Marie Windsor
Cat-Women of the Moon
Medium: film
Year: 1953
Director: Arthur Hilton
Writer: Al Zimbalist, Jack Rabin, Roy Hamilton
Keywords: 1950s planet of women, SF, rubbish
Country: USA
Actor: Sonny Tufts, Victor Jory, Marie Windsor, William Phipps, Douglas Fowley, Carol Brewster, Susan Morrow, Suzanne Alexander, Bette Arlen, Roxann Delman, Ellye Marshall, Judy Walsh
Format: 64 minutes
Website category: SF
Review date: 8 February 2010
1950s astronauts find a planet of women! That's actually a genre. This film's dubious claim to fame is that it kicked off that genre as far as movies are concerned, although I note that Abbott and Costello Go to Mars covered the same territory and came out in the same year.
You know you're in trouble when the comedy version's better than the real thing. Hell, we're talking about 1950s SF. Even porn parodies are better when it comes to this particular sub-genre. What the hell went wrong in the 1950s? We're talking about an entire decade that turned out simple-minded, barely sentient drivel and then seems almost proud of it. Gibberish like this would have been laughed off the screen in the 1930s or 1940s. If you took movie cameras back to the 19th century, I can't imagine even the Victorians perpetrating anything this brain-damaged. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a better example of movie-making than this. There is absolutely no reason for anyone with a mental age in double digits to watch this piece of dreck except to laugh at it.
There. I feel better now.
I wasn't kidding about this being a 1950s genre, by the way. If you want to watch all-American astronauts and an alien colony of women, you could also watch Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956), Queen of Outer Space (1958), Missile to the Moon (1958), Invasion of the Star Creatures (1963) or if you're prepared to be a little flexible with your definitions World Without End (1956). Missile to the Moon was apparently a remake of Cat-Women on the Moon, while Queen of Outer Space starred Zsa Zsa Gabor. The grand-daddy of them all was Destination Moon (1950), which admittedly isn't an entry in this genre because it doesn't have any sex-starved alien women, but was an Oscar-winning attempt to show space flight and be technically accurate. It sounds really boring. However in fairness the first man in space was Yuri Gagarin in 1961, so at the time, no one had ever achieved any of this.
However the two pioneers of our particular genre in 1953 were Cat-Women and Abbott & Costello. I quite liked the latter. It gets a bad rep among normal people, but it starts looking like an Orson Welles masterpiece if you compare it with Cat-Women. It's a proper film. I'm not the world's biggest Abbott and Costello fan, but at least their movies feel as if they're being made by and for humans.
Let's start with the dialogue. No one actually says "Show me some more of this Earth thing called kissing", but I was surprised by this. The main character trait of the crew's hard guy (Victor Jory) is to be a wild and crazy rebel (for 1953). "We only came this far because we did it by the book." "Some things aren't in the book." There's quite a lot of this. I recommend playing a drinking game around it, or alternatively a completely different game that doesn't involve watching this movie. Jory's also fond of their navigator (Marie Windsor). "You're smart, you have courage and you're all woman!" Then you've got the occasional attempts of the mission leader (Sonny Tufts) to assert his authority, to which Windsor replies at one point, "You're not my commander." Um, actually, yes he is. D'oh.
Then we have the sexual politics. "You're too smart for me, baby. I like them stupid." It's a plot point that the magical power of a MANLY MAN can save a woman from hypnotic control, unless it's something to do with him covering that mark on her hand. Women are either evil or in love with a man. There is no third option.
Let's look at the science. They're flying towards the moon, but are startled and nervous when Windsor suggests that they land on its uncharted dark side. However shortly after landing, Tufts borrows a cigarette from Windsor (don't ask) and throws it into the sunlight to demonstrate how dangerous the light side is. The cigarette immediately catches fire in this oxygen-free environment. Shortly afterwards, the crew demonstrate that the Cat-Women's cave has oxygen that's safe to breathe by lighting a match. "How can there be water without atmosphere?" "Impossible!" They then take off their spacesuits, leave them behind and keep exploring.
Meanwhile their rocket is equipped with office chairs on rollers. Astronauts in space suits are allowed to take with them cigarettes and a gun. "I guess it won't do any harm." No, there's no chance at all that a projectile weapon could be a safety hazard.
This is gibberish beyond anything I could have anticipated. Five-year-olds today would laugh at it. What makes it particularly weird though is the way that the movie's so in love with space travel that its spends its first fifteen minutes just having everyone man their stations on the rocket. There's an incident with the ship's acid supply (?) which requires someone to don a protective suit and go into a room of dry ice, but basically it's fifteen minutes of nothing happening. Then they land on the moon and there's a further ten minutes of nothing happening. As you might have guessed, the film's getting a bit dull by this point. The crew explore the moonscape, but it's not until we meet the comedy giant spider that there's anything fun going on. It looks laughably stupid, obviously, but at least this meant I was laughing.
We're more than half way through the movie before one of the Cat-Women actually talks in a scene. The first thing this teaches us is that the actress playing the lead Cat-Woman can't stand still while she's talking.
In other words, this movie is mildly offensive and breathtakingly stupid. Is there anything good about it? Yes, actually. The music's by Elmer Bernstein of all people, while Chesley Bonestell's moonscapes are lovely. The surface of the moon looks great, even if it doesn't take you long to notice the backcloth. Furthermore the film was shot in 3D, albeit only red and green anaglyph 3D, and that was the version on the 1995 VHS release if you're desperate to hurt your eyes. The one I watched was ordinary black-and-white, thank goodness.
It's also worth mentioning that the cast is quite good. Jory and Windsor were both decent actors with impressive careers, with Jory also having been a boxing and wrestling champion, while Windsor is best known for film noir. However on the downside there's also Tuft, who'd been a star during World War Two simply by virtue of being tall, handsome and unfit for military service because of an old college football injury, but by this point had developed a drinking problem. Two years earlier, his wife had had him jailed for drunkenness. I didn't particularly notice him being bad, though. To be honest the script's so thin that the actors have almost nothing to work with, but they could still have been much worse.
Furthermore the characterisation isn't entirely lamentable. Despite appearances during the first half of the film, all five crew members turn out to have a slightly different role to play once they're interacting with Cat-Women. Admittedly Jory's role made me want to throw things at the screen, but I liked the money-grubbing guy.
Then you've got the Cat-Women. I haven't discussed them much because they're pretty much what you'd expect them to be. They're a bit more evil than is required by this sub-genre, but what can you expect of hoity-toity women in 1953 who aren't at home cooking dinner? In case you were wondering, they've had 2 million years of civilisation in which the men died out during living memory and now they reproduce eugenically. However there's nothing cat-like about them, unless you think it counts that they're wearing black catsuits with ostentatiously pointy bras.
This film is so stupid and cliched that it's a shock to find a moment that isn't so. The good things about this film for me would be: (a) the goofy eye make-up, (b) the dance number, (c) the stabbing. That would make for a total of about a minute's screen time, then. To enumerate the idiocies of this film is a task that would take longer than simply watching the film, e.g. the bit where Windsor spoke on the radio to Alpha and thus made Tufts suspicious, despite the fact that Alpha's telepathic powers made such communication unnecessary. I suppose it has a retarded 1950s charm and I'm sure it even has its fans among bad film connoisseurs, but it's only got one Comedy Giant Spider scene and it's a bit staid. Almost nothing happens in the first half, while the climax takes place offscreen.
I mean, the fifties. Bloody hell.