She, 1911

Director: George O. Nichols
"In Africa, "She-who-never-dies" grieves beside the body of the man she loved and killed centuries before..."
Epic romance on a budget: the icy shores of upstate New York stand in for the West African coast in this early interpretation of H. Rider Haggard's adventure of love across the centuries.

Ancient Egypt, 350 BC: the Pharaoh's daughter Amenartes persuades Kallikrates, a priest in the temple of Isis, to elope with her. They travel for two years, during which time Amenartes bears a child. Eventually they reach a landmark known as 'the Negro's Head' on Africa's west coast. Nearby is the domain of Ayesha, 'She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed', who watches their arrival with a magical remote-viewing device.

They are summoned to her palace, where Ayesha shows them the mystical flame which gives her eternal life. Ayesha falls in love with Kallikrates, but is driven to kill him in anger when he spurns her advances. Amenartes flees with her baby, swearing vengeance for the death of her lover. Ayesha preserves Kallikrates' body, waiting through the ages for reincarnation to unite them once more.

England, 1885: On Leo Vincey's twenty-fifth birthday, he inherits a collection of documents which entreat him to kill Ayesha to avenge the murder of his ancestor Kallikrates. He and his guardian Horace Holly journey to Africa. As they approach the 'Negro's Head', 'She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed' watches from within her palace, recognising Leo as the living incarnation of her beloved...

She was the Thanhouser Film Company's first two-reel production, released on December 26th, 1911. A popular subject during the silent era, the broad palette of H. Rider Haggard's adventure story is here reduced to a handful of coastal locations in breezy upstate New York and a cast of barely a dozen players. In just a few short years, epics like the Italian Cabiria or D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation would sound the death knell for small-scale treatments like this, as audiences gradually became accustomed to the genuine spectacle that cinema was able to offer.

Edwin Thanhouser founded his studio in New Rochelle, New York in 1909, and it had grown by 1911 into a profitable and prolific organisation. The principal cast and crew of She were all part of  Thanhouser's regular stock company, appearing collectively in dozens of the thousand-plus films the studio produced during its eight years of activity.

Publicity Photo c.1912
Thanhouser's Ayesha, Marguerite Snow, joined the studio in 1910. She braved location filming in a freezing New York winter for her first role in Baseball and Bloomers, but after a few months returned to the warmth of her former home, the stage. By next year she was back with Thanhouser, her popularity confirmed by a contest in the New York Morning Telegraph which voted her the second most popular screen actress behind Florence Turner. A young Mary Pickford came third.

Miss Snow, who was allegedly born in 1889 (Thanhouser's current bio suggests that the date may have been nudged forwards once or twice) married her co-star James Cruze in 1913. Cruze starred in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde a month after She was completed and went on to establish a respected career as a director.

Director George Nichol also married a co-worker, Viola Alberti (Amenartes). His contribution here has a perfunctory quality characteristic of a time when films were completed on a weekly basis. He continued to work throughout the next decade, most notably directing and performing in a series of comedy shorts for Fatty Arbuckle. He had a small role in Erich Von Stroheim's The Wedding March shortly before his death in 1927.

She may have interest as a period piece, but Thanhouser was one of the old guard of film studios, where 'quality' was more a measure of a producer's intentions than the artistic merit of his labours. As a result, the film has not aged as well as its title character. Flat camerawork, minimal sets and a histrionic cast struggle to engage the casual viewer.

The studio survived both the sale of its founder's controlling interest to Mutual Films in 1912, and a devastating fire on the 13th day of 1913. Many popular features were produced in the following years, including the Million Dollar Mystery serial of 1914, but a later slump in the film industry, exacerbated by the war in Europe, forced Thanhouser to close it's doors for good in 1917.

End Credits:
Marguerite Snow (Ayesha), James Cruze (Kallikrates / Leo Vincey) Viola Alberti (Amenartes, the Pharaoh's Daughter), William C Cooper (Horace Holly), Marie Eline (Leo as a boy), Irma Taylor, Harry Benham, Alphonse Ethier.
Scenario: Theodore Marston, from the novel by H Rider Haggard.
Thanhouser, USA

Running time 24 mins.

'Thanhouser Classics Vol. 4' (Thanhouser Video)

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