Many consider the golden age of science fiction films to be the 1950’s. The sheer number of science fiction films made in this time (campy or otherwise) is staggering, as Cold War era filmmakers tapped into the psyche of the average movie goer and exploited their atomic and alien fears to create many of the films which flourished in the drive-in theaters of the day. There were many great movies made in this era including the original “Godzilla” (1954), “The War of the Worlds” (1953) and “Forbidden Planet” (1956). They also made films like “Queen of Outer Space” (1958).
“Queen of Outer Space” is a campy science fiction film starring Zsa Zsa Gabor, Eric Fleming’s grimace and a ‘posse’ of American beauty queens. Earth is a very different place in the distant future of 1985: thanks to the construction of a space station whose name is completely irrelevant, the people of Earth are getting ready to wade out further in the cosmic ocean. On a routine mission, ferrying Professor Konrad (Paul Birch) to his station, where he will undoubtedly continue to push the plot forward by telling everyone there exactly what is happening, Captain Neal Patterson (Fleming) who does not want to be there, Lt. Mike Cruze (Dave Willock) who is there to worry about things, and Lt. Larry Turner (Patrick Waltz) who is the navigator, but is mostly just there to be a chauvinist (but we will get to that later), the space station is destroyed by a laser beam.
Time to go home and regroup, right? No, the beam somehow pulls the ship they are on to travel at stupendous speeds and they crash land on the swampy jungle planet of Venus. The men are captured by Venusians: the aforementioned beauty queens, wearing mini-dresses and high heels, and taken to the despotic masked queen of Venus: Yllana (Laurie Mitchell). Then things get weird:
Yllana had lead a revolution on Venus against the Venusian men who had caused tremendous hardship during their war with the planet Mordo (yeah, “Mordo”) and banished the men to the moon of Venus (that does not actually exist, but the Venusians tell us it is hidden from our view, so it is a good prison planet, or something). That means that these four Earth men are the only men on the planet, and this is clearly interesting to some of the women, particularly chief scientist Talleah (Gabor), who sees this as a perfect opportunity to hook up with Captain Patterson, and lead the ‘just waiting for a catalyst’ revolution against Yllana. In prison, the men are going to be tortured, eventually, unless they tell Yllana about Earth’s plans to attack Venus. Seeing as there are no plans, the plot grinds into a section where Yllana wants Captain Patterson to sleep with her, but he is unable to because when he unmasks her he finds her face is horribly burned by radiation, and she is ultimately too ugly to love. Then there is some hiding behind columns and something about a death ray that is going to destroy the Earth (it is a shed with some scaffolding on it), a lot of awkward romance as the women of the revolution are very lonely, a fire, and the film is mercifully over.
Perhaps you are thinking that you could watch this film for the camp value, and while it does have that in its’ own way, this is not really worth your time. It is clear from the very beginning that Eric Fleming does not want to be there, and just suffering to get through the work for a paycheck, and in the end, there is no reason for you to join him and his crews’ “adventures” for 80 minutes as you will not be paid. While the special effects are fine (for the time), the story is not a very interesting one, and indeed can become quite offensive to a modern audience. Lt. Turner positively oozes chauvinism to the point where I, as an audience member, wanted one of the other spacemen to punch him the face as he slipped from “of the time sexist” to “blatantly annoying and sleazy”. The performances of, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Laurie Mitchell, Dave Willock and Paul Birch were serviceable and in some ways, charming, but they were also doomed by a pedestrian script.
The script/story is another oddity: the screenplay is credited to Charles Beaumont, an interesting horror and science fiction writer of his day (with credits including a pair of episodes from “The Twilight Zone” and “The Masque of the Red Death”). Seeing that “Queen of Outer Space” is his first fully credited screenplay, there is much to be forgiven, as he obviously developed over time into a better writer. What should be amazing to the classic movie fan is that the story is credited to Ben Hecht.
Some of you gasped, which is appreciated, and for everyone else: Ben Hecht was known in his time as “The Shakespeare of Hollywood”, and was the first man to ever win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the movie “Underworld” (1927). He also wrote/worked on such films as “Gunga Din” (1939), “Gone with the Wind” (1939), “His Girl Friday” (1940) and the original “Casino Royale” (1967). In his career, his screenplays were nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two. The idea that this campy, irritating films’ story came from Hecht is incredibly hard to believe, and perhaps it was a marketing ploy to try and garner more interest to the film (or maybe he was just really tired one day).
In the end, what you have with “Queen of Outer Space” is a film that does not age well, that does not really add anything to the genre, and has a character in it that by modern standards is painful to watch. If you are a hardcore fan of the campy science fiction films, you may want to see this one just to say that you have, but for everyone else, do not waste your time here and find something fun like “Outlander” (2008) instead.