It's hard to say whether Queen of Outer Space is really a beloved cult classic, or just an infamously bad film along the lines of Cat-Women on the Moon (1953), sharing the same plot hook of men visiting a planet run by overprotective hussies, but goosed up with true CinemaScope lenses and colour by DeLuxe.
Not more than two years prior to Queen, Allied Artists was stuck using SuperScope, arguably the poor man's ‘scope system, on higher pedigree like Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), so it seems odd that more lavish technical features were spent on what's a low budget B-movie.
By the mid-fifties, Fox realized their preference to bless A-list films like Bigger Than Life (1956) with CinemaScope and stereophonic sound was restrictive, and hindered their desire for ‘scope ratios to become the new standard in film presentation and chief weapon against the Idiot Box (TV). So with a less finicky view, the studio applied ‘scope to in-house B-pictures like The Alligator People (1959), and loaned the technology to productions like Universal-International's The Land Unknown (1957) – the antithesis of the latter's prestige picture that same year, Man of a Thousand Faces.
That at least explains why such a dopey film like Queen has some gloss, but as historian Tom Weaver explains on the DVD's commentary track, Queen had a long gestation period, birthed as an outline allegedly doodled by Ben Hecht for indie producer Walter Wanger (Foreign Correspondent). After a long journey, the script was eventually written by Charles Beaumont, a respected fantasy and horror writer who later achieved fame as the author of The Intruder (filmed by Roger Corman in 1962), and as the writer who wrote some of the creepiest episodes for The Twilight Zone.
In Marc Scott Zicree's book-length history and episode guide for the classic 1959-1964 series, The Twilight Zone Companion (1982), Beaumont is quoted as saying his take for Queen was as a “big spoof. Only trouble was the director and some of the cast didn't realize it.”
The finished film does have comedy – the lover boy space cadet is the main conduit for the film's lame pokes at women and army protocol – but one can trace moments where the actors are treating the material damn straight.
On the technical front, the sets were designed to fill up the scope ratio (the edge-bending in some of the wide shots suggest Fox may have loaned older lenses for these el cheapo productions), but there's maybe 5 actual sets used in the film; that limitation either restricted director Edward Bernds' ability to move the camera or cut to a reverse shot – a sequence which has the film's heroes and heroines hiding in the bushes holds on reaction shots of actors peering through foliage whenever a bright, off-camera carbon light pans by – or he was just a hack at heart, and knew Queen was dumb and disposable from its inception.
Weaver actually interviewed Bernds towards the end of the director's life, and he says the director never had any affection for Queen, but he did warm up a bit when he later discovered fans had given this forgotten B-picture a long afterlife.
Previously relegated to grainy 16mm TV airings, and later as slightly cleaner full screen broadcasts, Warner Bros.' DVD marks the first time Queen can be seen its original ‘scope ratio of 2.35:1, and while in mono (Marlin Skiles' eerie credit music would've been great in stereophonic sound), this very clean pint makes it a real treat to see the set décor and costumes (many borrowed from MGM's Forbidden Planet) blazing in candy and pastel colours by DeLuxe.
Weaver shares the commentary track with actress Laurie Mitchell, and both amiably reflect on her co-starring role as the evil Queen Yllana, as well as the film's main cast members, and director Bernds, who apparently reused whole effects shots and some props from his prior CinemaScope sci-fi opus for Allied Artists, World Without End (1956), and the spaceship model from the Monogram cheapie, Flight to Mars (1951).
Although the second half of the pair's commentary track becomes spotty and dull, the first 40 mins. are pretty solid, fun, and lively. Weaver offers a decent amount of trivia, and he performs with Mitchell a few chunks of deleted material from three scenes that never appeared in the final film – a real bonus for fans. The biggest flaw of the track, however, is that it remains too reverent; Weaver's clearly fulfilling an earnest dream in being able to watch the film with the Queen Yllana, but the privilege in sharing Mitchell's memories means he can't really poke fun and lampoon some of the film's inanities using franker, cheekier words.
He comes close at times, but the tradeoff for details on Bernds (characterized as a gentleman and directorial pro) and working with Zsa Zsa Gabor (rightly cited as the fifties equivalnt of Paris Hilton) means the track lacks a needed edge to counter-balance heavy affection. (A third commentator edited between Mitchell and Weaver might have solved the problem, although the flip between the two moods might have rendered the endeavor too schizophrenic.)
Also a bit of a loss is Warner Bros.' decision to not include Bernds' prior film, World Without End, which would've placed many of Weaver's important comments in better context (such as the director's fixation on giant killer spiders). Maybe the label was saving the film for the next wave of their Cult boxed sets, but it's grating when cinematic cousins can't be seen together, as was done in the studio's excellent 2-disc set of Forbidden Planet and The Invisible Boy.
As a standalone disc, however, Queen does satisfy fans wanting some unintentional laughs: the same bright blue sky is seen through the spaceship portholes when the crew travels through deep dark space; the pseudo-alien dialogue of the alien femmes who nevertheless manage to speak fluent English; the cardboard box that houses the death ray aimed at Earth (not to mention the bit players clearly asked to climb up, around, and through the box to keep the background of the frame ‘busy'; and Zsa Zsa's debut scene as an egghead, where she expertly pours from various beakers and smoking tubes translucent liquids tinged with the same colours of her dinner gown costume. (Half of the main cast also wears hand-me-downs from other productions, including the spacesuits and Anne Francis' yellow mini-frock from Forbidden Planet.)
Grudgingly, Queen is also of note for not being an exclusively male space opera, although the defeat of the queen (burnt to a crisp in a surprisingly graphic scene) and the women's return to a male-dominated (or supervised) orb perhaps reveals on a sub-textural level that, during the fifties, Big Science toys and concepts such as space exploration and interstellar governance were still regarded as the proper dominions of men; the fact the evil queen would abandon or agree to power-sharing with a man (Conquest of Space's Eric Fleming) for a little whoopee reinforces that creaky attitude.
In addition to the commentary track, there's also the film's theatrical trailer, although it's a pity some background info on Allied Artists wasn't included, or vintage publicity materials, as Fox seems to be arching in that label's interactive press book galleries, as with The Lost World (1960).
Actress Laurie Mitchell can be seen sans grisly makeup in Missile to the Moon (1958), whereas Edward Bernds directed Return of the Fly (1959) and a pair of Three Stooges films before retiring from feature films in 1962. Composer Marlin Skiles stuck around with Allied Artists, and contributed some memorable music for the super-sleazy Hypnotic Eye (1960), and Bert Topper's underrated shocker The Strangler (1964).
This title is available separately, or as part of Cult Camp Classics Vol.1: Sci-Fi Thrillers, which includes Queen of Outer Space (1958), Attack of the 50ft. Woman (1958), and The Giant Behemoth.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan