Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Queen" for a Day!

I am forty-nine years old and a movie fan for the better part of that time (especially a bad movie fan!), yet can hardly believe it took me until just recently to lay eyes on this hoot. 1958's Queen of Outer Space always seemed as if it would be so bad that it could hardly be watched at all. On the contrary, though it is a cheap-jack production with pilfered sets, costumes and effects (and a small dollop of stock footage), it's actually a colorful, compulsively watchable, yarn with some attractive color photography and a can't miss camp figure as its star.

Though the posters and publicity seem to suggest otherwise, Zsa Zsa Gabor does not play the title figure. It seems unreal that the diamond-dripping star who was "famous for being famous" wouldn't be playing royalty in a movie featuring a queen, you'll soon see why there was no way in hell she was going to be taking on this particular part.

Our flick begins in a very dry manner, with astronauts (revealed to be the first ones to orbit the moon, which would not occur in real life for another decade) Eric Fleming, Dave Willock and Patrick Waltz lined up and awaiting orders for a new mission. The year is 1985.

They think they are going to be selected for a choice, dangerous assignment and are dejected to find that in actuality they will be merely heading to a space station, escorting doctor Paul Birch (comfortably schlumped down in a chair to the left) as he heads there to investigate some issues. Note the amusing placement of the cordless phone in front of their superior officer.

Waltz is outside saying goodbye to his squeeze from the night before, Joi Lansing, in a teensy part. She's all dolled up in a garish outfit and worried sick about sending him off into the wild black yonder. Somehow, she's made it past security to the point where she's apparently out on the tarmac and visible to Fleming from within the ship! Incidentally, the seemingly handsome Waltz does at one point reveal a rather porcine nose that isn't too much different from the penile one that Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame sported in 1996!
Once aboard the spaceship, Fleming has to suddenly prevent Birch, who developed the space station they are heading to, from firing up a cigarette! They are being fueled with liquid oxygen, but somehow he forgets this pertinent fact...
The first true belly laugh of the movie comes as the men prepare for take-off. Fleming, Willock and Waltz have cozy reclining chairs for big boys, but Birch is strapped into a large, red baby bed! He's "tucked in" with two belted restraints without so much as a soothing bedtime story or even a glass of warm milk!

Get a load of this spacecraft taking off (the afore- mentioned stock footage) and the over- whelming amount of smoke pouring off the bottom of it. I mean, we're talking a murderous amount of fumes, smoke and wind...

Yet over to the side, Lansing is able to wave goodbye to her love until a burst of wind and a puff of pipe smoke wafts her way (which she nonetheless, trouper that she is, turns into a 3-act Shakespearean drama in the course of 3 or 4 seconds! LOL)

As the men go soaring into space, we get a cloes-up of each face. Fleming endures mild discomfort from the accel- eration, Birch holds his torso as if there's some indigestion brewing, Willock twitches here and there, but Waltz affects a gnarly grin and looks as if he's pleasuring himself while no one is looking!!

The take-off goes generally well and soon the men are up and about in the vast blackness of outer space. Unfor- tunately, the window still demonstrates the sunny, blue sky from when they were still parked down on earth! Ha ha!

They come upon the space station, but before they can reach it, there are foreign weapons darting past it over and over. Then these weapons finally make contact and destroy the space station and its contingent of workers completely! Before long, the men's spacecraft is also under attack, so they strap themselves in and Fleming hits the gas.

As the lyrics from Gilligan's Island go, "the tiny ship was tossed" and this one is knocked around and jerked like a cornflake in a tornado! The hilariously jerky model work shows the craft being whirled back and forth furiously while inside it's a bit more subdued (though Fleming does take a slight hit to the head from one small piece of equipment.) The ship lands on a completely frosty planet and is burrowed in snow.

Birch has a bit of any idea where they might be, but he doesn't want to reveal it yet. They were traveling at over 10-million miles per second before they crashed. (Fleming refers to the expert automated landing gear, but it sure didn't look that way to me!) What's really hooty is that in the beginning, the craft was shown upright and the chairs were level. Now that the ship has crashed on it's side, the chairs are all still level!

