“Who is She ?” muses the singer of the title number in The Vengeance of She, an incredible Hammer Films misfire from 1967. Well, as all you lovers of British fantasy will doubtless be aware, ‘She’ is Ayesha, or at least the reincarnation of Ayesha embodied the shapely person of Carol (Olga Schoberova, billed as Olinka Berova, for reasons which I can’t begin to fathom), a young tourist who is irrestistably drawn to the lost city of Kuma, ruled by King Killikrates (Richardson). Carol is picked up by a passing pleasure boat, where she meets the not especially amusingly alcoholic George (Blakely), his cynical wife Sheila (Melford), psychiatrist Philip (Judd) and a variety of anonymous crew members. However, her quest for Kuma is not all it seems and the influence of an evil priest must be conquered before she can return to her own life.
Now, the 1965 Hammer version of She isn’t at all bad. It’s not really in the H.Rider Haggard vein, although Peter Cushing makes a marvellous academic, but it’s entertainingly silly and features some good set-pieces. The weakest link was the casting of John Richardson as Killikrates. Richardson is a drag on the film and by the conclusion you’re not desperate to ever see him again. So it’s no surprise that, in this lower budget sequel, Richardson is the only cast member to reappear. The film basically plods through a similar plot to the original; journey to lost city, encounter exotic lost tribe, enjoy a ropey special effects and a destructive conclusion… you know the drill. It lacks a strong leading man to replace the implacable presence of Cushing.
Edward Judd tries hard but is saddled with some appalling expository dialogue - “I don’t want to force my help on you, none of us do. But if you want help, just ask for it” - and some psychiatric jargon to make him seem like a reasonably likely headshrinker. Colin Blakely, always worth watching, does better with a more interesting part and his sparring with his wife has something resembling the spark of life even if it never quite seems believable. Derek Godfrey and George Sewell inject a certain amount of vitality to their scenes and if you stick with the film, you will be rewarded with a brief appearance from the great Andre Morell - although that fine actor was better served in the previous year’s Plague of the Zombies.
Most disappointing is the casting of Ms.Berova. A well-scrubbed European blonde in the tradition of Brigitte Bardot, Yutte Stenssgaard, Elke Sommer and tha woman from the Shake 'n' Vac ad, Berova tries hard but simply can’t deliver dialogue in a manner which suggests anything is at stake. This wouldn’t matter if all she had to do was look pretty but her possession by Ayesha is the central plank of the plot and without a convincing actress, it simply doesn’t hold the attention. On the poster, she was described as “The ultimate female who used her beauty to bring kingdoms to their downfall... and men to their knees!" but her presence is so weak that it’s hard to think she wants to do anything to men except wash up for them and possibly do the ironing.
A similar problem arose, you may recall, when the marvellous Ingrid Pitt was replaced by Yutte Stenssgaard in Lust For A Vampire. Hammer Horror or indeed fantasy, only works when it’s performed by good actors who are giving their all to the material. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are the most fondly remembered of the Hammer stars because they never suggested that the mediocre dialogue and flimsy sets were beneath their dignity. They took the films for what they were and gave committed, intelligent performances. The minute the Hammer films try to either undersell themselves, send themselves up or go for trashy camp value, they fall apart. This is occasionally fun - Dracula A.D.1972 is an unintentional joy – but is more often it’s simply tedious. The Vengeance of She is a case in point. It’s not exactly boring but it is far too long and lacking in anything to keep you engrossed.
It doesn’t help that the production team is very much from the B-List of Hammer talent. The splendid American poster art suggests something a lot more interesting than we actually get and is an image – Berova wielding a huge wip while wearing something she picked up at an Ann Summers party – which is a damn sight more memorable than anything in the film. The cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky lights everything in much too even a fashion to create the requisite atmosphere in the underground city and he seems much happier with the Mediterranean exteriors towards the beginning of the film. Peter O’Donnell’s screenplay is much too convoluted, stretching a relatively straightforward plot out to an unconscionable length and showing little of the stylish wit of his ‘Modesty Blaise’ novels. Most of the criticism should, however, be placed on the shoulders of Cliff Owen.
One of the most uninteresting British directors of the 20th Century, Owen never made a film which is anything more than mediocre. Like other directors of his ilk – Bob Kellet, John Robins – his shots have no imagination, he can’t build suspense and he doesn’t seem at all interested in either the visuals or the performances. He just points the camera and hopes that it all goes alright. The only films of his which have anything resembling worth are the ones where the characters or actors work miracles with their dubious material – principally Steptoe And Son and the Arthur Lowe / Beryl Reid scenes in No Sex Please We’re British. After all, this is the man who managed the difficult task, in two films, of making Morecambe and Wise seem unfunny.
The Vengeance of She is a hard slog for any viewer who doesn’t have a thing about Scandanavian blondes – and even they are likely to lose their patience while the film tries to show off its unusually lavish North African locations. Even by the standards of Hammer fantasy – which, lets face it, are not all that high as a look at the bizarre The Lost Continent will confirm – it’s poor stuff.
Review Source: Mike Sutton
Images: Marcus Brooks
Review Source: Mike Sutton
Images: Marcus Brooks