She Who Must Be Obeyed
The 1965 take on H. Rider Hagard’s She was the most expensive Hammer project to date, and they could pull it off only because, after much searching, MGM agreed to foot the bill.
After all, it was to be a vehicle for Ursula Andres, that three years before had caused quite a splash as the first Bond Girl ever in Dr No.
And so, yesterday being Andress’ birthday and all that, I watched the old movie again, and it was just as much fun as the last time I’d seen it. It’s not exactly a Tits & Sand movie, despite the fact that both ingredients figure prominently in the mix (but in a classy way).
For reasons known only to scriptwriter David T. Chantler the action is moved from 19th century Africa to 1918 Palestine, where former British Army fellows Leo Vincey (john Richardson) and Professor Holly (Peter Cushing) and their valet-turned-orderly Job (Bernard Cribbins) are enjoying some r’n’r and reflecting on the fact that, the war being over, they don’t feel like going back to England.
We get the opportunity of seeing Peter Cushing dance with belly-dancing girls before a fight breaks up – and in the meantime Vincey is kidnapped and brought to the presence of Ayesha (Ursula Andress), that talks in riddles and hands him a map to a lost city.
Soon the three adventurers are on their way to the lost city, where the usual plot of passion, betrayal and reincarnation, as per Rider Haggard specifications, will unfold.
So, the movie does play around with the original plot, sometimes with less-than-happy results.
If Ayesha can go and hook up with Leo in Palestine, why submit him to the hardships of crossing the Desert of Souls and reach the Mountains of the Moon?
Yes, there is this story that Leo must prove his mettle facing unusual odds, but the lot seems a bit contrived.
On the other hand, as far as adventure movies go, She is a good show – great location shots from the Negev Desert, and high quality sound stage set-ups shot in Elstree. Richardson as Vincey/Callicrates is somewhat dull as befits the part, but it’s always a pleasure watching Cushing and Cribbins, wonderful actors and good friends that shared (I discover from checking IMDB) a passion for birdwatching, and Christopher Lee as the great priest Billali.
Ursula Andress is statuesque and beautiful, of course, but rather rigid – and the dubbing gives her a twittering voice that does not suit the character. One imagines She That Must Be Obeyed endowed with a deep, sultry seductress’ voice.
In the end, She hides its sting in the tail, and Leo Vincey’s fate feels like a straightforward comeuppance for his vanity and ambition.
There was a sequel, in 1968, with Olinka Berova replacing Andress and only Richardson returning from the original cast. I’m rather curious about it, and will try (but not too hard) to find it and watch it.
Of course the book is better, but you already knew that – you can get yourself a copy from Project Gutenberg, and have a lot of fun.