Anyway, they decide (without coats or even hats) to leave the ship and explore beneath "the snow caps" where they are greeted by a lush, practically tropical landscape. After fingering some of the foliage, Birch decides that they are, in fact, on the planet Venus...

They make camp and Willock is placed on guard duty. However, he begins to think he's hallu- cinating when he suddenly looks up and sees a trio of mini-skirt clad dames brandishing ray guns.

Before he can register this, there are two more. The others begin to stir from their sleep and when Waltz reaches for his own gun, one of the chicks blasts it into fiery oblivion with her own. The four men are captured and led to a nearby settlement. Except for an occasional oddball word, they speak English.

Corralled into a meeting hall, Waltz doesn't seem to be aware of the gravity of the situation. He's too busy ogling all the women (the cast is made up heavily of former beauty pageant contestants.) In particular, he has his eyes on (the undeniably pretty) Lisa Davis.

Now comes the Queen of the title. (She's Queen of Venus, not exactly the entire "Outer Space," though she's working on it!) Laurie Mitchell portrays the powerful figure (wearing, apparently, one of Dorothy Zbornak's favorite designers?) She accuses them of coming to Venus aggressively, though Fleming protests that their mission was always peaceful and their arrival accidental.

She and her council wear strange masks that cause practically every line emanating from their lips to contain unintentional hilarity. No matter what the situation or emotion may be, the same crazed, frozen expression remains between their ears. Mitchell explains that they can speak English because they've monitored Earth's radio transmissions for years (but that doesn't explain WHY they speak it, even to each other, in favor of their native tongue...)

Also, let it be known that there is no truth to the rumor that this part of the Queen was actually played by Linda "Reju- venique" Evans... Her "facial toning" system was introduced decades later. (Later, even, than the 1985 time frame depicted in this movie!)

It is now more than 30 minutes into an 80-minute movie when we FINALLY catch a glimpse of Miss Zsa Zsa Gabor. She plays a scientist (!) who Davis comes to in order to alert her to the men from Earth who've been captured and brought to the Queen's throne room.

Gabor, who reportedly disliked being surrounded by younger, in some cases prettier, ladies than herself, can barely refrain from frowning in the presence of Davis. This isn't really visible in the actual film, but is rather clear in this publicity photo of the brief scene. Gabor's chief contribution to the world of science seems to be holding up and looking at various leaves and palm fronds...

After a brief recess, the men are informed by Mitchell the Queen that they've been declared enemies of Venus. They are to be killed unless they confess the real reason for their presence there. Needless to say, they cannot do this since they were dragged there beyond their will and their intent was always pure.
Gabor, taking time to slip into a jaw-dropping crimson gown with matching jewels and a chiffon scarf overlay, comes to the prisoners' room. She tells the men in an amusingly low tone that she "haeerdd duh verrdick!" (heard the verdict.)

She, with her inexplicable Hungarian accent, tells the men all about how Venus fought "a terrible varr" and how the men messed everything up. So the women took over and killed all but the most indispensable men, sending the few remaining ones to a prison satellite. But now Mitchell has become power-mad and a vicious dictator herself.

While Gabor is with the men, word comes that Mitchell wants to see Fleming in her private chambers. Hot-to-trot Waltz suggests that he go instead and try to woo her. Fleming declares that if that's what needs to be done, he can rise to the occasion himself. The towering female guards take him away.

He is deposited into the Queen's bed chamber. She soon emerges in a sequined gown with an awkwardly draped and pinned chiffon wrap upon her shoulders. She might be the Queen, but at no time is her clothing as glamorous as scientist Gabor's series of get-ups!

She asks Fleming to pour them each a drink. I was waiting with bated breath for her to try to slurp down this cockamamie kool-aid while wearing that mask, but instead she just stares at it, remarks on it, then puts it down while he sips on his.
She knows that he is keen on seducing her into his freedom, though she's nonetheless receptive to him up to a point. When she feels he's gotten a little too cozy for her comfort, she shows him the doomsday machine she and her gals have created. She intends to destroy Earth with it!

