AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
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The Reel World /
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CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON (1953)
|“We have no use for men!”|
Director: Arthur Hilton
Starring: Marie Windsor, Victor Jory, Sonny Tufts, Bill Phipps, Douglas Fowley, Carol Brewster, Susan Morrow, Suzanne Alexander
Screenplay: Roy Hamilton, based upon a story by Jack Rabin and Al Zimbalist
Synopsis: Man’s first expedition to the moon is undertaken by Commander Laird Grainger (Sonny Tufts), co-pilot Kip Reissner (Victor Jory), navigator Helen Salinger (Marie Windsor), radio operator Doug Smith (Bill Phipps) and engineer Walt Walters (Douglas Fowley). After escaping Earth’s gravitational field, the crew is contacted by mission control, and asked to each say a few words. Helen puzzles the others by greeting someone called “Alpha”. The rocketship is almost struck by a meteor. Evasive action is taken, but one of the chambers containing the acid used for fuel is damaged, and a water line blocked. Going over Laird’s head, Kip dons a protective suit and enters the acid chamber to take care of the crisis. Later, recovering under Helen’s care, Kip reveals his feelings for her – then observes bitterly that she is “Laird’s girl”. Later, Laird asks Helen who Alpha is, but Helen cannot remember having mentioned the name. She confesses to having a strange feeling of having lived through the space journey before. The rocketship approaches the moon, and Helen surprises the others by picking out a landing site on the mysterious dark side. However, the landing is perfect. Donning their suits, the crew sets out to explore. Helen says that, during the landing, she saw a cave nearby. Kip grows suspicious as he realises that this could not be true. Inside the cave, Helen complains that her boots feel heavy. Realising that there must be atmosphere present, the crew sheds their suits, not noticing a shadow passing over a nearby rock…. Suddenly, Helen is attacked by a giant spider. The men rush in to save her, only for a second such creature to attack. This, too, is vanquished. Helen begs for a few minutes of rest. Kip and Walt go to check on the suits, while Laird and Doug explore further into the cave. As soon as Helen is alone, a lithe figure in black approaches her silently and touches her hand, leaving a strange glow in her palm. Helen screams, and the figure vanishes. Laird comes running, and announces that they will all go back to the ship. However, Helen insists upon going on, becoming enraged and even struggling with Laird when he tries to stop her. Kip returns with the news that their suits have gone. Helen observes with a strange air of triumph that now they will have to go on. She leads the way, and to their astonishment the men find themselves staring down into a valley, wherein lies a city made of stone. The party heads that way, finding evidence of an ancient but apparently dead civilisation. Helen sets out to explore with Doug. Once they are out of sight of the others, she steps back and merely watches as Doug is suddenly attacked by a woman dressed entirely in black, who forces him to the ground and tries to strangle him. As they struggle, Helen slips away… Doug manages to yell for help. The others rush to his rescue, and the woman runs away. When the men return to the main chamber, three more of the women attack Kip, but flee when his gun goes off. Doug manages to capture a fourth woman, but to the amazement of the men, she simply vanishes. Meanwhile, Helen has encountered more of the women. Their leader, Alpha (Carol Brewster), greets her warmly as “one of them”….
Comments: Though there is little question that Cat-Women Of The Moon is one of the true Bad Movies, it is also true that its attractions are not necessarily of a nature that can easily be conveyed within a review. While anyone can appreciate the charms of a three-hundred-pound zombie making a futile attempt to clamber out of its own grave, or a gorilla with a diving helmet on its head spouting existentialist philosophy, the appeal of Cat-Women Of The Moon lies more in its absolute and exquisite poverty – poverty not merely of budget, but of concept and execution. There is a sense of – of lack about this entire production that grows increasingly surreal. How is one to react to a film shot in 3-D that makes no attempt whatsoever to exploit the process? To a film about Cat-Women that has no Cat-Women? To an alleged thriller whose big climactic scene takes place off-camera – the events being conveyed to the audience via two carelessly dubbed-in lines of dialogue?
Okay, silly questions – with laughter, of course.
