Movie Magazine International

The Women Of Hammer Films

Special Report By Monica Sullivan

People who don't watch many Hammer movies mention "Twins of Evil" first, starring 19-year-old Madeleine and Mary Collinson, both of whom were lovely AND dubbed and neither of whom could act. As Frieda and Maria Gellhorn, they certainly packed audiences into theatres in 1971 and 1972 as a result of the enormous publicity they attracted as Playboy's first twin Playmates (10/1970) and they're still listed among the top glamour girls of the twentieth century. Luckily for TRUE Hammer fans, the great Peter Cushing and Kathleen Byron are also in the cast as Gustav & Katy Weil. Miss Byron made quite a splash herself at 25 as psychotic Sister Ruth in 1947's "Black Narcissus" and she lost none of her mesmerizing drive or talent in subsequent years.

As an American kid, the women of Hammer films were endlessly fascinating to me: they had so much to do! Hazel Court (1926- ), for example, was a stylish redhead (and a Technicolor dream) who graced 1957's "The Curse of Frankenstein" as Elizabeth and 1959's "The Man Who Could Cheat Death" as Janine. Court played her roles with an intelligent twinkle in her beautiful eyes: She was so good that American International signed her for the Roger Corman Poe homages "Premature Burial" , "The Raven" and "The Masque of the Red Death." Barbara Shelley (1933- ) was another favorite: Hammer kept her busy in films like 1958's "The Camp on Blood Island" as Kate and as Elaine in its 1965 follow-up "The Secret of Blood Island." In the horror genre, she was Elizabeth Venable in 1961's "The Shadow of the Cat", Carla in 1964's "The Gorgon", Helen Kent in "Dracula-Prince of Darkness" & Sonia in "Rasputin-The Mad Monk" (both 1966) & Barbara Judd in 1967's "Five Million Years To Earth"/"Quatermass and the Pit." Barbara Shelley had sad, sad eyes, as if disaster were looming in another instant. She also projected intellectual curiousity and resourcefulness: it is she who is the key to solving the mystery in the "Quatermass" film. Tom Johnson's and Deborah Del Vecchio's excellent "Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography" (McFarland, 1996) contains a rare photograph of Barbara Shelley actually LAUGHING, something I've yet to see her do in any of her movies! Hammer's "Never Take Candy From a Stranger" was WAY ahead of its time in 1960: This sobering study of little girls being molested (and worse) by a "harmless". old man featured the talents of several fine actresses, including Gwen Watford (1927-94), Allison Leggatt (1904-90) and Janine Faye and Frances Green as the children. Martita Hunt (1900-69) created an indelible impression as Miss Havisham in 1946's "Great Expectations" and she is no less memorable as Baroness Meinster in 1960's "The Brides of Dracula." Yikes! All my favorites won't fit in this sidebar, but I CAN'T leave out Eunice ("The Revenge of Frankenstein") Gayson, Yvonne ("The Mummy") Furneaux, Susan ("Taste of Fear") Strasberg, Shirley Anne ("These Are The Damned") Field, Heather ("The Phantom of the Opera") Sears, Nadia ("Maniac") Gray, Janette ("The Old Dark House", "Paranoiac") Scott, Jennie ("Nightmare") Linden, Stephanie ("Dracula A.D. 1972") Beacham & Veronica ("Dracula Has Risen From The Grave", "Frankenstein Must be Destroyed", "Horror of Frankenstein") Carlson!

My second favorite Hammer woman is Martine ("One Million Years B.C.", "Prehistoric Women", "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde") Beswick (1941- ). Along with the much-missed Ralph Bates (1940-90), Martine Beswick made an unforgettable variation of Robert Lewis Stevenson's classic tale of good battling evil. PLUS: she's one of the few actresses who got to be a Bond girl TWICE! My favorite Hammer woman of all time would have to be Ingrid ("The Vampire Lovers," "Countess Dracula") Pitt, born in 1943 on a train enroute to a Polish concentration camp. Both she & her parents survived the war and she went on to play some of the most powerful, sexy roles of the sixties, seventies and eighties. Impossible to imagine Ingrid Pitt as a wimp EVER, but she could do just about everything else as she became one of the most treasured & fun icons of the twentieth century.

© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 5/23/01

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