This he cannot abide for obvious reasons. He starts to try anything to appeal to her, including turning up the heat, but he still has to get that darn mask off her face before he can get too far. I think many of us might have thought that he'd find Gabor, playing dual role or something, behind the mask, but it's worse than that. In fact, what registers before Fleming when he tears away Mitchell's mask is so bad that he actually opens his eyes all the way for the first and only time in the movie!
Her face is covered in hideous radiation burns. ONLY her face. Not her neck, nor her hair nor anything else. She is livid at this discovery (not unlike the reaction Faye Dunaway had in The Four Musketeers whenever her shoulder brand was spotted by a man.)

She sends Fleming away and has a breakdown after looking in the mirror. You could be many things in the 1950s, but one of the most horrible was not looking beautiful...!

The men are helped out of their holding cell and taken to Gabor's laboratory. Barbara Darrow (shown in the green and red) is another of Gabor's assistants who now joins up with the gang.

Gabor, feeling the need to change AGAIN (this would be the third time in one afternoon) is now in a gorgeous champagne chiffon with a thigh-high slit. She tells Fleming that Mitchell now plans to obliterate Earth in just two days.

When some of Mitchell's hench- women come to the lab in search of the prisoners, Willock, Darrow, Davis and Waltz are crammed in so tightly that they later emerge as romantic couples!

The refugees, which now include the four Earth men plus Gabor and her two gals, search for a way out of the city. In a hysterical interlude that looks for all the world like a live-action version of what used to happen on Scooby-Doo, they tuck away undetected in-between partitions while the guards aimlessly scurry by in clumps. One almost expects to hear that groovy Scooby chase music, though this movie came first...

And Gabor, blissfully unaware that despite her top-billing is nonetheless stuck in a $4.97 sci-fi cheapie, revels in giving us Marlene Dietrich nightclub act realness as she dodges around in her sheer, wafting chiffon gown. You can just imagine how much this whole aspect delighted me!

Now Mitchell is just plain pissed. Someone has to pay for letting the prisoners escape. Take a look at the guard uniforms shown here. (The one in gold, by the way, is Miss America 1946, Marilyn Buferd.) It's been noted that the style and color scheme seems to have heavily inspired the ladies' abbreviated uniforms on Star Trek, which came about ten years later.

There's virtually no denying a similarity, though the very earliest Trek uniforms were more muted, did not include red, and the men and women both wore pants. After the failed first pilot, the familiar blue, red and gold (actually green that photographed gold) costumes by William Ware Theiss came into being. Perhaps in the back of his psyche (burned in?!) were the gals from Queen of Outer Space...

Anyway, Fleming, Gabor and gang do manage to escape from the city, but are still faced with searchlights and dangerous weaponry blasts. They hide out behind some foliage (so space-age!) with Ms. Gabor still able to find her light no matter the crisis. Then they hide from the detection devices in a massive cave.
Waltz wanders further into the cave and is suddenly attacked by a hideous giant spider! The beast hilariously springs from a crevasse with all the force of a stagehand swiftly shoving it with all his might (which is probably exactly what happened...)

He's wrestled to the ground by the eight-legged fiend. until the others can come and zap it to death with their ray guns. Interest- ingly, the lobby card below depicts Birch and Willock burning the giant spider with a torch, but that is not what befalls it in the finished film...
What follows is laughably ridiculous. Six of the escapees have paired off into couples and are sitting around a tiny fire in the cave while the doctor (Birch) sits alone. Each couple begins making out (!) in turn in front of Birch.

Gabor asks Fleming about life on Earth and tells him how he took so long to acknow- ledge that he found her attractive. (Um, didn't he just arrive on Venus that morning or maybe the day before!)

