Another feature of...
Outer Space Review -
Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension
The earliest example I know of a film set in a future now gone by is 1930’s very bizarre Just Imagine, starring a young Maureen O’Sullivan. (My fault; I should have suggested this flick to one of my compatriots.) In this musical sci-fi comedy, a zany Swede is hit by lightening in 1930 and ends up reviving in the futuristic New York of 1980. While clothing and sexual politics have remained surprisingly unchanged, many things are different. Private airplanes have taken the place of automobiles. Food now comes in pill form. (This scene happened seconds after I had asked a fellow viewer "When do we find out that they eat food pills?") "I like the old way better," Our Time Traveling Tourist grumps. He then learns that couples get their babies from vending machines. "I like the old way better for that, too," he tells the audience. Ah, the days before the Hayes Office.
Another odd one is 1942’s The Mummy’s Tomb, the second of Universal’s movies featuring the shambling, bandage-wrapped Kharis the Mummy. A sequel to The Mummy’s Hand, the film imaginatively jumps forward thirty-something years (to portray a 1970s in which everything is still sociologically the same way it was in the ‘40s) and follows the resurrected Kharis as he tracks down and kills the now elderly lead characters from the prior film!
The heyday of the Near Future movie, however, was during the ‘50s and ‘60s. In particular, everyone seemed to assume that the next twenty or thirty years would see marked advances in space exploration. And not just in junk like Queen of Outer Space or Doomsday Machine, either; take, for example, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now we look back and their optimism seems giddily unrealistic. Yet consider the following: In roughly seventy years we went from the Wright Brothers keeping the first airplane aloft for about a hundred yards to landing a man on the moon.
Two factors retarded this projected progress in space exploration. The lesser reason is that the U.S. government diligently worked to keep private industry from developing space launch and exploration technologies. (This was generally unforeseen at the dawn of the era. In the ‘50s and ‘60s many films featured private individuals and corporations being the first to construct a functioning space rocket.) Because of this, as well as eventual public apathy over the government’s space program, less technologically adept countries have increasingly captured the satellite launching market. This actually bodes well for space technologies, in a way. With American corporate interests losing money to foreign competitors, pressure will be brought to bear on Congress to loosen regulations on non-governmental space research. Once the private sector is engaged, the moribund space exploration situation may well change radically. [For an alternate view, see Calli Arcale's comments at the end of this article.]
There was a more important factor, however, which was that space was never militarized. Our hastily developed moon shot was America’s gambit for securing the lead in the space race. The Soviet launching of Sputnik, the first successful space satellite, had thrown a monstrous scare into a complacent American public. And for good reason. It was rather as if Nazi Germany had remained extant and been the first to load a nuclear warhead into a missile. (Which would have been likely, had, say, Hitler paused to consolidate his gains after invading Czechoslovakia or Poland or even, perhaps, France. In fact, if Germany hadn’t counterintuitively declared war on America after Pearl Harbor…)
In any case, Sputnik kicked off the Space Race. As usual, competition fostered rapid innovation. President Kennedy decided to put an American on the moon and within a couple of years he had. The Soviets, like Japan in World War II, had awakened a sleeping giant with which they ultimately couldn’t compete. And once the USSR was out of the game there was no game left. So the American space program more or less stagnated.
Prior to this, however, continued progress in space seemed a given. This was profoundly reflected in the entertainment media of the time, from radio to television, comics to pulp magazines, and especially in movies. Admittedly, most of these films were fantasy rather than actual science fiction, our current subject being a case in point. (So are Star Wars and Star Trek, for that matter, with their reliance on warp technology and hyperspace drives.)
A few films, however, attempted to provide a scientifically accurate portrait of space travel. 2001 was one, metaphysics aside. The gloomy Rocketship X-M ended with its characters dying during reentry (!) due to a loss of fuel. Project Moon Base was fairly scientifically rigorous, having been written by ‘hard’ sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein before he was driven mad by his juvenile sexual peccadilloes. The latter was also one of the sole ‘50s flicks to posit some degree of sociological change, with its famous portrayal of a female President of the United States. One imagines that most audiences of the time, especially the kiddies, thought this element a weird bit of japery. Today we recognize that it’s only a matter of the right woman at the right time.
Other technologically realistic films of the period include its first sci-fier, George Pal’s Destination Moon (1950), and his subsequent Conquest of Space (’55). The first was co-written by the previously cited Heinlein; in fact it was adapted from one of his books. Mysteriously, Heinlein’s main ‘credits’ in the film business after this were as the author of the twice-filmed novel The Puppet Masters (including 1958’s somewhat goofy The Brain Eaters) and the recently adapted Starship Troopers. Conquest of Space, meanwhile, prominently featured actor Eric Fleming, the male lead of today’s subject. So comparatively realistic were these films that they boast some of the smallest fan bases of any major -- or minor -- genre films of the ‘50s. Most modern sci-fi buffs find them boring, except for Moon’s instructional film-within-a-film starring noted physicist Woody Woodpecker.
Most genre pictures of this period, however, don’t give a fig for science. They just toss out a date somewhere down the line to cover for their fantasy conceits. Alien worlds tend to have human-friendly atmospheres. Space rockets are roomy and come equipped with artificial gravity. Space rocket engines continuously shoot flames throughout their voyage. Sound travels in a vacuum. All of which are on display here.
And then there were the non-science related clichés. Giant marionette spiders and rock monsters abound on other planets, astronauts routinely carry sidearms into space even on routine explorations, comedy relief guys from Brooklyn run the communication equipment and so on. A favorite is the regular testing of the atmosphere by removing your spacesuit helmet to see if you die or not. Amazingly, fatalities during this process are rare.
Also prevalent in outer space were lost societies of beautiful, young and generally man-hungry women. Aside from Queen of Outer Space, such were featured in films including Cat-Women of the Moon and its remake (!!) Missile to the Moon; Fire Maidens From Outer Space, in which female refugees from Atlantis (!) end up on a moon of Jupiter; and Jabootu subject Nude on the Moon. Even Forbidden Planet has an element of this, although with only one such woman rather than a bunch of them. There’s a good deal to be said about these Lost Women movies – themselves a subset of the Lost Civilization genre -- but now isn’t the time. We’ll wait until I get around to looking at the earthbound Wild Women.
Our present topic opens with an Allied Artists logo. This is accompanied by a jaunty nautical sort of theme, which while strange does have a sort of logic about it. After all, like seagoing movies this is a picture about exploration. Then we segue to…get ready for it…stock footage of a missile testing facility. In case we might misunderstand the import of this, we cut to signage warning that this is a restricted U.S. Government facility. Inside the administration building, a man wearing a uniform from Forbidden Planet is seated at a futuristic-looking desk and screening his superior’s appointments. ("Receptionists…of the Future!!")
Waiting impatiently -- military protocols seem somewhat relaxed…in the future!! -- are three similarly attired men. Either they are excited about an upcoming mission or they really have to go to the bathroom. Soon (we only have an eighty minute running time here) they are called into the office of the base CO. Here we get some typical set design. There are framed maps and prints orientated towards space travel, the inevitable display of model rocket ships and a stand-alone printer / computer module / something-or-other as big as a sofa.
The CO introduces the renowned Prof. Konrad, who proves a rather avuncular sort. Following which the crewmen are presented, both for Konrad’s benefit and our own. Capt. Patterson is the stalwart and no-doubt revered commander; Lt. Cruze, a short, wizened sort, will undoubtedly prove to be the can-do cynic; and young Lt. Larry Turner will no doubt be the headstrong and brash one. Informed that they are to ferry the Professor to "Space Station A" – catchy appellation, huh? -- the men evince obvious, open-mouthed disappointment. (See my prior note re: military protocols.) The CO quickly chews them out, as he no doubt would, although it seems unlikely they would have actually acted in such a manner in the first place.
"Mission not important enough for you?" their CO barks. This unsurprisingly sets up some exposition…of the future!! First, Prof. Konrad is a bigwig scientist. Second, as Patterson explains -- I’m not sure whom to, as everyone in the room knows all this -- "Space Station A is [Konrad’s] brainchild. He fought for it, he built it!" While acknowledging that the assignment is perhaps an important one, he admits that they were hoping for the imminent exploratory trip to Mars. The CO promises that they’ll get that job, but notes that something peculiar is going on at the station. It’s therefore paramount that Konrad get there as quickly as possible. The men are dismissed to ready themselves, but ordered to discuss the assignment with no one.
We cut to what I’m assuming is stock footage of a very strange and stubby little rocket. Then we cut inside of it, which proves, inevitably, rather roomier than its outside dimensions would suggest. Cruze is manipulating a few random switches on one on those panels featuring dozens of illuminated yet unmarked little levers and dials. He then starts bitching anew about their being handed a "milk run." During this the camera pans across the still suspiciously large chamber, which contains several leatherette Space Barcoloungers – at least this isn’t one of those movies where the rocket is furnished with wheeled office chairs – and other bits of vaguely futuristic equipment.