Cat-Women Of The Moon has two main claims to fame: its score, which is by Elmer Bernstein - the same year he scored Robot Monster - and its screenplay by Roy Hamilton, which is all that we would hope for from a Z-grade science fiction film of this era. However, the icing on the cake is the delivery of the dialogue, which rises to heights of sheer goofiness that has to be heard to be believed. Not surprisingly, the film’s outstanding contribution in that respect comes from Sonny Tufts, who gives a performance marked by what can only be described as sweaty desperation. Tufts goes through the whole film with a look of panic clear in his eyes, as if he can neither figure out where he is, nor how the heck he got there.
(At one point in the film, Laird Grainger is offered some wine. Tufts leaps upon the proffered goblet so avidly that we can only assume it was the real thing, a dangling carrot used to keep him on the set.)
Running Sonny Tufts a close second are “The Hollywood Cover Girls”, seven vacuous females cast as the Cat-Women [sic.] because they looked good in black leotards, and not, believe me, because of their thespian abilities. Or their skill at dancing.
In the film’s minor roles, we have B-movie stalwarts Bill Phipps and Douglas Fowley. The former is destined to fall for one of the Cat-Women, and to pronounce reams of romantic dialogue while the two of them canoodle. Understandably, he spends most of the film looking acutely embarrassed. Douglas Fowley, meanwhile, who plays the inevitable Venal Crewman Who Plans To Profit From His Amazing Experience And Is Consequently Doomed, gives some of the laziest line readings I’ve ever heard. Incredibly, Fowley scored an on-screen credit as “Dialogue Director” – presumably for the scene where he cuts in to finish some of Sonny Tufts’ bumbled dialogue for him, thus saving the producers the cost of a re-take.
Which brings us to our final two cast members, and the point at which I begin to feel slightly uncomfortable. I’ve no particular brief for Victor Jory, but he was a reliable B-actor who could be counted upon to do a decent job. Marie Windsor, on the other hand, is an actress I have a lot of affection for, particularly in view of her performances in films such as The Killing, Force Of Evil, The Narrow Margin, and my pet unknown western, Hellfire. Watching her struggle through this piece of tosh is not an agreeable experience. At the same time, you have to admire the fact that she actually managed to keep a straight face throughout. Victor Jory, on the other hand, looks constantly on the verge of laughter. Always a mannered and twitchy actor, Jory conveys his embarrassment at being involved in this dubious enterprise by adding yet another gesture to his standard repertoire of tics: he repeatedly conveys repressed emotion by pushing a lock of hair back from his forehead. It is little wonder that Windsor avoids her co-star’s eye for most of the film: even the big declaration of passion between Jory’s Kip Reissner and Windsor’s Helen Salinger comes with Windsor pressing herself against Jory’s back.
However---the bottom line is that both of these actors were, in the end, professionals. They signed on to do this film, and that meant giving it their best shot. The material was ultimately too much for them, granted, but still they tried; Lord, how they did try. Their clenched-teeth determination is perhaps most evident in their love scenes. Frankly, Windsor and Jory look like there are few things in the world they’d rather do less than kiss each other, but the script said they had to and so that’s what they were going to do, come hell or high water: the two of them come together like a pair of enraged water buffalos butting heads over a disputed stretch of ground. Anything less “romantic” is rather hard to imagine.
The 1950s saw a sudden proliferation of films dealing with men – American men, of course – stumbling across lost societies of women, either deep in the jungle, on previously undiscovered islands or, as here, on another planet; and, merely through their presence, turning those societies upside-down. Time and again, the citizenry of these exclusively female worlds, who had killed off, enslaved or exiled their own men (by definition, pretty poor specimens), took just one look at the hunky human males who had invaded their territory and instantly chucked all their silly ideas of taking charge of their own lives in favour of the delights of a life in Brooklyn – and in due course, we assume, the further delights of housewifery and baby-making.
"It's no use struggling, Marie - you're not leaving me to carry this film on my own!"
The common interpretation of this wave of films is that it occurred in response to the social readjustment of “male” and “female” roles after World War II; that the films represent the articulation of various male anxieties, chiefly a need to be reassured that women were, after all, helpless beings who couldn’t possibly get along without them (or who were sick and perverted if they could), despite the alarming signs of independence that some of them had begun to exhibit during the previous decade.
