H. Rider Haggard was a British civil servant who began writing to win a bet with his brother after they had argued about what made good literature. Haggard's first book of many (58 works of fiction, seven non-fiction) was King Solomon's Mines. She was his second, in 1887. When adapted for this screen version, the locale was altered from humid Africa to the frozen wastes of the near-Arctic. Producer Cooper, who had squired KING KONG to great success, gave it a first rate treatment with a cast of 5,000, fantastic sets, and a script by one of KING KONG'S writers, Ruth Rose. To play the lead in this orgy of special effects, he chose a newcomer, Helen Gahagan, who was later to start a trend of actors turning to politics. Joel McCrea and his wife, Frances Dee, were originally asked to star in the film, but when they were unavailable, Scott and Mack got the jobs. Hinds is dying when he tells his nephew, Scott, to join British scientist Bruce on an expedition to find the secret of eternal life. There is a story in the family annals that one of their long-dead ancestors had done that and discovered a mysterious fire that burned with such intensity that it preserved, rather than destroyed. Scott and Bruce take off for the uncharted territory around northern Manchuria. Once there, they meet Hare, a traveling trader, and his daughter, Mack. The two parties team up, face weather problems, and eventually find the remains of a long-ago group of explorers. A body is inside a block of ice, and, when Hare tries to dig it out, thousands of tons of snow are released and everyone in the group is killed, except Scott, Bruce, and Mack. They continue on and are captured by a strange group led by Seyffertitz, a priest of their tribe. Just as the trio is about to be killed, Seyffertitz calls it off and takes them below the frozen tundra into an underground world known as Kor where it's as hot as the Sudan. There they meet Gahagan, an immortal creature of great beauty who is known as "She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed." The trio learn that Gahagan bathed her comely body in the Flame of Life and is now immortal, and that she was once in love with Scott's ancestor and killed him when he wouldn't return that love. Since then, she's been down there waiting for Scott to show up. Gahagan is not thrilled about Mack's presence, so she commands her to be killed. Scott saves Mack, then Gahagan leads the trio to the Flame and walks into it, so they can see it is lifegiving. When she steps out of the Flame, a change comes over her, and she ages before their eyes like Margo in LOST HORIZON. In seconds she becomes a pile of bones and the movie ends. In the 1980's, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and many others would go back to this kind of picture for some of their derivative work. It was originally made in 1919, then again in 1926, in silent form. In 1965, Ursula Andress starred in an MGM version that never made much noise. Gahagan was a Brooklyn woman whose life was one of the most unusual stories of the era. A student at New York's Barnard College, she went on the stage and did many plays, then gave it up to study opera in Europe. After developing her voice, she came home to the stage, met and married Melvyn Douglas in 1931, and bore him three children.
In 1944, she ran for Congress as a liberal and was very popular with her voters, winning again in 1946 and 1948. After establishing her credentials with the California voters, she declared for a Senate race which she lost to Richard Nixon. Sadly, this was Gahagan's only movie appearance.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: H. Rider Haggard was a British civil servant who began writing to win a bet with his brother after they had argued about what made good literature. Haggard's first book of many (58 works of fiction, seven non-fiction) was King Solomon's Mines. She was his… (more)