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Mars Needs Women

Mars Needs Women(1968)

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teaser Mars Needs Women (1968)

A military station intercepts and decodes a three-word message, "Mars needs women." Soon a delegation of five Martians, led by one-time Disney child star Tommy Kirk, comes to Earth on a mission to redress the imbalance. It seems that Martians have a chromosomal deficiency that produces only male babies, so the team is here to recruit - or more accurately capture--our best and brightest females, i.e., a stripper, a stewardess, and a brainy Pulitzer Prize winner played by Yvonne Craig, aka Batgirl on TV's Batman series. Needless to say, the Martians encounter strong resistance on the part of Earth authorities, and they even learn a thing or two about the value of true love.

Mars Needs Women (1967) was filmed on the very cheap (reportedly $20,000) over a two-week period in 1966 by self-described schlockmeister Larry Buchanan. After a stint writing for television's The Gabby Hayes Show, Buchanan served as assistant director to Fred Zinnemann on The Men (1950) and George Cukor on The Marrying Kind (1952). He also created and starred in the Peabody Award-winning short The Cowboy (1951), his last brush with critical acclaim. He then moved into writing, directing, and producing exploitation films, shoestring productions that touched on racial tensions, teen sex, and backwoods incest. After shooting a story about strippers in his native Texas at a Dallas nightclub owned by Lee Harvey Oswald's killer Jack Ruby, he embarked on a series of films loosely based on real celebrities and historical events, beginning with The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald (1964), an account of what might have happened had Oswald lived and faced trial for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Buchanan moved back to Texas in the 1960s, and Mars Needs Women was filmed there. Those familiar with Dallas recognize several buildings in the city and on the campus of Southern Methodist University, and anyone who has been to George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston will know that the "Space Center" in the movie is now the revolving restaurant atop the Marriott hotel there.

Due to lack of sufficient lighting instruments, the film had to be undercranked (shot at a slower frames-per-minute rate) when natural light conditions were poor. To keep the action from being unnaturally fast when projected at normal speeds, the actors were instructed to compensate by moving more slowly. Buchanan also made extensive use of stock footage, particularly from military films, including long takes of X-15 aircraft in action.

Mars Needs Women was distributed directly to television by schlock specialists American International, producers of the beach party movies of the early 60s and a string of psychedelic-themed B pictures later in the decade. It was also the company where Roger Corman made his first big name with a series of films based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. The television branch of the company, responsible for bringing Mars Needs Women to unsuspecting viewers, imported and dubbed a lot of foreign horror, sci-fi, and sword-and-sandal adventures for the American small screen.

Tommy Kirk started his career at 13, first on stage, then television. He first gained attention as the adolescent star of such Disney blockbusters as Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959), and The Absent-Minded Professor (1961). A few years later, he appeared in several youth-oriented comedies, opposite such teen queens as Annette Funicello and Deborah Walley. His career slowly skidded to a halt after Disney executives became aware of his homosexuality. He was also fired from the John Wayne film The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) after being busted for marijuana. Kirk later started a successful business and turned up in occasional B movies as late as 2001.

Judging from subsequent releases, Mars never succeeded well in its missions. In 2011, Disney released the animated comedy-sci-fi adventure Mars Needs Moms, based on the 2007 children's book by Berkeley Breathed, creator of the comic strip "Bloom County." The title of Mars Needs Women has also been referenced or used in songs by musicians as diverse as metal rocker Rob Zombie, electronic experimentalists Meat Beat Manifesto, roots fusion-revivalists Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and Belgium's Novastar. And never fear, ladies; you're not the only ones in jeopardy. A gay adult movie based itself on the premise that Mars Needs Men (2005). On an episode of The Simpsons animated TV series, the Springfield Googleplex cinema advertises the film "Mars Needs Towels." And Frank Zappa spoke satirically for Britain's Isle of Man in 1977 with the song "Manx Needs Women."

Director: Larry Buchanan
Producer: Larry Buchanan
Screenplay: Larry Buchanan
Cinematography: Robert C. Jessup
Editing: Larry Buchanan
Original Music: Ronald Stein (uncredited)
Cast: Tommy Kirk (Dop/Mr. Fast), Yvonne Craig (Dr. Bolen), Larry Tanner (Fellow Martian), Bubbles Cash (abducted stripper), Byron Lord (Col. Bob Page).

by Rob Nixon

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