article published in "Hammered" - November 2001)
sits rather awkwardly in the history of Hammer films. In the
midst of the second gothic horror cycle, Michael Carreras
flexed his muscles, and attempted to bring a wider diversity
of product to the company.
undoubtedly keeping a certain "horrific" aspect, the
story itself is a fantasy, an area it could be argued, more
suitable to rival company Amicus.
is not a film I have great affection for either, so sitting
down to the video again recently I found myself asking just
why do so many Hammer fans hold it in high esteem?
setting is Palestine 1918. The end of the Great War, and
Englishmen, Major Holly (Peter Cushing), his valet Job (Bernard
Cribbins) and colleague Leo Vincey (John Richardson), are
short of money, and eager to stay in the Middle East rather
than return to Cambridge. Leo is lured by local girl Ustane (Rosenda
Monteros) to a luxurious house where he comes face to face
with Ayesha (Ursula Andress) and is immediately enchanted by
her, and her gift of a ring and map.
Encouraged to find her, he drags Holly and Job back to the
house which has now been abandoned. Convinced that the ring
is in fact from the fabled civilisation of Kuna, and the map
will lead them there, they set out across the desert to find
Leo seems to know the way instinctively, and the time it will
take them to reach the city. They are attacked by Arabs, but
met by Ustane who has been following them. She takes them to
her own small village and is greeted by her father Haumeid (Andre
Morell). There it is revealled to the group that Ayesha rules
the village as a tyrant, and that she is interested in Leo
because he is the very image of her former lover Killikrates.
inside the city Ayesha is revealed to have lived for 2,000
years, waiting for Killikrates return, having killed him in a
fit of jealousy before. Bewitched by Ayesha, Leo is promised
power and everlasting life with her, obtainable through the
sacred blue flame, the secret of which Ayesha holds.
Lee) who had been the high priest, and had brought Leo to
Ayesha, has eyes on the power himself. As Ayesha and Leo
prepare for the flame, Billali tries to enter himself,
fighting with Leo before Ayesha stabs Billali in the back, he
dies grasping for the flame.
and Ayesha enter, they are rejuvenated before suddenly Ayesha
begins to age and crumble. Holly suggests that if one enters
the flame a second time it takes away the gift it gives. Leo
is now in torment, living forever, but before he can enter
the flame again, it turns bright orange again.
flames burn, he vows to be waiting for it when the flame
turns cold again...
Rider Haggard was born in Norfolk, England in 1856, the son
of a barrister, and trained for the foreign office, ending up
in South Africa during the Zulu wars.
eventual return to England he took up writing, and produced
the phenomenally successful King Solomans Mines
in 1885 drawing inspiration from his time in Africa. On the
back of that he would write Allan Quatermain (not
published until 1887).
continued his African inspired novels, and drew heavily upon
the successes of King Solomons Mines. She
was itself written in a mere six weeks in 1886, and published
the following year to rousing success (whilst oddly enough,
the author holidayed in Egypt).
next twenty years Haggard would return to the area many times
for inspiration in his novels, whose popularity went into
decline. Haggard would also return to the fabled Ayesha twice
more in Ayesha - The Return Of She (1905) and She
And Allan (1921). Haggard died in 1925.
novels had retained a large appeal with readers, particularly
King Solomons Mines and She. And both had
been the subject of film adaptations previously (She
was filmed by RKO in 1935). She would first officially
become a Hammer project in 1962, when Anthony Hinds
commissioned a script from John Temple-Smith, with a view to
selling the film to Universal.
Temple-Smiths script dwelled on a series of incidents
of "physical danger and violence which are box office
today". The picture painted, is very much the usual
Hammer sensationalism, and yet the usual blend of violence
and scares for the younger members of the audience, and a
healthy blend of sex for the adults (which survives in form
in the final cut).
Carreras spun the web in 1963: "It will be the biggest
picture weve ever made - it will have spectacle, colour,
scope, and one of the most horrifically exciting
climaxes since the disintegration of Dracula became a
world talking point five years ago."
itself would go through a number of rewrites, and reworkings.
Initially abandoned, Berkely Mather (who had also written Dr
Nos screenplay) reworked the story during the summer of
1963, and was again reworked by Cash On Demand co-scribe
David T Chantler, giving new stress to action, and repacing
the story, eliminating dramatic drawls.
It was Seven
Arts who brought on Ursula Andress to the project. The
actress was still contracted to the company, through a deal
which had been made with her husband at the time, John Derek.
Andress herself had garnered a gathering reputation with her
starring role in the James Bond film, Dr. No.
Michael Carreras claimed Hammers was the decision to
cast Andress, not Seven Arts (though a collaboration seems
likely), "Casting the title role was of course, our
biggest problem. As soon as we saw Ursula Andress walk out of
the sea in Dr. No we knew there was only one woman to
play Haggards Queen. We had to wait two years before
she was free of other commitments, but it was worth it."
the success of She, Andress would command too large a
salary for Hammer to use again, despite original hopes that
she could be reunited with John Richardson in One Million
helped to raise the initial budget of £225,000, though there
were still problems in getting a distributor assigned to the
project. Universal Pictures, whom Hammer had originally hoped
on selling to, remained doubtful throughout, and further
negotiations with American independent companies including
AIP fell by the wayside as well. MGM would eventual commit,
meaning the project could finally go into shooting in the
summer of 1964.
