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Monday, February 11, 2008

Devil Girl from Mars

This is an obscure little British sci-fi, from producers who did everything but sci-fi before (or after). This might explain why Devil Girl from Mars (DGfM) is such a departure from the usual sci-fi formulae. On the surface of things, DGfM is akin to the usual saucer-alien-invasion motif. That kinship is only skin deep, though. Beneath the surface is a delightfully different movie.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Reports come in of a strange meteor landing the remote area of Scotland. A professor of astrophysics and a newspaper reporter are traveling up from London to find it. They stop for the night at a country inn. Meanwhile, a man who escaped from prison has snuck into the inn to seek help from his girlfriend who works there. Also staying at the inn is a fashion model hiding/sulking from a failed romance, and a young boy, the nephew of the man and woman who run the inn. With a grand flash, a flying saucer lands dramatically near the inn. Inside is Nyah, a tall shapely woman dressed in black leather, a black leather skull cap and long black leather cape. She announces that she's from Mars. The male population has grown weak and feeble on Mars, so they are looking for breeding stock. She's the first of what will be a wave of invaders taking the best men, now her trip has proven the success of "organic metal" ships. The people are powerless to stop her. She cannot be shot or electrocuted. Nyah has a force field around the inn, so no one can escape or get help. Nyah has a big robot which can disintegrate things with his head-beam, so resistance is futile. The professor does some recon aboard the ship. He feels the ship's power source is its achilles heel. The men draw straws to see who will go with Nyah -- essentially a suicide mission to destroy her ship. While they argue, the convict tells Nyah that he's the one. Her ship leaves and blows up high in the sky. The earth is safe. The end.

Why is this movie fun?
Sure, it's low on action and very talky. It was adapted from a stage play, after all. But there's just so many little touches in DGfM that are delightful. One thing is the total reversal of the usual they're-after-our-women trope. This is so refreshing. What makes this even more fun is that the men do not act all wolfish and slobbery about being a stud for martian women. Instead, they act like it's exile to Siberian salt mines. This, despite Nyah being a hot chick in her own way. Hollywood could not have done this story. Another very fun visual is Nayh herself, all in black with Vulcan-like eyebrows and stoic demeanor. She's like Spock's evil sister or Darth Vadar's wife. This is just great fun for viewing. The model work and matte art are pretty good for a low-budget B-film.

Cold War Angle
Other than the customary invasion-by-martians as allegory to invasion-by-commies, DGfM is in its own little world.

Notes
Mars Needs Men -- As mentioned above, DGfM reverses the usual alien agenda. Instead of the ruthless alien trying to take away our curvaceous ladies, a leggy lady arrives to take away earth's hunkiest men. This isn't treated like the usual adolescent fantasy about being the lone guy in the girls' dorm. No, the men at the Bonnie Charlie Inn regard Nyah's plan as a terrible fate. Perhaps the Brits were able to see beyond their underpants that the martian women's plans would mean the subjugation of the entire earth. There was much more at stake than their own personal gratification. How un-Hollywood!

Love vs Loveless -- The writer sets up an interesting contrast between earthly love and the martian woman's buisness-like approach to procreation. Between Robert, the convict and Doris, we see her loyalty and charity. Robert shows a sort of desperate reaching out for help, but then the willingness to sacrifice himself for others. Between the reporter, Michael, and Miss Prestwick, the budding of new romance which softens his cynicism and coaxes her out of her funk over a failed prior romance. Mr. and Mrs. Jamison show parent-like concern of little Tommy. The Professor shows an altruism for mankind. All these earthly manifestations of love stand in contrast to Nyah's passionless approach to duty.

Ship, Heal Thyself -- DGfM features a little thing that gets attention in films much later. Her ship is made of "organic metal" which can heal itself. She miscalculated the density of earth's atmosphere, so upon entry a part of her ship broke off. That was the meteor people reported. Nyah had to land in Scotland instead of London, as originally planned, so that her ship could heal itself. In the meantime, she figures to take the best of the men at the inn, just to make the side trip worthwhile. We won't see the concept of organic metal and ships healing themselves until the Alien series in the 90s. Stargate Atlantis has it's Wraith ships which are partially organic too. DGfM might be the first film to feature self-healing ships.

Robo-phobia -- The robot in DGfM is tall, but like many other B-movie robots, it's so slow and clumsy it's hard imagine it inspiring fear. Oh sure, it has its disintegrator beam, but it's even slower than a muzzle-loading musket to fire. Instead of running away (or even just walking away) from it, everyone stands "paralyzed" in fear while the walking refrigerator lumbers up to them. This is necessary, of course, since it's a sound-stage production, not an action film, but it looks a little odd. They could have tackled Nayh and taken away her remote control before robo-fridge could manage turning around. Perhaps in the early 50s the concept of killer robots were more frightening.

Why are we safe now? -- Many B-films end on a supposedly happy note when the lone alien is killed, as if there was no other threats out there. DGfM might look like one of these loose-thread flicks, but it's not. Nyah's ship was THE experimental prototype of the organic metal ship. Only such a ship could make the trip from Mars and hold up to our harsh Earth conditions. She said that when she returns to Mars, it will prove the success of the organic metal and a whole fleet of ship will be built like hers. By Robert blowing up her ship, the Martians will assume the organic metal ship was a failure and not re-try Nayh's organic metal approach. This buys Earth much needed time. All this assumes Nayh had no radio chats with Mars once she got here. A naive assumption.

Bottom line? Devil Girl is certainly worth watching, not for the effects or action, but just for the sheer role-reversal aspect.

1 comment:

John Drake said...

Howdy Movie Goers,

This movie was a hoot.
The plot line, space ship (twirling top) and robot were pretty funny.
The upside is that Hazel Court and Patricia Laffan were classic beauties.
Get your chuckle hat on and give it a try.
John