Cinema: Waiting for Leo

  • Share
  • Read Later

She is for children, television addicts, and those who relish cinema cliches. The large cliche collection here assembled includes the Reincarnated Hero, the Perilous Quest, the Lost City and the ravishingly beautiful woman who is really 2,000 years old. But She is no copycat; Britain's H. Rider Haggard wrote it in 1886,* 51 years before Ronald Colman ever heard of Shangri-La.

It is 1918, and three demobbed British soldiers sit drinking in a handsome Arab cabaret in Palestine. Exposition is almost unnecessary for such an archetypal trio: Leo, the young leader (John Richardson); Major Holly, the older officer (Peter Gushing) who used to be a college professor; and Job, their comic but loyal batman (Bernard Cribbins) in a gentleman's gentleman's derby and a lower-class accent. In almost no time at all, Leo has been abducted by ruffians with gold medals bearing his profile and dragged before the blonde and beautiful Ursula Andress.

She introduces herself. "I am Ayesha whom some call She Who Waits"—an appropriate sobriquet for someone who has been waiting for 20 centuries. After a kiss or two, she hands him a ring and a road map to the hidden city of Kuma beyond the Desert of Lost Souls and the Mountains of the Moon, where she will give him riches, power and herself. Leo and his friends set out posthaste.

Come perils, throughout which Leo is 1) rescued by a beguiling girl called Ustane (Rosenda Monteros) and 2) sustained by spirit-reviving visions of Ursula Andress. Comes the crucial choice between the adoring Ustane ("I can but offer you my heart and unending loyalty") and the prospect of Ursula and a kingdom—with immortality to enjoy them in. Leo chooses as anybody would in his right mind. He is punished, of course. And so is Miss Andress, who with the help of a makeup man has to demonstrate at the fadeout what a 2,000-year-old woman really looks like. She doesn't look a day over 1,500.

*Since then it has sold 83 million copies in 44 languages.