Looking at these “lost world” films collectively, it is rather difficult to come up with too many other readings of them – except, perhaps, one still more discomforting. After all, a society without men is a society full of [*slobber, slobber*] virgins; women who had not only not been touched, but who could not have been touched. The most frequently recurring motif in these films (the basic plot of which was perhaps best summed up by Philip J. Fry: “Flying through space and teaching alien women to lurrve”) was the “Love? What’s that?” scene, in which a wondering space maiden learned a few pertinent lessons in the manly embrace of a human interloper. And the extraordinary thing was that these women invariably proved to be remarkably adept pupils. In fact, despite growing up not just without any men, but with little if any any concept of either “love” or “sex”, there was barely one of them who expressed anything other than complete gratification at suddenly finding a tongue jammed down her throat.
Oh, sure, there were a few man-haters in the crowd; but you could rest assured they’d be killed off before the end of the film. And serve ’em right, hey, fellas?
Behind such nonsense there seems to lurk a worryingly Pygmalian-esque fantasy: the suggestion that a woman should be not just inexperienced, but ignorant – unawakened – until “the right man” came along; at which time she would instantly evince a positively explosive libido. Of course, the wistful notion that female desire can (in the immortal words of Mr Kip Reissner) be “turned on and off like a faucet” is so far from reality that these films become inadvertently revealing; and in this context it is perhaps worth remembering that the 1950s was also the time when many men were making the discovery that women who came accessorised with folds, staples and air-brushings were a lot easier to deal with than the real thing.
You are the all-female remnants of an ancient civilisation.
Your men died out twenty years ago.
Fate sends you this:
Fate is a bitch.
Cat-Women Of The Moon was a fairly early entry in the female society sub-genre; and it is thematically interesting in that manages to be both less and more insulting to the female sex than most of its ilk.
(By the way, I’m by no means suggesting that these films were insulting to women only; but they were, after all, written, produced and directed by men, so any offensive depiction of the male sex is its own fault.)
The Cat-Women, we learn, are all that remains of an “ancient civilisation” (natch). They did not kill off the men, who instead died of, uh, natural causes – the loss of atmosphere on the moon (!!). And a similar fate awaits the Cat-Women themselves, unless they can devise a means of escape. Alas, being wimmin, ‘n’ all, space flight is beyond their means; but they have developed a form of psychic communication, which they use to contact Helen Salinger, the navigator of Moon Rocket 4, mankind’s first vessel to the moon.
Tragically, as with Plans 1 – 8, we are destined never to know what happened to Moon Rockets 1 – 3.
Cat-Women Of The Moon is one of the very few of these lost women movies that includes “the girl” so mandatory in other forms of science fiction of this era; and furthermore, it is also an unusual space exploration film, in which the presence of “the girl” is not the subject of resentment and/or, “This is no job for a woman!” argument. Startlingly enough, it appears at first that Helen Salinger is actually there on merit; but thankfully, we are soon disabused of that ridiculous notion, as it is made clear that all of Helen’s professional knowledge – her skill in “celestial navigation” – has been planted in her mind by the evil Cat-Women, who need her help in escaping from the moon. Asking her space-bound sisters the sixty-four dollar question, Helen learns that the Cat-Women could not control the Earth men, but that she herself was easily manipulated. Far from taking offence, Helen seems almost thankful; relieved, perhaps, to know that she’s no kind of genius, but a real woman after all.
And speaking of which, Cat-Women Of The Moon boasts some confused – and therefore rather interesting – sexual politics. First of all, we make the discovery that of the five members of the rocketship crew, three of them are the points of a romantic triangle. Now, from one perspective, sending three unavoidably conflicted people into space together might seem like a somewhat counterintuitive idea; but on the other hand, perhaps Mission Control felt that the ensuing, uh, debate would help while away the long hours in space. We learn in time that Helen is “Laird’s girl” purely because the Cat-Women controlling her wish it, as their relationship will give her opportunities to pick his brain [sic.]; she really loves Kip, but is unable to say so until he – wait for it – holds her hand. (All together now: awwww….)
Helen yoyos back and forth throughout the film, being forced to cosy up to Laird by the Cat-Women about half of the time, and being bullied and shaken into confessing her feelings for Kip the rest of the time, but scarcely ever doing or saying anything of her own volition. It’s that real woman thing again, I guess. Personally, I think that if I were forced into a relationship with – ulp! – Sonny Tufts, I’d express a hell of a lot more resentment towards my manipulators than Helen ever does.
