There’s a delightful string of wonky fantasy/adventure movies from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that still carry buckets of charm even though these days some of them look about as convincing as a three pound coin. They speak to a more innocent time when high adventure and low production values were blessedly free of acidic internet opinions and audiences who demand photorealistic effects with their goofy action antics and not the obvious hand puppets of Warlords Of Atlantis or the rear projected iguanas of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. However, even the most forgiving fantasy fan would find Hammer’s adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s 1887 novel, She, a bit of a slog to get through, despite the film recklessly flaunting the legendary talents of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Ursula Andress and a rollicking adventure plot that boasts lost cities, immortality and a bar brawling Bernard Cribbins in a bowler hat.
The year is 1918 and Professor Holly, the dashing Leo Vincey and their willing dogs-body Job find themselves honorably discharged from the British army in Palestine and spend their times chilling in bars while they wonder what they’re going to do with themselves next. Well, that’s not exactly true; Leo seems to have a plan that involves making out with every woman he can lock his lips onto and after falling for a mysterious girl, he comes into possession of a map that could lead him to the long lost city of Kuma located in an unexplored section of Africa. Leo is obsessed with reaching this city due to visions he keeps having of the strange female beckoning him on while Professor Holly is positively giddy at the prospect due to the inevitable scientific discoveries waiting to be found and as for Job, well, Job wouldn’t say shit even if he had a mouthful, so off they go loaded with camels and water, into the great unknown. However, after getting attacked by desert marauders, the three stagger to their goal half-dead of thirst after having all their stuff nicked but are nursed back to health by Ustane, the comely daughter of the enslaved tribesmen who are sternly ruled over by their cruel masters. Leo instantly falls for Ustane, obviously as he seems to be in a state of constant horniness, but his head is instantly turned again when the girl in his visions turns out to be the Kuma queen, Ayesha, who is also known by a couple of rather imposing alias’ of “She Who Waits” and “She Who Must Be Obeyed”. Ayesha has led Leo to her lost kingdom because she is convinced that he is the reincarnation of her lost love, her former high priest, Kallikrates and hopes to get him to bathe in the magical blue flame that will grant him immortality – but will the machinations of her current high priest, not to mention the Leo’s insatiable wandering eye, cause ruin to sweep the kingdom.
A movie made in 1963 that sees a trio of Brits wander around Africa in 1918 and stride into a lost city like they bloody own the place was always going to have some wince inducing racial issues, so lets rip that band aid off ASAP and then move on. The movie’s regard for the mortality of various black tribes people (predictably cast as virtually mute savages) is comparable to that of a 1930’s Tarzan film and even though a major theme of the film actually concerns the ruling class (white) lording it over others while the British characters ironically look on horrified, scenes where natives are shoved screaming into a lava pit are all shown from a white, privileged point of view.
Still, even if we were to callously slide all this to the side, She would still have massive issues because for an adventure flick loaded with lost cities, warring tribes and dashing heroes, I found She to be overwhelmingly dull and fairly irritating to boot as the movie has no momentum whatsoever and seems to have forgotten that fantasy/adventure films actually needs both to work. Say what you will about other “white guys wandering into mythical realms” movies, at least all those Doug McClure movies had some oomph to go with all those styrofoam boulders and rubber monsters, She, doesn’t really seem to have anything to make it stand out except for the siren call of sticking Ursula Andress on the poster.
To be fair, Andress aquits herself rather well, flinging out death stares and leading with that impeccable jawline as she wears a headdress that wouldn’t look out of place in an Asgardian porno, but then even though her character is a ravishing, immortal queen, with the life of her entire kingdom held in her manicured hands, she’s still not above pulling a basic honey trap to ensare her prey. Maybe the movie would have played a lot better if her target wasn’t such a bland, insipid, himbo, but John Richardson’s Leo is a horribly vapid romantic lead who prescribes to the Roger Moore school of screen kissing where he just affixes his mouth over the actresses like a lamprey and then just moves his head around. I’m assuming his arc is supposed to be a cautionary tale about the destructive power of vanity but it’s pretty hard to feel anything for the guy when countless lives are lost mainly because flat out refuses to choose between the two women who inexplicably want him and his ridiculous hair. Even worse, a flashback reveals the twist that in his previous life as Kallikrates, he actually copped a vengeful dagger in the back from Ayesha thanks to his galavanting libido, so surely she should have known better to start with?
However, possibly She’s greatest mistake is to include Hammer’s greatest double act of Cushing and Lee and then do nothing with them. Things start out well enough as Cushing – sporting some impressive facial fuzz – and his buddies get into bar fights and trade bullets on their way to Kuma, but once they get there, he, and Cribbins, become surplus to requirements as all they can do is stand and watch while Leo accidently ruins everything for the chance to get his end away. Similarly, Christopher Lee as the scheming high priest, Billali, is given hardly anything to do apart from looking constantly pissed off that everyone but him is getting offers for immortality and is hardly a stretch for arguably cinema’s greatest Dracula.
Slow, uninspired and ending on a shrug when the reveal of Leo’s fate should at least carry the mischievous chill of an end of an episode of Tales From The Crypt or Tales Of The Unexpected, She is blessed with gandiose plans and and some swanky sets, but a narrow vision renders the majesty of “She Who Must Be Obeyed” to that of “Her Indoors”.