Miniskirts in Outer Space
The belated opening credits (they arrive some fifteen minutes into the action, an anomaly for the time) offers this zinger: a screenplay by a then-unknown Charles Beaumont, based on a story by Ben Hecht (!). It was a treatment Hecht knocked out nearly a decade earlier, of a spaceship landing on Venus where a four-man crew discovers a civilization of Amazonian babes in miniskirts plotting to destroy Earth. The expedition is led by Eric Fleming (the poor man’s Leslie Nielsen — chiseled furniture) and aging butterball Paul Birch (the poorer man’s Jay C. Flippen).
Don’t expect any of the wit or poetry of Hecht’s The Front Page or Notorious on this excursion. With the exception of a campy exchange between hunky astronaut Patrick Waltz and an unbilled (and very funny) Joi Lansing, and Waltz drooling over the Venusians (“How’d you like to drag that one to the Senior Prom?”), Beaumont generally distances the script from the obvious socio-sexual-political satire.
Producer Ben Schwalb and director Edward Bernds both came from comedy, the Bowery Boys and Three Stooges in particular, and could’ve transformed Queen of Outer Space into a send-up of post-WWII conformity and the budding Playboy ethos. But the picture was shot in color and CinemaScope, a rare and costly endeavor for poverty row studio Allied Artists, who probably toned down any subversive concepts in favor of safe and conventional sci-fi. The result is somewhat similar to, but nowhere near as comical as, Cat Women of the Moon (1953) and Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956).
Unless I missed something while trying to stay awake, Queen of Outer Space never asks how an all-female Venus procreates. Bernd’s earlier and vastly superior World Without End (1956) dwells on a futuristic planet where similar sexual tensions abound. The women — more cellulite-free pinups in miniskirts — can’t get laid since atomic fallout has sterilized their men. (World without erections?) A spaceship from Earth arrives, this time led by Hugh Marlowe and twenty-six-year-old babe magnet Rod Taylor, both of them up for the task of replenishing a dying race.
Recently released on DVD (on a double bill disc with the static Satellite in the Sky ), World Without End comes from an original story by Bernds, cribbing H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine in an earnest plea against atomic war, predicting elements of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) along the way. Despite color and CinemaScope, it was another frugal Allied Artists production occasionally marred by the visible wires suspending the rocket and a laughable rubber monster spider — chintzy effects recycled in Queen of Outer Space.
However, Bernds’s contemporary sexual and political points overshadow the cosmetic flaws. He exhibits a clear understanding of loss, bewilderment and faith as the astronauts help guide a culture from selfishness and fear to a thriving socialist state — all this while consumerism (and HUAC) flourished in post-war America. Disregard the budgetary restrictions, wooden dialog and 1950s theatrics (did Hugh Marlowe’s expression ever change?): this is a highpoint of Cold War-era sci-fi.