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 SpaceDirector: 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)