Don’t Open That Door! #32: 'Queen of Outer Space' (1958)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: Zsa Zsa Gabor rules with a velvet fist in Queen of Outer Space.

Queen of Outer Space

Director: Edward Bernds
Cast: Eric Fleming, Paul Birch, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Laurie Mitchell
US Release Date: 1958-09-07

Alternate titles: Zsa Zsa Va Va Voom!; There Once Was a Lady From Venus


Pleasantly goofy in fully saturated color.

It's fun to spot the stuff ripped off from other movies.

Giant spider appears to be a sofa cushion with legs sewn on.


Some cringeworthy dialogue.

Extraordinarily dumb and sexist. But then that's the point, isn't it?

SYNOPSIS: In the far-distant future of 1985, Captain Patterson, along with lieutenants Cruze and Turner, are bundled off into space on an urgent mission to ferry Professor Conrad to Space Station 'A'. Conrad is about the cheeriest professor we’ve ever seen, by the way. (No glasses, no beard, no pipe, no foreign accent--are you sure this guy's a scientist?) The mission is mysterious, but we think they're being forced to return those uniforms they ripped off from Forbidden Planet. Before our crew can reach the space station, however, it's blown up by a cartoon ray gun—which then knocks our heroes into unconsciousness, and maroons them on unknown planet.

When they wake up, they find that this planet has 88.7% of Earth gravity. As Conrad tells them, "If the gravity is so close to Earth's, the atmosphere should be breathable." (Hmm, maybe this guy isn't a scientist after all.) A quick look round reveals that, yup, the air is fine and the temperature's lovely. The men depart to explore the surrounding snowy mountains, discovering a fecund jungle, and Professor Conrad informs them that they're on Venus. They find an secluded spot in the murky jungle, and promptly go to sleep. By the way, the leaves are rustling suspiciously.

When the men wake up—again—it's to find themselves confronted by a bevy of ray-gun totin' lovelies wearing prototype Star Trek mini-dresses. They incinerate one of our boys' weapons, then order them (in English and, possibly, Italian?) to come right this way, please. Before you can say, "You know, you don't really have the figure for that outfit," our explorers are brought to meet none other than the elaborately-masked Yllana, the titular Queen of Outer Space herself. Yllana accuses the Earth men of plotting an invasion, and condemns them to death. But before our heroes go to that great space station in the sky (which, alert viewers will recall, was what they were trying to do in the first place), they are met in secret by Taleeah, a Hungarian-accented Venusian scientist, who declares: "There are many of us who are against the Queen's cruelties and would like to see her banished." There are also many women who, apparently, want to get it on with boys, something that's hard to do on Venus these days. Our heroes are ready to help the insurgents: there's something about those Venusian women that makes a guy want to grab his ray gun, if you know what I mean.

Taleeah explains that the planet was devastated by war some years ago; blaming men for the catastrophe, Yllana took over. Fortunately, Taleeah's got a plan, and plenty of friends to help make it work. Now if they could just destroy that cosmic death ray that knocked out the space station, and find a cave to get it on for a while. Oh and by the way the Queen has a horrible secret that more or less explains everything. Plus there's a giant bloodthirsty flesh-eating spider, which explains more or less nothing. But that's Venus for you.

Best lines of dialogue: "I hate them! I hate them, I hate them, I hate them! I hate them!" Tensions run a little high on Venus, apparently.

What gets immolated: A space station; a ray gun; a traitor; a giant monster spider; several attempts at humor; an ill-tempered space aristocrat.

Moral of the story: Inner beauty is what people really care about, dahling.

Did you know? Costumes, both of the space men and the Venus women, were taken from Forbidden Planet (1956), while most of the spaceship and giant-spider shots were from World Without End (1956), also directed by Edward Bernds. Now that's recycling!

Party game: Play "Limerick." Each player must complete a limerick with this first line: "There once was a woman from Venus…" Best limerick wins a prize.

Satire… or not? According to Bill Warren's terrific compendium Keep Watching the Skies! (McFarland & Co., 1986), this movie was written by Charles Beaumont as a parody of such films as Cat-Women of the Moon and Flight to Mars, but director Edward Bernds didn't get the joke and played it straight; the actors did, too. I'm not whether this makes any difference to the finished product, however.

Somehow their careers survived: Eric Fleming (Captain Patterson) had starred in 1955's monster-less Conquest of Space and would show up again in vampire western Curse of the Undead (1959), while Paul Birch (Professor Conrad) led the cast of Roger Corman's post-nuke melodrama The Day the World Ended (1955). Zsa Zsa Gabor (Taleeah) parlayed her crown as Miss Hungary 1936 into an acting career of sorts, including roles in Moulin Rouge (1952), Touch of Evil (1958) and the melodramatic Picture Mommy Dead (1966). It was younger sister Eva Gabor who starred in TV's Green Acres from 1965 to 1971. Laurie Mitchell (Yllana) would appear, sans makeup, as the conniving Lambda in 1959's Missile to the Moon.

BOTTOM LINE: Cheesy and entertaining, if you can overlook the excruciating sexism (which was probably tongue in cheek anyway).

NEXT WEEK: Target Earth (1954)


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"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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