Darrow, obviously never having laid eyes on a man before, somehow falls for Willock. She tells him that the fire is going out to which he replies that it certainly is not! They then determine that what is needed is more "wood." (Really?)

Willock tells Waltz to get some wood, but he already appears to be doing that, canoodling as he is with Davis. She's truly attractive and very gently feminine, with pretty hands. In any case, poor Birch finally gets up to go collect wood, adding that he's "not busy..."

Birch spots a passel of guards and, knowing they can't escape from them, they concoct a plan in which Gabor pretends to have captured the men herself. She and her two female friends pretend to be taking the men back to the city for imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Mitchell is still perfecting her doomsday device so that she can obliterate Earth, a planet she considers a threat to her empire on Venus.

Gabor is instructed to take the "prisoners" to Mitchell's chambers and await her there.

However, Gabor then takes the opportunity to turn on her, telling her that if she doesn't call off the attack on Earth, she's going to kill her.

Mitchell, naturally, has no intention of calling off the detonation. She tries to appeal to Fleming one last time to throw in with her and help her rule the galaxy.

He refuses, of course, and takes off her mask once more. Gabor decides to wear one of Mitchell's gown, apply the mask to her own face (ewwww!) and announce to all the women of Venus that the attack is off. They tie up the Queen and place her behind a screen.
Gabor puts on one of Mitchell's gowns (which happens to look like all the other fabulous gowns that she's been wearing all along. Nothing like the crap that Mitchell's been seen in!) and attempts to begin the impersonation. The guards enter and, though they don't seem to notice anything untoward about a sudden Hungarian accent emanating from their ruler, they do see Mitchell on the other side of the room when she creates a ruckus.

Once the guards see what Mitchell looks like without her mask, they are repulsed (with expressions ranging from sadness to revulsion to "ick"), yet they remain loyal.
Everyone is corralled down at the bombsite and ordered to watch as Mitchell begins the attack on Earth. Gabor has a bit of a surprise in store, though, for she had sent word to some of the women on her side to diffuse the device and prevent it from working!

Mitchell, confounded by this, begins pounding on the button furiously, much the way many of us do at a street crossing when we want to get a "Walk" signal. It always helps a lot to hit the button over and over and over again!  Not....

By the finale, Gabor has finally inherited the title of Queen herself, and makes an appearance in yet another breathtaking gown. This time it's gold lame with all sorts of red and gold jewels dangling here and there.

Though Fleming and his men are bound to depart for home, which causes some sadness among the love-starved women, things are generally happier on Venus now. (Though there is no sign at all that Gabor has freed - or ever will free - the men being held on the prison satellite!) It has always confused me when movies and shows (like Star Trek, for example) treat an ENTIRE PLANET as if it is totally represented by one tiny enclave or city... but that's another story.

The movie wraps with some delightful credits that are very unusual. First we get Gabor and Fleming. Though the dazzling Gabor had enjoyed a certain amount of time in the spotlight as the wife of hotel tycoon Conrad Hilton, it was during her marriage to George Sanders that she began to capitalize on her vivid personality through TV appearances and then film.

She'd acted in legitimate cinematic fare such as We're Not Married, Moulin Rouge (both 1952), Lili (1953), 3 Ring Circus (1954) and Death of a Scoundrel (1956) until things began to turn campy (or campier, if you will) around The Girl in the Kremlin (1957) and this one. Most of her subsequent movie roles were either cameos or amusing supporting parts that capitalized on her glamour and sense of humor, one of which was Picture Mommy Dead (1966.)

After a glittering life filled with nine marriages, countless lovers and a rollercoaster ride of publicity, brushes with the law, libel suits and other scandals, Gabor settled into a final wedded union that lasted longer than all her others put together (though wasn't without its own share of crazy.) She passed away last December (2016) mere months before her 100th birthday, following a lengthy series of illnesses.

