Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Night TV (aka, guilty pleasures). Ursula and Martine.

TCM's line up tonight plays to all my guilty pleasures - cheesy movies about imaginary worlds, actors wearing few clothes and women slathered with copious amounts of blue eye shadow. In the 60's, I think that Hammer Horror cornered the market on blue eye shadow and pop-up bras.

I read "She" as an impressionable pre-teen and probably never recovered from it. From then on, I judged science fiction by the number of femme fatales with décolletage and draped gowns, handsome (but often clueless) male heroes and the occasional dinosaur thrown in for good measure. Although they conflicted with my increasing political consciousness, natives in loin cloths blandishing spears were a nice extra touch.

Tonight's TCM is a whole line of of kitschy goodness. First, there's She with the gorgeous, statuesque Ursula Andress in her prime playing the priestess/goddess of an ancient Roman kingdom, hidden somewhere in Africa (natch). Ursula wears gold lamé, the hero is blond and dumb and Christopher Lee plays the high priest, who pontificates lines like  "Dare you disobey the orders of She who must be obeyed." (shades of Rumpole of the Bailey!) 


Then, another rare jewel - Prehistoric Woman staring the unforgettable Martine Beswick, as Kari, a slave girl who has risen through absolute mercilessness to the strata of tribal leader ("Cruelty has made me cruel"). Meow...

Whether lounging on a day bed of cheetah skins or coiled to commit grievous bodily harm for the privilege of coupling with the only available male, Beswick stomps the terra, not so much stealing the film from her fellow actors as tearing it away to swallow whole. The script by Carreras (tendered under the pseudonym Henry Younger) posits an adolescent boy's dream getaway in a world ruled by women who gad about in low cut pelts and dance seductively when not trying to claw out one another's eyes. 

The dialogue runs to purple but the narrative is offered with an undeniable sense of humor and fun, putting Prehistoric Women in the same camp as Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) and Queen of Outer Space (1958).

The Zap TV website is even more terse: Brunettes and their queen of the white rhinoceros capture a hunter and boss around blondes. As a former brunette (now graying) I can go for that. 



In the sixties, after spectacular efforts such as The Brides of Dracula (1960) and The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) as well as other reworkings of classics like The Phantom of the Opera (1962) and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), Hammer actively pursued stories with women in the lead, a departure from practically the entire Hammer catalogue, going back even before Hammer horror to the earliest days of the studio's existence. The success of The Gorgon (1964), She (1965) and One Million Years B.C. (1966) proved that they were on the right track in expanding beyond gothic-inspired horror and, in 1967, they made the decision to go headfirst into a full-blown historical epic, The Viking Queen (1967). 

It wasn't about Vikings, wasn't very historical and, sadly, wasn't very good. A Druid high priestess (do they ever have a peasant in these movies?) and a Roman centurion fall in love. Oh love, oh mores, oh really predictable. Well, maybe comparing her to cardboard is more accurate.
 
She says her lines dutifully and doesn't completely fudge every inflection (although she comes close) but, in the end, she's just not there.

The movie might have worked had the leading lady had any effect other than blah. Still, the location shooting in Ireland gave the film a beautiful look and the final scene is so bad that you have to watch it to believe it. '

If you want to stay up past midnight, the next deathless film is "The Wild Wild Planet" in which a space cowboy saves planetary leaders from an alien shrinker's army of inflatable females. OK. Er.. inflatable females sounds like something from the back (way back) pages of the National Enquirer or it's less-than-stellar imitations. I haven't seen it but I see that Franco Nero is listed in the cast. He played Lancelot in the 1960's Camelot along with Vanessa Redgrave who added him to her stable of lovers.

Add popcorn and/or some beer and it's a Friday night line up just made for fun.

information from the TCM and Hammer glamor website. website.

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