B&W, 1957, 77m.
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Starring Mari Blanchard, Jack Kelly, Albert Dekker, John Archer, Fay Baker
Olive Films (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

She Devil

Did any decade have a stranger pop culture view of women than the 1950s? After the end of World War II, it seemed like the darkness of the movie staple we know now as the femme fatale couldn't quite be shaken off, and while TV shows and films did their best to convince everyone that women could slip backShe Devil into becoming either happy housewives or single Doris Day-style career women who would make a happy housewife someday, there was something really bizarre going on under the surface. Sci-fi and horror films went wild showing beautiful women turning into hideous monsters (be they 50-foot women or Martian devil girls), with one of the earliest and perhaps most perfect personifications coming in 1952 from Germany with Alraune, shown in English as Unnatural, with Erich von Stroheim breeding a perfect woman whose lack of a soul causes ruin to those around her.

The same basic idea also propelled the short story "The Adaptive Ultimate," a 1935 short story by short-lived American sci-fi writer Stanley G. Weinbaum (under the pen name of John Jessel), which became the 1957 film She Devil as well as an earlier radio production and a Studio One TV dramatization under the title "Kyra Zelas." The film version adds a more punitive ending to presumably appease the Production Code but otherwise sticks to the basics of the story, with doctors Dan Scott (Kelly) and Richard Bach (Dekker) deciding to test out a new serum derived from fruit flies that can help humans heal and adapt far faster than normal. Their new guinea pig: Kyra (Blanchard), a woman dying soon from tuberculosis. (Eerily, Blanchard - an underrated actress - She Devilnearly died of appendicitis while making this film and would die at the early age of 47.) The serum works, and she makes a complete recovery. However, she soon seems to be responsible for a local murder, and when apprehended, she spontaneously changes from a brunette to a platinum blonde. From there the apparently unkillable female starts to climb up the ladder, setting her sights on rich, powerful husbands with thShe Devile two scientists trying to find a way to halt the menace they have created.

The basic idea of this film is still a fascinating one, and for once the hoary '50s device of men in lab coats standing around babbling about experiments and morality gets a nice tweak here with the test subject adapting herself to make one of them keep falling in love with her. It also doesn't hurt that the scientists are played by Jack Kelly, a vet from films like Forbidden Planet and Cult of the Cobra, and Albert Dekker, the star of Dr. Cyclops and Kiss Me Deadly who would ultimately meet one of the most notorious demises in Hollywood history. They're a solid team here and do the best they can with the film's weakest element: its flat, workmanlike direction by Kurt Neumann, the director of Kronos who would go on to helm his most famous film the next year, The Fly, but died before it went into general release. He manages to show some inventiveness during a few scenes (especially the hair changing and some of Kyra's more outrageous antics), but generally the whole film is shot in a static style with the scope framing accomplishing very little. In fact, you could probably watch this pan and scanned on TV and miss practically nothing given how all the compositions are usually locked dead center most of the time, which might also account for why this seized the imaginations of many impressionable kids during the '60s on the small screen.

Released theatrically by Fox and then essentially orphaned, She Devil seemed to elude the home video gods for decades despite its occasional after hours appearances on TV into the 1980s. The 2013 Blu-Ray and DVD editions from Olive Films will be a completely new experience for many viewers. The HD transfer looks very good from what appears to be film elements kept in pretty solid shape; you'll see a little fleeting debris and damage here, but nothing major. The contrast levels look very solid throughout (though of course some of Blanchard's close ups tend to brighten up artificially, an apparent cinematographer judgment call), and it has a similar look to other scope B&W sci-fi outings like, say, Hand of Death or The Alligator People (which would be a great Blu-Ray double feature someday!). The DTS-HD mono audio also sounds robust enough considering it's about 90% dialogue. If you're a fan of '50s sci-fi monster films, or film noir for that matter, this modest treat will be quite a kick as it twists the femme fatale formula in quite a few interesting directions.

Reviewed on March 2, 2013.