Tag Archive for H. Rider Haggard

The Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon

Peter Cushing from "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958)

The Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon begins today, and WeirdFlix is proud to participate in honoring one of the most cherished actors of the 20th century.

Initiated by Frankensteinia (your one stop for all things Frankenstein), the Blogathon will celebrate the life and career of Peter Cushing with profiles, art, reviews, and anecdotes all around the blogosphere. Here at WeirdFlix, we’ll take a comprehensive look at Mr. Cushing’s career in film tomorrow on his birthday. We don’t want to leave you empty-handed on Day One, however, so we’ve got a little curiosity item for you below.

Watching weird movies and blogging about them are just two of my hobbies. If only I could add time travel to the list, I’d have enough time for all of them. I guess watching Doctor Who is about as close as I’ll get.

Here’s a short video of Peter Cushing enjoying one of his own hobbies:

Sadly, the end of the video is cut. Per British Pathé, it should say “…proving, if we needed proof, that playing soldiers is one game that we’ll never grow tired of.”

Much has been made of H.G. Wells’ full title, “Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books”. I would contend that Wells didn’t mean for the “more intelligent” quip to be taken any more seriously than the notion that two 150-year-old men would crawl around on the floor playing his game. Indeed, the notion that a girl would even WANT to play a traditionally boys’ game is quite modern, and Wells even suggesting the possibility is pretty progressive for 1913.

I still engage in the occasional tabletop battle, but I’m not terribly skilled at painting the little buggers. I leave that to my lovely wife, who has made quite a career out of it. She does manage to “drag” me to Gen Con every year, and the very thought that I might have pushed my little army against that of Grand Moff Tarkin does indeed warm the heart.

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the Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon

As of this writing, Peter Cushing is one of the most referenced actors on this humble site, as represented by the big honking tag in the list to the right. If you’re reading this after May, 2013, that might have changed, but I have a gut feeling that with over a hundred screen credits to his name, many within the horror or science fiction genres, Mr. Cushing will be a frequent topic of discussion here.

We first mentioned Cushing as part of our drinking game for At the Earth’s Core (1976), a fun if loose little adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. Kevin Connor had previously directed Cushing for Amicus Productions in the portmanteau horror film From Beyond the Grave (1973). Core is noteworthy for Cushing’s portrayal of the quintessential absent-minded professor, a role that is more whimsical than his usual intense scientists, vampire hunters, and detectives.

Another literary adaptation we previously examined is the Hammer Films treatment of She (1965). Peter plays the narrator of H. Rider Haggard’s novel, the Cambridge professor and amateur archaeologist, Horace Holly. Holly is a focused explorer and, as a former soldier, a man of action, so he’s a far cry from the absent-minded or bumbling professor archetypes. The film, as a whole, is a fun little adventure romp, and Cushing gets to play against his favorite foil and best friend, Christopher Lee as the devious high priest, Billali.

Earlier, I hinted at my long held affection for Doctor Who, both old and new. In our tribute to Dalek creator Terry Nation, we discussed the pair of Doctor Who feature films with Peter Cushing in a version of the title role. I say version, because this character isn’t the Time Lord seen in other versions, but a human professor whose surname is actually Who.

There is a lot of hand-wringing among science fiction fans about what constitutes “canon”. Lucas Licensing even maintains a continuity database, ranking various elements of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in different levels of canon. It strikes me as particularly absurd, then, that in a series that revolves around travel through space, time, and dimensions (the S, T, and D of TARDIS, respectively), that anyone would take a hard stance on Cushing’s Doctor not being “real”.

As writer Alan Moore so poignantly stated in his introduction to the Superman story, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”…

This is an IMAGINARY STORY… Aren’t they all?”

Please come back tomorrow when we’ll celebrate Mr. Cushing’s birthday by looking at his long and storied career in film. Thanks for visiting, and we hope to see you again soon!

Remembering H. Rider Haggard (Part 2 of 2)

Ursula Andress as "She"

She: A History of Adventure

Sir Henry Rider Haggard’s She is one of the best-selling books of all time, having sold 83 million copies by 1965. The story of a lost kingom in the heart of Africa ruled by a mysterious white queen named Ayesha, “She-Who-Must-be-Obeyed,” quickly became a classic of imaginative literature and hasn’t been out of print since its first publication. After being initially serialized in the British weekly The Graphic, it was first published as a standalone novel in 1887, the same year as Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrating fifty years of rule.

