H Rider Haggard’s novel has, of course, been filmed several times, notably by Hammer in 1965 with Ursula Andress. But this 1935 production from Merian C Cooper is something of a rarity in that it was understood to have been lost for some time, and it’s quite a surprise to find it turning up in a not-unreasonably coloured version on Amazon Prime. Raiders of the Lost Ark this is not, but it’s quaint, amusingly stuffy and has a few idiosyncrasies that make it worth recommending.
Randolph Scott is our bold hero Leo Vincey, who travels to the ancestral fireplace of dying uncle John (Samuel S Hinds), who seems to have some knowledge of a fountain of youth. Vincey sets off with pal Horace Holly (Nigel Bruce) for an adventure in the ancient city of Kor, where they eventually encounter She Who—Must -Be-Obeyed (Helen Gahagan).
If She looks familiar, it because Walt Disney based the drawing of the Evil Queen in Snow White on this actress in costume, but that’s not all that’s familiar here. Complete with a Max Steiner Score, there’s a large swathe of the King Kong team assembled here, and some of the effects are still genuinely thrilling, notably the crashing ice-floes. In fact, the only drag here is the romance between Vincey and She, which is pretty ponderous by any standards, but given the general, cheerful chaos elsewhere, shouldn’t be an obstacle.
Human sacrifices, derring do, casual sexism, racism and all kind of random ingredients are shown to good advantage here, and if you’re not a fan of colourised films, think again; Ray Harryhausen personally supervised this restoration, and even if it’s hardly up to modern standards, it’s still watchable for fans of vintage cinema.