Tuesday, 12 August 2008

She (1935)

H. Rider Haggard’s classic fantasy adventure novel She had already been adapted for the screen several times before producer Merriam C. Cooper (who had a huge hit a couple of years earlier with King Kong) came up with this lavish 1935 version. There have been several subsequent movie versions, including the 1965 Hammer offering.

Young Leo Vincey (Randolph Scott) is called to his uncles death-bed to hear a strange story about a distant ancestor and a quest for a mysterious flame that holds the key to eternal life. He and his uncle’s pal Holly (Nigel Bruce) are convinced that the flame really exists, and is a form of radiation (radiation being a major scientific marvel in 1935) and set off for the Frozen North in search of immortality. They discover the fabulous lost empire of She Who Must Be Obeyed, and Leo finds himself reliving a 500-year-old saga of love and jealousy. He has picked up a beautiful young girl named Tanya on the way, and She immediately senses a romantic rival. And She does not like romantic rivals one little bit.

In the course of this escapade our intrepid adventurers find out that there were some things That Were Not Meant To Be, and Leo realises what true love really is.

The 1935 film is big on spectacle, as you might expect. The sets are impressive, and the ritual scenes late in the movie are particularly well done. If you’re expecting a 30s version of an Indiana Jones movie you’ll be disappointed. There’s not a great deal of action, the focus being mostly on romance and epic visuals. The acting is very hammy (apart from Helen Gahagan as She, who is perhaps taking things a tad too seriously). The hamminess of the acting, and the corniness of the writing, make She a movie that is going to be enjoyed today more for camp value than anything else. Fortunately, its camp appeal is considerable.

The Region 4 DVD release is bare-bones, without even trailer. On the other hand, at $2 it only cost me a fraction of the price of the Region 1 Kino release, and the transfer is extremely good.

She is a movie that is not held in terribly high regard but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s pulpy and trashy and campy and full of inspiring (and by today’s standards amusing) moral messages and it’s a good deal of fun, although you really need to enjoy the adventure movies of the 30s and 40s to appreciate this one. This was a time when men were heroic adventurers, and women were the prize, and the inspiration for Deeds of Courage. If you don’t mind that, and you do like those sorts of movies then She becomes an absolute must-see movie.

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