In the middle of this tirade Prof. Konrad schematically makes his appearance. (Faux pas – of the Future!!) As noted, however, his two assigned traits are that he’s brilliant and avuncular, and thus he takes no offense at Cruze’s remarks. He even agrees with the Lt.’s labeling of the Space Station as a glorified "bus depot." Indeed, he good naturally elaborates, the station allows for vessels to pick up vital supplies before "their journeys to the far corners of the universe." Which is rather an odd notion, somewhat along the lines of your corner gas station being a place where you can fill up on petrol before driving to, say, Manchuria.
In a bit that you could only see in a ‘50s film, Patterson has to sharply warn Konrad not to light up a cigarette in the ship (!!). "There’s still fuel in the second stage," he warns the World’s Greatest Intellect. "The liquid oxygen," Konrad nods, chuckling. "I should know, I’ve seen enough of these rockets blow up in my time." Now I’m not one of these anti-cigarette Nazis, but it seems to be that some sort of regulation on smoking materials might be appropriate here.
Patterson notes that their piloting instructions have been fed into the ship’s computer. "I still want Lt. Turner to check them, though," he notes. I guess that’s why he’s the captain. On the other hand, he’s just now noticing that Turner isn’t on board the ship. (To be fair, Patterson has to keep track not only of himself but a whole two other guys in his crew. Not to mention the potentially pyrotechnic Prof. Konrad. That’s almost more guys than you can count on one hand, especially if you don’t count your thumb. Heavy is the crown of leadership.)
Patterson’s query of "Where is that guy?" -- a somewhat mild version of the seemingly more appropriate "Why the hell isn’t Lt. Turner at his assigned post?" – is answered when Cruze spies the errant officer through the bridge’s port window. If you’ve seen many films from this decade you’ll probably be relatively unamazed to learn that Turner is seen passionately locking lips with a pneumatic blonde. (Joi Lansing!!) Cruze and Konrad have a good "Oh, that scamp!" sort of titter over this. The good Captain, meanwhile, orders Turner to the ship via a handset on the bridge somehow hooked up to an outside loud speaker. (PA Systems…of the Future!!)
Although ordered to report immediately, Turner pauses awhile to further maul his chippee. This allows Lansing a second breathy pass at her big line here: "Oooh, Larrrr-rry." This forces Patterson to broadcast his command a second time. At this point the phrase ‘court martial’ started swimming around in my head. Turner eventually ambles his way onto the ship, whereupon he jocularly castigates his superior officer for his "dirty trick." I think he means when his commanding officer had to twice order him to report to his duty station. Here I began wondering if Patterson was going to have Turner demoted or instead just give him 30/30. (Thirty days of reduced pay / extra duty.) I mean, even if you ordinarily put up with this sort of insolence – which you wouldn’t – there’s a civilian on the bridge. Hell-oo!
The crew readies for liftoff. Their barcoloungers can recline to a horizontal position, while Konrad is strapped into the bridge’s guest bed. I’m not sure why they’d install such a thing, since unlike the loungers you can’t also use it as a chair. Seem inefficient. Not to mention that a raised, squared-off frame surrounds the mattress. Since there’s no pillow, Konrad’s head would be laying on the sharp edge of the frame. Doesn’t seem too comfortable, especially with liftoff g-forces pressing your head down against it. Oh, and the countdown starts at twenty, which is at least ten too many.
Liftoff is achieved. Konrad, we now see, has changed his position so that his head rests on the mattress rather than the frame – I’m not sure how, though, as he was securely strapped down. We watch the Miles Per Second graph register their progress, while the actors do their best to flutter their facial muscles to suggest the stress. This is all intercut with occasional cuts back to the breastacular Lansing, who’s attempting to project concern. (To be fair, she does manage to project at least a couple of things.)
The ship leaves Earth’s gravitational field and the guys get up and about. It’s here that we learn that the year is 1979. (Twenty-two years after Sputnik’s launch in 1957.) In this universe, according to a typically chewy wad of exposition, this event not only kicked off the Space Race but got the Americans going on the whole space station idea. Construction began in 1963, and that’s about all we’re told. I’m not sure what the Soviets were doing during all of this because they’re never directly mentioned.
Now that they’re away Konrad can fill Patterson in on things. It turns out that the Station has detected ominous signs on another planet. "Earth may be in mortal danger," Konrad grimly explains. Which would seem to make his earlier constant jolliness all the more impressive. Meanwhile, Cruze is monitoring a sort of space periscope and sees advanced cartoon ray beams randomly blasting across the heavens, buzzing sound effects and all. Oddly, they’re all originating from radically different directions, which makes no sense based on later events.
The Lt. alerts Patterson to this phenomena, although I’d be more concerned about the bright blue sky we still see through the bridge’s window. In any case, they watch in horror on their TV monitor -- which is round, of course, because that’s more future-y -- as the beams hone in on the Space Station. Eventually one of them connects and the Station blows to pieces. Accompanied by, that’s right, a loud explosion sound. Konrad’s sickened response to this is sort of amusing, as it’s quite similar to Obi- Wan Kenobi’s reaction when the planet Alderon is destroyed.
Problems, like bananas, tend to come in bunches, and now the beams are heading towards the rocket ship. Hitting an arbitrary sequence of lighted doodads on his control panel, Patterson warns everyone to get ready for "maximum acceleration." (Science!) This involves a big-ass flame shooting out of the ship’s tail, although you got me where they’re stowing all the fuel for this. Meanwhile the beams are again flying around from all directions.
Eventually they get take a glancing blow. You can tell, because grips drop crap from overhead while the entire bridge set is jostled around on rollers. (You’ve got to give them credit, at least they’re not just shaking the camera.) Outside, meanwhile, the ship is wildly buffeting around in a big plume of flame. In space. For, like, a minute straight. By now the guys have all strapped themselves back down – apparently when you’re in "maximum acceleration" mode you don’t need to steer the ship – and Patterson receives a small wound on his forehead from flying debris. Meanwhile, the needle on a gauge that goes up to 600 -- it’s not marked as to what it registers, so feel free to speculate -- goes nutso. This presumably is bad, as the numbers over three hundred are marked "Danger." Oh, and there’s sonar pinging sounds, like on a sub. Don’t ask me, I mean, I’m not sure about the utility of sonar in space.
Most noticeable is that the Miles Per Second indicator keeps climbing while the actors squinch up their faces as much as possible to indicate the tremendous stresses. Eventually they all pass out. And now, fifteen minutes into things (!!),we finally get our opening credits. Here the video goes to widescreen for the duration of the credit sequence. I can only hope that the eventual DVD release will be letterboxed throughout. Anyway, the model, er, ship -- hey, it wouldn’t in fact be one of the models we saw in the Base CO’s office earlier, would it? – crash lands in a snowy mountainous area. Snowy or maybe powdered sugar-y, one of the two.
The guys all rouse at the same time. (That’s convenient). Except for Patterson, that is, who’s sporting a rivulet of stage blood from his forehead wound. Cruze looks out the port window – apparently that’s his billet, the looking-out-the-port-window guy – and says, "It looks like snow." A quick cut to some stock footage confirms this. This provokes a lame bout of whimsical banter from Turner, who opines that it’s instead "Angel hair. [??] We’ve done died and gone to heaven."
Given that all four of our characters are currently in a twelve by twelve room, I guess it was only a matter of time before somebody noticed that Patterson is still sprawled unconscious on his barcolounger. Admittedly, it would have been nice had it been one of his junior officers. On the other hand, Konrad is a scientist and thus a trained observer. So I guess he had the edge.
Seeing that the Captain’s wounded and unconscious, the three tilt his lounger back up and shake his head around a lot. Luckily there’s no apparent spinal injury to exacerbate and Patterson has soon come to. Trying to determine if they’ve somehow made it back to Earth, they turn off the ship’s artificial gravity. (In 1979!) Once this is accomplished the gage reads the natural gravity as being about nine-tenths of Earth’s. I have to admit, the idea of artificial gravity is a rocket is dodgy, but the idea of gauging the local gravitational force is a sound one.
Oops, here I praise one of the film’s attempts at science, and then we get this: Turner offers to break out the spacesuits for a jaunt outside. "We may not need them," the learned Prof. Konrad replies. "The gravity is so close to Earth’s, the atmosphere should be breathable." (??) I’m no science-dude or anything, but I don’t think that’s how it works.
The fellows begin exploring on foot, and we cut to them doing so "below the snow line." From the crash scene I’d have thought this would have been quite some distance – by which I mean potentially hundreds of miles -- from their craft, but apparently not. (Leading me to wonder if the minimal rocket footage and then the crash sequence were taken from another movie altogether.) Clothes in the future must also have some amazing thermal qualities, since no one is sporting any of the winter gear you’d expect from their travels through miles of snow. Or maybe they ditched it somewhere, since the current locale looks quite temperate.
