(1958)2.5Bruce EderEdward Bernds' Queen Of Outer Space still divides audiences and critics, a half-century after it was made, but in peculiar ways. Beyond a doubt, it is one of the campiest movies ever made -- back in the early 1980's, before MST3K was a fixture on cable, audience members at repertory showings would talk back to this picture. And no one -- not even Bernds himself -- would ever say it was a great, or even a very good movie; but it is a uniquely entertaining movie, that has enough of a sense of humor about itself so that its value as entertainment has only grown -- and seem more accessible -- in the 51 years since it was originally released. There are other movies of this sort, to be sure, most notably Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s Plan 9 From Outer Space -- but Wood sincerely believed that he was making a potentially great and important movie, and half of the fun of watching it is the deadly earnestness of its tone. Bernds and company had no such notions on Queen Of Outer Space -- not when the one astronaut says to another, about a bevy of stunning Venusian women, "How'd you like to take that to the senior prom." Actually, the writing credits on Queen Of Outer Space were among its most exalted attributes, although there's still some question as to whether Ben Hecht, who is credited with the story, ever actually "wrote" anything. And if Hecht did have a vision of this story, it was clearly set on a more sophisticated textual plane than the one occupied by the finished script written by Charles Beaumont, who certainly knew his way around the conventions of science fiction sufficiently well to parody them here. Bernds' approach to his material was clearly the correct one, and carried out skillfully, but he is helped in no small measure by a very cooperative cast. Eric Fleming seems to be taking everything very seriously as the stalwart captain of the Earth ship diverted to Venus -- doing anything else may well have been beyond his range at that point and perhaps beyond the scope of the part as written, but he does what is needed; Dave Willock steals almost every scene he's in as the clueless Lieutenant Cruze; and Patrick Waltz gives the performance of his career as Lieutenant Turner, the ladies man in the crew; and Paul Birch, wearing the considerably let-out costume worn by Walter Pidgeon in Forbidden Planet (all of the men wear hand-me-downs from that film), is a genial straight man for all of them. And then there's Zsa Zsa Gabor, who is doing what she is best at, simply portraying Zsa Zsa Gabor -- only Laurie Mitchell is really putting much effort into any of this, mostly because she's playing the farthest from type and working under heavy makeup and costuming. The music score by Marlin Skiles is also something of a miracle, managing to be both futuristic and playful in equal measures, and capturing the tone and mood of the action perfectly. None of it is great filmmaking but it is never boring and always entertaining, even the throwaway lines ("I'm the navigator baby, and they can't make a move without me," Waltz says, in all seriousness, to a breathlessly passionate Joi Lansing in the extended pre-credit sequence). There were lots worse ways to spend 80 minutes at the movies in 1958 than seeing Queen Of Outer Space, and far less entertaining so-called comedies issuing forth every week in 2009.
This legendarily campy sci-fi epic (shot in color and CinemaScope, and rather lavish for a sci-fi film of this period) concerns a team of astronauts (all men -- this was 1958, you know) who are drawn off course and land on the planet Venus, only to discover it's populated entirely by beautiful women! The space travelers spend a lot of time drooling over their new hosts, dressed in highly practical mini-skirts, but the Venusian queen (Laurie Mitchell) does not much care for her visitors and wants to see them executed. However, not everyone on the planet takes such a hard line against the male gender. One of the Venusians is played by Zsa Zsa Gabor in what is probably the highlight of her film career; the original story was written by Ben Hecht. The producers helped stretch their budget by borrowing costumes and props from a number of other films, including spacesuits from Forbidden Planet, a spaceship from Flight To Mars and sets from World Without End (which was set on Mars, not Venus, though the differences must have escaped the film's scientific advisors).