Thursday, May 24, 2012

QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE

"They didn't take her seriously. They were preparing for war. After all, she was only a woman." 

Up until recently, Warner Archive - like the other Manufacture-On-Demand labels from MGM and Sony - was primarily offering for sale movies previously unreleased on DVD. But in the last few months, Warner has begun re-issuing some older, "out-of-print" DVD titles. This is a boon to collectors who don't want to spend the time to hunt down rare DVDs on auction sites and pay often-inflated "collectible" prices. Among these new re-issues from WA is the 50s sci-fi cult classic, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958), starring Zsa Zsa Gabor.

A group of three American astronauts - square-jawed Captain Patterson (Eric Fleming), ladies man Lt. Turner (Patrick Waltz) and cheerful Lt. Cruze (Dave Willock) - are ferrying Professor Konrad (Paul Birch) to an orbiting space station on their rocketship, Starfire, when strange energy beams of unknown origin destroy the station and send the rocket hurtling uncontrollably though space. The Starfire crash-lands on Venus, where the Earthmen discover a civilization composed entirely of beautiful young women in mini-skirts. Their queen, the masked Illyana (Laurie Mitchell) takes an immediate disliking to the male prisoners and demands to know why they've come to Venus. Refusing to believe that it was an accident and convinced that they are the harbingers of an invasion from Earth, she plots to strike first with her ultimate weapon, the Beta Disintegrator. Fortunately, the men from Earth find an ally in Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor), who plots to overthrow the mad queen with their help....

Directed by B-movie journeyman Edward Bernds (HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS, THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES), from an amusingly outrageous screenplay by Charles Beaumont (THE INTRUDER, BURN WITCH BURN), QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE is an endlessly-entertaining slice of 50s cheese, with plenty of male-chauvinistic dialogue, ridiculous pseudo-science, primitive special effects, giant stuffed spiders, and a parade of pulchritudinous playmates brandishing ray guns while cavorting in super short skirts. Thing is, the filmmakers are very well aware of how ridiculous this all is (Beaumont's script specifically makes a point of explaining how scientifically impossible it all is, before dismissing the matter as irrelevant to the needs of the plot), and while everything is played straight, there's no doubt that the intent is satirical.

The cast is pretty decent, and manage to deliver their lines with reasonable conviction. The women are all lovely, and even Zsa Zsa - who I mostly knew from her talk show appearances on TV when I was a kid in the 70s - is quite attractive in her many glamorous gowns, and is clearly having a blast in her role.

Production values are pretty spare - this was an Allied Artist production, after all - with spaceship footage cribbed from an earlier Bernds sci-fi flick (WORLD WITHOUT END) and uniforms, costumes and ray gun props borrowed from MGM's FORBIDDEN PLANET. But the sets and girls' outfits are colorful, and the whole enterprise has an appealing "retro sci-fi" (although it wasn't "retro" then, of course) look and style.

As this is a burned-to-order re-issue of a 2007 mass-market DVD, the Warner Archive MOD disc is a little fancier than usual, with a clean, bright, 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that approximates the movie's original Cinemascope presentation. Colors are bright, but there is slight shifting of hues as the movie goes along. It's barely noticeable, but it's there. Print damage is minimal, with only a few small, scattered specks evident throughout. The Dolby Digital Mono audio is crisp and clear. English and French subtitles are provided. Bonus features include a highly entertaining audio commentary provided by the Queen herself, actress Laurie Mitchell, and author Tom Weaver, plus the original theatrical trailer.

QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE is considered a "camp classic," and it certainly qualifies. It's nothing to take seriously - and wasn't, even when it was new. In fact, it's a lot of undemanding, old-fashioned fun, and is highly recommended.

BUYQueen Of Outer Space