She has been adapted for the silver screen ten times, the first six in the silent era, starting with a short film by cinema pioneer Georges Méliès. Méliès filmed La colonne de feu (The Pillar of Fire) in 1899. His 1902 short film, Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) is widely regarded as the first science fiction film. The final silent film version, released in 1925, was the first feature length adaptation and benefited from having its intertitles written by H. Rider Haggard himself. Sadly, he would die later that same year in a London nursing home.

“I suppose as a boy ‘She‘ interested me as much as anything.” — J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings)

Helen Gahagan in "She"
The 1935 adaptation starred Helen Gahagan in the title role. Her lost kingdom was moved from Africa to Arctic Siberia and sported a more
Art Deco/Great Gatsby aesthetic. Produced by Merian C. Cooper, the film was meant to build on the success of King Kong, but RKO budget cuts forced the film into black-and-white rather than color. Gahagan’s depiction of “She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed” was so iconic, that it inspired the look of the Evil Queen in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It would be her only Hollywood production. She would enter a career in politics and, in her Senate bid against Richard Nixon, would become famous for coining the infamous nickname “Tricky Dick.”

“His openings — what story in the world opens better than ‘She‘? — are full of alluring promise, and his catastrophes triumphantly keep it.” — C. S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

In 1965, Hammer Films embarked on their most ambitious and expensive project to date, an adaptation of She starring Ursula Andress as the immortal queen. Andress had already secured her Hollywood fame with vampy roles in Dr. No, opposite Elvis in Fun in Acapulco, and alongside Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in 4 for Texas. The film retains the Victorian setting if not sensibilities of the novel with Peter Cushing leading the expedition to the lost African city of Kuma as Professor Holly.
Olinka Bérová in "The Vengeance of She"
The success of the Hammer venture led to a 1968 sequel, The Vengeance of She. Andress refused to return, so producers went through their Rolodex looking for a replacement, offering the role to model Samantha Jones, Britt Ekland, and Barbara Bouchet in turn. All turned it down, forcing a rewrite to the script and the casting of Czech actress and model Olga Schoberová under the Paramount-provided name Olinka Bérová
(“Baby” Bérová). Instead of the unlikely return of the supposedly immortal Ayesha, The Vengeance of She retells and inverts the tale, with Bérová playing a European ingénue being pursued by the ruler of Kuma, Killikrates (played by a returning John Richardson). Killikrates believes Bérová to be a reincarnation of his beloved Ayesha, just as Andress believed Richardson to be her returning Killikrates in the previous film.
Ophélie Winter in "She"
A 2001 straight-to-video version of She largely serves as an obscure vanity vehicle for French singer and actress Ophélie Winter (2001: A Space Travesty).
Ian Duncan (The Mists of Avalon) plays dual roles as Leo Vincey and Kallikrates. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) also makes an appearance as Michael Vincey.

Adventure fiction abounds with takes on the white queen amongst the savages, but H. Rider Haggard took a simple concept and used it to transcend its pulp origins, expounding on the nature of civilization, sexuality, and imperialism. The transition of Helen Gahagan from silver screen queen to U.S. Representative is not a coincidence. As gender and race barriers are increasingly broken in the 21st century, it doesn’t hurt to take a moment to reflect on our past and the visionaries like Haggard who questioned the status quo.

“And O you whose eyes shall fall upon these pages, see, they have been translated, and they have been printed, and here they lie before you – an undiscovered land wherein you are free to travel!” — H. Rider Haggard, Cleopatra (1889)

Remembering H. Rider Haggard (Part 1 of 2)

H. Rider Haggard

Literary Legacy

Sir Henry Rider Haggard (June 22, 1856 to May 14, 1925) could easily be regarded as the grandfather of Lost World fiction. His novel, King Solomon’s Mines (1885) inspired a number of classic works that followed, including Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would be King (1888), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912), Edgar Rice Burrough’s
The Land That Time Forgot (1918), and Michael Crichton’s Congo (1980).

Allan Quatermain

While working reluctantly as a barrister in London, H. Rider Haggard took to writing novels and found them more rewarding, personally and financially, than practicing law. King Solomon’s Mines was influenced by his time in Colonial Africa alongside such notable explorers and “Great White Hunters” as Frederick Selous. With his slouch hat perched on the back of his head and full beard, Selous was the archetype for such adventurers as Indiana Jones and Haggard’s own creation, Allan Quatermain.