Fleming is a peculiar, fascinating choice as a lead for this movie and I'll explain why in a moment. The actor's life has enough drama to make three movies in an of itself! He began as a crippled and abused child who attempted to kill his own father (at age eight!) before running away from home. Next he fell in with gangsters, was shot and returned to his mother at age eleven. Later, he joined hte merchant marine and - on a bet - injured himself severely by dropping a 200lb steel block onto his face! In other words, his face wasn't much different from Laurie Mitchell's in this movie after that!

Four plastic surgeries and a long conval- escence later, he emerged better looking than before, according to him. He'd been working at one of the studios on construction and - on yet another bet - auditioned unsuccessfully for a part. But the sting of the loss led him to take acting classes and before long he was finding work. His claim to fame was working alongside Clint Eastwood (receiving top-billing, actually) on Rawhide. In 1966 at the age of forty-one (yes, he was only thirty-three during Queen!), he drowned while filming a TV pilot in Peru. Rumors, since denied, swirled for years that piranha devoured him, but in any case he was gone as his career was still flourishing.

Next we have Davis and Waltz. Davis was born in London and worked as a teen actress before segueing into small parts for young ladies (appearing in The Virgin Queen, 1955, with Bette Davis.) She and Waltz truly did fall in love over the course of making this film and wound up married. As she gave birth to three children with him, her movie career ground to a halt, though she did plenty of TV and also provided voice work for 101 Dalmatians (1961.) She retired in 1968 and they divorced a couple of years later. She is currently eighty. Waltz, although a reasonably busy actor, especially on TV, failed to secure much of an identity, not helped by his use of several names as an actor. Shortly after his divorce from Davis, he died of a heart attack at only age forty-seven.

As for Darrow and Willock, she was one of Howard Hughes' finds and worked for about 25 years on screen, one showy role coming in The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) along with several decorative parts and lots of TV. She is still with us today at age eighty-five. Willock was a phenomenally busy character actor from the late-1930s until the early-1980s. Director Robert Aldrich frequently placed him in small roles, though he popped up all over the place when he was actively working. He died of a stroke in 1990 at age eighty-one.

Birch was a busy stage actor who turned to heavy TV work and occasional films. He was also the very first cowboy Marlboro Man in early ads for the cigarette and had an affinity for playing Ulysses S. Grant, to whom he bore a resemblance. An association with Roger Corman led to top-billing in Not of This Earth (1957), but the two of them got into an altercation over the low-budget and lightning pace and Birch walked off the set before completion. He died of cancer in 1969 at age fifty-seven.

Mitchell's face is never seen, even in flashback, without either the radiation burn makeup or her kooky mask. (I've remedied any curiosity you may have about that below.) Her screen career only lasted about a decade and a half, but she gained something of a cult following for her work in Attack of the Puppet People (1957), Missile to the Moon (1958) and this film. Still kicking today at age eighty-nine, she lent (reportedly amusing and good-natured) commentary to the 2007 DVD release of Queen.
As I mentioned earlier, much of this movie's contents were borrowed from this film or that. The rocket ship was from Flight to Mars (1951), the spider came from World Without End (1956) and the astronaut costumes were from the rather prominent sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (1956), as seen here om Leslie Nielsen and Jack Kelly. The men in Queen don't wear hats, except Waltz briefly - and it's a differently styled one, but with the same insignia.

Even some of the women's clothing was borrowed from Planet. Here, we see Anne Francis in the little gold number that Davis wears throughout Queen. Davis had to wear it even for the finale of the movie, though she did get to put her hair up and add some jewelry. Some of the other background gals wear borrowed dresses from this movie as well.

The second-to-last thing I wanted to share was that apparently there was at least one scene depicting the imprisoned men of Venus, per this foreign lobby card! They never appear in the finished film and, as I say, aren't referred to at all once Mitchell is dethroned. You'd think that the man-hungry broads shown in the film would be dragging the men, no matter how battered up, back to the planet for some lovin'! I mean, they're even after Birch by the time the movie is over...

This is how the extra gals are credited in the movie! I'll end with a few variant posters for Queen of Outer Space. The last one, with a big painting of Gabor's face is a true work of art!