Whatever planet they’re on is a weird, alien world, looking much like a small set festooned with gussied-up Earth plant life. Ghostly Oooh-oooh music further suggests the landscape’s oddness. Inspecting the local flora, Konrad declares his suspicions to be correct: They’re on Venus. The crew is incredulous. "Venus," Patterson sputters, "is 26,000,000 miles from Earth!" If that’s his problem, then where does he think they are? It’s not like we have many celestial neighbors any closer by. On the other hand, the odds against accidentally hitting such a wee globe of matter after blindly shooting out 26,000,000 miles from Earth also seem, to use a phrase, astronomically small. "That’s what I would have said," Konrad admits. "But it appears that all things are possible in Space." Well, yes, when you put it that way…
Larger problems Patterson might offer with the Venus theory are the visibly clear (blue) skies, on a planet perpetually shrouded in cloud. Or that the cloud layer is composed of sulfuric acid droplets, which wouldn’t seem to support the whole "breathable atmosphere" thing. Nor is there much evidence of there being water on Venus, again a knock against the Earth-like atmosphere, much less all the vegetation on display. Oh, and the surface temperature on Venus should be around 500 degrees Celsius, which is hotter than Mercury. Now, admittedly, much of this was learned since the film was made. Still, I have to doubt that anyone at the time thought they were putting forth a realistic representation of Venus.
Oops, shouldn’t have jumped the gun. The crewmen do in fact raise many of these issues. "I subscribed to many of those theories myself," Konrad responds. "I even helped formulate some of them. [?!] But it appears I’m closer to the problem now." Well, when you put it that way…
Hearing no sounds, even of insect life, Patterson asks if Venus is a dead planet. (A rather bold interesting theory, given that they’ve seen an infinitesimal portion of the world’s surface. Oh, and I guess the voluminous plant life would argue against it as well.) Here a cartoony electronic sound effect blares out. Patterson wonders if it’s the call of a bird, or an animal. Konrad, thankfully, proves a tad more on the ball, suggesting that it was an electronic signal of some sort. Patterson is shocked, noting that "Electronic signals could only be made by humans!" (!!) Yeah, if I was on an alien world that would be my guess, too. Not.
Showing a somewhat broader perspective, Konrad suggests that the signal is a sign of intelligent life, but not necessarily of the human variety. "They could be insects with tremendous mental powers," he offers, although now I think he’s just yanking their chains. This sets up a lame little comic moment for Turner as he explains about the aliens he once read about in a sci-fi magazine.
After night falls they camp out and build a little fire. (Fun Facts: A day – by which I mean a rotational period -- on Venus lasts 243 Earth days, so the guys must have hit planet side at just the right time.) This sets up a round of Iron John-esque soul baring. Hmm, I wonder if William Shatner saw this before making Star Trek 5?
Konrad mourns the lost lives of Space Station A. Turner replies by revealing his fears for their own lives. "If one of those weirdies with the floating eye catches up with us," he mutters, "we’ll be gone too." (He’s referring to the running gag sci-fi story.) Cruze responds with the sort of wry repartee that defines the very concept of espirit de corps. "Why’d you give up that job as Master of Ceremonies," he joshes, "in the Chamber of Horrors?!" Turner answers this droll jibe by tossing a twig at him. Here Patterson orders them to settle down. Lest things get out of hand, I guess. First you toss a twig, next you’re blasting away at each other with your gold spray-painted Mauser broomhandle pistols. Er, I mean, spaceguns.
Cut to morning. Cruze is on watch, the others are asleep in the blankets and bedrolls they apparently brought with them into space. Cruze keeps dozing off – good second-in-command – and an ominous shadow falls into camp. This is followed by the sight of some nicely shaped gams entering shot, partially clad in a short red skirt. In fact there are three attractive pairs of legs approaching them, the other two in blue but otherwise similar dresses. Damn the pan-and-scanning on these tapes. When is the letterboxed DVD of this movie going to come out.
A cut reveals the owners of said stems to be three hot young ladies in little gold high-heeled booties and tight low-cut space dresses. They’re also armed with pistols from, that’s right, Forbidden Planet. (The one in red, by the way, looks startlingly like Terry Farrell in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine tribble episode where Dax went back to Captain Kirk’s Enterprise and donned one of the old Federation mini-skirt uniforms. Which I’m not saying is a bad thing.) They are soon joined by other equally attractive but clearly hostile women. Again, I must ask where these knock-off Amazon societies hide the chicks under seventeen and over twenty-six, much less the fat, ugly ones.
Cruze finally wakes from his snooze (Ha! I’m a poet!) but of course imagines he’s dreaming. Because it’s funny. When he finally figures that they’re real he’s so startled that he drops his pistol – don’t worry, Cruze, it happens to all guys sooner or later – and the men are quickly captured. Turner tries for his pistol. Before he can get it, though, a blond chick destroys it with her larger, longer, more powerful laser rifle. I’m telling you, this is a planet of constant Freudian horrors.
Turning out to speak English -- amazing how aliens always speak the language of whatever country made the film they’re in -- they haul their captives off. Well, OK, they speak English sometimes. I think the little device on a retractable wire the one woman takes from her belt might be a translator. (Hmm, that belt communicator sure looks familiar…) There are soon taken to a large set, er, building, painted in pleasing glittery pastels. Inside are more attractive women who fit the usual Lost Society of Women profile. One of who acts weirdly like an Earth woman when she for no reason flies at the men yelling, "I hate them, I hate them!" Presumably she’s the editor of Venus’ version of Ms. Magazine.
The guys are beginning to wonder where the men are. Turner, to the half disgust, half amusement of the others, is already scoping out their captors. "How do you like that blonde?" he asks, whilst ogling a young lady who doesn’t particularly appear to mind his attentions. "How’d you like to drag that to the Senior Prom?" he leeringly quips, sounding like something out of the worst written Bob Hope TV special ever. Following this Cruze and Konrad exchange a couple of "What a dickhead!" looks.
Cruze asks Konrad -- ‘cause he a Scientist, don’tcha know -- about the lack of menfolk. "Perhaps," he replies, "this is a civilization that exists without sex." (There’s another possibility, you’d think, but probably not one they’d go into in 1959.) Needless to say, the very suggestion appalls the every-concupiscent Lt. Turner. "You call that a civilization?!" Konrad, although a scientist, is also All Man, and admits that he shares Turner’s dismay.
The women surrounding the men part. To the accompaniment of trilling ooh-ooh singing, a typically shapely woman, bedecked in jewels and wearing a golden mask, enters the chamber. Even Turner gets that this is the head honcho here. Sitting at a table with others who are similarly masked, the woman introduces herself as Yllana, the Queen of this city and, by default I guess, the planet. (Even if you accept this logic, however, the film’s title remains a bit of an exaggeration.) She demands to know why the men are here. Patterson responds not by answering her question – which doesn’t seem like a very promising start – but by expressing their amazement at how Yllana and some of the others speak English. It turns out, get ready for a highly original explanation here, that for years "we’ve been monitoring your electric signals."
Patterson explains that they accidentally crash landed here. He asks for help repairing their ship, but Yllana refuses. She believes that they would return with other Earthmen and wage war upon them. Patterson naturally disputes this, although if they’ve been monitoring Earth’s radio signals since, say, 1939, you can understand their suspicions. "The Council will decide your fates," she haughtily proclaims.
Kaeel, the Cute Blonde that Turner was earlier checking out (and who’s attired in one of Anne Francis’ sparkly mini-dresses from Forbidden Planet), rushes off. She soon appears in what I at first assumed was a laboratory, as it was furnished with a Bunsen burner and the obligatory tabletop metal scaffolding arrayed with Conical Beakers Filled With Mysterious Colored Fluids™. Then I noticed that the room was staffed exclusively by a couple of women, so I decided it was instead a space kitchen of some sort. I know that’s not ‘P.C.’, but c’mon, one of the women there is a rather young and shapely Zsa Zsa Gabor, and if you’re going to try to tell me she’s a scientist…
Kaeel reports to Talleah (Zsa Zsa), who’s attired in a form-fitting chef’s coat – or, OK, maybe it’s a scientist’s smock – that the men have been imprisoned. Talleah asks what the men were like, exhibiting the only Hungarian accent to be found on the one city on the planet Venus. "They seem strong and brave," Kaeel coos, already falling under the evil Patriarchal spell of the virile Earthmen. She, unlike Yllana, believed Patterson’s statement that the men came in peace. "His eyes told me he spoke the truth," she avers. Well, that’s good enough for me.
The men are soon back appearing before the Council. (I’m assuming they don’t call themselves the Council of Elders, because no woman would ever admit she was old enough to belong to such an organization.) Yllana states their categorical belief that the men are spies, and planning for an invasion of Venus. Patterson heatedly denies the charge, Konrad admits that no one on Earth thinks Venus is even inhabitable – uh, isn’t that a good reason not to let them leave, right there? – but it’s Turner’s reaction that takes the cake. "Why don’t you girls knock off all this Gestapo stuff," he leers, "and try to be a little friendly." What a jackass. Yllana then demands that Cruze say something. "I’m just fine, ma’am," he saucily replies. "How’s all your folks?" Ah, the wit of the ‘50s.
Having been fairly accorded their due process rights, Yllana tenders their verdict. "You will die!" she screeches, "but first you will scream for mercy when we force the truth from you!" After this the men are returned to their rather plush quarters. They toss around theories about why the councilwomen wear masks. Konrad believes it’s a class thing, meant to keep the commoners from getting a peek. Turner, meanwhile, muses on their shapely figures. "Those masked beauties may be ‘knock-outs’ to you," the Professor responds, "but I have a sense of foreboding about them. A feeling of something monstrous, evil." Hmm, maybe that arises from when they sentenced all of you to be tortured to death.
