Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fire Maidens from Outer Space (Cy Roth, 1956)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I ran a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 disc — in which John P. recognized the voice of Anthony Dexter. The movie was Fire Maidens from Outer Space, a thoroughly boring film made in Britain in 1956 and following roughly the same plot as such American non-masterpieces as Cat Women of the Moon and Queen of Outer Space. Anthony Dexter had made a biopic of Rudolph Valentino in 1951 and, while nowhere nearly as good looking as the man he’d played then, was certainly easy enough on the eyes in the lead role of Luther Blair, commander of a spaceship (represented by the usual obvious toy model common then) sent to explore a hitherto unknown 13th moon of Jupiter that turns out to house the remaining descendants of Atlantis, who used their advanced technology to escape the disaster that sank their continent and relocate on the 13th moon, which against all the astronomical (in both senses) odds actually has the right atmosphere and temperature (despite its far greater distance from the sun!) to support human and other earthling life.

Alas, by the time this story takes place all the male Atlanteans have died except one, the old ruler Prasus (Owen Berry) — the character name is pronounced “process” and Berry plays him like Polonius in Hamlet, which was probably what he wished he were doing; the dialogue is worlds better and he dies midway through — and the female Atlanteans, led by Princess Hestia (Susan Shaw), want to use all the male astronauts as studs to get them pregnant and keep the Atlantean race going. Only about midway through the movie, for reasons producer, director and writer Cy Roth never bothers to explain, the women turn against the astronauts and decide they want to kill them instead. Meanwhile, there’s a kind of burnt-umber monster roaming around outside and howling incoherently without doing much to advance the plot.

Ironically, the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 interjections drowned out one of the most famous aspects of this movie — not only did they rip off a good deal of the soundtrack from a Russian recording of the Polovestian Dances from Borodin’s Prince Igor, but at one point on the soundtrack the sound of the needle entering the record groove could be heard before the music started — but the crew had a lot of fun ridiculing the incredibly slow pace of this film (Cy Roth directs it so monumentally s-l-o-w-l-y that after a while Cat Women on the Moon starts to seem like a masterpiece by comparison!) as well as the mind-numbing repetition of the Polovestian Dance No. 2 theme that was already far more famous as the pop song “Stranger in Paradise” from the musical Kismet (by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, who made a specialty of creating musicals by ripping off themes from a classical composer; they also did Song of Norway, which not only stole its songs from Grieg but even purported to be a biomusical about him!) — towards the end one of the MST3K crew does a perfect imitation of that infamous commercial for a recording of snippets of the classics that had an adenoidal announcer say, “Did you know that that was actually the ‘Polovestian Dance No. 2’ by Borodin?” (When I was growing up, my brother like to say that Wright and Forrest had Borrowdined the song.) Other than that it’s an excessively dull movie, handsomely produced (the central set of the Atlantean palace is impressive enough it was almost certainly built for another, bigger-budgeted movie and recycled for this one) but so soporific it could easily be recommended as a non-toxic alternative to Sominex.