Women in adventurer-impresario Merian C. Cooper’s schoolboyish action yarns are rarely allowed to do anything other than get kidnapped and rescued, but to his heroes they can hold as much wonder as the far-off lands they brave through. Beauty killed the beast in King Kong, and it lives through the ages and lords over an underground kingdom in She, a lavish adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s often-filmed pulp novel. The same mammoth portals that introduced the giant ape lead here to the Art Deco palace of Hash-A-Mo-Tep, the wicked ruler of the land of Kor, who, after a portentous buildup, is given the disappointing human form of Helen Gahagan. A patrician Broadway actress and future politician (reportedly responsible for coining the term “Tricky Dick” when running against Nixon for the Senate), Gahagan makes her She Who Must Be Obeyed ice queen a blankly imposing diva, clashing amusingly with the cliffhanger theatrics of Randolph Scott, Helen Mack, and Gustav von Seyffertitz, all of whom appear to have graduated from the Buster Crabbe School of Drama. Such bizarre juxtapositions—including a temple that, taking a cue from Lang, looks simultaneously Mayan and futuristic—enliven what is essentially an ornate, ponderous serial episode where the feeling of wonder in Irving Pichel and Lansing C. Holden’s direction continually threatens to harden into sub-Cecil B. De Mille camp. As explorers Leo (Scott) and Horace (Nigel Bruce) venture into Kor looking for the legendary “flame of life,” the film’s considerable influence becomes clear: Bits from it can be seen in Flash Gordon, Lost Horizon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, among others. For all its legacy, however, She remains an underwhelming experience, with its wacky pageantry and majestic Max Steiner thunder building toward a climax set somewhere between an Indiana Jones template and a cautionary tale about rejuvenating cosmetics.
Both black-and-white and colorized versions of She are included. The original black and white is occasionally misty but mostly clear; the colorized version, supervised by Harry Harryhausen according to Cooper's original planning, is serviceable and frequently striking, adding an appropriately spectral quality to the fable. The sound could have used some cleaning up, with chunks of dialogue close to inaudible.
Opulent. Harryhausen's fondness for the film is palpable in his commentary with Merian C. Cooper biographer Mark Cotta Vaz, which, available solely on the colorized version, touches on the differences from the book and the old-school trickery of matte shots and miniatures with the same enthusiasm. Harryhausen also sits down for a few featurettes on She's Egyptian-cum-Broadway design and how Steiner's score rivals Stravinsky's; other participants include curator James V. D'Arc on Cooper's fascinating career, and composer John Morgan on the film's uniquely cinematic score. A mountain of stills, portraits, commercials, and trailers are included, along with captivating clips from the 1911 and 1925 versions of Haggard's tale (1965's Ursula Andress version goes suspiciously unmentioned).
For collectors of classic pulp, this lavish DVD package can easily be crowned She Who Must Be Owned.