Saturday, July 26, 2014

Queen of Outer Space

Queen of Outer Space (Edward Bernds, 1958) Up until a recent viewing, the only time I'd heard of this film was an overheard mention in grade school when someone imitated Zsa Zsa Gabor's line reading of "I HATE her! I HATE that Queen!"

It's actually shocking to see who's associated with this camp classic with the result of the work: the story is by classic screenwriter Ben Hecht who once wrote of the movies: "Of their many sins, I offer as the worst their effect on the intellectual side of the nation. It is chiefly from that viewpoint I write of them -- as an eruption of trash that has lamed the American mind and retarded Americans from becoming a cultured people." That he came up with this only proves that he had no problems writing such trash...when there was some money in it. The script is by one of the more fertile minds in science fiction and television drama, Charles Beaumont, who wrote some of the better...and more unnerving...episodes of "The Twilight Zone." But you'd never know it here as the best writing Hecht and Beaumont did for the picture was endorsing their pay-checks. Hecht supplied an outline. Beaumont, unimpressed, did what he could with the screenplay, but the final script was done by Bernds and Elwood Ullman, who worked together on shorts starring The Bowery Boys and The Three Stooges.

Ship interior by Radio Shack™

It shows, and one longs for some Stoogian bitch-slapping going on. What there is, is a crew of three astronauts (Eric Fleming—from "Rawhide"—comic character actor Dave Willock, and Patrick Waltz) are assigned to escort a scientist (Paul Birch) on a routine hop to Earth's space station. En route (after an interminable launch sequence) they come across dangerous animated rays that, after about thirty misses, hits the station and destroys it. The crew try to outrun the rays, but end up crashing on Venus, where, before long, they're attacked by women with mini-skirts and long legs, who capture them and take them to the elaborate palace (judging by the exterior matte painting, anyway) of the planet's Queen, Yllana (Laurie Mitchell).

Worst bridesmaids' dresses ever!
It's at this point that one becomes uncomfortable. Not just due to the sexism which runs rampant throughout (more on that later), but also because it all looks so familiar. The crewmen running around in uniform-y leotards, the women in primary colors with high skirts, the set-bound planet with the gradation-less colored sky and polystyrene rocks and foliage just large enough to suggest a horizon, the matte paintings that have nothing to do with the set exteriors, the interiors that are as blank and sterile as a Ramada Inn hallway, the planetary negotiations that seem to center around the boudoir—Good Lord, Jim, it's "Star Trek: The Original Series!" 
What's on your hip, Earth-man? Is it some sort of weapon?

Remember that episode "Mudd's Women" with the space-hookers? The look of it is there, as well as the condescending attitude. But The Queen of Outer Space takes it into orbit. A low orbit ("Twenty six million miles from Earth and the little dolls are just the same!"). The evil Queen has banished all men from Venus, and, for some reason, now wants to destroy Earth with a "Beta Disintegrator," (good for destroying our Beta's, evidently), a threat the Earth-men obviously take very seriously with technically-charged lines like "How could a bunch of women invent a gizmo like that?"(Probably by not using the words "gizmo" or "framas"). She wants to execute the spacemen as spies and the advance guard of an invasion force (some invasion force—they crashed!), but the secret head of the resistance, Taleeah (Gabor, an actress of such limited range the only resistance you could believe she'd put up would be over her wardrobe*) plots to rescue them, while "the advance guard" have their own strategy—have the Captain seduce the Queen.  

Twenty six million miles from Earth and the little pricks are just the same.

" blank and sterile as a Ramada Inn..."
I'm something of a kill-joy when it comes to "camp." I don't enjoy it unless it is intentional, not accidental (ie. the TV-"Batman" is intentional, Reefer Madness is accidental). I remember sitting down to enjoy a rollicking evening of smirking over my first viewing of Plan 9 from Outer Space, acknowledged to be Ed Wood's Mess-terpiece, and coming away without the sense of fun one was "supposed" to have, but, instead, feeling disgust at the incompetence of the whole thing. We were not amused.
Actually, Ed Wood would have been impressed by this...

I have the same contempt for The Queen of Outer Space, but with the added degree that it's the same contempt as its makers have for women, in general. In this thing, women are an unknowable hive-mind in two varieties, "drone" and "bitch," while all the men have distinct personalities, even if it is merely 

fifty shades of "doofus." One wants to have a sense of wonder when viewing science-fiction, but it shouldn't be "I wonder how this ever got made?" The film-making is at "Stooge" level here, but with no sense of their timing or of film-making artistry of any kind, not even on a basic level. Watching it is painful, and it's frequently ludicrous, if unintentionally.

It's a waste of film. And a waste of space.

I HATE her!  I HATE this Queen!

* As it is, she probably did, as she's a study in contrast, dressed to the 9's while the rest of the cast is dressed to the 2's.  

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