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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Queen of Outer Space

Here is a movie that is difficult to categorize. Queen of Outer Space (QOS) is clearly in the sub-genre of planet-of-beautiful-women. Yet, it is as if there were two screenwriters, or two directors, each with a distinctly different vision of the movie. One "vision" is of a typical 50s space adventure. The other vision borders on campy parody of the sci-fi genre. QOS manages to be both, co-mingled but not blended. The final result is a peculiar, but intriguing film. The fact that Allied Artists hired and promoted Zsa Zsa Gabor as the star, and a supporting cast of starletts, suggests outright exploitation. Having Ed Bernds direct (of Three Stooges fame) suggests parody. Yet, the actors deliver their lines seriously. There is no winking at the camera as Lou Costello often did. Even though QOS is shot in CinemaScope wide screen and lavish Color by DeLuxe, it doesn't play like a true big-budget "A" movie. It's "B" movie soul is unmistakable. Call it an A of the Bs.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A rocket is sent to bring Dr. Conrad to Space Station A. Before they arrive, laser-like beams zip around. One finally hits the station, destroying it. Another beam hits the rocket, sending it speeding out of control. The rocket crashes in snowy mountains. The air is breathable, so the four astronauts hike down to the tropical forest below. While dozing around their campfire, they're captured by several ray-gun toting beautiful young women in short skirts. Venus is a planet of young women. They're brought before the masked queen of the planet who accuses them of being spies. The lead venusian scientist, Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor), believes the men are not spies and asks their aid in overthrowing the evil queen. The queen summons the Captain, half to interrogate him more and half for male companionship. She tells of the beam weapon and plans to use it on Earth. He plays up to her, impertinently pulling off her mask. Her face is disfigured from radiation burns. He and others are sentenced to die. Talleah and two other women help the men escape the city. They hole up in a cave, where Larry is attacked by a giant spider. He's saved, but patrolling guards are too near. The Captain has Talleah and the others pretend to have captured them. In the city, the four men and three women stage a coup in the queen's chamber. Talleah disguised as queen and the other two women sent ahead to the beam weapon to round up collaborators. The queen disguise fails. Everyone is taken to the beam to witness Earth's demise. The queen pushes the button, but the beam fails. She goes inside to fuss with it. Outside, the loyal babes and the underground babes all fight. The weapon explodes and the queen burned to death. Talleah is made the new queen. She's keen on the Captain. The men planned to return to Earth in their repaired ship, but receive orders from Earth to stay (for a year) to await a relief mission. They happily agree. The women are happy too. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Another installment of planet-of-beautiful-women is amusing enough on its own. Seeing the screenplay, acting and directing vacillate between camp-parody and earnest sci-fi adventure is fun too -- like a "tween" who can't decide if he's still a boy or a young man, so acts like both. Seeing old prop friends is fun. Zsa Zsa Gabor's thick Hungarian accent is too fun to pass up.

Cold War Angle
Amid the abundant gender role sparring, is the cautionary tale of nuclear war gone bad. Venus won her war with planet Mordo, but the ruin was great. Evil queen Yilana began her reign of hate. Her Beta-Disintegrator is a world destroying super weapon. Cold War audiences needed no convincing of such things.

Planet of Women -- QOS uses the trope of the isolated civilization of only women, as have several movies before this. Sticking to the sci-fi group, there was Catwomen of the Moon ('53), Abbott and Costello Go to Mars ('53) and Fire Maidens From Outer Space ('56). Later in 1958 there will a remake of Catwomen, Missile to the Moon. They all share the quirky notion that somewhere "out there" is a group of 20-something beautiful women who have no men but want men badly. The hapless male protagonists just happen to wind up in their midst.

Good Girl / Bad Girl -- Another feature QOS shares with other all-girl-culture movies, is "bad" girl character who hates men and her "good" girl counterpart who wants men. In this, there is a repeat of the anti-feminist message that man-haters only make for a sad world. Zsa Zsa sums up the counter message when she tells the queen, "Vimmen cannot be happy visout men." For all her vitriol at men for causing the war that disfigured her, Queen Yilana is just as eager to make war on Earth without real provocation. Moral? A woman leader would be the same as men. Good girls don't want power. They just want men to kiss them.

Plot Medley -- QOS starts out as an almost routine space adventure, but then parallels World Without End with the loss of control, crash in snow, descent to temperate woods. It then attempts a semi-serious remake of Abbott & Costello Go to Mars with the society of young love-starved beauties and a man-hating queen. There's also a bit of Flight to Mars in the earthlings finding themselves between an oppressive regime and a revolutionary underground.

Damn the Science. Full Speed Ahead -- Even the characters bemuse over how the movie's earth-like climate of Venus is contradictory to what was known. They don't explain the disparity, they just get on with the story. How handy.

Prop Watch -- QOS re-uses the star cruiser uniforms from Forbidden Planet ('56). Also look for Altaira's short gold-studded dress on Motiya. For the turbulent ride to Venus, QOS recycles the cave spider puppet and the jostled ship footage from World Without End ('56). As a reminder, WwoE used the rocket ship from Flight To Mars ('51). Recycled recycling. Some interior shots were also re-used from WwoE, as was the crashing in the snow scene (although reversed left-right).

Blatant Gender Roles -- Despite the flashy show of "strong" women, QOS positively oozes 50s male chauvinism. For one, even the guards are buxom long legged babes in miniskirts and heels. When the queen talks tough, Larry says, "Why don't you girls knock off this gestapo stuff and be a little friendly." Later, discussing the Beta-Disintegrator, they quip, "How could a bunch of women invent a gizmo like that?" says Mike. "How could they aim it?" adds Larry. "You know how women drivers are." Har har. Supporting all this chauvinism, of course, are the "good" girls who coo for male attention and just want to make out. There seems little doubt that the movie was geared to (panders to) young male ticket buyers who can think of little else beyond making out.

Bottom line? QOS is worth watching as two movies in one. Watch it for the laughably absurd sexism and sex-obsessed dialogue. Watch it as an adventure tale about hate-corrupted power and revolution. And of course, if you happen to like looking at 20-something buxom beauties "aliens" in miniskirts and heels, the producers give you plenty of that too.


Mike Scott said...

And now, for the spoof of the spoof, the hilarious "Amazon Women on the Moon"!


Nightowl said...

Thanks for the tip and URL. 80s is out of my usual browsing zone, but that YouTube video was a real hoot. Quite the fun spoof. Loved the office chairs in the rocket, and was amazed to see the old Forbidden Planet uniforms in use. For that matter, the even older Destination Moon space suits!

Great stuff for 50s sci-fi fans.

Mike Scott said...

Quote: ...was amazed to see the old Forbidden Planet uniforms...even older Destination Moon space suits!

They sure looked like the real deal! If they weren't, they were good fakes.

Loved the office chairs, too and the Moon blowing up at the end. LOL That won't screw thing up on Earth ... MUCH!

I think this and "MANT!" were the best spoofs of '50s sci-fi movies. Most of the ones I've seen don't work, but those two hit the nail on the head!