Anthony Hinds had been assigned to the film from the start,
it would be Michael Carreras (something of a prodigal son at
this stage in Hammers development), who would carry the
project through as producer, relishing in his chance to make
a big budget spectacular - a direction he firmly believed the
company should move into.
duties were taken by Robert Day, a Hammer newcomer, who had a
track record with MGM including adventure subjects. The
production team included a number of familiar faces, with
special effects being taken care of by Les Bowies Bowie
Films Ltd, with Aida Young as associate producer, James Needs
taking on the job of supervising editor, and James Bernard
creating the score for the film.
score permeates the film, and was said to be one of his
favourite pieces. It blended perfectly horror and adventure
and romance, all encompassed in the enthralling theme music.
Bernards work on She would also be the beginning of a
long association with musical supervisor, Philip Martell.
Lyrics were said to have been written for the theme, but
never recorded, and Bernard also composed a religious chant
with star Christopher Lee, which owing to constraints of
schedule was never recorded either.
was beset with personal problems (according to his
autobiography). Possibly this influences his rather morbid
and macabre performance in the film.
biggest production to date, they could be afforded the luxury
of exotic location filming in and around southern Israel, in
Eilat and the Negev Desert. Peter Cushing recounted the
political difficulties of the time, and the potential dangers
"While we were in the Danago desert, the Arab sector was
quite near. They just sat there with their machine guns in
their laps. In the meantime we were popping off our prop guns
hoping we would not be attacked. We were lucky, they seemed
to enjoy watching us."
shoot was beset with other problems, probably not helped by
the working conditions in the unbearable heat, meaning
filming was impossible in the afternoons, with days starting
began in Israel on 24th August 1964, and was briefly held up
when John Richardson contracted dysentery. In the short break
afforded to the cast, Cribbens, Cushing and wife all made use
of the local kibbutz, and spent time snorkelling around the
coral. The special effects caused other more serious problems...
Bernard Cribbins was hospitalised following an accident
during the filming of the Arab attack scenes. A large number
of explosives were being used and the scene had to be shot
several times; unfortunately during one of the takes,
Cribbins landed on one of the explosives which exploded close
to his anus. He shrugged off the incident the following day
as he insisted on returning to work "If Id been tother
way down I might have been blinded."
One critic commented on his performance in the film as trying
unsuccessfully to get laughs by adopting a silly walk. Though,
if truth be told, I completely miss this little foible, every
time I watch it!!
One of the
special effects men, was also struck by one of the charges
variously reported as having lost either a finger or his
entire right hand in the accident.
On a lighter note, Cushing had continual problems with his
camel, Daisy, "a mode of transport I do not recommend to
the uninitiated, especially when that capricious quadruped
takes it into its mulish head to sit down and/or up, which
was all too often in my experience."
Back in the
studio matters continued to be dogged. Aside from Lees
private problems (which resulted him running off set in one
instance), Andress proved to be rather tough to work with.
The actress had had relatively little experience, and
evidently there was a certain degree of doubt about her
rapidly fell behind causing a number of scenes to be dropped.
The film evidently had many problems, and Hammer make-up man
Roy Ashton was brought on board at the eleventh hour (probably
by Carreras) to do the transformation scene at the end.
This upset the make-up artist Ashton, to have been ignored
the opportunity to do all the make-up for the film, but
nonetheless he proceeded with his usual flair to produce a
eventually wrapped on 17th October.
production during November Andress was dubbed once again (as
in Dr. No) by Monica Van der Syl, the result being a
somewhat odd concoction. Monica seems a little high and
childish for Andress, though in the end, is probably exactly
what the character of Ayesha needs.
Inexplicably though, English stalwart Andre Morell, was also
dubbed throughout the film by Hammer regular George Pastell.
An undignifying action, and surely hardly needed. Morell was
a well-known and respected actor, as was Pastell.
finally wrapped at a grand cost of £323,778.
was submitted to the BBFC gaining an "U"
certificate on 22nd February 1965 (with some minor unrecorded
cuts), and running time of 104 minutes 28 seconds (9324 feet).
on 18th April 1965 in the UK, and 1st September in the US,
was well received. Hammer had managed to pull off a success
with a big-budget fantasy film, carving a possible niche in
an alternative to horror.
The film sold itself on Andress reputation, as "THE
MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE WORLD", a rather large boast.
The press book material was as indulgent, claiming "people
talk about [her] as though she invented sex."
But as always Hammer was too quick to jump onto a potential
success without properly thinking the product through. Whilst
One Million Years BC was a success, and in a slightly
similar vein, other dinosaur films, the historical Viking
Queen, and the piss-poor sequel to She, The
Vengeance of She all failed to keep the flame alive.
of She finally saw the light of day in 1968. With only
the loosest ties to Haggard, Leo returns in his new guise of
Killikrates waiting for the return of Ayesha (in the form of
beauty, Olinka Berova), in the late 20th century. Its a sorry
affair, and an ill-chosen variation. Needless to say, it did
not perform terribly well at the box-office.
