Sci-Fi Rewind:She (1935)
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Last month, I wrote a (preoccupied) article about a 1925 film called She. This month, as my
holiday gift to you, I’m discussing (with more focus) the 1935 remake of that film.
Following the success of 1933’s King Kong, Merian C. Cooper sought to make an epic film with an
adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s novel She. Unlike King Kong, this is a film that was subject
intensely to the Motion Picture Production Code. So, it’s a tale of a timeless love with absolutely
nothing that might be interpreted as vulgar or controversial by a 1930s standard.
Unlike the 1925 version problematically set in Africa (complete with blackface), this version
takes our intrepid explorers to the Arctic. Of course, there’s no lack of racism in the film; the white
men talk profess their loyalty to other white men and not to the natives of the country they’re
exploiting. While there is no explicit blackface, the explorers encounter a group of people who are
portrayed (just like in the 1925 version) as savages and cannibals. As I observed in my review of
the older version of this story, our heroic group of portly white saviors bursts in and attempts to
“civilize” them by beating them up.
The scenery in this version of She truly makes the film worth watching. Whether epic shots of
sprawling palaces and landscapes and some fairly good costuming can make up for a story that is
cringeworthy from a contemporary perspective, each of you must decide. I’ll only tell you there’s a
ritual dance toward the end of the film that’s pretty impressive by 1930s’ standards (it has flame
The downside to all that beautiful scenery and dancing is the way the film has been restored
for audiences now. Director Cooper had wanted to shoot the film in color, but his ambition was
greater than his budget. The film has been colorized in his honor, so we can watch it in something
that resembles its original intent. However, that also means that the film was colorized, so be
prepared to watch a film that looks like a marker has been taken to it.
Last month, I told you the famed She-who-must-be-obeyed lives forever (and also has mystical
powers) until she shares that gift of immortality with her reincarnated lover. In this version, the
message of imperialism in which a white man comes in and literally destroys something timeless
and beautiful remains intact. This story is even sadder, however, because rather than watching
She-who-must-be-obeyed vanish in the eternal flame, she withers and ages before our very eyes
until she dies in a sad heap on the floor.
Watch the 1935 version of She and thrill to an epic dance sequence/immortality ritual that just
might brighten your holiday.
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Directed by: Irving Pichel
Starring: Randolph Scott, Helen Gahagan, Helen Mack, Nigel Bruce