might be a travesty of Rider Haggard's epic adventure novel
, scaling things down to fit into a budget lavish only by the studio's low standards. At least the film opens with the unexpected sight of Peter Cushing and Bernard Cribbins in a dive in Palestine in 1919, shimmying with belly-dancers and brawling with the locals John Ford-style. Less entertainingly the film then switches attention to blonde clod John Richardson who is dreamily visited by blonde goddess Ursula Andress--her eerie beauty enhanced by the usual Hammer trick of dubbing the foreign crumpet with a posh voice.
Our adventurers are given a map which leads them through deserts and mountains to the lost city of Kuma, an Egyptian-style civilisation ruled by Ayesha. This immortal She-Who-Must-be-Obeyed has been unaccountably waiting for Richardson to be reincarnated ever since she pettishly killed him thousands of years ago. In this reading, She is an Aryan fascist given to tipping those who displease her into a pit of molten lava. Her final comeuppance--as she bathes again in the blue flame of immortality and finds the process reversed so she suffers one of Hammer's patented Dracula dissolves to dust--takes place during a native uprising which overthrows her whole corrupt regime.
The leads look terrific but can't act for beans so it's a mercy that stalwarts Cushing and Christopher Lee (as the treacherous High Priest) are on hand, not to mention Cribbins (comedy servant in bowler hat), Andre Morell and Rosenda Monteros.
The James Bernard music is enchanting in a way Robert Day's direction sadly isn't, but the sets and (especially) costumes are splendid and the film has its moments of magic and terror: as the centurion pours out the remains of Morell's daughter from a jar, as the flame burns blue and the lovers bathe in it.
On the DVD: the 2.35:1 widescreen print is in very good shape. Otherwise, there's not even a trailer. --Kim Newman
Another classic Hammer film, shot in Israel and based on H. Rider Haggard's fantasy novel. While on an expedition, Major Horace Holly (Peter Cushing) and his team discover the secret kingdom of Ayesha (Ursula Andress) - she who must be obeyed. Condemned to eternal life, Ayesha wishes Holly's colleague to join her in her eternal existence; believing him to be the reincarnation of her former lover, an Egyptian high priest whom she murdered two thousand years ago.