Sensations For Two Generations
|November 1948 --- Socko Broadway Revive for Twin Spectacles from Merian Cooper and RKO|
Pompeii and She Click Best Where Paired --- Part One
She and The Last Days Of Pompeii are for those who’d relive King Kong by way of his apostles. A same team did both, but wouldn’t succeed to Kong level with either. She was out of circulation and a collecting grail for years, Pompeii around to pique interest for volcano finale by fx-wizard Willis O’ Brien and reuse of Max Steiner Kong cues. Ray Harryhausen made late-in-life project of colorizing She, his mission to in-part fulfill Merian Cooper’s dream of Technicolor for the 1935 release. There is a Blu-Ray of She in black-and-white plus the colorized version. A ten minute chunk in the middle is from 16mm elements. That footage had been lopped from a reissue RKO did in 1948. Idea at the time was to pair She with The Last Days Of Pompeii, and to keep total run-time below three hours. She would later end up with Raymond Rohauer. It appears he snaked ownership through buyout of H. Rider Haggard story source. RKO successors in interest should have challenged RR on this. They probably would have beat pants off him (along with other distribs, had they but challenged yard bully that was Rohauer). Maybe RKO figured She wasn’t worth the beef. Meanwhile, nobody got to see the thing. It was stills and Ackerman-applause in Famous Monsters that kept eternal flame lit. Did She ever play television back in the day? Not to my knowledge.
There was a bootleg LP of the Max Steiner score at a time when the movie seemed deep-sixed. Teacher/historian William K. Everson ran She to his class in March 1972, noting at the time that it had been out of circulation for twenty years. He added that not even producer Merian Cooper had a print (so where did Everson score his?). Thanks to the more/less vanish, She became a pretty obscure picture. A last big noise it made was indeed decades before, in 1948-49, when the She-Pompeii parlay made trade headlines as second coming for postwar reissues. More on that later. Again to collecting quest, someone in the 80’s told me that Brit historian and TV producer Philip Jenkinson had a 16mm neg of She, but he was famed and unknown personally to me or anyone that could vouch for me, so I let it alone. It was tricky in those days to approach collectors out of clear sky. Who might you be other than a film narc? More than one contact I’d make would deny having prints or just hang up on me. A particular problem with She was Rohaeur looking under rocks for bootlegging, keen threat because he knew so many lizards. One supplier of She who was hands-down a right guy was Charlie Vesce, who's gone now, but a friend to all collectors. There ought to be a book to salute people like him. Men like Charlie kept lights burning for otherwise lost or neglected films.
She stayed in our consciousness thanks to a Hammer remake in 1965, plus Blackhawk selling 8mm prints of a silent version with Betty Blythe. I was blithe about Blythe because Blackhawk's She was a feature and expensive, me limited then to comedy shorts. The Hammer show had Ursula Andress as titular threat, her also a threat to neighborhood parents, one of whom told my mother that She was nothing more nor less than pornography, this as I was moments from heading downtown to see it. That plan scuttled, it would be forty-five years before I saw She. Hammer had a biggest haul from any of their so far exports to the US ($1.5 million in domestic rentals). It was sex that sold, Andress in varied degree of Undress for all of posters and art. This was where Hammer Glamour was truly born. For a first time, they'd get kids plus teens plus Dad. She being good or bad was beside point. I didn't like billing at the time, Peter Cushing and especially Christopher Lee somewhat down a list of participants, but no one could fault Hammer and stateside distributor MGM's commercial instinct. This She put Hammer in a money class they'd build on with following year's One Million Years B.C.
She and The Last Days Of Pompeii were 1935 magic carpets flown by Merian Cooper, who had lately managed RKO into a nervous breakdown for himself (or heart attack --- take your pick of historical accounts). The company was snake-bit by Depression. Cooper’s King Kong was a help, but a flock of Kongs couldn’t put RKO right. Cooper thought higher volume an answer, but this just meant more pictures a public didn’t care to see. Ideas that engaged Cooper went fantastic ways of Kong, and given better times than these, he’d have got a higher ceiling to stage further wonders for a picture world. Trouble was 1935 being near-nadir of industry health, RKO in receivership and breathing on an iron lung. Cooper got a contract upon otherwise quitting the place, two projects along spectacle line, each, he understood, to cost a million. Run-up to shooting saw those numbers halved, along with abandon of Technicolor that Cooper planned for She and The Last Days Of Pompeii. Had such promises actually been made, or was Cooper’s grandiosity on overdrive?
The Technicolor he envisioned was not the old two-color which was done deal in any case by 1935 (except for cartoons trying to buck Disney). The process had not caught on as hoped, viewers put off by limits to the spectrum and it being no enhancement to filmgoing. Cooper was, however, a champion for Technicolor, plus investor, promoter, and pied piper to rich friends who came aboard with cash enough to give a new and improved three-color technique the decisive boost. RKO was just too cheap an outfit to back a pair of already expensive shows with added cost of multi-hues. Should Cooper have known better than to imagine they could? She and The Last Days Of Pompeii were expensive beyond custom of RKO in any case, She at $521K, Pompeii costing $818K.