Patterson opines that their landing on Venus may not have been an accident. He explains his theory that the ray beam that destroyed the station and hit their rocket may have come from here. Well, it is the only other inhabited planet they know of, so… Cruze remains unconvinced. "How could a bunch of women invent a gizmo like that?" he asks. (Uh, a Nuclear Food Processing experiment gone awry?) Turner agrees. "Even if they could invent it," he inquires, "how could they aim it?! You know how women drivers are." Cue comedy music. In a perfect world, this would be showing at next year’s B-Fest, and I could observe Liz from And You Call Yourself a Scientist? – from a safe distance -- as she listened to all of this.
Talleah soon appears outside the men’s quarters, wearing a very slinky red dress with a high leg slit. Men or no men, these chicks sure like dressing up. Intercepting a woman baring a food tray, she takes possession of it and enters the room. The guards don’t say ‘boo’ about this, so Talleah must be some sort of bigwig. The men all rouse themselves as she enters – not like that, you perverts – recognizing that as the film’s star she must be the most desirable woman on the planet. Patterson requests another audience with Yllana, hoping to make her understand their honorable intentions. (You might want to leave Turner back in the brig, then.) "But the Queen doesn’t vish to understand," Talleah thickly explains. "She has nothing but hatred in her heart!"
Patterson notes her seeming hostility to Yllana. Talleah explains that she’s a member of the Queen’s court. She then tells them that their lives are in danger – yeah, thanks for the newsflash – and offers her help. Turner smarmily thanks her, calling her "Baby." Somebody beat the living crap out of this guy, would ya? Patterson tries to refuse her aid, though, knowing that it would it expose her to danger. Not to mention Turner. She replies that there’s a resistance movement that would like to end Yllana’s cruel reign. If the Earthmen will help them, they will help the Earthmen. Oh, and anyone expecting that Talleah and the stolid Captain Patterson would show an immediate attraction to each other, give yourself a cookie.
Talleah furthers explains that Yllana plans to destroy the Earth. (Well, she would, wouldn’t she? I mean, you don’t get to be an Evil Space Despot with a Giant Laser Cannon if you don’t sit around thinking up things like that.) Then it’s time for some exposition. "Ten Earth years ago," she begins, "our vorld became involved in var with the planet Mordo. It vas a terrible var. We fought vith veapons of great power, and ve still vere nearly defeated." I might be exaggerating the accent here a little bit, but not by much.
"Finally," she continues, "Mordo vas destroyed. However the var vas von at great cost. Most of our cities vas [sic] destroyed, and now they were lost to the jungle." After the var, er, war, the women took over the planet. (Well, city.) The leader of the insurrection was a masked woman, Yllana. No one yet knows why she wears the mask, although she’s said to be quite beautiful. "She said that men caused the ruin of this vorld, and it vas time for vomen to take it over." When Konrad asks how the revolution managed to succeed, Talleah replies that the men didn’t take it seriously. "She vas only a voman," she archly points out.
All the men were killed, except for ones Yllana still needed. No, not for that. "Scientists, mathematicians…" Talleah explains. You know, guy stuff. She doesn’t explicitly mention opening pickle jars, but I think that can be safely assumed. These men, we learn, are up on a prison satellite circling, as Talleah calls it, "Wenus." Now that Earth’s technology is advancing, Yllana wants to knock the planet out before it becomes a problem.
Outside Yllana’s private guard, including the Terry Farrell woman, is approaching the men’s quarters. One of the guards opens the door and signals Talleah – OK, that explains why they let her in, anyway – who hides. They order Patterson to follow them. Turner doesn’t take kindly to this, needless to say. "No bunch of dames…" he begins, until Konrad pulls him back. The Professor thinks that Yllana has the hots for Patterson (well, duh, he is the film’s male lead). Cruze agrees, telling Patterson that he should turn on the old charm. Hey, it always worked for James Kirk. Although I wouldn’t have thought it a good idea to discuss this topic at such lengths right in front of Yllana’s guard women. I guess these four can’t speak English, but I don’t think I’d just assume that to be the case.
Patterson leaves intending to try the scheme out. Talleah then comes out of hiding. "I hate her,’ she cries. "I hate that Queen!" Whereupon she stalks from the room. "She’s jealous!" Cruze exclaims. Turner agrees. "Twenty-six million miles from Earth and the little dolls are just the same!" Somebody, please, kill this guy.
Patterson is taken to Yllana’s Space Age quarters. Discordant electronic music plays to emphasize how future-y all of this is. Soon Yllana’s makes her entrance, still wearing her mask but clad in a slinky dress of her own. She reclines on her bed – Hubba, Hubba – and asks Patterson to pour them some wine. She then brags about the vintage. "It’s distilled from fruits and flowers found nowhere else in the Universe." First, how the hell do you know? Second, who thinks every planet has the exact same flora, anyway?
Patterson, meanwhile, is pouring it on as thick as the oily Vitalis sheening up his hair. "You’re right," he unctuously purrs, "it’s delicious!!" Smooth, dude. "It’s as exciting and mysterious as Queen Yllana," he continues, sounding like a third rate Madison Avenue type pitching a new account. Frankly, for a seduction it’s an embarrassing performance, and the last on-the-make captain to wear that uniform (James Kirk-prototype Leslie Nielsen in Forbidden Planet) would be disgusted.
Yllana again demands to know the invasion plans. It’s this or the death by torture thing. Or…a third option. "Even a Queen can be lonely, Captain," she explains. Sure enough, Yllana just can’t resist a man in uniform. (On the other hand, they don’t see a whole lot of men, so it’s not like they’d be particularly choosey. Plus men are taboo in this culture, and we all know about taboos.) Here we get one of the film’s typically insightful exchanges:
Yllana: "I felt a
weakness most unbecoming of a Queen."
Patterson moves in to close the deal, but she angrily refuses to take her mask off. "You’re certainly making it difficult," he replies in frustration. (I get the impression that this isn’t the first time he’s said that to a woman.) Yllana, meanwhile, provides a window into the uncanny, alien behavior of women on another planet. On Venus, apparently, females in romantic situations will one minute run hot and the next cold, leaving a guy flummoxed and confused over what they want. Thank goodness it’s not like that back here on Earth!
Still, Our Stalwart Captain’s obviously having an effect on Yllana. "I can see you’re no novice at this, Captain," she bitterly retorts. No kidding. A little patter and then, bang, he tries to get in your mask. She’s not having any of it, though. "Did you promise your men you’d sweep me off my feet?" she acidly inquires. "Use your male magnetism to win freedom for all of you?" Seeing his plans unraveling before his eyes, Patterson tries to save the day with a sly bit of subterfuge. "Certainly not," he blandly replies. "Whatever gave you that idea?" Good one, dude. That should do it.
Yllana, on the other hand, keeps demanding details on Earth’s invasion plans. Which, since there aren’t any, prove difficult to provide. "Let me show you what happens to those who oppose me!" she says. She walks over to a flat-screened close-circuit TV monitor, which is one of the film’s more accurate postulations, especially with its handheld remote control unit. Activated, this show a comically bad set whose sophistication fails to rival that of King Friday’s realm from Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood. Basically it contains a big white box with gold polka dots and being serviced by randomly strolling chicks in miniskirts and high-heeled boot. "Look, Captain!" she preens. "The Beta Disintegrator!"
This, needless to say, is the Awesome Device that brought doom to Space Station A. "And it will destroy the Earth just as easily!" Yllana boasts. Patterson is horrified, contemplating the "millions" of lives that will be lost. "I admit the men of Earth have been quarrelsome and foolish in the past," he counters. I think he’s referring to the Holocaust and Stalin’s gulags. Even so, he maintains, Earth poses no danger to Venus.
The threatened destruction of his planet has finally gotten Patterson’s dander up. (Which is saying something. He makes Al Gore look like Leo Buscaglia in the expressing your emotions department.) And he knows what’s going on here, too. Grabbing Yllana by the arm, he draws her near. "I understand you better than you do yourself," he suggests. "You’re denying man’s love, substituting hatred and a passion for this monstrous power you possess!" Like Andrea Dworkin. "You’re not only a queen," he seethes. "You’re a woman, too! And a woman needs a man’s love!" Here he pulls the mask off of her and…well, if you’ve seen any of the myriad versions of The Phantom of the Opera, you won’t be very surprised.
Yllana, who sports a Teenage Frankenstein-level acne problem, bitterly mocks his pop-eyed, horrified reaction. (Maybe she’s an acting coach on the side.) "Radiation burns," she hisses. "Men did this to me!! Men and their wars!!" Then she unleashes a hideous grin. "You say I need the love of a man?" she asks. "Very well. Now that you know, will you give me that love?" Isn’t that just like a woman, throwing your words back in your face like that? Of course, Patterson’s affections are no longer on the table. Summoning her guards, Yllana has him returned to his cell. Which seems to me somewhat unlikely, since he now knows her secret and should just be killed. Anyhoo, after they leave she looks in the mirror and has herself a good cry. They must have edited out the scene right after that, though, where she eats her way through a half-gallon carton of Rocky Road ice cream.
