February 23, 2024

Men are from Earth, Women are from Venus: Queen of Outer Space

Poster - Queen of Outer Space (1958)
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Queen of Outer Space (1958)

Pros: Shot in glorious Cinemascope; Exotic Zsa Zsa Gabor is campy gold as a Venusian scientist
Cons: Talky, set-bound and slow moving; Recycled props, costumes and plot make it seem hang-dog and threadbare in spite of the lush cinematography

Has it really been a year since the last “So Bad It’s Good” blogathon hosted by Rebecca at Taking Up Room? I’m no astrophysicist, but it seems like time is speeding up as this blue marble we call Earth makes its shaky way around the Sun.

Last year I wrote about some would-be occupiers of Earth, the pop-eyed Killers from Space. The year before that, it was all about the megalomaniacal Brain from Planet Arous that wanted to install itself as Earth’s ruler, as well as sample some of the planet’s sensual pleasures by taking over the bodies of unsuspecting earthmen.

Carrying the theme forward, this time around I decided to upgrade from putative rulers to actual space royalty. Ruling Earth is one thing, but the entirety of outer space is a whole other ball of wax. If anyone is up to the task, it's the stylish and accomplished women of Venus, as depicted in the 1958 B space opera Queen of Outer Space.

But before we get into the details of the Venusian royal court, a bit of background. Queen of Outer Space came out at the height of Cold War mania, occasioned by the Russians’ launch of Sputnik 1 the year before, beating the good ol’ U.S. of A. into space.

NASA photo - Replica of Sputnik 1
In retrospect, it's hard to see what all the fuss was about.

At a time when our rockets kept blowing up on the launch pad, it seemed like the Soviets could do no wrong, and were set to make space a Red domain. But if there was an existential struggle between the so-called free world and scary communism going on, you wouldn’t have known it from watching Hollywood sci-fi. Instead, it was the war between the sexes that achieved escape velocity and was being bitterly fought in outer space.

Incongruously for an era characterized by stay-at-home moms and Father Knows Best paternalism, B movie astronauts kept encountering female-dominated societies in their space explorations (and often the crews of the Earth spaceships included women -- see my post on women astronauts in ‘50s sci-fi.

  • 1953: In Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, the comedic duo blast off for the red planet, take a detour through New Orleans, then end up on Venus, where the beautiful female inhabitants have banished all males.
  • 1953: An expedition to the moon (which includes a female navigator) finds breathable air in a lunar cavern, giant moon spiders, and a menacing group of leotard-clad Cat-Women of the Moon.
  • 1954: After a devastating Martian war between the sexes in which the females emerged victorious, Nyah, the Devil Girl from Mars, is dispatched to Earth to collect male specimens to help repopulate her home planet (see my review here).
  • 1956: Upon landing on the 13th moon of Jupiter, an expedition discovers the beautiful Fire Maidens of Outer Space, their old male guardian, and a ratty beast-man, the remnants of the lost civilization of Atlantis.
  • 1958: It’s deja-vu all over again as yet another Missile to the Moon lands, discovers breathable air, giant spiders, and yes, another tribe of scheming Moon women.

Screenshot - A giant spider attacks an astronaut in Queen of Outer Space (1958)
Next to space Amazons, giant spiders were the biggest threat to '50s B movie astronauts.

Queen of Outer Space was the culmination of the ‘50s space Amazon trope, with the added attraction of exotic Zsa Zsa Gabor looking absolutely fabulous in her stylish space outfits.

Publicity for previous films had bragged of casts made up of “Hollywood Cover Girls” (Cat-Women of the Moon) or assorted beauty contest winners, but Queen of Outer Space stood out by having an authentic Hollywood glamor queen heading up the troupe.

Zsa Zsa was a Celebrity with a capital ‘C’ who appeared in films and TV, but was best known for her extravagant social life. By 1958 she had already been married 3 times, but the Hungarian man-eater was only getting started -- she would chew up and spit out 6 more husbands before she was through (!!). 