Then we have the Cat-Women themselves, whose attitudes towards the male sex are intriguingly various. Alpha, their leader, dreams of a female-dominated society; like her spiritual sister, Queen Ylana of Venus, Alpha blames “the men”, not for the disappearance of the moon’s atmosphere – which would be unreasonable – but for their response to it: planned genocide to reduce the population. Alpha herself, being an enlightened individual, plans a glorious future full of men kept in subjection and used in “eugenic” breeding programs – which is, after all, much more humanitarian. Lunitarian?
Beta, the second-in-command, is the true man-hater of the group, full of contempt for the pathetic creatures and sneeringly certain of her ability to exploit their “weak point” – which in the case of Laird Grainger and Walt Walters, at least, lies equidistant between their ears. By the way, who thinks Beta is going to make it to the end credits? Lambda, the youngest of the group, is inevitably the turncoat, speaking longingly of the moon men, who died off when she was a baby, and falling for Doug Smith, “The first man I ever saw.” Cat-Women Gamma through Omega are, alas, not invited to express an opinion.
Recycled office furniture of...THE FUTURE!!
Watching the wide-eyed, wide-mouthed reaction of the Earth men to their hostesses – or rather, to be fair, that of Laird and Walt – one does tend to sympathise with Beta. Doug, on the other hand, falls chastely in love with Lambda, while Kip, protected by his feelings for Helen, remains aloof, watching the proceedings with a cynical eye. Having much free time on his hands, unlike his companions, it is Kip who, realising that the film’s title is utterly stupid and meaningless, runs his eyes over the moon women, with their black body-stockings, their chokers, their pulled-back hair, their curled fake eyelashes, and their applied-with-a-trowel make-up, and dubs them – what else? – “Cat-Women”; thus rescuing the film’s title from accusations of meaninglessness, at least.
Cat-Women Of The Moon opens with your typical philosophical voiceover reflecting on man’s desire to "pierce the barrier" of space. “Why ‘some day’?” he wonders. “Why not – now!” Cut to Moon Rocket 4, flying through the vastness of space, its fiery tail a celestial path in the heavens paving [*cough*]. Inside, our gallant crew of five is experiencing the discomforts of gravitational force while lying on the thinnest, flimsiest folding cots that you can imagine. This scene goes on for some time, allowing the viewer ample opportunity for observing that the flight deck of this rocket is made of corrugated plastic, and that it is decorated with leftover office furniture – including wooden desks and chairs on rollers. Strangely, these don’t move at all during the take-off, despite those nasty G-forces. We should also note the high-tech computer, which consists of an empty film-spool glued to the wall.
The camera then moves from astronaut to astronaut, and we see something else interesting: while all the men are being flattened into their cots, navigator Helen Salinger is having no difficulty at all keeping her chest at, uh, attention (women’s underwear of...the future!). Mission control (aka “Whitesands”, also name-checked in Destination Moon and not the only thing this film will pinch from that one) then contacts the ship, even though they must know full well that no-one’s going to be able to answer until they escape the gravitational pull. Nevertheless, the radio guy blathers on for a while: “Can you hear me? Can you show any sign of recognition?”
Co-pilot Kip Reissner is the first to shake off the effects of the G-force, thus clueing us in that he’s the film’s hero [sic.]. He leaps off his folding cot, delivering a good whack to a sensitive piece of scientific equipment with his right foot in the process, and then stops to gaze out at a somewhat less-than-convincing star-field. “Well,” he reflects profoundly, “whaddya know?” Laird, also beginning to recover, orders Kip to “help the others”. He responds by bellowing, “All right, you sleeping beauties, hit the deck! Every man a tiger!” Yes, very helpful. Of course, this exhortation doesn’t apply to Helen; Kip has to undo her ankle straps for her.
Qualifying for the space program used to take a LOT longer.
Helen then does what the navigator of mankind’s first trip to the moon would do immediately after recovering from take-off: she crosses to her little wooden navigator’s desk, pulls open the little wooden drawer, takes out a compact and a comb and – fixes her hair...