Patterson is seen discussing events with his compatriots. Unfortunately, no one comes up with a theory for how Yllana and her minions sustained these severe radiation burns only on their faces. Is it just me, or does a number of women having their faces more or less burned off without suffering any other ill effects seem a bit unlikely?
Aside from her facial damage, Patterson believes, the radiation "has [also] affected her mind." Konrad nods sagely. "That certainly would account for her hatred of men and war," he agrees. Because otherwise how could you possibly explain it? A woman hating men? War?! It’s just too weird otherwise.
A couple of guards appear. They’re friends, however, and take the men to Talleah’s lab. There Our Heroine, naturally attired in an elaborate white silk gown (I mean, she is working), and Patterson immediately go into a clinch. Which, considering that they’ve spent less than ten minutes which each other, seems a bit odd. Still, they’re the lead actress and actor, so why not just cut to the chases, eh?
Talleah has big news. "I’ve learned the Queen plans to destroy Earth in two days," she reports. "Maybe she wasn’t bluffing," Patterson decides. (What a moron!) The men decide to travel to the Beta Disintegrator set, er, complex, and destroy it. Patterson tells the women they should stay behind for safety’s sake. They vant, I mean, want to come with, however. "Ve haf no life here vithout Love, or children," Talleah explains. Persuaded, Patterson gives his permission for them to come along. And so Talleah and Kaeel and their other hot associate Motiya join the party.
The women provide the men with Forbidden Planet sidearms. Then guards are heard outside the lab. Nice of them to announce themselves, anyway. Everyone but Talleah hides away in a small chamber that I’d assume was a priest’s hole, except that the door to it is perfectly visible and opened with a big protruding knob-like device attached to the wall. As Talleah tries to bluff things out, Turner, who might be termed incorrigible (or an a**hole), is seen taking advantage of the tight quarters to smooze up to the entirely receptive Kaeel.
Their cunning hiding place is about to discovered when (Whew!) another guard appears and calls the others away. Why? We never find out. Maybe because the heroes’ hiding place was about to be discovered. Anyway, that was…too close! And so everyone slips out of the lab. I couldn’t help noticing that the women don’t bother to personally bring along weapons, having, after all, just armed the menfolk. Except for Prof. Konrad, because he, after all, is a scientist. They almost get caught as the guards go running past up the hall, but luckily there are some rather convenient decorative panels jutting out from the walls that they can hide behind. That was, again…too close!
The guards continue to run blindly up and down the rather limited lengths of passageways allowed by the film’s apparently meager production budget. Unsurprisingly they always just miss seeing Our Heroes and Heroines, as if in some poorly choreographed Keystone Cops short. Of course, all the women must perforce run slowly and awkwardly because of their high-heeled boots. Still, the boots do make their calves and thighs look really good.
Yllana, meanwhile, is demanding that the Earthmen be captured – alive. I guess once you get some Patterson action you always crave more. Following this, one of the guards who helped the men escaped is brought in. Yllana, who’s apparently been studying the ‘Lil Evil Despot’s Handbook, tells the woman that she believes in her innocence and that she’s free to go. And then kills her. Bet you didn’t see that coming!! Oh…you did. Never mind. (By the way, I’m not sure I’d trust an unsighted weapon that fires an invisible disintegration beam. How could you be sure what you were hitting until it when Poof?)
To the accompaniment of some bizarrely chirpy music, which represents one of the comparatively few pieces arranged for the harpsichord and xylophone (!!), the group escapes into the woods via some forgotten access tunnels that Kaeel somehow conveniently remembered. Hiding, Turner and Kaeel share a moment that reveals their deepening feelings for each other. Meanwhile, hot brunette Motiya sets her sights on Cruze. He might be runty and sarcastic, but he’s also one of only four men on the planet, and hence a hot commodity. (Which sums up the Lost Women genre’s appeal for sci-fi geeks.) I believe that Cruze’s befuddled reaction to her attentions is meant to represent a humorous counterpart to smooth talking ladies’ man Turner. Admittedly, I have no real evidence to support this contention, given how unfunny the sequence is. Still, that’s my theory.
This ‘hiding behind bushes while engaging in romantic banter’ stuff runs on a while longer, although I’ll spare you further details. Except for noting the continued presence of a xylophone as the primary instrument in the scene’s background music. Eventually the spotlights and cartoon sound effects that suggest the Palace’s search apparatus go away and our group emerges. There’re still the palace guards to avoid, but since they’re trundling through the set, er, woods in their standard issued high heels this shouldn’t pose much of a problem.
Cut to the next day. I note that the men have apparently traveled all night while holding their guns, but luckily haven’t accidentally shot each while stumbling or just out of sheer fatigue. Suddenly some minor explosions occur nearby, forcing them to hide behind a large papier-mâché boulder. "They’re bombarding us by radar control!" Patterson suggests. "They located us by infra-red detection," Konrad replies, apparently not wishing to fall behind in this Aimless Speculation contest. Hey, let me try: "Their weapons are powered through a harmonic phase plasma variance!"
Luckily a cave is nearby. I mean really nearby. The entire set is maybe thirty feet square. "Their radar can’t track us in there," Patterson helpfully lets us know. Of course not, it’s well known that radar waves can’t penetrate foam rubber. As if this wasn’t enough, there are swathes of paint on the cave walls. "Metallic streaks," Konrad expositories. "You’re right, Neil, no radar impulses can reach us here." Science! (Typically, Talleah, although a scientist and a member of the race that created and utilizes these weapons, has nothing to offer during any of this.)
Patterson conducts a thorough examination of this phenomena, by which I mean he sort of stares at the paint streaks for a couple of seconds. "Do you realize that’s gold?!" he blurts. Only if you’ve ever seen some other science fiction movies. It’s a well-known fact that every planet and asteroid other than Earth is made almost exclusively out of precious metals and gemstones. This accounts for his follow-up statement: "The whole planet must be veined with it!" Because otherwise you could hardly posit that from standing in a solitary cave for three minutes.
Let’s see…we’ve discovered the obligatory fabulous riches thing, so that leaves…yes, there’s Turner wandering off on his own, so where’s…there it is!! A goofy marionette giant spider. You knew there had to be one. It leaps and Turner tussles with it, his cries bringing the others running. Patterson ray blasts the beastie and it goes up in flames. It’s kind of lucky he didn’t fry Turner while he was at it, since the thing was laying right on top of him. Especially since the spider disintegrates entirely after being blasted. That’s quite a well-designed weapon, I’d say. And to think that Patterson’s never used one before! I’ve got to say that I’m rather impressed, too, with Turner. I myself probably wouldn’t be able to hold off an eighty-pound arachnid for as long as he does.
I must admit that I found it funny that the three immediately holster their weapons after this. I mean, they carry them in their hands the entire night they were in the woods, but upon dispatching that the cave they’re staying in contains humongous space bugs, they casually decide they don’t need them quite so readily.
The guys spend the night around a little fire, snuggling up with their respective chicks. Except for Konrad, but he doesn’t really need one. He’s a scientist. (Or maybe it’s just that women-love-a-man-in-uniform thing.) Patterson and Talleah are spotlighted here, as we listen in on their mushy conversation. Unsurprisingly, this offers up a bounty of bad dialog, as well as some choice mispronunciations by Ms. Gabor. For instance, she asks her newfound beau if he was happy on his "plant." She also tells him she was thinking the "same sing." Meanwhile, the film’s insights into the female psyche continue apace. For instance, at one point Patterson reveals that there’s no girl waiting for him back home.
Talleah: "I’m glad you
said that. I vould be terribly jealous!"
They starting making out, at which we cut over to Motiya and Cruze mooning at one another. Glancing aside, Motiya notes "I think the fire is going out." ( What do you think Cruze’s comeback is? Think hard.) "No it isn’t," he replies. Then he realizes she actually means the fire is going out, probably from the shrill burst of ‘comedy music’ that blurts across the soundtrack.
Hoping not to, uh, lose his place, he calls out to Turner, "Get some more wood, would ya?" I really hope that’s not an obscene joke, since we then cut to Turner and Kaeel clenched in full lip-locked mode. Turner briefly comes up for air and tells Cruze to get it himself. Cruze tells Motiya that sometimes rank has its privileges and jocularly repeats his request as a command. Disgruntled, Turner begins to break free when Konrad offers to fetch the wood instead. "I’ll get it, Lt.," he says, following with a rather sour "I’m not busy." This is probably the only time I laughed at the film when I was supposed to. Nothing like being odd man out at a three way make out party.
Outside, Konrad spies some a nearby party of guards. He runs back to the cave and informs the others that they have found their trail and will have the cave entrance covered by now. He also says they’re outnumbered, although they aren’t. Patterson thinks fast, and remembers that no one yet knows that Talleah and the girls helped them escape. (I consider this rather unlikely, but we’ll let it go.) So he and his men hand the women their guns. The idea is that they will pretend that they are loyal subjects and came out here looking to capture the fugitive Earthmen.
The ruse works – although Talleah actually had to call to the guards to get their attention, so maybe they could have escaped after all – and everyone starts back to the Palace. We cut to Yllana overseeing the preparation of the Beta Disintegrator. Informed that the men have been captured, she orders them brought to her chambers and heads off. Talleah tells to guards to stay outside and they do so. (Good bodyguards, letting three armed women into Yllana’s chambers.) Once inside, though, the group moronically begins congratulating themselves on their subterfuge.
