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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Women of the Prehistoric Planet

Somewhat mis-titled, Women of the Prehistoric Planet (WPP) is an indie production very much in the Star Trek morality play ehtos. By its title, WPP could easily be confused with Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, ('68) but that is a completely different film. WWP is not another derivative of Planeta Bur, but a new work written and directed by Arthur C. Pierce, who brought us The Human Duplicators ('65) and Mutiny in Outer Space ('65). Partially a social commentary on racism, partially a love story and partially a jungle flick, WWP struggles to be many things. It was mostly shot on a sound stage, so it has a small-scrreen feel to it.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Three space ships of some unnamed advanced civilization (of humans) are traveling back home from some far flung mission. The commander of the mini-fleet, Admiral King, hears that there is trouble aboard one of the ship, the Cosmos 3. The trouble is a mutiny by some of the Centaurian crew/passengers. The backstory is that Centaurians (played by asian actors) are a race whose once-great civilization collapsed (war?), leaving them poor. The mutiny on Cosmos 3 caused it to crash land on a steamy prehistoric planet. King's superiors do not approve a rescue, but King turns the Cosmos 1 around anyway. Traveling at near-light speed, their three month trip meant that 18 months elapsed for the survivors of the Cosmos 3. When the Cosmos 1 lands, they find the crashed ship but no survivors. A young man, Tang, is the son of two survivors -- a white officer and a centaurian woman. Aboard the Cosmos 3, a centaurian woman named Linda runs away. (yearns for freedom). She meets Tang and the two fall in love. Scout parties from the Cosmos 1 go through several jungle movie adventures, including losing an expendable crewman in a "pool of acid", attack by a dinosaur, and attack by a giant spider. Tang and Linda are attacked by a band of generic cavemen. King's men rescue Linda, but shoot Tang (a manly flesh wound). Volcanic instability forces the Cosmos 3 to leave. Linda runs away again, just before launch. She finds Tang and they live happily ever after. Departing, Admiral King remarks to his log, that the previously uncharted planet should hereafter be called: Earth. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The Star Trek flavor of WPP has nostalgia value. Seeing veteran 50s B sci-fi star John Agar (now with a touch of gray) adds more nostalgia value. The lovely Irene Tsu adds eye candy value. Seeing TV actors of the 70s in early bit parts is fun too. Stuart Margolin, who later plays "Angel" on Rockford Files, is an expendable comic relief crewman (who gets killed by the cat-sized "giant" spider).

Cold War Angle
WPP is a morality play about racism. The only hint of a Cold War theme is the subtly implied disaster which befell the Centaurians.

Women? -- While the title and poster suggest that viewers will get to see multiple women on the prehistoric planet, there seems to be only one, and she's not even of the planet. She's an alien. Linda falls in love with Tang, She leaves the civilized confines of the Cosmos 1, trading her pink jumpsuit for a racy silk wrap. None of the other women of the Cosmos stay on the planet.

Race Relations -- WPP is blatantly a social commentary on race relations (from a mid-60s point of view). Even though the screenplay tries to preach fairness, some of the subtle signals send contradictory messages. The crew members of the Cosmos are portrayed as superior. The Centaurians as inferior. The crew are clearly all-white. They dress in tidy white uniforms with snappy cravats. They are in control, follow orders, and are concerned for others. The Centaurians are "rustic," (and all played by asians) Their outfits are sleeveless. Their men are hotheads and trouble makers. (their women are nice, though). Even the "progressive" notion of Tang being the mixed-race son of a "white" and a Centaurian, is undermined by his apparent comfort at being a cave man. Subtle signal: "They" are savages at heart. Star Trek (TOS) would dabble in the race topic too, with similar, but more exaggerated "others": the Klingons.

Enduring Dino-Caveman World -- Evolutionists say that cavemen and dinosaurs never shared the same soil. The more popular view, that they did, is seen again in WPP. We have a token dinosaur (enlarged iguana) and a cameo of savage cavemen near the end.

Color Me Expendable -- The soon-to-be tradition of having an expendable crewmen on your "away team" was not confined to Star Trek. Those familiar with TOS can spot his expendability well in advance of his fate. Watch the short-sleeved member of the search party. He's not quite bright enough to understand time paradoxes associated with travel near the speed of light. He is also wearing a red cravat. Dead giveaway. (pun intended) The others wear yellow. Sure enough, when they're crossing the wobbly log over the pit of acid, who falls in? Surprise! (not)

What's the Matter With Wet? -- Poor Linda falls into the little pond, fainted at the sight of the big mean snake (which Tang shoots with his metal crossbow). Tang takes her back to his cave. She wakes up with only an animal print sheet on. He took her clothes off because they were wet. Why is this always accepted by screenwriters? Of course, it was Irene Tsu. I suspect that if Tang had fished out Chief Bradley, he would have let him dry off in his clothes.

Odds and Ends -- Note that the space ship, resembling a chrome football, is sometimes silver, and other times gold. Note that giant lizards on prehistoric earth are highly flammable -- shoot them, and they burst into flames. Note that earthquakes are bad enough to force a ship to take off, but will subside shortly after it does.  Gavin MacLeod is sometimes cited as playing the helmsman. We mostly just see the back of his head and that is a full head of dark hair. The credits, however, do not list MacLeod.

Bottom line? WPP is a low-budget indie production with unimpressive effects. Fans of 50s B movies will see much similarity. By the mid-60s, the bar was higher than that. Yet, there is a 60s flavor to it, as a sci-fi space opera making social commentary. Viewed with a charitable attitude, WPP has its moments.


Anonymous said...

Gavin MacLeod is not in this movie, nor is Lyle Waggoner (also sometimes credited as being in WPP). These are "urban legends" floating around for years.

Nightowl said...

Duly noted and the change made.

Michael D. Kimpton said...

Apparently the tarantula seen in the film was the Giant Spider puppet from the lost Spider Pit sequence from King Kong, the same one as appears in the famous photograph documenting the sequence.

If that's true, then it's a true tragedy to see one of Willis O'Brien's famous creations used in such a sad and cheesy way.