My favorite moment in She (1965) occurs about 90 minutes into the movie when Ursula Andress glides by Peter Cushing playing Professor Holy and Bernard Cribbins as his aspiring man servant Job. Cushing declares “By Jove!” at the sight of Ursula and Cribbins turns to his costar and utters the line, “They just don’t make them like that anymore, sir.” It’s a funny toss away line but it sums up the way I feel about all the women who populated Hammer films throughout the studio’s history. They just don’t make them like that anymore.
In Marcus Hearn’s new Hammer Glamour book he quotes the chairman of Hammer studio James Carreras from an old interview. In the interview Carreras is asked what he looks for when hiring an actress for a role. He answered that she needed “A good face and figure, of course. But it’s more than that; she has to have a special kind of magnetism. I can’t describe it, but I know it when I see it.”
I think that certain “je ne sais quoi” is what really separates the stable of Hammer actresses from today’s aspiring scream queens. The glamourous women that populated Hammer films seemed to have a kind of natural charisma that’s hard to come by. Many of the women were conventionally beautiful but they often had an original look, a sincerity, charm or acting skills that separated them from the pack. Ursula Andress had power and intensity. She was a stunning beauty but she appeared to be unafraid, independent, confident and a little dangerous in ways that can be both intimidating and incredibly alluring. These qualities made Ursula the perfect candidate to play Ayesha or “She That Must Be Obeyed” in Hammer’s fantasy epic.
She was Hammer’s big-budget adaptation of H. Rider Haggard classic novel of the same name. It tells the strange tale of three British travelers, Professor Holy (Peter Cushing), Job (Bernard Cribbins) and Leo (John Richardson) who come in contact with an immortal Queen called Ayesha (Ursula Andress) or “She That Must Be Obeyed.” Ayesha ruthlessly rules over her subjects and she believes Leo is the reincarnation of her long dead lover Kallikrates that she killed in a jealous rage centuries ago. After luring the three men to her kingdom with the help of her servant Billali (Christopher Lee), Ayesha tries to convince Leo to become immortal and rule by her side. Things get complicated when a rebellious uprising threatens to destroy everything that Ayesha holds dear.
H. Rider Haggard’s 1886 novel was filmed twice before in 1925 as a silent movie and in 1935. The 1935 film adaptation of She was nominated for an Oscar and apparently inspired many other adventure films with it’s striking set designs. Hammer’s 1965 film version of She was not nominated for any Oscars but it was one of the studios most expensive productions and it was also the first Hammer film built around a female star. The movie is rather faithful to H. Rider Haggard’s original story but it seems to lack the esoteric undertones that I personally found so interesting in the book as well as the emotional punch and character development. Hammer’s film also suffers from the dull performance of it’s male lead John Richardson who is never able to make the character of Leo convincing. Director Robert Day does a good job with the material and makes some smart directing and editing choices but the film seems a bit erratic at times. The exciting moments and inspired direction in one scene can become diminished by the static look of the next. The film also doesn’t shy away from ethnic stereotypes that can be found in the original novel but the “noble savages” in She do an admirable job with their limited roles. The movie does boast some impressive special effects and sets for the time that really help make She one of Hammer’s best looking and most enjoyable adventure movies.
Peter Cushing is very good as Professor Holy and he brings his usual gravitas and class to the film. I also think Christopher Lee is effective as the devious Billali and Bernard Cribbins is great in his small but very funny role as Job. Rosenda Monteros also appears in the movie but she’s rather forgettable as the “other woman” trying to win Leo’s affection. The star of She is Ursula Andress but her seductive, cold and unearthly performance in the film occasionally seems at odds with her character. She doesn’t have a lot of chemistry with her male love interest in the movie (the bland John Richardson) and the script lacks passion. Ursula was reluctant to play Ayesha and has often complained about her role in the movie over the years. Her dissatisfaction seems to come across on screen but I think Andress should be credited for helping to keep the movie interesting. She subtly embodies the character of Ayesha in a way that a lessor actress could never manage. Her performance also benefits from the talented cinematographer Harry Waxman who photographed the actress beautifully throughout the film. Ursula seems to glow and shimmer on screen thanks to Waxman’s camera work.
Ursula Andress’ first real break out role was in the hugely popular James Bond feature Dr. No (1962). Her infamous bikini scene as Honey Ryder in Dr. No made the 25-year-old actress a household name. When Hammer decided to adapt H. Rider Haggard’s novel for the screen they needed an actress who could generate ticket sales and bring an otherworldly beauty and glamour to their film. Ursula fit the bill perfectly. The statuesque beauty was born to German and Swiss parents and raised in Europe. Her international appeal has made her a lot of fans all over the world but her thick accent seemed to get in the way of her career. Directors and studio executives often thought her speaking voice was just too exotic to appeal to an English speaking audience so Ursula’s voice was dubbed in Dr. No as well as She. I think Hammer made a wise decision to cast Ursula Andress in She but their choice to dub the actress is questionable and may be part of the film’s problem. Her natural voice could have brought a little more flair to the character of Ayesha and we wouldn’t have to second guess her performance in the film. While I was recently watching She again I kept getting distracted by the occasionally awkward dub job.
After Ursula Andress made She the actress appeared in many terrific movies including What’s New Pussycat (1965), La decima vittima aka The 10th Victim (1965), Les tribulations d’un chinois en Chine aka Up to His Ears (1965), The Blue Max (1966), Casino Royale (1967), Soleil Rouge aka Red Sun (1971) and The Fifth Musketeer (1979). Outside of the amazing La decima vittima, these movies usually only provided Ursula with secondary roles and they weren’t very demanding films but they were all a lot of fun to watch. She also appeared in some very bad movies throughout her career and I think this probably tarnished Ursula’s appeal over time. After appearing in Clash of the Titans (1981) as the goddess Aphrodite Ursula seemed to take fewer and fewer roles.
In 2000 Ursula Andress was diagnosed with osteoporosis and in recent years her condition has gotten much worse but the 73-year-old actress hasn’t let the disease slow her down. She recently became an international ambassador for woman’s health and is currently working with the Timeless Women campaign in an effort to help educate women about osteoporosis. Mattel has also recently turned Ursula’s iconic character Honey Ryder into a Barbie for a series of classic Bond Girl dolls that are scheduled to be released early next year. At age 73 Ursula continues to gain new fans of all ages. Her timeless appeal obviously still resonates with the public. She seems destined to remain an ageless and glamourous beauty in our imaginations much like her character in Hammer’s She.
She is only available for sale at the Warner Brother Archives Shop. While I appreciate Warner’s efforts to make their film archives available to the public, it’s unfortunate that online rental companies like Netflix, Greencine and Blockbuster aren’t stocking these films. If you want to see She you’re going to have to buy it.
If you’d like to see more images from the film you can find them in my Flickr She Gallery.