Yllana enters from an adjourning room. Good thing she didn’t hear them blathering about their little scam, eh? Yllana gloats over her evil plans for the destruction of the Earth, to be followed by the men’s demise. She then congratulates Talleah for capturing the fugitives, whereupon Talleah points her gun at the Queen and reveals her sympathies. In a typical moment for the film, Turner immediately leans over and takes the gun from her. Can’t have the women doing things for themselves, can we?
Talleah speaks of the thousands who wish to be free of Yllana’s rule. For her part, the Queen doesn’t believe it. "My subjects are grateful to me," she exclaims, "I’ve kept peace." "Peace isn’t enough," Konrad interjects. "They must also be content." Talleah agrees, adding "We can’t be happy without men!" Upon which Turner gets the last word. "You’re so right, baby!"
Patterson offers Yllana a chance to save her life. (Shouldn’t that decision be up to the locals? You’d think.) First, she’s to order the crew readying the Disintegrator to stand down. Second, to order the release of the Venusian men being held up on the satellite. Whereupon they can come back down and get back to running things, I assume.
An apparently chastened Yllana goes over and lies down on her divan. Once there, however, she surreptitiously reaches for a ray gun kept under her pillow. (Yeah, that’s safe.) I’m not sure what she intends to do, since she’s rather outnumbered and out armed. Presumably she just wants to reap her revenge on Patterson. Or maybe I’m thinking about this more than the filmmakers did. In any case, she proves a rather poor shot. With seven targets huddled together in a fairly small room, she manages to disintegrate a lamp.
They disarm her, but she promises to have the last laugh. The order to halt the preparation of the Beta Disintegrator can only come from her, she says. (Of course, if they just killed her…never mind.) The clever Talleah isn’t easily thwarted, however. "And the orders are going to come from Yllana," she promises in a sly voice. I think you can see where this is going.
Certainly Patterson does. "Of course," he blurts, as he wrestles the mask off a shrieking Yllana. Taking it, Talleah and the girls step tastefully offstage to get her into one of the Queen’s dresses. Good thing they’re exactly the same size. Patterson, meanwhile, again tries to comfort Yllana. (Verbally, of course, because…ick.) And why not? You have to pity the woman, she’s a once hot chick whose face is now all messed up. And that’s a tragedy that affects all of us.
Yllana is having none of it, however, and nearly manages to get Cruze’s gun away from him. I swear, this is the biggest crew of numb nuts I’ve seen in some time. Having finally had enough, Patterson orders her tied up. And so they gag her and wrestle her down, taking care to avoid any contact violent enough to flake off her make-up job. I mean, scarred flesh.
Talleah reenters the room, clad in Yllana’s mask and a tight and sparkly black dress. (The latter will no doubt aid in her deception, because nothing says ‘authority’ like a high leg slit and a hint of décolletage.) The disguise amazes Patterson. "You look like her twin sister!" he exclaims. Yes, it’s amazing how one stacked blonde wearing a mask will eerily resemble another stacked blonde wearing a mask. The resemblance is so pristine, in fact, that Patterson believes they should try to bluff their way into the Beta Installation itself. That way the weapon can be permanently destroyed.
Kaeel and Motiya are sent ahead to announce the ersatz Queen’s imminent arrival. This gives Patterson the chance to tell Talleah that he loves her. Zsa Zsa’s acting here is worth noting. She leans back her head (Fleming is quite taller than she is), assumes a look of blank adoration and then pauses, as if playing freeze tag. "Love!" she replies. "I’d almost forgotten. But if it is that varm feeling that makes my heart sing…then I do love you!" OK, got it, Love is a warm feeling that makes the heart sing. But what’s this nauseous feeling that’s making my stomach lurch? Anyhoo, after fervid declarations of mutual devotion they embrace passionately and do that ‘50s thing where they turn their heads away from each other and press the sides of their faces together.
As they leave we get certain hints where this is going. Patterson arms the masked Talleah -- she’s the Queen; they’re her prisoners – and tells the other men to leave their weapons behind. That’s one problem with skintight space uniforms, I guess. Then the camera cuts significantly to Yllana, somewhat haphazardly bound and gagged behind a dressing screen.
Here the other members of the Council -- they all wear masks, so we know who they are -- enter the room. Why? IITS, I guess. Talleah orders them to leave. It’s amazing. The film features mini-skirted space amazons and cheesy giant spiders and a planet Venus that sports a breathable atmosphere. And yet the silliest moment might be here, as we watch Talleah, thick Hungarian accent and all, attempt to vocally impersonate Yllana. You’d think the moment she opened her mouth the jig would be up, but no. While the women look vaguely confused, as if pondering whether there was something different about their Queen, Yllana kicks over the dressing screen she’s none-too-cleverly been ‘hidden’ behind. At this point Talleah still has the drop on the mostly unarmed group, but apparently it would be too violent to just start blasting them down. (Besides, Talleah’s a girl, and it’s not in her nature.) So Our Protagonists find themselves captives again.
Needless to say, Yllana has the group executed on the spot, before they can again escape or gain the upper hand. Oh, wait, no she doesn’t. She’s still on that "You’ll watch me destroy the Earth, then I’ll kill you" kick. When are these Evil Despots going to learn? And speaking of making the same mistake more than once, Yllana cozies up to Patterson yet again. (Perhaps she got hot and bothered from being tied up. People in positions of authority often enjoy the kinkiness of being dominated.)
"I could still spare your life," she tells him, although she makes the mistake of removing her mask as she says this. Which doesn’t really help her case because, as you might recall, her face is all ooky and stuff. Even her loyal guards, previously unaware of the urned-bay ace-fay thing, wince at the sight and look away.
What’s funny is that Patterson doesn’t so much seem to reject her offer because, oh, she’s planning to destroy the Earth, or intending to kill his friends and the woman he loves, or because she’s already massacred hundreds of his fellows on the Space Station, or even just on general principles. Instead, it appears that he just can’t bring himself to kiss a woman who looks like Dr. Phibes’ twin sister.
Getting all huffy over how shallow men are, what with their juvenile fixation on girls who have faces and everything, Yllana leads her captives and their guards out to the Disintegrator installation. One quick segue and they’ve arrived at the *cough, cough* awesome facility. Looking upon the sort of set that a mildly ambitious high school drama department might have manufactured, Our Heroes can only express their awe. "I must say," Turner acknowledges, "this baby looks like it could do it!" The Professor dourly concurs. "I believe they’ve solved the problem of projecting nuclear energy," he suggests. Why does he believe this? You got me. Unless that’s the kind of apparatus you can identify just by looking at it.
While the weapon is almost ready, we’re told, they’ve still got a couple of minutes left to wring some desultory ‘suspense’ from the whole "I’m going to destroy your planet" deal. So Yllana engages in the obligatory Gloating and Cackling, not to mention hauling out the old "I envy you as a Man of Science" speech to Prof. Konrad. Under the idea that scientists are always interested in studying new phenomena, like seeing their home world blown to pieces.
Prompting her captives to watch the show on the installation’s big screen TV (the image courtesy, no less, of an "atomic telescope"), she runs over to the Disintegrator’s control panel with a joyfully evil alacrity. If nothing else, you can’t say that Yllana doesn’t enjoy her work. The Big Red Button gets pushed, and the machine starts humming. Meanwhile, the director makes the mistake of cutting to a (non) reaction shot from Patterson and Yllana, neither of seem particularly inclined to bother moving any facial muscles because of any of this.
As the machine powers up, we see that Talleah’s followers are huddled off to the side, patiently watching these events. Therefore we’re less than shocked to learn that the Disintegrator has somehow been sabotaged, although how they managed that little feat is left carefully unexplained. Yllana proves predictably nonplussed by the lack of the Big Ka-Boom. She attempts to remedy the problem by smacking the button three or four more times, apparently operation under the same premise as one who repeatedly jabs an elevator call button so that it will arrive faster.
Getting no result from even this advanced technique, Yllana runs into the Disintegrator’s little control room. There she fiddles with some levers that would probably, how shall I put this, make Sigmund Freud go, "Hmmm..." Sparks start shooting out from the device’s control panels, because that’s the kind of thing that happens when you sabotage a big space laser. In the resultant confusion Talleah’s dozen followers run out and overwhelm the Queen’s equally massive contingent of guards in a rather half-heartedly choreographed donnybrook. This more or less involves everyone finding an opponent, grabbing their lapels, and shoving back and forth at one another. Meanwhile, to our vast lack of surprise, Yllana bites it from an apparently fatal case of Spark Poisoning.
As the combatants seek shelter on the far side (such as it is) of the set, smoke bombs and little explosive squibs go off. We’re also afforded some amusingly gratuitous shots of Yllana’s crispity-crunchity corpse burning away to a nicely even charcoal consistency.
Cut to the Council Chamber. All the women who aren’t hideously scarred freaks, including the bodyguards who just moments earlier appeared quite ferociously loyal to their Queen, are happily chatting away with the Earthmen and each other. This established, a curtain parts and Talleah, clad in a golden gown, enters the room. She is, big surprise, the new Queen, with Kaeel, Motiya and a few extras joining as council members.
