Tue 9 Aug 2016
SHE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1935. Helen Gahagan, Randolph Scott, Helen Mack, Nigel Bruce. Based on the novel by H. Rider Haggard. Directors: Lansing C. Holden & Irving Pichel. Shown at Cinevent 16, Columbus OH, May 1984.
Star billing — the film festival’s much heralded centerpiece — was given to a 1935 version of H. Rider Haggard’s erotic fantasy She. It was directed by Irving Pichel (who was also busy acting that year in Dracula’s Daughter that year as Gloria Holden’s pasty-faced valet) and the enigmatic Lansing Holden, with familiar names from King Kong (composer Max Steiner and producer Merian C. Cooper) providing much of the visual and aural interest in this uneven film.
The stalwart hero, Leo Vincey, is played in a forthright fashion by Randolph Scott, while Nigel Bruce is made to look silly in the throw-away role of the blustering English side-kick. Helen Mack has the thankless job of trying to distract the male viewers from the attractions of the good-bad Ayesha, queen/goddess of the lost city of Kor, which has been transported from Haggard’s African setting to an Asiatic ice-world which provides an excuse for the most striking set-up of the film: the discovery of a centuries-old European and a gigantic sabre-tooth tiger frozen into the ice outside the mountain entrance to the hidden city.
Helen Gahagan, congresswoman and wife of actor Melvyn Douglas, played She with an effective mixture of icy imperturbability and melting languor. But her best moment had her still shrouded in the steamy mist to which she frequently retreated for mysterious purposes, intoning her lines in a voice that was strikingly similar to the voice of the evil, beautiful queen in the Disney Snow White.
And this affinity was compounded by a shifting facial image like that of the mirror image in the Queen’s chambers a costume that was too similar to the costume for Disney’s queen not to have been adapted by him. This film would, I am sure, be a popular addition to Saturday afternoon and late night TV schedules, and it’s surprising that it doesn’t turn up more frequently.