HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.
HCF REWIND NO.90. SHE 
AVAILABLE ON DVD AND BLU RAY
RUNNING TIME: 104 mins/ 94 mins
Leo Vincey has been called back to his ancestral home in Britain to see his uncle, a man he has never met. The uncle is dying but tells him a strange story about a distant relative, John Vincey, who disappeared 500 years looking for a magic radioactive flame that has the ability to keep someone young forever. Leo is convinced to leave with his uncle’s good friend Horace Holly in search of this odd flame which is located in the Russian Arctic. Along the way, they encounter a trader named Dugmore,who finds them some native guides to the mountains where John went centuries earlier. They take him along, and also his daughter Tanya, but Dugmore and most of the guides are killed by an avalanche. They plod on, approaching the lost city of Kor and its immortal queen……
The term She who just be obeyed is probably best known as the term Rumpole Of The Bailey used for his wife, but it actually derived from the novel She from 1887, a novel which, though probably not widely read now, is one of the best-selling books of all time. This 1935 film adaptation is probably the best of the eight film versions, even though I am still very fond of Hammer’s 1965 version with Ursula Andress at her most stunning. In both versions, it’s a rather striking, imaginative adventure romance that has a rather haunting story, with some fascinating concepts which certainly caught my imagination when I first saw it as a kid, but despite my love for Hammer, I believe the 1935 film does it better. I suppose many today will find the film dated and that the film doesn’t have enough action, which is something I would probably say myself if it was a new cinema release. We seem to be spoiled with action being thrown at us non-stop at the moment but there was a time when adventure films didn’t feel a need to do this. She remains quite an impressive technical achievement for its time, and as I’ve said, the tale it spins is a really intriguing and compelling one.
There had been five silent adaptations prior to this version, which was produced by Merian C. Cooper, who had brought King Kong to the screen in 1933, resulting in probably the best giant monster movie ever made [and I say this as a big Godzilla fan!]. She was planned as a huge production that would be in colour and include prehistoric mammals like a Mammoth existing near the city of Kor. Both Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo were rumoured for the title role. Because lots of films were losing money though, the studio RKO cut the budget in half, causing the project to be scaled down, though it was still a very lavish production and the resulting film doesn’t bear any signs of this. Ruth Rose’s script altered much from the book and added elements of Haggard’s sequels, but retained its heart. It was a big flop when it came out and ended star Helen Gahagan’s brief movie career, though she went to become a successful politician.Re-releases ensured that the film stayed fairly well known, though eight minutes were cut and never restored until 2007. The film itself was lost for several decades until a print was found in Buster Keaton’s garage. The 2007 Kino DVD/Blu Ray is a fine restoration of the film, though it has controversially been coloured. Even though they tried their best to make it look like a really old colour film, for me colourisation has never really looked right and it doesn’t here, even if one can make a good case for the effort as the movie was originally intended to be in colour.
The most drastic change Rose’s script [done because so many recent films had been set in Africa] made from the novel was to relocate She’s home from Africa to the Arctic, and of course it’s hard to buy that a warm country can exist somewhere near the North Pole, but then it’s a fantastical story anyway. The opening of the film in England immediately stirs the imagination with its talk of an adventurous ancestor in the Middle Ages, a quest for the fountain of eternal youth and the production of a manuscript. We don’t waste much time getting to Russia and actually the transition from locales is rather sudden. Never mind, we soon have an avalanche, pits of lava and primitive cannibals to brave, as well as the stunning sight of a frozen Sabre-Tooth Tiger which gives a juicy hint of what the film could possibly have been like as originally conceived. We then reach Kor, and in terms of pacing the film almost grinds to a halt, but makes up for that by getting increasingly fascinating and giving us a truly bizarre love triangle.
She, of course, refers to the ruler of Kor, Queen Hash-A-Mo-Tep [which sounds very Egyptian and reinforces how similar the story is to the 1932 The Mummy]. Thousands of years ago she bathed in the flame of eternal youth and therefore became immortal. She fell in love with Leo’s ancestor John, but murdered him out of jealousy. Now, she wants Leo, who seems to be more John’s reincarnation than descendent, to be her husband and join her in immortality. ‘She’ is a truly interesting character, a cruel leader, vain and controlling, but she’s also rather tragic. There is the sense that the centuries of waiting for her love to return have in part made her the person she is. Leo also has Tanya interested in him, and the major deleted scene that has been restored includes a really interesting conversation between the two about all this. The morality and ethics of the concepts presented are timeless. Leo is tempted by Hash-A-Mo-Tep and her offer, and wouldn’t we all be? The idea of eternal life is one that will never go away. Tanya, well played by the always sweet Helen Mack, has a lovely speech when she says what her idea of life is, that is really heartbreaking and so true.
You will have probably realised by now that She is very talky, but it does eventually get more pacy with a most extraordinary sacrificial ceremony that features some of the weirdest dance choreography you will ever see and a fine chase which contains a great long distance shot of people jumping across, and fighting near, a crevice where you can see stunt people falling in great fashion. Then there’s the simply amazing climax, located in a striking set straight out of The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari full of strange shapes and jagged patterns, a climax which has inspired many films including Lost Horizon and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, but has never been topped in a purely cinematic sense. It’s almost painful and ironic beyond words to see Hash-A-Mo-Tep go into that flame four times and only at the end be aware that she has aged each time. Max Steiner’s desperately sad music helps give the scene considerable pathos, you feel so sorry for this foolish woman who loves far too much but perhaps has lost sight of what true love really is. But then, the score as a whole is a tremendous musical work veering from lyrical romanticism to harsh atonality. The theme for ‘She’, with descending chromatic notes and soft chorus, is truly haunting and beautiful and is as good a musical evocation of a character as there has ever been, and don’t forget the thrilling music for the sacrifice scene, an insane melding of primitive paganism and classical Hollywood.
Even if you find portions of the film a bit slow, you can admire the audacious Art Deco design [which surely influenced Lost Horizon], and is that the gate from King Kong cutting Kor off from the outside world? The matte paintings are of an unparelleled standard for the time and the avalanche sequence, despite its polysterine ice, looks better than most comparable sequences done with CGI these days. Then there’s Helen Galagan as She, a simply astonishing performance, one of those which transcends normal screen acting in a way that is almost impossible to describe. Somehow, she manages to act and even look like she is thousands of years ago. The detail and subtlety should be studied by anyone who wants to act, it’s simply amazing, and detracts attention from some of the ropey acting elsewhere like Randolph Scott as Leo. Look out for one particular costume of hers, which clearly inspired the look of the Queen in Disney’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. I always find She a really rewarding watch that sticks in the mind for a long time, and is thoroughly recommended if you want an adventure story with a difference. Much like The Fountain, a movie I love like few others, it’s about the desperate desire for what we cannot have, and how that longing can erode what makes us human.