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The re-filming of the H. Rider Haggard novel – which had been filmed previously in 1908, 1911, 1916, 1917, 1925 and 1935 – was the idea of Kenneth Hyman of Seven Arts Productions, who had a long-running relationship with Hammer Film Productions. Anthony Hinds commissioned a script by John Temple-Smith, and the lead role was assigned to Ursula Andress, known at that time for her role in the James Bond film Doctor No.
Hammer pitched the project to Disney, who rejected it. Hinds then arranged for Berkley Mather to write a script, but the project was then turned down by Universal, followed by Joseph E. Levine and American International Pictures. Hinds passed it over to Michael Carreras who got David T. Chantler to rewrite the script. Carreras succeeded in getting the film financed via M-G-M, with triple the usual budget for a Hammer film (eventually costing £323,778). The film was officially announced in May 1964.
Principal photography commenced in the Negev Desert in southern Israel on August 24, 1964, with scenes also shot at MGM’s Elstree Studios near London when Hammer’s Bray Studios proved to be too small for the project. It was the most expensive film Hammer had made up until that time but on release, it was a hit both in North America and in Europe.
Although the studio was pleased with the look of Ursula Andress in the film – as lit by Harry Waxman and costumed by Carl Toms and Roy Ashton – they found her Swiss-German accent to be offputting and had her entire part re-dubbed by an actress Nikki van der Zyl, who had dubbed her in Doctor No.
Cast and characters:
Ursula Andress … Ayesha
Peter Cushing … Major Holly
Bernard Cribbins … Job
John Richardson … Leo Vincent
Rosenda Monteros … Ustane
Christopher Lee … Billali, High Priest to Ayesha
André Morell … Haumeid, Ustane’s father
Princess Soraya … Night Club Dancer
1 hour 46 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1 HammerScope
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