrier, the action is largely the same as in the later film, though here, Leo turns out to look exactly like his ancestor John, whose embalmed body is still intact. Ayehsa's first appearance, from behind a wall of smoke, is genuinely thrilling. There is a long, heavily choreographed ritual dance that looks like it might have inspired a similar number in DeMille's TEN COMMANDMENTS. Unlike Ustane, Tanya survives, but the rest of the story follows the same course as the '65 film.

Randolph Scott is Leo, and you would think he would have all the qualities needed for the perfect adventure hero, but he seems a bit detached, though he gets better near the end as he falls under Ayesha's influence. Helen Gahagan (above, in her only movie role before she entered politics and became a Congresswoman) is dull and monotone, and lookswise can't hold a candle to Andress. Nigel Bruce provides some fun as the stuffy, mildly amusing Horace, and Gustav von Seyffertitz has the Christopher Lee role, but plays it without much gusto. The rather drab Helen Mack (pictured with Scott) is Tanya, and she irritatingly pronounces Leo "Lay-o" throughout. The film is in black and white, but the set design of the Arctic and the city (which looked like it should have been in Maxfield Parrish colors) is nice. The flame effect is better here than in the '65 film. The final scene, with Leo, Tanya and Horace gathered around a cozy fireplace back in England, is sappy and wrong. Both films are worth watching, though if you can only find time for one, I'd pick the Hammer version, and the book is still worth reading. [DVD]

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