With images of glamorous Zsa Zsa front-and-center on the poster and various publicity stills for the film, you might think that she was the Queen, but you’d be mistaken. The titular character was actually portrayed by Laurie Mitchell, a beauty queen turned B movie regular who also played an alien femme fatale in Missile to the Moon, released the same year. But even with her royal title, there was no competing with Zsa Zsa, as Mitchell’s character wore a weird bejeweled mask for much of the film (we'll get to that a bit later).

Screenshot - The cast of Queen of Outer Space (1958) assemble for the thrilling denouement
The participants ready themselves for the talent portion of the 'Queen of Outer Space' competition.


In the far off, far out year of 1985, a spaceship is being readied for take-off. The crew, consisting of Captain Neal Patterson (Eric Fleming), Lt. Mike Cruze (Dave Willock) and Lt. Larry Turner (Patrick Waltz), is assigned to take top space scientist Prof. Konrad (Paul Birch) to a remote space station, where some sort of trouble is brewing.

The crew grumble about the boring nature of the mission, but it becomes anything but routine when enroute to the station, they see a laser-like beam slashing through space. As they watch on the viewscreen, the beam hones in on the space station, which blows up in spectacular fashion.

The ship then gets caught up in the mysterious beam, but instead of blowing up, it accelerates to the point where the instruments can’t keep up. They crash land on a planet with breathable air and lush vegetation. From the instrument readings, the Prof. deduces that they’ve landed on Venus.

Frontiers of Science
Capt. Neal Patterson: “You don't just accidentally land on a planet 36 million miles away!”
Prof. Konrad: “It would appear that all things are possible in space.” [IMDb]

The crew and the professor build a camp and take turns keeping watch, but inevitably Mike dozes off and they’re suddenly surrounded by raygun-toting female Venusians who look like they stepped off the set of the original Star Trek show and time traveled back 10 years.

The men are taken to the royal palace where they are introduced to Queen Yllana (Mitchell) and her retinue on the ruling Council. Patterson explains that they were on a peaceful mission, but the Queen seems highly suspicious, and her guards are openly contemptuous of men.

The earthmen are held captive while Yllana and the Council decide their fate. Chief Venusian scientist Talleah (Gabor) is secretly opposed to Yllana’s tyrannical rule, and visits the crew to enlist their aid. She explains that Yllana led a revolt against Venus’ war-like men, killing most and imprisoning the few that could be of some use to the planet’s new female-led regime.

Screenshot - The earthmen cool their heels while the Queen of Outer Space decides their fate
The earthmen argue over who made the wrong turn and got them stuck on a planet populated by beautiful space Amazons.

Yllana was horribly disfigured in the revolt, and as a result became deranged and determined to use her powerful new Beta Disintegrator to rid the universe of hated men. Will Talleah and her band of dissidents successfully team up with the earthmen to prevent the Queen of Outer Space from blowing up Earth itself?

Foundations of Civilization
Prof. Konrad: “Perhaps this is a civilization that exists without sex.”
Lt. Larry Turner: “You call that civilization?”
Prof. Konrad: “Frankly, no.” [IMDb

Those of us of a certain age remember a time when sci-fi and fantasy movies were cobbled together quickly and cheaply to fill out drive-in double bills, as opposed to the current crop of would-be blockbusters that cost hundreds of millions and require small armies of CGI programmers and technicians to produce.

Here at Films From Beyond, we appreciate the ingenuity and resourcefulness of filmmakers who lack big budgets to tell their stories. Queen of Outer Space is nothing if not resourceful, like a down-on-her-luck diva proudly sashaying around town in her latest Goodwill fashion finds, daring anyone she meets to say something.

Screenshot - Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor) is threatened by the Queen of Outer Space (1958)
Zsa Zsa is ready for her close-up.