(To the left is
one of Roy Ashtons original make-up sketches for the
aging scenes of Ursula Andress, courtesy of Tomahawk Press /
itself is actually fairly stunning in many respects, with
much made of the exotic Israeli location filming. The arid
deserts and weary trek, are well composed and genuinely
beautiful to watch.
gets inside the city, much of the adventure for me is over,
and one is overindulged in Ayeshas childish squabbling.
The opening of the film is rather enticing and haunting aided
by clever editing of scenes from later in the film, over
which the titles are scrolled and James Bernards
eclectic melody sings out. The juxtaposition of sheer beauty
and horror are themes carried for the duration, never more so
than in the climax, as Richardson and Andress are bathed in
the cool light of the blue flame, in a pseudo-sexual torrent,
only to be repelled at the true sight of the aged Ayesha,
crumbling to dust before his eyes.
gives a pleasing appearance, though any real judge of her
acting ability is impossible with the dubbed voice. As
mentioned previously though, the dubbing makes her out rather
as a child. As we learn of her childish jealousy, which not
only caused her to kill Killikrates in the past, but which
tempts her again, certainly to kill Ustane (the delightfully
horrific scene which follows her off-camera death, when
Ustanes ashes are returned to her father). Ayesha has
had so much power, she is essentially a spoilt brat, and one
cant help but feel Leo is a fool for falling for her.
is very much a love story too, but a false love story. Whilst
Leo is supposed to fall for Ayesha, because he is Killikrates
reborn, he gives his affection too easily, not only to Ayesha
(whom he is willing to follow across the continent without
any knowledge of who she is or he is supposed to be), but
also to the timid Ustane.
Ustane too falls for Leo instantly, and refers to him as
"My Leo" within mere hours of their first meeting.
Holly warns Leo about his desires on a number of occasions,
and it is only at the end that the foolish nature of Leos
impetuousness is revealed.
on top form, given a fresh role to play, and sporting a
fitting beard. Cribbens and Cushing would team up again the
following year in Amicus production Daleks Invasion Earth
: 2150 AD. They work well together, and their scenes in
the tavern, with the dancers are rather fun.
Richardson comes across as falsely as Andress at times.
Handsome, but appearing to be dubbed throughout. Leo at least
is false, credit due to Richardson for that portrayal.
supporting cast, Christopher Lee appears rather too briefly
as Billali, and is not given sufficient screen time to
establish his motive. Monteros as Ustane is suitably played,
and only the dubbing of Morell incenses the viewer. Giving
two spliced performances and robbing the audience the chance
of enjoying either Pastell of Morell to the full.
Robinsons sets are as fantastic and beautiful as ever.
Similar in feel to Curse of the Mummys Tomb (the
entire film in fact, with ageless loves, killings fuelled by
jealousy and revenge, taverns, desert, eternal life, priests,
and archaeological elements), but with a broader vaster
appeal. There is much to be found in the sets which bristle
with detail and affection.
Costumes are appropriate for the most, though one doubts
Ayeshas choice of flimsy white shroud or bizarre
plumage at times (I find the plumage rather off-putting). The
tavern scenes at the start feature some typically revealing
girls, and the guards are a little too like Roman soldiers
with their great red outfits and shields.
score is beautiful, though lacking enough variation. It
perfectly compliments the subject matter and manner of
well-paced, with the opening titles, tavern scene, Arab
attack and the final reel coming in for special attention.
The choreographed presentations in the throne room are very
effective, and Day contrasts beauty and horror throughout.
Whilst one recoils in the horrific actions caused by Ayeshas
rule, one is enchanted by her beauty and the elegance of the
gift she can provide.
Photography is good, with some notable use of filters to
create the flash-back. In fact She does come across
rather well to a modern audience (its imminent DVD release in
the UK, will no doubt arouse a returned interest).
Wonderfully sensual, with a slight Mills & Boon edge (the
instant love affair, somewhat doomed). Certainly intelligent,
and refreshing amidst the mundane suckings of the undead,
which was Hammers mainstay.
Haggard fans have often been critical, viewing Hammers
adaptation as rather loose, aiming particular criticism at
the omission of the books Cambridge openings.
adaptation isnt always good drama, and Hammer do well
to spin the tale in the way they do. Viewed in its widescreen
version (shot in Hammerscope, a near enough 2.35:1 ratio), it
comes across as a beautiful film, something missing in the
back to top -
text is (c)
copyright RJE Simpson 2001
first published in Issue 2 of Hammered fanzine,
Introductory text is (c) RJE Simpson 2002
Roy Ashton sketch of Ayesha is (c) Elizabeth Ashton
Not to be reused without permission of the author. Email to email@example.com
This page posted 30th July 2002.
Reformatted and reposted 22nd August 2006.