Queen of Outer Space
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The Technicolor science fiction boom of the 1950s resulted in some outlandish entertainments, but few can compare on the outrageousness scale with 1958's Cinemascope concoction, Queen of Outer Space. Recycling most of the special effects material from the film World without End made two years earlier, that film's director, Edward Bernds, created a micro-budgeted space opera for Allied Artists, at the time still a fairly new independent film studio specializing in action and war films along with the occasionally acclaimed one-off like The Phenix City Story (1955). However, the success of their first sci-fi film the same year, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, prompted a sudden but fairly short-lived interest in monsters and space ships. Queen of Outer Space came near the end of that cycle, while Bernds, a veteran of many Three Stooges shorts, would return to the comedy trio for a pair of feature films (The Three Stooges Meet Hercules , The Three Stooges in Orbit ) and one more creature feature, Return of the Fly (1959).
The titular character is Yllana (Laurie Mitchell), an imperious masked queen who presides over the planet Venus. Populated entirely by beautiful women (played by beauty pageant contestants), the planet is visited for the first time by a trio of American astronauts led by Captain Patterson (Eric Fleming). As the queen not only nurses a deep hatred of men but thinks they've been sent to undermine her, she decides to destroy Earth in retaliation. Meanwhile the imprisoned Patterson falls for one of the most beautiful residents, Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor), and tries to convince her to lead a rebellion.
A patchwork production in many respects, Queen of Outer Space doesn't just lift from Bernds' previous outer space film; costumes are also noticeably reused from Forbidden Planet (1956), while the central rocket ship is the same one from the earlier Flight to Mars (1951) and originally designed for the Bowery Boys film, Paris Playboys (1954). The giant spiders from World without End which make a reappearance are especially memorable, though as Bernds recalled to interviewer Tom Weaver, "their legs were supposed to be operated by selsyn motors. The mandibles - the jaws of the big spiders - were spring-loaded, and snapped shut by magnets. The jaws worked all right, but the motor-driven legs... sometimes worked, sometimes didn't. The actors had to provide most of the struggle; they put most of the energy into the fights with the spiders."
Unlikely as it may seem, the story for Queen of Outer Space was written by Ben Hecht, the first Academy Award® winner for Original Screenplay with Underworld (1927), under the title Queen of the Universe. Some of his classic screenplays include Gone with the Wind (1939), Some Like It Hot (1959), and His Girl Friday (1940). The ten-page Hecht story was purchased by producer Walter Wanger, a tabloid fixture who had gone to Allied Artists after being released from prison for shooting an agent he believed to be having an affair with his wife. Ultimately Wanger was replaced on the film with producer Ben Schwalb, a longtime B-movie veteran who had just worked on The Disembodied (1957) for Allied Artists one year earlier.
Perhaps the most significant name attached to the film for classic TV and sci-fi fans is the screenwriter tasked with transforming Hecht's story into a script, Charles Beaumont, who was still a newcomer at the time with only two TV credits and an American-translated dubbing script for Concert of Intrigue (1954) under his belt. As Bernds explained, "Hecht's original wasn't a motion picture at all. It was just a satirical look at a planet ruled ineptly by women. There wasn't anything there for Charlie Beaumont to use except the idea of a planet ruled by women, so the screenplay was pretty much an original. But Ben Schwalb decided that it would have a better chance if we lightened it up - spoofed it - so we did." Beaumont would go on in the early '60s to become one of the most admired and groundbreaking writers on The Twilight Zone while also contributing memorable episodes for Thriller and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He didn't write another feature film until 1962 when AIP brought him aboard to write Premature Burial and Burn, Witch, Burn, followed by more noteworthy genre credits like The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (also 1962), 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, and The Masque of the Red Death (both 1964). In a tragic turn of events, Beaumont was suffering a mysterious disease which caused rapid mental and physical degeneration; he passed away in 1967 at the age of 38.
Among the cast of Queen of Outer Space, TV fans will certainly recognize the male lead, Eric Fleming, who starred on the hit western Rawhide and also appeared in the odd horror/western hybrid, Curse of the Undead (1959). Like Beaumont, he died tragically at a very young age, 41, when he drowned during the shooting of MGM's High Jungle.
The one name attached to the film that ensured its immortality in the camp pantheon is its female star, Zsa Zsa Gabor. One of Beverly Hills' most famous residents, the Hungarian-born actress first arrived in the United States in 1941 and appeared in such films as Moulin Rouge (1952). She became a major celebrity for decades, thanks in large part to her nine husbands and opulent lifestyle. Though she appeared in numerous cameos over the following decades, her leading parts were minimal after this film. Bernds and Schwalb had much difficulty with her during production, with the former recalling her jealousy over the younger female cast members receiving attention on the set; furthermore, "she didn't have her lines prepared, she had a kind of giddy attitude toward things... Well, she was very difficult all through the picture. Ben went to the hospital with ulcers halfway through the picture. I was left to cope with her alone, and she damn near gave me ulcers! It always bothered me that here on this planet Venus, she was the only one who spoke with a foreign accent." As many of the film's fans will doubtless argue, this factor is just one of the many charms that still make it a compulsively watchable example of space age kitsch par excellence.
Producer: Ben Schwalb
Director: Edward Bernds
Screenplay: Charles Beaumont (screenplay); Ben Hecht (story)
Cinematography: William P. Whitley
Art Direction: David Milton
Music: Marlin Skiles
Film Editing: William Austin
Cast: Zsa Zsa Gabor (Talleah), Eric Fleming (Capt. Neal Patterson), Dave Willock (Lt. Mike Cruze), Laurie Mitchell (Queen Yllana), Lisa Davis (Motiya), Paul Birch (Prof. Konrad), Patrick Waltz (Lt. Larry Turner), Barbara Darrow (Kaeel), Marilyn Buferd (Odeena)
by Nathaniel Thompson
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Keep Watching the Skies: Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, Vol. II by Tom Weaver. McFarland, 1982.