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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mars Needs Women

This study looks at sci-fi movies which had a theatrical release, even if very small. It seems that Mars Needs Women (MNW) was made for television only. It's included here, "granfathered" in, on the coat tails of Larry Buchanan's work remaking 50s B sci-fi for television. Where his other projects were 50s sci-fi remade for the 60s, MNW was NOT a remake, but a new product by Buchanan himself. He wrote and directed it. Yet, MNW is very much a kindred spirit of 50s cheapy sci-fi in many ways -- complete with "aliens" who are exactly like us, but wearing hooded body suits.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Several young women disappear (via cheap camera stop). Messages are received coming from outer space. Once decoded, they say "Mars Needs Women." The martians contact the Air Force to say that remotely snatching women didn't work out, so they're coming to earth in person. The leader martian (looking like a 40s 'martian' in hooded unitard) tells Colonel Page that due to genetic decay, few women are born on Mars. The male-female ratio is now 100;1. They want to ask for volunteer earth women. Colonel Page refuses. Dop says they'll just steal them then, and pops out. The world is placed on high alert. Page scrambles fighters to shoot down the martian ship. The "Cheetah-15" (X-15) is kept at bay with force beam. The early F-111 is also kept at bay. The martians land near an abandoned ice factory in Houston. The leader (Fellow 1) says they'll need some chemicals, earth money, earth clothes and a car. Fellow 3 robs a Phillips 66 station, so they have money and a map. Fellow 4 steals a Buick from a parking lot. Fellow 5 steals some suits from a men's store. To complete Operation Sleep Freeze, each of the Martians is to go find a suitable earth woman and bring her back. Fellow 5 settles on a stripper. Another Martian sets his sights on a college "co-ed." Yet another scopes out an airline stewardess. Meanwhile, Fellow 1 has decided to go for Dr. Marjorie Bolen, (Yvonne Craig) a young, sexy, space geneticist (?) in town as an advisor for the Martian Hunt alert. Fellow 1 hypnotizes a reporter to hand over his identity papers, then drive back to Seattle and forget the whole thing. Fellow 1 then pretends to be the reporter so he can get close to Bolen. Fellow 1 charms Bolen, so they do some quasi-romantic walks and talks. Bolen starts to like the Martian-fake-reporter. Meanwhile, Fellow 3 has homed in on a homecoming queen as his target. Fellow 4 gets his co-ed. With four women reported missing, authorities know there will be one more victim. All the abductions are centered on the abandoned ice plant. Bolen points out the chemicals there could be used to "freeze" people for long space flights. The army plans to attack. At supper, Bolen lets slip the army's plans, so Fellow 1 rushes to the ice plant. He implores his fellows to abort the mission and flee. They argue. Fellow 1 admits to rediscovering "love". Hug. Kiss. The army arrives and starts shooting. The Martian ship flies away. Women not stolen after all. Bolen all weepy. Text as final frame: "Earth is the cradle of man, but he cannot live in the cradle forever." -- Konstantin Tsiolkousky. The End

Why is this movie fun?
From the 40s-style martian outfits, to the 50s-style aliens-want-our-women plot, MNW is a throwback to the golden age of B sci-fi. It's not quality cinema, but it is amusing as nostalgia.

Cold War Angle
More as a side-effect of using 50s motifs, MNW rehashes the metaphors of enemy infiltrators. Spy-phobia abounds.

They're After Our Women! -- One of the old traditional tropes for sci-fi was to play on the primal (male) angst that outsiders wanted to steal OUR women. (How DARE they?) This played out as metaphor with the likes of Ro-Man carrying off pretty Alice, or the Gill Man absconding with Julie Adams. In other movies, the angst played out less subtly, such as the Mysterians demanding five earth women for breeding purposes. MNW is one of the blatant stories. Very clearly, they state that they (the Martians) want our best babes for breeding. Like the Mysterians, at first, they ask politely. When that fails, they steal them. The basic plot line of MNW would still work if it had been a Trojan raiding party that captured some prime Greek girls, but were chased off by Athenian warriors, or if Apache raiders had captured some pretty settler women, but the raiders were chased off by squad of cavalry, etc. etc. For MNW, the raiders just happen to have come from the tribe of Mars, so it's sci-fi..

Choice Women -- The Martians select five women, who apparently meet their stated criteria of being "young, healthy and with good reproductive capabilities." By this, they don't mean healthy ovaries and wide-set hips. No, they want sexy single babes. These also happen to be American teen archetypes of "available" females. What a coincidence!
1. The Stripper = sensual, voluptuous and blatantly available (on display)
2. The Stewardess = pretty, sophisticated, unattached.
3. The Co-Ed = Young, independent, away from home.
4. The Homecoming Queen = pretty, popular, "The ideal young woman."
If the Martians had demanded five plain, but sturdily-built farm girls with wide hip bones, would the men of earth have fought so hard?

Mars Got Morals -- It's interesting that the Martians wanted only single, unattached young women. Perhaps Buchanan felt strongly that married women ought to be off limits to such abductions. Perhaps he figured his audiences felt this way, so he wrote it in. Either way, the morality of the 50s and early 60s was still in place. The "sexual revolution" of the later 60s had not yet eroded the sanctity of marriage. Buchanan's moral Martians are an example of the 'before' times.

Second Wave? -- Curiously, Tommy Kirk, who plays Fellow 1 in MNW, also played a Martian in the 1964 comedy, Pajama Party. He was supposed be an advanced scout for an invasion. After Go Go reported all the young ladies in bikinis, the Martian authorities apparently decided that staying home with a batch of new earth babes was a better plan.

Stock Footage Stars -- A bit less common, but figuring into MNW, are shots of the X-15 and the early F-111. Lest viewers scoff at the X-15 portrayed as a fighter, recall that X-15s were cast in the role of space fighters in Toho's Battle in Outer Space ('60)

Bottom line? You can't take MNW too seriously. It's an old plot, performed by lack-luster actors (except for Yvonne Craig, of course), with stock footage and ultra-cheap effects. Yet, if watched in the spirit of the Commando Cody serials, it can be entertaining -- in a "lite" sort of way. Forbidden Planet, it's not.

1 comment:

Metal Mark said...

I have owned this one for years. It's tough to take at times. It takes itself a bit too seriously for what it is. That combined with lots of stock footage and not a whole going one make it seem about twice as long as it is. Having Yvonne Craig in it really helps.