Sunday, September 30, 2018

She (1935)

The American Leo Vincey is called back to his home country of England by his dying uncle, a scientist who devoted his life to searching for a mysterious life-bringing element. Telling of a fantastic journey made by their ancestor John Vincey and family, he convinces Leo to search for this element. Accompanied by his uncle's partner Holly, Leo travels for months, until the two finally find themselves in what they believe to be the right area. Along the way they meet an unscrupulous trader/guide and his beleaguered daughter Tanya, encounter frozen snapshots of prehistoric monsters, brave deadly avalanches, and eventually locate the lost city of Kor, dominion of the cruel tyrant Hasha-Motep, She Who Must Be Obeyed...

She is a great 1930s adventure film, in the same vein as King Kong (not surprising since this shares the director). The pace is great, going from one setpiece to another, with several varying locations. The story is never short of adventure or intrigue.

The ultimate main setting of Kor is quite a good one! While we can't be shown too much detail in under an hour of film, what we do see is an interesting hybrid of various cultures, with many interesting rituals and shocking practices. What impressed me most is the dance sequence at the climax. At nearly 10 minutes long, it's a spectacular sight, and it really makes Kor feel alive. Despite its length, it's never boring or overlong, either, and I can't imagine the climax without it, as it'd lose so much of the build-up!

The story is  The amount of time is takes for the characters to reach the lost city of Kor is longer than the journey to Skull Island (if I may reference King Kong once more), but the build-up, as well as the thrills of what happens before that point make up for the duration it takes. Once we do reach Kor, the pace slows down on the adventure front, giving way to more downtime, which makes sense given the characters' new circumstances and surroundings.

I haven't read the original book, but I have enough of a familiarity with it to be aware of the changes. Some are quite sizeable, but not bad. The location is drastically changed, from the deserts of Africa to their polar opposite*, in the frozen wastes of the Russian Arctic. Tanya replaces a native love interest and meets with a different and more pleasant fate (H. Rider Haggard novels are depressing!), and Leo's ancestor is moved closer in history, from ancient Greece to Shakespearean England. I don't mind this, as while some feel a shortening of 2000-ish years to 'only' 500 robs the story of its impact regarding how long Hasha-Motep has waited for her 'lost love' to return, I feel that not only is 500 years plenty of time, but also that if she'd waited upwards of 2000 years, she would've eventually just lost interest in that one random dude she liked.

*That pun wasn't intentional but I apologise for it all the same.

The characters are all good, displaying the right level of intelligence all he way through. Well, most of the time, anyway. One has to wonder why Leo is so down to get together with the queen he's only just met, though I suppose it could be explained by these being quite exceptional circumstances, finding out you're a possible re-incarnation to this immortal woman's lost love, and witnessing the perfectly preserved 500 year old body of your ancestor, as well as an unexplainable vision from the past, it would get to anyone I suppose, as well as the temptation of being a king...Then you remember that the married John Vincey died under rather suspicious circumstances, and Hasha-Motep even admits to Leo that she kinda sorta murdered his ancestor for not leaving his wife. What a dope Leo is! Run away, dude!

She is a well-realised villain. A firm leader to the point of cruelty (if only all of Kor had one neck!), but not without her more caring and tender moments. Just a shame that she hasn't quite gotten a handle on her murderous rages during her long immortal life.

As good as it is, She does have its hokey moments. The exposition text that comes up on the screen for us to read is one. This was an amusingly archaic thing to see in a movie, and I enjoyed its inclusion. Why can't more films do this? The romance between Leo and Tanya is as rushed as you can imagine, but the actors at least share good chemistry. Less well written however is Tanya's line to Hasha-Motep about how she shouldn't have Leo because 'Love is for the young', and Hasha can't because since she's old, she can never truly know love. You speak for yourself, Tanya, you brazen hussy! She also gets an amusing moment when trying to speak pidgin English to a native of Kor, as if saying 'Him very sick!' will make someone who doesn't speak English go "Oh, NOW I understand what you mean! I'll go get the doctor right away!". Finally, there's the denouement about how the real flame of life is that in the fireplace of every happy couple. A sweet but groan-inducing ending.

The acting in She is very good. Randolph Scott is good as the hunky hero, as is Helen Mack as the love interest, while Helen Gahagan is the best performer in the film as the titular antagonist. To those accustomed only to his more laidback turn as Dr. Watson in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series, Nigel Bruce's performance as Holly is quite a surprise! While I don't exactly find his Watson to be as much a buffoon as his reputation suggests, he's still leagues behind when compared with his more adventurous and action-oriented counterpart in She.

This is a very well   It was originally meant to be a technicolour production, but I believe didn't have the money for it. It looks great in black-and-white, but I prefer watching the Ray Harryhausen supervised colourisation. It provides a lot more bounce and grandiosity to the imagery, even if the (really good) matte paintings look a bit more obvious in colour, and there's a pastel-y quality to some shots (and an unintentionally terrifying face in one scene).

She is definitely one of the greats of 1930s adventure cinema, and while it's not as well not as other contemporaries, it still stands strong as a shining gem of the period...

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