Sep 11, 2014

Beefcake, Bonding, and a Movie Called "She"

H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925) wrote adventure novels about swashbuckling, devil-may-care heroes exploring lost civilizations in Africa, precursors of both the Tarzan books and the Indiana Jones movie series.

The Rock Island Bookmobile had three of them.  I rather liked King Solomon's Mines (1885), but couldn't slog through Alan Quartermain (1887), and I wouldn't touch the novel called simply She (1886).

For obvious heteronormative reasons, it's his most popular novel, a "classic of imaginative literature" according to wikipedia.

The heteronormative, racist, imperialist plot:  Professor Horace Holly, his young ward Leo, and their servant are shipwrecked in East Africa, and journey to the interior, where they run afoul of a lost civilization ruled by Ayesha, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed (or "She" for short).   

She is immortal, and so beautiful, naturally, that any man who sees her is driven mad with desire.

She becomes convinced that Leo is the reincarnation of her long-dead lover, Kallikrates.  He is in love with someone else, but Ayesha kills his girlfriend, hypnotizes him with her beauty and takes him to a volcano, where he will bathe in hot lava and thereby become immortal.  But at the last minute he refuses.  She reverts to her true age and dies.

See any gay subtexts yet?

Holly is hypnotized by Ayesha's beauty, like everyone else, but otherwise he displays no heterosexual interest. He has an avuncular interest in Leo that can often pass over into the homoerotic.

Leo is not really interested in Ayesha.  In the end he chooses Holly over her.

There is no heterosexist boy-girl fade-out ending.

It has been filmed about a dozen times, including a silent version (1925) with the buffed Carlyle Blackwell as an Egyptian-clad Leo.

The most famous version (1965) starred Peter Cushing as Holly, John Richardson (top photo) as Leo, and Ursula Andress as She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.

A homophobic 1982 version was set in a Road Warrior post-apocalyptic world, with Man-Mountain brothers (David Goss, Harrison Muller) and She (Sandahl Bergman) questing to rescue their kidnapped sister.

En route they run afoul of a giant transvestite, effeminate Pretty Boy, who hosts a party for dancing werewolves, a gay-vague mad scientist, and a chair made of loincloth-clad men.

In the 2001 version, the clueless Leo (Ian Duncan) brings his girlfriend Roxanne along, and she and She fight it out to win his affection.

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