The novels of H. Rider Haggard have been the source for many swashbuckling adventure movies set in the context of the ‘Scramble for Africa’. Unlike many of his contempories Haggard treated ‘native’ characters with a degree of sympathy, even allowing some to play heroic roles – where they were friends of, and accepted advice from, the white protagonist, of course. Today, the Indiana Jones and Mummy movies continue the tradition – albeit in a reflective, knowing, tongue-in-cheek manner that, at least attempts, to distance the movies from the racist and colonial stereotypes which they still incorporate.
A mysterious oriental introduces himself to Holly, a British archaeologist who bears an uncanny likeness to the portrait on an ancient coin. A map is acquired, and there follows the usually adventurous search for a lost city. In the hidden city the Hellenistic age is still alive. The city is ruled by the supernatural Ayesha (Ursula Andress), ‘She who must be obeyed’, who believes that Holly is the reincarnation of her lover, Callicrates, who was a companion of Alexander the Great. Ayesha offers Holly immortality, sharing her throne as her eternal love, but – there’s always a but –it goes tragically wrong as Ayesha discovers that you can only pass through the eternal flame once: attempt it a second time and immortality is stripped away. Ayesha ages and withers before his eyes.
Roy Ashton was the special makeup effects artist, as he was on so many Hammer movies. Ursula Andress only wore the initial stages of the makeup, thereafter she was replaced by doubles and finally a dummy.