Usually, when we think of Britain’s Hammer Studios, we think of their series of gothic horror films. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy…they did them all, often with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in tow. But Hammer wasn’t all about horror, take 1965’s “She,” a sort of supernatural adventure which still had Cushing and Lee, joined this time by the original Bond Girl, Ursula Andress.
The film is based on “the famous novel” (so says the credits) by H Rider Haggard. It concerns three recently discharged British military men who end up in Palestine, circa 1918. Cushing plays Professor Holly, a sort of adventurer/archeologist type. He’s joined by the younger Leo (John Richardson), and Holly’s manservant Job (Bernard Cribbons…took me a minute to realize, “hey, that guy was on “Doctor Who!”). The trio are drinking it up and ogling the belly dancers in a local club when a young lady, Ustane (played by Rosenda Monteros), enters and catches Leo’s eye. Leo quickly manages to get her out of the club and into an alley where they can suck face. But it turns out she was just bait. Leo ends up clubbed on the head and dragged off. He awakes in a fancy room where he meets the beautiful Ayesha (Andress)…sometimes known as “she-who-must-be-obeyed,” or just plain “she.” Turns out, “She” is actually about 2,000 years old and thinks Leo is her reincarnated lover, Kallikrates…he does look just like the guy. That’s enough for Leo to start sucking face with her, too. In fact, it would seem that Leo’s major character motivation is to find women to suck face with. And I’m not just saying “suck face” to be funny…every time actor John Richardson kisses a woman in this film, he opens his mouth wide enough to swallow a softball and literally sucks face!
Anyway, Ayesha sends Leo out on a quest to prove himself, to find her hidden city of Kuma where she will be waiting for him. Of course, the adventurer Holly jumps at the chance to accompany Leo, and Job dutifully comes along. The trip across the desert is long, both for the characters and for the viewers. At this point the film is in desperate need of some excitement. The travelers are eventually joined on the journey by Ustane (guess she wanted to suck face some more), who leads them back to her village. Turns out she’s not from the friendliest neighborhood. The natives tie up Leo Fay-Wray-in-King-Kong style and try to kill him…but Christopher Lee, as Ayesha’s high priest, swoops in at the last-minute. He escorts our heroes to Ayesha’s city, which is kind of like the Temple of Doom if it were run by a hot chick. Here Leo is faced with whether or not he accepts that he is Kallikrates, destined to rule the world with Ayesha.
“She” is one of those movies where you keep waiting and waiting for something to happen, but it never does. The film drags and is incredibly low on action. I mean, Ayesha’s got herself a Temple of Doom, a lava pit, an army…but they it all just sits there until the last 10 minutes of the movie. To be fair, the last ten minutes is fun…battling armies, a creepy blue flame, a sword wielding Christopher Lee…if the rest of the movie had been like that we might have had something.
Honestly, it’s Cushing and Lee that make the movie watchable. They approach the film with the usual awesomeness they bring to any film. Andress, on the other hand, is beautiful but robotic. The weakness of her performance is made painfully clear in the film’s finale as she acts opposite Lee, who is performing with all the gusto he can muster while Andress channels Robocop. Richardson’s performance is not much better, showing about as much emotion as your average toaster does.
Ultimately, I guess the film’s main problem is that this is a sort of Hammer Light. Any of the excitement and tension that is usually present throughout a Hammer production is saved for the last 10 minutes…and unfortunately, most audiences just aren’t that patient. But, there’s plenty of sucking face!