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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fire Maidens of Outer Space

This movie is sometimes called a British remake of Catwomen of the Moon -- with an even lower budget. There are several similarities between the two, which support the notion, but there some deviations too. The deviations are usually bits borrowed from other movies. Fire Maidens of Outer Space (FMOS) is occasionally cited as a "worst movie ever made," and not, perhaps, undeservedly. FMOS is one of those films written, produced and directed all by the same person. This seldom spells success. Cy Roth had very limited prior experience as either a screen writer, a producer or a director. As such, his big solo venture has an awkward amateurism to it. He may have just been trying to crank out as cheap a film as possible to make a few bucks. On the other hand, like other one-man-productions, he may have also been including a some personal artistic message. Low-B as it is, FMOS is still a 50s sci-fi, so it's part of the group.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A five man crew of British astronauts are sent to check out Jupiter's 13th moon because it was discovered to have an earth-like atmosphere. They land amid trees and meadows. They rescue a young blonde beauty from a black beast-man, then follow her to a hidden passage in a tall stone wall amid the forest. Two of the men go inside, three wait outside. Inside, an old man named Prasus tells them that he and all the 20-something beauties in short skirts are all that's left of the people of Atlantis who fled earth 3000 years ago. The creature keeps them holed up inside their walls. Prasus wants the earhtmen to kill the creature and be husbands for the love-starved ladies. In gratitude for saving the girl, Hestia, Prasus gives her to the leader: Luther. There is much quasi-ballet dancing. A rival brunette is upset that a younger girl got a husband before she (the eldest) did. So, she incites the other girls to capture Hestia and offer her on an altar (with fire, hence the title) to appease the sun god for the infraction of the eldest marries first rule. Much more dancing ensues. The three outside men are captured and taken to the altar room. The other two men escape their confinement too. The black creature finds his way inside the wall. First, he kills Prasus, then comes to the altar room, disrupting the sacrifice ceremony. Luther and Larson arrive and, with a gas grenade, cause the creature to fall into the flames. All is forgiven and the earth men promise to send back another mission to bring them all to earth to find husbands. The rocket takes off. The end.

Why is this movie fun?
Tracking the many similarities to Catwomen can be amusing. Puzzling over what Cy Roth was thinking with his obvious changes from Catwomen can be amusing too.

Cold War Angle
None. This story is motivated by libido, not nuclear angst.

Checkers, Rock(et) Star -- Many B-grade sci-fi films have used the same stock footage of the launch of the captured V2 with the checkerboard paint on its fins. Cy Roth goes one better and recycles the Checkers footage used in an obscure B movie, King Dinosaur ('55). That movie used the Checkers launch footage, reversed, superimposed over a pine woods to look like a landing. Roth simply reused it. To his credit, however, Roth had a model V2 Checkers for the "space" shots, and had the aft-with-fins mockup for the disembarking shots made to look like Checkers. At least he was consistent.

Planet of Babes -- An obscure sub-genre (all-women societies) grows just a bit with FMOS. In the sci-fi flavor, it's preceded by Cat Women of the Moon ('53) and Abbott and Costello Go to Mars ('53). It has similarities to both. There are other all-women movies in the sub-genre too, such as Tarzan and the Amazons ('45), Prehistoric Women ('50), Wild Women (aka Bowanga, Bowanga) ('51) and Mesa of Lost Women ('53). All these deal with a group of young pretty women in their prime, who lack men. This odd little sub-genre is worth exploring on its own, but not here. There will be others to come in this sub-genre in the sci-fi flavor too.

Quota Quickie? -- FMOS is sometimes referred to as a "Quota Quickie." This disparaging term stemmed from the British 1927 Cinematograph Films Act, which mandated that at least 20% of films shown in British cinemas were British productions. Many low-budget (and low quality) films which would lose money, were still worth doing because it allowed American distributors to then also market American films which were high profit. They were like loss leaders in the retail market. Cy Roth, an American producer, would certainly appear to have created a low-budget British film with this in mind.

Juvenile Motivation -- Much of FMOS is built upon the juvenile (male) fantasy of there being many available and eager young women starved for male attention. The behavior of the men in FMOS only reinforces this, as they're all (but one) slobbering to be "lost" among the babes. There's nothing deeper or nobler in play -- simply boy wants girl who wants boy. The many low camera angles looking up the girls' long legs, with glimpses of panties, appeals to the voyeur. It was certain that offering audiences dozens of pretty women in short skirts would sell some tickets. Cheesecake sells.

Amateur Art? -- Cheesecake aside, Cy Roth seemed to be trying to make at least a modest artistic statement as a writer. Roth repeatedly used Borodin's Polovtsian Dance #17, popularized in 1953 as the song "Strangers in Paradise." He seemed to be trying to make the 13th moon into something more than a love-starved sorority house planet. Then there is the Prasus character. He stands as a symbolic father figure, protector and provider for his "daughters." It is he, in father-role, who "gives" Hestia to Luther. Prasus, like most fathers, wants his daughters to marry "good" men. He frets about the black beast-man outside the walls of the happy home -- symbolic of the bad boys "out there" who simply want the girls brutishly. (The fact that we're never told anythig about the Creature -- why he exists, what he wants, etc. -- makes him more symbolic than anything) The climactic scene has the "good" man saving the daughter from the "bad" man. Roth may have been an amateur writer, but he seemed to be trying to do more than a simple exploitation film. A morality play lurks within.

Padding O'Plenty -- One inescapable conclusion in FMOS, is that Roth did not have 80 minutes of script. Tightly edited for a modestly brisk pace, FMOS might run less than 60 minutes. A "feature" film had to be longer than that. You can't help but notice how many scenes are padded with long looks at not much going on.

This Is My Good Side -- The very many close ups of the actors and actresses, in which they look dreamily, or heroically, into the camera, suggests that Roth may have sold many of the "lead" actors and actresses on the idea that the movie (lame as it was) offered them a chance to get their faces on the big screen. All the close ups look like publicity snips, particularly since they do nothing to advance the plot.

Bottom line? FMOS is worth watching only as a representative of the planet-o-women sub-genre, a remake hybrid of two obscure movies, but somehow still trying to have some legitimate artistic reason to exist. If you're impatient with low-quality, slow moving films, it would be best to skip FMOS.


RED DAVE said...

Dude, that's "Quota Quickie" not "Quote Quickie."

Nightowl said...

Good catch, Dave. Thanks.

Grey Dreamer said...

I seem to recall that this movie was periodically breaking into the song from Kismet, "Take my hand - I'm a stranger in Paradise" the music of which, I think, was from the Polovtsian Dances by Borodin. I watched it when it came out and I was strangely charmed by it.

I was about 8 so the cheesecake went mostly over my head. I remember thinking that the real power of it was its message that extraordinary things could happen to ordinary people. In the grey and poor 1950's, it was an attractive thought.

Nightowl said...

You're right about the music. I'm surprised I hadn't mentioned that in my notes. When the girls dance -- and the pretty girls usually dance in Lost Women movies -- they danced to Bordin. Some of the girls had at least some dance training, so it wasn't as bad as some.

The 'extraordinary things to ordinary people' was probably the appeal of much of 50s sci-fi, so I'd say you were quite right.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, this was released on Blu-Ray in July 2013. With all the deserving films and TV series out there waiting, it's hard for me to understand why THIS film would receive the Blu-Ray treatment. Unbelievable.

Nightowl said...

That's interesting that Fire Maidens is on Blu-Ray now. It wouldn't have been my first choice either, but it must have been someone's, eh?