Queen’s hand-me-downs include the spaceship model and other props and sets from the 1956 B sci-fi epic World Without End (see my review here), as well as astronaut costumes recycled from MGM’s classic Forbidden Planet.

The producers also saved some bucks by avoiding location shooting and limiting special effects to the detonation of some smoke bombs and sparkly fireworks. As a result, Queen is mostly a succession of static set pieces with actors standing around delivering expositive dialog, trading quips, and scheming in grand soap opera style.

Queen was filmed in lush color Cinemascope, which is perhaps where most of the budget went -- that, and attending to Ms. Gabor's every need. In an interview with film historian Tom Weaver, Laurie Mitchell explained who the real queen was on the set:

“When it came to Zsa Zsa, she wanted this, she wanted that, she wanted glitter in her costumes -- she wanted certain things which were very, very expensive. An actress she wasn't, but in those days she had some sort of name, and so they wanted her for the picture. She used to yell -- she’d want a certain color hair, she didn’t want the other girls to have the same color hair and so on.” [Tom Weaver, I Talked with a Zombie: Interviews with 23 Veterans of Horror and Sci-Fi Films and Television, McFarland, 2009, p. 198 - 211]
Makeup secrets of the Queen
"Then there were the days when he [makeup artist Emile LaVigne] had to make my face up to look burned, for the scenes where the 'vicked kveen' is unmasked. Putty and black and blue marks and everything, to make it look like my face was eaten up by radiation. Emile, the darling, he should rest in peace, he’d put the makeup on me right on the set.

I remember saying that, ‘God forbid’ -- God forbid there should be a person like this. Watching it go on … it could cause nightmares! Emile would say, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll get it off,' and every day, he used cold cream, or … whatever he got it off with. Oh God, they took so many pictures. They would be right there with their cameras, every day.” [Ibid.]
Screenshot - The Queen of Outer Space in all her menacing glory
We dare you to click on this image and unmask the Queen of Outer Space!

The director and chief Zsa Zsa wrangler was Edward Bernds, a B movie veteran who was more used to handling court jesters than imperious celebrities -- among his 100+ credits are more than a few Three Stooges and Bowery Boys vehicles (he also directed World Without End which supplied Queen with many of its props).

Queen’s script also has a distinguished, if not exactly royal, pedigree. Legendary screenwriter and Academy Award winner Ben Hecht, who was involved in one prestige picture after another in the ‘30s and ‘40s, contributed the original story, “Queen of the Universe,” upon which Charles Beaumont’s script was based.

Beaumont had only a handful of writing credits by this point, but would soon launch himself into a very productive screen and TV writing career, contributing to such series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone, as well as adapting such horror classics as The Haunted Palace and The Masque of the Red Death before his untimely death in 1967.

Screenshot - Zsa Zsa Gabor models the latest fashion for hard-working scientists in Queen of Outer Space (1958)
Talleah's motto: Working hard is no excuse for looking frumpy.

Queen of Outer Space is not a shining star on either man’s resume -- it’s talky and stagey and not a lot happens for long stretches. But then, it’s gloriously gaudy with its upscale Cinemascope treatment, and some of the dialog will have you either slapping your forehead, guffawing, or smiling in wry bemusement (or even all three at once).

And finally there’s Zsa Zsa, the Venusian scientist with the heavy accent who looks equally mahvelous cooking up formulas in her lab or flirting with randy earthmen. Zsa Zsa may have been difficult on the set, but it’s a good thing the production stuck with her, because who else could have saved Venus, the Planet of Love, from a demented, man-hating Queen?

Origins of Love
Capt. Neal Patterson: “We may not have a chance to talk later. We may not even live through the day. But, I just want to say, while I have the chance: I love you.”
Talleah: “Loff - I've almost forgotten. But, if it is the varm feeling dat makes my heart sing, ten I too loff you.” [IMDb]

Publicity still - Eric Fleming and Zsa Zsa Gabor in Queen of Outer Space (1958)
"I loff you too Dah-link!"