By this point in the 50s, the trope of alien planets being ruled by women had been quite established, with the likes of Cat-Women on the Moon and Fire Maidens of Outer Space being two prime examples, hell, even Bud Abbott and Lou Costello got into the act with their film Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, but what none of those films had going for them was a story by the legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht and a screenplay by one of the best authors in speculative fiction, Charles Beaumont, a man who went on to pen some of the greatest episodes of The Twilight Zone.
The 1950s science fiction boom brought many exciting space adventures but it was Queen of Outer Space that took that journey with its tongue firmly planted in cheek in what could best be described as a fun and campy parody of the genre. This film takes place in the distant year of 1985 where a crew of astronauts consisting of Captain Patterson (Eric Fleming), Lt. Mike Cruze (Dave Willock) and Lt. Larry Turner (Patrick Waltz) who are given the task of taking Professor Konrad (Paul Birch) up to an orbiting space station to investigate some threat from outer space, but before you can say “Duck Dodgers in the 24 and a half Century!” the space station is destroyed by an interstellar energy beam – so I guess they were right about that threat – and then that very same beam hits the spacecraft and our heroes are then whisked across the Solar System to where they then crash land on Venus. A rather distraught crew venture forth onto this alien world, that Professor Konrad assures them is the planet Venus, despite both Patterson and Cruze pointing out that Venus is supposed to have an unsurvivable atmosphere, to which the Professors states “Yes, I know. I subscribe to many of those theories myself. I even helped formulate some of them.” And not only is the atmosphere on Venus apparently quite compatible with human life it also sports some rather beautiful flora and fauna.
Science Note: Venus is a hot, hellish and volcanic planet, it has 90 times the atmospheric pressure of Earth so an evening stroll would be instantly fatal, and that’s only if you could somehow survive surface temperatures that could melt lead. Despite what Konrad says, these facts are not based on theories.
Our heroes don’t have much time to explore as come morning they find themselves in the clutches of the residents of Venus who seem to have a deep hatred for men and live under the dictatorship of the cruel Queen Yllana (Laurie Mitchell), a masked woman who has her own more personal reasons for hating men. While in the court of the Queen the men learn that ten years ago Venus fought a devastating war with another planet and though they won the war the planet suffered great losses and their civilization was pretty much wrecked and as men started this war Queen Yllana had all males killed, which is a little bit of an overreaction in my opinion, but she did keep few mathematicians and scientists alive on a prison colony moon, so I guess she was a little pragmatic.
It’s also clear that the Queen’s temperament hasn’t changed much as she immediately accuses the Earthmen of being an expeditionary force as a prelude to a full-on invasion and she sentences them to death. Lucky for our heroes, Patterson’s hunky good looks catch the Queen’s eye and their execution is put on hold, which makes Captain Patterson another Proto-Captain Kirk whose supreme male magnetism is the crew’s ultimate weapon, which is wonderfully illustrated by Professor Konrad stating “You know, there’s a certain irony in the fact that our lives and perhaps the lives of everyone on earth may depend on Captain Patterson’s sex appeal.” Unfortunately, there is a wrinkle when approaches Queen Yllana and goes into seduction mode “You’re not only a Queen, you’re a woman too. And a woman needs a man’s love Let me see your face” but when she removes her mask, to reveal the radiation burns she received during the war, Patterson has a less than diplomatic reaction.
With Paterson unable to even kiss the disfigured Queen it looked like he and his men were doomed to a quick execution, or would have been if not for a “fifth column” of Venusian women who not only disliked the Queen’s cruel dictatorship but were also very “Pro-Man” and leading this group was a beautiful Venusian scientist named Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor) who falls in love with Captain Patterson and aids him and his men in their escape from the palace. This alliance leads to Lt. Turner saying “Hiya, dolls! Glad to have you on our side” and this brings us to one of the most notable elements of Queen of Outer Space, the rampant sexism that the film practically bursts with. Women being treated as inferiors or sex objects was certainly nothing new in the genre, there are some really cringe-inducing moments in Rocketship X-M that will leave your jaw on the floor, but with Queen of Outer Space, it is so blatantly overt that it’s clearly included to lampoon those earlier films. The character of Lt. Turner is practically a walking erection as he tries to make out with every woman within range but unlike other space heroes we aren’t exactly supposed to like him and when he says something like “Twenty-six million miles from Earth and the little dolls are just the same” it’s clear we’re not to take any of this seriously.
• We see the rays that are fired at the space station coming from many directions, in a nearly 360-degree arc, but if they are all originating from Venus shouldn’t they all be coming from one direction?
• Venus has a surprising amount of snow for a planet located that close to the Sun, even Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Carson of Venus books treated the planet as somewhat tropical.
• Professor Konrad states that “The gravity is so close to Earth’s the atmosphere should be breathable” but as gravity has little or nothing to do with the composition of a planet’s atmosphere it makes me wonder what exactly Konrad is a professor of.
• Later Konrad remarks that Venus has several moons when it, in fact, has none, so seriously, did this guy get his degree out of a Crackerjack Box?
• The men are surprised to find that the women on Venus speak English but are quickly told that this is because they’d been monitoring Earth Signals for years, but it is never explained why all of the women bothered to learn English. Was it an elective course at Venus University? And aside from the rare bark of the word “Bochino!” no one on this planet speaks their native tongue, even amongst themselves.
• Despite easily learning English the Venusian women aren’t all that bright, they fail to notice that when Talleah puts on the mask to impersonate Queen Yllana their ruler suddenly has a thick Hungarian accent.
• While hiding in a cave Turner is attacked by a giant spider, which one must consider as a nod to the giant spider in Cat-Women of the Moon.
It’s clear that the basic plot of this movie was recycled from Abbott and Costello Go to Mars but where that film had its cheesy sexist moments its Venus section made up only the last act of that film, with Costello being made King of Venus over a bevy of beautiful women, but as to Queen of Outer Space it wears its genre trapping right out in the open from almost frame one, and it also wasn’t a straight-up comedy, as was the case with the Abbott and Costello film, but more of an elaborate parody of the genre in general with many liberal jabs at how poorly women had been portrayed in science fiction films. It was all made even more gloriously funny by having Zsa Zsa Gabor sending up her own persona by flirting with our “hero” in her thick Hungarian accent, spouting out lines of dialogue like ”Zat de qveen vil destroy ze planet Earss unless ve stop her, Capt. Patterson.” How could the good Captain fail to fall in love with such a creature? Then there is the fact that pretty much every other frame of this film is filled with gorgeous women in mini-skirts, which certainly would have appealed to a certain demographic, but I’m betting even the women of the time watching this film would have got a kick out of this goofy little flick.
Production Note: The plot wasn’t the only piece of recycled material as many props and costumes were borrowed from the science fiction classic Forbidden Planet.
This entry into science fiction cinema came out during the tail end of the 1950s sci-fi boom but, sadly, the elements it lampooned would remain a staple in the genre for decades to come and it would take Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver in Alien for the stigma of sexism in space to be finally put to rest, well, we hope it’s been put to rest. So if you want a fun time strap on your rocket pack and jet on over to the Queen of Outer Space and have a rollicking good time in a place where men were men and women wore mini-skirts.
Drinking Game: Take a drink anytime one of the men calls a Venusian woman “Doll” but be careful, by the end of the film you could have alcohol poisoning.
Queen of Outer Space (1958)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
With a story by Ben Hecht and script by Charles Beaumont it’s not surprising that Queen of Outer Space has stood the test of time better than many of its contemporaries