Talleah sadly notes that the Earthmen’s rocket has been repaired, and that they’re soon to depart. Assuming that this took some time, I have to wonder why there are no Venusian men present. Shouldn’t they have been released from the satellite by now? Anyhoo. Talleah runs over for a final almost-sorta embrace with Patterson. "I don’t want to go," he explains. "I want to stay here with you." Meanwhile, Turner’s feeding an equivalent line to Kaeel. Eventually Patterson looks around for his junior officer and sees them smooching in a fashion that suggests he dropped his keys down Kaeel’s throat and is now trying to extricate them with his tongue.
As the sad-faced crew prepares to depart, Talleah is told that a message has arrived from Earth. Activating the Televiewer, we cut first to a shot of Earth and then right to the desk of the guys’ Base Commander. (That’s some zoom mechanism.) He orders the crew to hang around Venus until a relief expedition arrives. The women all seem happy enough with the news, so I guess no one’s going to point out that perhaps they should be consulted before the nations of Earth start sending ships over willy-nilly. Turner and Kaeel, meanwhile, have taken the opportunity to resume their public make-out session. Isn’t this guy supposed to be on duty or something? Damn, Patterson, you sure are one poor-ass excuse for a commanding officer. On the other hand, the Base Commander can presumably see all this through his end of the Televiewer set-up, and he doesn’t say anything, so apparently he doesn’t care either. It’s like an entire space fleet of especially nitwitted Jim Kirks.
To emphasize how ‘comical’ all this is, we watch Turner and Kaeel and then Cruze and Motiya standing around making out, while the Base Commander says things like, "You must bear your hardships and privations bravely." See, because spending all your time making out with beautiful women for a year or more – that’s how long it will supposedly take them to get the relief expedition there -- isn’t really much of a hardship or a privation. Get it? That’s the joke. That and seeing the previously sexless Prof. Konrad (I mean, c’mon, he’s a scientist, and not the two-fisted John Agar kind) surrounded by a mass of gorgeous woman who are all leaning in and kissing him as he dreamily repeats, "A year!" And so we end our little photoplay.
The most obvious question after watching all this is and incredulous "They couldn’t possibly have been serious, could they?" The answer, oddly enough, would seem to be yes…and no.
The film was adapted from a short treatment written by former newspaperman Ben Hecht. (See below for info on various personages mentioned here.) Said story, reportedly, spoofed space operas of exactly this sort. If true, this is somewhat similar to the famous story about screenwriter Curt "The Wolf Man" Siodmak jokingly pitching a movie to Universal. "How about ‘Frankenstein Wolfs the Meat Man’," he supposedly offered, "er, I mean, ‘Meets the Wolf Man.’" Joke or not, the studio liked the idea and had Siodmak whip up a script for a movie that eventually carried that very title. (The second one, of course.)
Nor is it probable that a writer capable of the sort of depth and irony as Charles Beaumont could have produced this screenplay without having his tongue firmly in cheek. Even the end credits seem an obvious put-on. Over footage of various romantic interludes, we get credits for "The Leaders," (Talleah and Patterson); "The Lovers" (Turner and Kaeel); "The Lovelorn" [??] (Cruze and Motiya); and "The Professor." Yllana is referred to as "The Wicked Queen," and there’s a un-credit – by which I mean, no actresses are listed – for the guards, who are referred to as "Her Posse"! (I wonder if this is the first usage of that term in this context.) Obviously the above designations are meant to be somewhat comically artificial, hence indicating that some of those involved with the film weren’t taking things with utter seriousness.
Other seemingly intentional comic elements include the truly bizarre musical score, which I can only assume was meant satirically, and some of the more egregiously silly sets. By which I mean particularly the ones for both the interior and exterior of the Beta Disintegrator.
Aside from that, though, I find no indication that this was meant as a goof. Director Edward Bernds and his cast seem to have intended their efforts to be taken at face value, and the tone of the film is pretty straightforward. Admittedly, the picture’s more than a bit off the wall, but so are many bad sci-fi films of this period. Queen of Outer Space hardly holds a monopoly on cliché characters, bad plotting, sexist dialog or silly technobabble. Meanwhile, director Bernds in particular was known for his less-than-subtle comedy pictures (see below), and the overall feel of the movie seems to match his ‘serious’ films more than his comic ones.
A Good Cast and Crew is Worth Repeating:
One of the things I especially enjoy about Apostic’s articles over at B-Notes are his Who Cares Stuff sections, where he runs down the history of those who produced whatever film he’s reviewing. Since the cast and crew here represent a bizarre lot, I thought I’d again ‘borrow’ this concept:
First of all, the story was adapted from a short story by venerable screenwriter Ben Hecht. Hecht was famously the very model of the tough, streetwise newspaperman in Chicago back in the early 1900s. He eventually drifted into Hollywood for the money, having famously been alerted that "Your only competition here is morons." His early specialty, reflecting his newspaper background, was in gritty hard-boiled scripts for films like Paul Muni’s Scarface. More often, he would work as an uncredited but well remunerated script doctor. He toiled on many, many famous films in this capacity, and did so into the ‘60s on such films as Cleopatra. He regularly worked on scripts for Alfred Hitchcock, and contributed to such genre classics as King Kong and The Thing From Another World.
Hecht probably remains most famous for writing the definitive play about the newspaper game, The Front Page. It’s been oft adapted to the screen, most notably by Howard Hawks in the screwball classic His Girl Friday. Hawks brilliantly added a romantic angle to the picture by changing one of the lead characters into a woman, played memorably by Rosalind Russell. (Cary Grant assayed her male lead.) Otherwise nothing about the play was altered, including little of the dialog. Hawks remains famous for the exceptionally strong women in his films, who tend to give as good as they get, and Russell’s Hildy Johnson is right up there with the best of them.
The screenplay was written by genre pro Charles Beaumont. Queen of Outer Space was his first script, after which he worked most prominently in television. Most notably, he wrote a number of memorable episodes of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. These included such fan favorites as The Howling Man and Living Doll, the latter featuring Telly Savalas facing off against Tina the Talking Doll. Later Beaumont performed similar chores on the Boris Karloff-hosted Thriller.
His film scripts included the witchcraft mini-classic Night of the Eagle, aka Burn Witch Burn; Roger Corman’s Intruder, a anti-racism piece starring a pre-Star Trek William Shatner and possibly the only Corman film to ever lose money; many of Corman’s putative Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, including Premature Burial with Ray Milland, the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired The Haunted Palace, and The Masque of Red Death, perhaps Corman’s finest directorial effort; and The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, a George Pal production starring Tony Randall in all of the titled seven roles. Another distinction for Beaumont was that he wrote the short story Black Country, which was the very first fiction piece printed in Playboy.
Edward Bernds was the film’s director. Mr. Bernds came to Columbia in the late 1920s as a sound technician. Since sound movies were just dawning, Bernds quickly became the head of the department there. In this capacity he worked on such legendary films as It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and The Awful Truth, amongst many others.
Eventually he moved up to writing and directing short subjects, which typically accompanied film releases in those days. In the ‘40s Mr. Bernds worked on numerous classic Three Stooges shorts, including the Curly Howard classic Micro-Phonies and Squareheads of the Round Table. In the latter, a Shemp short, the boys are troubadours who sing a hilarious song entitled "Elaine" to a princess awaiting word of her blacksmith lover. This remains perhaps my second favorite Stooges moment, after Moe falling into a tub of rubber and being inflated with helium in Dizzy Pilots. Bernds continued making Stooge short into the ‘50s.
Bernds also graduated, in a sense, to cranking out film after film in the multitudinous Blondie and Bowery Boys series. Many of these, like The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters, sported fantasy or sci-fi elements. A prolific fellow who wrote or director or wrote and directed many dozens of films, Bernds eventually worked on several straight sci-fi flicks of the period, including Space Master X-7, World Without End, Return of the Fly and Valley of the Dragons, the latter loosely adapted from a Jules Verne Novel. Other works of his the Elvis movie Tickle Me and such cheesy JD classics as Reform School Girls and High School Hellcats.
In the end, though, he wound up where he began, making the woeful Three Stooges feature films, the ones starring Curly Joe DeRita. Several of these included fantastic elements, including The Three Stooges in Orbit (space travel, alien beings) and The Three Stooges Meet Hercules. In that one the boys time travel back to ancient Greece and help a formerly meek if improbably hunky scientist defeat the mighty demigod.
The star of our movies was Zsa Zsa Gabor (Talleah). Zsa Zsa was chosen as 1936’s Miss Hungary before heading to Hollywood. In the end she would represent the sort of celebrity who was, as the phrase goes, famous for being famous. Ms. Gabor probably remains most remembered for her nine marriages. Amongst her many spouses were hotel magnate Konrad Hilton; Prince Frederick von Anhalt (said match gained Zsa Zsa the titles of Princess von Anhalt and Duchess of Saxony – don’t laugh, Halloween’s Jamie Lee Curtis is an English Baroness by marriage) and actor and ennui expert George Sanders. Her shortest marriage was to Felipe De Alba, to she was wed but a single day.