Hal Lawrence was the first to take on the role of Allan Quatermain in King Solomon’s Mines (1918) and Allan Quatermain (1919). Haggard was able to attend a private screening of the second film and wrote down his initial reactions in his diary. “It is not at all bad,” he writes, “but it might be a great deal better.” No prints of the films remain, but a South African film archive has some preserved stills.

The first major film adaptation of King Solomon’s Mines was completed in 1937 with Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Allan. A few concessions were made to see the film to the screen. The interracial romance was predictably dropped and replaced with a white female lead played by Anna Lee. As the noble savage Umbopa, the already wildly popular Paul Robeson is given a few musical numbers clearly not conceived by Haggard.
Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger in "King Solomon's Mines"
The 1950 film version of King Solomon’s Mines starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger strayed even further from the novel, giving the fabricated female lead role top billing, but it was arguably the most successful. With no score and enough location footage to supply MGM with stock for decades, this version scored three Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, winning two for Best Cinematography (Color) and Best Film Editing.

MGM tried to recapture the allure of darkest Africa with a sequel, Watusi (1959), but without the chemistry of Kerr and Granger and nowhere near the budget, the results pale. George Montgomery is forced to play Harry Quatermain, son of Allan. New location footage is limited, and the film recycles stock from its predecessor.

Allan Quatermain would lay dormant until the late 1970s. While Amicus was adapting the Lost World fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs (see our coverage of At the Earth’s Core), veteran TV director Alvin Rakoff decided to make his push into theatrical releases with a series of UK/Canadian genre co-productions. King Solomon’s Treasure (1979) is beyond low budget despite starring David McCallum (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., NCIS), Patrick MacNee (ABC/ITV television series The Avengers), and Britt Eklund (The Man with the Golden Gun) in supporting roles. Greek-Canadian stage actor John Colicos (Count Baltar from the original Battlestar Galactica) stars as Allan Quatermain. The film is full of dodgy special effects, including dinosaurs, giant crabs, and a lost city of styrofoam.
Sharon Stone and Richard Chamberlain in "Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold"
Certainly, the overwhelming success of the pulp-inspired Raiders of the Lost Ark caused a resurgence of interest in Allan Quatermain and his ilk. Unfortunately, this caused the character to become even more diluted as filmmakers were focused on capturing a taste of Indiana Jones’ box office rather than draw from his predecessors.

King Solomon’s Mines returned to theaters in 1985 with Richard Chamberlain playing Quatermain. Filmed back-to-back with its sequel to cut costs, the film’s disappointing box office returns didn’t stop Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold from following a couple years later. Director J. Lee Thompson didn’t receive credit for the sequel, but it didn’t matter much, because he was busy filming the even MORE derivative Firewalker (1986) with Chuck Norris.

Somehow, John Rhys-Davies managed to be in Raiders, Mines, AND Firewalker and avoid being typecast so deftly that he would go on to play a damn dwarf.

In the Information Age of the 1990s, period adventure pics were largely forgotten along with Haggard’s creations. The Mummy was originally intended to rebout the Universal Monsters franchise, but the tone of high adventure did more to lure in audiences than the titular monster. The descriptively titled High Adventure (2001) followed on its heels with an unofficial (and, some would say, unnecessary) sequel to the King Solomon’s Mines/Watusi series, making it a trilogy. Following the theme of its previous installments, Thomas Ian Griffith (The Karate Kid, Part III) plays Allan’s grandson, Chris Quatermain. The budget is low, the action tepid, and the connection to Haggard tenuous at best.
Sean Connery in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"
The 2000s have been even more unkind. Despite making over $100M, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) largely disappointed both audiences and critics, but none more directly than comics writer Alan Moore and star Sean Connery, who played Allan Quatermain. Patrick Swayze took a turn in yet another version of King Solomon’s Mines, this one made-for-TV and nearly three hours long. Sadly, it shows little regard for accuracy, historical or literary, even going so far as to spell his name “Quartermain”. The also made-for-TV Librarian franchise entry Return to King Solomon’s Mines (2006) abandoned both Quatermain and the Victorian timeframe, but at least made direct reference to Quatermain’s route and the fictitious geographical landmarks. Direct-to-video “mockbuster” producers The Asylum managed to tarnish two legends with their half-hearted Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls (2008). Apparently, Mark Verheiden (TimeCop) is writing a spacefaring Quatermain project for Sam Worthington (Avatar), so it doesn’t look like things are going to improve on this front any time soon. I guess I miss the rains down in Africa.</Toto>