Sunday, May 11, 2014

She (1935)

Director: Irving Pichel                                   Writer: Ruth Rose
Film Score: Max Steiner                               Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Starring: Helen Gahagen, Randolph Scott, Helen Mack and Nigel Bruce

Though Ruth Rose is credited with the screenplay for the H. Rider Haggard novel She, produced by RKO, in actuality the majority of the script was heavily influenced by Universal’s original screenplay for The Mummy, written by John L. Balderston. At the same time he was working on the Karloff vehicle, he was also working on a script for RKO that eventually became this film. Because the two films shared a single beginning, there are a number of similarities between the two that are unavoidable. This time, however, it’s the woman who is immortal, and the man who is the image of her long lost love. There’s even a reflecting pool in which she shows him his past. But where the team who made King Kong is responsible for this picture as well, there is little of the adventure in the later film and the slow pace is ultimately a disappointment for fans of the genre.

The film opens with Samuel S. Hinds on his deathbed in England, awaiting the arrival of his nephew, Randolph Scott. Hinds’ scientific partner, Nigel Bruce, tells the story of Scott’s ancestor who discovered a “flame of life” that results in eternal life. As Hinds dies, he begs his nephew to go in search of it in the north of Russia, and so he and Bruce set out at once. There they meet Lumsden Hare and his daughter Helen Mack. They know of the legend but Hare only agrees to help the two because he believes there will be gold at the end. His greed overriding his sense, Hare causes an avalanche in which he dies, but accidentally opens a passage to a land beneath the glacier. Here they must first battle the cave people who threaten to kill them in their ancient ritual, but they are saved by a group of men in robes who obviously have command over them. In the battle Scott is injured and the three follow the men to a giant door that is very reminiscent of that in King Kong. Behind it lies the temple to Helen Gahagen, She who must be obeyed.

The suspense of the piece lies in whether Randolph Scott will stay with Helen Gahagen or not. Though they came with the intention of discovering the flame of youth, Nigel Bruce seems particularly perturbed that Scott intends to use it on himself to gain immortality. As would be expected, there are certain similarities to King Kong, but only in the most superficial of ways: the giant door that gains entrance to the lost land, the natives who capture them at first, and the music of the dance at the final ceremony. Helen Gahagen’s outfit for the scene where she punishes the cave people is clearly the inspiration for Disney’s villainess in Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. And there is also an element of the story that would later be coopted by Curt Siodmak in his script for Son of Dracula. It is an exotic looking picture, however, and it does have a fairly exciting finale.

Max Steiner was once again given the task of scoring the picture and it of course bears a passing resemblance to the score for King Kong. It’s definitely interesting to see Randolph Scott in a non-western, especially since his character is weak-willed and unable to stand up to Helen Gahagen. Helen Mack gives a good performance as the young girl who steals Scott’s heart, and arouses the jealousy of Gahagen. Nigel Bruce, several years before his Sherlock Holmes days, is also quite good in a serious role. For Helen Gahagen this was her only appearance on film. She was the wife of Melvyn Douglas and, as Helen Douglas, she went into politics. The film is directed by the great Irving Pichel. He does an admirable job here, but he’s unable to generate the kind of suspense that he did on The Most Dangerous Game. Still, there’s an undeniable quality to the picture and if expectations are lowered it can be a satisfying film. Though She was colorized in 2006 by Ray Harryhausen, which had been producer Merian C. Cooper’s original intention, the black and white is by far the superior way to view it.

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