The elderly Zsa Zsa remained in the news courtesy of various legal misadventures. She famously was tried, for example, for slapping a Beverly Hills traffic cop who dared to issue her a ticket. A murky video of this trial was released under the title The People vs. Zsa Zsa Gabor and sold quite well. Ms. Gabor was also sued by fellow over-the-hill Euro-sexpot Elke "The Oscar" Somers, who sought two millions smackers in a 1993 defamation case.
Unfortunately, Ms. Gabor’s Hollywood career proved much less epic. In John Huston’s 1952 Moulin Rouge, Zsa Zsa played, in a bold move, a Euro-sexpot opposite Jose Ferrer’s Toulouse-Lautrec. The following year she appeared in a supporting role in the musical Lili, which co-starred the unrelated but similarly monikered Mel Ferrer. From there, though, it was all downhill. Her few starring roles included playing twins (!!) in the hilarious-sounding espionage meller Girl in the Kremlin. In case you’re wondering, one of the twins Stalin’s mistress (!!), the other a spy working against the Soviets. Zsa Zsa also had a bit part in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.
Eventually, though, Zsa Zsa’s star was eclipsed by her sister Eva, who played the befuddled Lisa Douglas on the beloved and surprisingly surrealistic sitcom Green Acres. Eva is also remembered for supplying the voice of Duchess in Disney’s The Aristocats and of Miss Bianca in the The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under. (The best Zsa Zsa could do in terms of kiddie films was appearing in the dreadful Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood. Well, OK, she did appear in the brilliant if oft creepy Pee Wee Herman’s Christmas Special.) Meanwhile, trivia addicts will remember the existence of a third Gabor sister, Magda, who did even less than her siblings.
Male lead Eric Fleming remains best known as trail boss Gil Favor in TV’s Rawhide, a program that remains most famous for its memorable theme song and as the launching pad for the show’s young second banana, Clint Eastwood. Fleming eventually grew tired of Eastwood’s growing prominence and left the show, after which Eastwood’s Rowdy Yates took over as the main character for the series’ final year.
Fleming’s roughhewn features had an odd origin. As a Seabee in World War II, a steel beam shattered his facial bones. Four operations were required to fix him up. Becoming an actor following the war, Fleming was to make only five movies, mostly genre efforts. Aside from Queen Of Outer Space and the previously mentioned Conquest of Space, he assayed the preacher hero in the odd vampire/Western flick Curse of the Undead. Then, following a six-year absence from the screen, he appeared in the Doris Day spy comedy The Glass Bottom Boat (aka The Spy in Lace Panties). In 1962 Fleming tragically drowned in Peru while filming a comeback TV pilot. He was forty-two.
Dave Willock (Lt. Cruze) was mostly a bit player, appearing in small and often uncredited roles beginning in 1939. His genre efforts include the Nancy Davis (later Nancy Reagan) starrer The Monster and the Girl, which was the first screen adaptation of Curt Siomak’s novel Donavon’s Brain; Jack Arnold’s 3-D epic It Came From Outer Space; the first Creature of the Black Lagoon sequel, Revenge of the Creature, which starred John Agar; and the laughable Jabootu classic The Legend of Lylah Clare, a typically awful show business exposé with a bizarre reincarnation twist. Willock also was the narrator of TV’s Wacky Races cartoon show, which introduced Dastardly Dick and his sniggering hound Muttley, not to mention adventuress Penelope Pittstop. Meanwhile, reader Bob Gutowski wrote in, urging that I highlight Willock's role as the "wussy father" (as Bob describes him) of the murderous siblings played by Jane Crawford and Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Laurie Mitchell (Queen Yllana) had a brief ten-year career. She appeared in Bert I. Gordon’s Attack of the Puppet People and the Cat-Women of the Moon remake Missile to the Moon. Like Eric Fleming she appeared opposite Doris Day; like Dave Willock opposite John Agar.
Paul Birch (Prof. Konrad) was a busy character actor, working largely in Westerns. He also had roles of various sizes in many sci-fi films, including War of the Worlds. Most of his work in the field, however, was for director Roger Corman. Birch starred in The Beast with a Million Eyes, The Day the World Ended, and most memorably as a strangely sympathetic space vampire in Not of this Earth. The latter film was such a favorite of Corman’s that as a producer he had it remade on two separate occasions, once as a vehicle for ex-underage porn queen Tracy Lords. Aside from the cheapies that supplied most of his work, Birch appeared in small roles in actual films; such as Rebel Without a Cause and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. He was also the original Marlboro Man, back when cigarette companies could do TV commercials
Down to the bit players. Marilyn Buferd, one of the women of Venus, was 1946’s Miss America. She made a handful of movies in Europe following that, then returned to the states to appear in Queen of Outer Space and the John Carradine starrer The Unearthly. After this she understandably retired.
Fellow Venusian Mary Ford had a slightly more interesting résumé. Like her Queen, Ford also appeared as another alien female in Missile to the Moon. Her first film work was in Lonesome Trails in 1945, in which she appeared as a member of a musical act. Her last film was the Beatles’ Help! in 1965.
Tania Velia was the third Venus Girl to also play a Moon Girl in Missile to the Moon. She also appeared in the exploitation flick Fiend of Dope Island.
And let’s not forget the inimitable Joi Lansing, the blonde floozy Turner left behind at the launch site. Lansing played the exact same bit part, a horny blonde chippie for a military skirt-chaser, in 1958’s Atomic Submarine. She also co-starred in the memorably awful John Carradine yukfest Bigfoot and famously (to a certain set) replaced Mamie Van Doran from Las Vegas Hillbillys as ‘Boots’ Malone in the sequel Hillbillies in the Haunted House.
And its Fame lives on after it…
On a last note, Queen of the Outer Space was the main inspiration for the hilarious title segment of the uneven sketch comedy Amazon Women of the Moon. While cliché elements from other ‘50s sci-fi films are mercilessly parodied -- many from Cat-Women of the Moon, including the greedy and hence doomed astronaut Blackie -- Queen of Outer Space is the film that they most directly draw from.
For instance, the gaudily colored sets merge elements from both Queen of Outer Space and Cat-Women of the Moon. The overall look, though, definitely suggests this film. Which is hardly surprising, since while otherwise cheaply made, Queen was one of the few films of its ilk shot in color. And although Amazon’s female warriors are provided with spears instead of ray guns, their short mini-dresses, awkward high-heeled boots and elaborate hairdos and make-up are right out of this movie. One character is particular is clearly based on Kaeel. Actor Steve "SWAT" Forrest and his crew even wear the old Forbidden Planet uniforms! I want to give a special nod here to Forrest. He’s absolutely note perfect as the expedition captain, although he suggests Cat-Women’s Sonny Tufts more than Eric Fleming. The scene where he icily informs haughty Moon Queen Sybil Danning that "On Earth no woman is considered complete without a man!" is dead on.
The biggest coincidence I found when re-watching the sketch after writing this review. There, smack dab in the group of extras playing the Amazon women, is a young lady I’m pretty darn sure is the young and then unknown Terry Farrell!! It’s a small universe, isn’t it?
-Review by Ken Begg
Correspondent Calli Arcale on cinematic spacecraft:
"I just wanted to write to mention one of my favorite bits of amusement in cheezy space movies -- especially older cheezy space movies. The spaceships. In all too many of these movies, we see stock footage of rocket launches, spaceship models which only bear a passing resemblance to the stock footage, and also spacecraft with TARDIS-like interiors far bigger than the exteriors. [Editor Ken's Note: See my review of Doomsday Machine for more such shenanigans.]
However, I must say that Queen of Outer Space takes the ultimate cake in the inappropriate stock footage department. I've seen movies use Saturn V stock footage before, but a V-2? This movie is too old to use footage of an actual large rocket (ICBMs still existed only on paper at this point) but still.... A V-2 is a mere 1.7 meters across (in contrast to the spacious interior shown) and has barely enough oomph to pitch a one-ton payload from Germany to London. (They were used by the Nazi's to bombard cities from afar in the latter stages of the war. They were also all built by slave labor in the Nordhausen concentration camp, which gives a rather sinister cast to the rocket.)
The V-2.... Y'know, ironically, knowing the history of the V-2 might shed some light on what you said in the opening of your review about the exploitation of space being unfairly held back by the government. Until WWII, rockets were not considered military items. Because of that loophole in the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was free to develop the V-1 (the world's first cruise missile) and the V-2 (the world's first liquid-fueled guided ballistic missile). Development of rockets was very rigidly controlled after it became evident just how much damage could be done with a rocket, and how easy it was to cover up the development of such a weapon under the guise of scientific research. The atom bomb made that even more imperative, as it provided these incredibly terrifying bomb delivery systems with an incredibly terrifying payload.
Of course, there's also the issue of cost. Since the 70's, commercial outfits have been pretty much free to develop whatever they wanted in terms of spacecraft. Quite a few corporations have died from the enormous R&D costs. In general, only large governments have sufficient funding. Even a lot of relatively affluent governments have tried to develop a space program and given up. (South Africa, Italy, Israel, Great Britain, etc.) It's harder than it looks.
Which is, of course, something that these movies invariably ignore. ;-) Bad space physics, bad rocketry, bad history, bad *everything*.... But hey, it's still fun to laugh at these movies, isn't it? ;-)"