Hammer Adventure: The Terror of the Tongs (1961) and She (1965)

The Terror of the Tongs (1961)

Written by Jimmy Sangster
Directed by Anthony Bushell
Starring Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Geoffrey Toone
US Release March 15, 1961
RT 76 min.
Home Video Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Classic Horrors rating = 6 (out of 10)


Warning: review contains plot spoilers.

Two years after Hammer made The Stranglers of Bombay, they changed the location from India to Hong Kong and jumped an era ahead from the 19th century to 1910, but basically rewrote the story to make The Terror of the Tongs.  My opinion of it probably suffers from seeing the other one first, although there are details in this movie that I like better.  Instead of a secret cult disposing its enemies with sacred cloths, there’s a secret organization disposing of its enemies with sacred hatchets.  Both feature sympathetic heroes who single-handedly fight to rid the world of these criminal elements.

In The Terror of the Tongs, the hero, Captain Jackson Sale (Geoffrey Toone) has a more personal reason for wanting to destroy the enemy, the Red Dragon Tong.  His daughter, Helena (Barbara Brown), is murdered by them as part of their search for a document hidden in a book given to her as a gift from Mr. Ming (Burt Kwouk).  This is after Sale’s first officer is killed and before maid Anna Chang’s fingers are chopped off by the Tong.  Sale now agrees with Ming’s assessment about the importance of the situation.  The deaths surrounding him have become part of the 70% of the population the Tong touches.

Leading the Tong is Chung King, played by Christopher Lee in Fu Manchu-lite mode.  He looks similar to the other character, but speaks in his regular British voice.  He issues cryptic orders like, “Destroy the one who seeks to destroy us.”  When the document is retrieved from Anna Chang, he burns it and says the Tong has no more worries.  His overconfidence through the very end will be his undoing.  The “one who seeks to destroy the Tong” gets a little help from his friends:  Yvonne Monlaur plays Lee, a former Tong supporter and Marne Maitland plays a beggar who rallies extra men to help Sale battle the enemy.

As in The Stranglers of Bombay, a representative of the East India Company is on the side of the bad guys.  District Commissioner Harcourt (Brian Worth) is a weasel who will be rewarded at the end with a hatchet to the neck.  Earlier when Sale brings him evidence of “organized, systematic theft,” Harcourt tells him it’s just “a fairy tale.”  As in The Stranglers of Bombay, the hero is captured.  Instead of death, though, he’s threatened with torture.  “Have you ever had your bones scraped?”  When he’s defiant, King says, “Leave him here to reflect and he may realize we’re not doing this for our own amusement.”

When the weasel asks King if they should move their headquarters, the overconfident leader again says, “Sale won’t be a problem for long.”  He gives one of his men “ten hours of the most pleasurable experience” with two women, after which he says the man will think of nothing but killing Sale.”  All Harcourt has to do is have him at the dock tomorrow night at 10:00.  Soon, in movie time, the beggar has gotten Sale to agree to be bait so they can “defeat the Tong in open battle.”  He assures Sale that his people will come forward to assist in the fight.

Before long, hatchets are flying and good men are shouting, “Death to the Tong!”  Now King thinks it’s a good time to change location, but an angry mob blocks his doorway.  The Terror of the Tongs doesn’t quite have the suspense of its predecessor.  It also seems less genuine, probably because the Asians, good and bad, are white men and women with heavy makeup attempting to make them look Asian, but really just making them look odd.   It’s definitely less original, reminding me of the title of screenwriter Jimmy Sangster’s autobiography, Do You Want it Good or Tuesday?  By all reports, this one was a rush job.

She (1965)

Written by David T. Chantler
Directed by Robert Day
Starring Ursula Andress, Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, John Richardson, Rosenda Monteros, Christopher Lee
US Release June 9, 1965
RT 106 min.
Home Video MGM
Classic Horrors rating = 6 (out of 10)


Warning: review contains plot spoilers; ending of movie revealed.

At the time, She was the most expensive film Hammer had made. The adventure, which has elements of fantasy, is based on the novel She: A History of Adventure, by H. Rider Haggard, first serialized in The Graphic magazine in late 1886 through early 1887. Motion pictures and shorts were made from it at least five times before Hammer got its hands on it. When it was released, it became a hit in North America and Europe, which led to a sequel, The Vengeance of She, three years later. I knew none of this before watching it and wanted to share the information in case you question the movie’s significance like I did.

In Palestine in 1918, “the war” has ended and three British soldiers discuss what to do next. Major Holly (Peter Cushing) has no desire to return home to teach. His orderly, Job (Bernard Cribbins), wants to continue to serve Holly, wherever he goes. Leo Vincey (John Richardson) wants to focus only on the here and now, which begins with the exotic young woman, Ustane (Rosenda Monteros). However, when Vincey’s experience leads him to an encounter with Aisha (Ursula Andress), the immortal ruler and high priestess of the lost city of Kuma, he believes he’s the reincarnation of her former lover, Kallikrates.

Intrigued by the prospect of finding the lost city, Vincey’s companions join him in a trek across the desert, guided only by a map given to them by Aisha and the reluctant assistance of Ustane, who, of course, has fallen in love with “her Leo.” Aisha’s current high priest, Bilali (Christopher Lee), asks her about Vincey, “Was I not right, my queen?” She prays her waiting “will at last be over.” The long journey is not without complications; their water bags are slashed and their camels are stolen. Vincey’s “inherited memory” seems to be driving him; although, after seeing a vision of Aisha, he collapses.

Despite the epic feel, She is not very complicated. Once they find Kuma, it turns out Aisha rules with jealousy and cruelty, which caused her to lose Kallikrates in the first place. This leads to an uprising among her slaves while waiting for the “flame of life” to turn blue so that Vincey can walk into it and become immortal like her. Oh, and Bilali is also a bit jealous, trying to enter the fire instead of Vincey. It’s pretty entertaining, if not a bit cheesy. I particularly like the pit into which Aisha drops slaves one by one, tethered by ropes around their ankles, and over which Ustane eventually hangs in a cage.

The scope is made to feel grand, for mid-60s standards, by matte paintings of mountains and cliffs, as well as a giant stone statue leading into Aisha’s palace. However, once inside, the amazed looks on the characters’ faces and the dramatic music doesn’t quite match the actual vision of the interior sets. From inside Aisha’s palace, the remains of the lost city can be seen below. It’s from this viewpoint that Aisha speaks vaguely of rebuilding the civilization while Vincey’s own mortal civilization continues to destroy itself in the world outside.

Before the climax, Holly tries to downplay for Vincey the advantages of being alive for eternity. He tells him he probably wouldn’t have turned down immortality for love, either, but may have lived to regret it. Whatever he does, Holly tells Vincey it must be his decision. He does seem to falter as Ustane’s life literally hangs in the balance, but ultimately does not use on Aisha the only dagger that can striker her down. Instead, he falls to his knees before her and she tells him that he’s nothing, but he will become a man again. Holly shakes his head, sighing, “We’ve lost him forever.”

The trip has turned out to be a real bummer for him. “All my life I’ve searched for a city like this and, now that I’ve found it, I want to see it destroyed.” When Aisha enters the flame with Vincey, it backfires on her. Apparently, a second trip takes away what was given. Vincey survives as a depressed man who is going to live forever. “But you wanted immortality,” Holly reminds him. He responds, “When it (the blue flame) comes back, it’ll find me waiting.” So, the moral of the story may be: be careful what you wish for. Or is it: never trust “the world’s most beautiful woman?”

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