Making a pathetic attempt at being hardnosed, Laird does not immediately respond to Whitesands, but insists on having everyone’s initial reports first. “This is a scientific expedition!” he yells. “Not a stunt!” This final remark is aimed directly at Helen, who continues to check her make-up, unperturbed. “Are we on course?” Laird asks her. “On course,” she replies, patting her curls.
Laird eventually does contact Whitesands and, with Kip’s help, reports on the condition of the ship. We learn that, ominously, Moon Rocket 4 boasts both “an atom chamber” and a supply of “nitrate pictate acid” (?). To our relief, we hear that the latter is “secure”. Laird then tries to sign off, but Whitesands responds that “the whole world is listening”, and asks whether the crewmembers might not say a few words?
“NO!!” bellows Laird, who obviously did his leadership and diplomacy training under General Mark Grayson.
This surprises Helen into shutting her compact. “Oh, Laird, don’t be so stuffy,” she admonishes her commanding officer. The others concur, and Laird – how did he get to be in charge again? – capitulates, allowing his subordinates to speak, provided they do it from their stations. “And be brief!” he thunders.
Through the viewfinder, the wonders and the mysteries of the universe lie revealed...but first things first.
About 75% of the screenplay of Cat-Women Of The Moon is dedicated to the fish-in-a-barrel-like task of making Laird Grainger look foolish, but at this point we find that he had good reason to try and keep his crew from speaking to “the whole world”. Here’s what we get from humanity’s best and brightest:Kip: “All I gotta say is watch out for that first step – it’s a pip!”
Helen: “Hello, Alpha – we’re on our way.”
Doug: “I’m going to bring you a piece of that green cheese for sure!”
Walt: “We’re humming along, folks! That new lubrication by the Dell-5 oil company sure turned the trick!”
The inanities of Kip, Doug and Walt are allowed to pass, but both Laird and Kip direct puzzled looks at Helen. The crew then gets an ego-stroking message from General Someone-Or-Other, and are so intent on preening that they don’t notice the meteor coming straight for them (and pretty much exhausting the film’s 3-D component). It clips the rocketship. Kip does a quick damage assessment, then makes the alarming announcement that something is, “Embedded in our rear section!” Owie!!
This, as it happens, is where what is now called the atomic chamber is kept. It is decided to make an attempt to dislodge the meteor (or part thereof – they’re not real clear about it) using the magic of centrifugal force; or in other words, by slamming on the brakes and doing the space equivalent of chucking a doughnut. Intriguingly, while the Moon Rocket 4 has displayed a fiery tail all the while it was travelling directly through space, now, when it needs to change direction, the tail disappears. Go figure.
Inside, the intrepid explorers do up the seatbelts on their office chairs and clutch their desks; while outside, we see the rocket come to a halt, and swing in a jerky circle around its point. (I particularly like the rapid way the ship drops into an “upright” position.) Remarkably, none of the office furniture budges an inch through this manoeuvre – not even the roller chairs. That’s some artificial gravity they got there. The meteor is duly dislodged, and Laird lectures his crew about not paying sufficient attention to their duties (not unjustly, it must be admitted), telling them that in future, everything will be done, “By the book!” We are destined to hear this phrase frequently from Laird over the course of the film, and I mean Cat-Women Of The Moon Drinking Game frequently. You finally get the impression that someone (Douglas Fowley, perhaps) drummed this expression into Sonny Tufts’ head, and told him to say it any time he couldn’t remember his actual lines.
To put on his space-hazmat suit, Kip went into the space-locker room.
Anyway, Kip does venture to express the heretical opinion that not everything is “in the book”, but a spat between the two men is cut short when Walt notices another teeny-weeny problem: that one of the containers of what is now called nitric acid has broken open in what is once again called the atom chamber. “If the acid reaches the fuel chamber we’ll explode, won’t we?” inquires Kip with admirable nonchalance. Laird orders the water line turned on to “neutralise” the acid (that’s not how it works, Laird...), but the water line is blocked somehow. Confronted by a situation not “in the book”, Laird begins to panic. The pragmatic Kip, however, dons a protective suit and goes to fix things on his own, brazenly disobeying Laird’s orders in the process. Who put him in charge again?
We discover that the atom [sic.] chamber is separated from the flight deck by one thin hatch cover (with which Doug and Walt “struggle”, in a laughable attempt at making it seem heavy) which, when lifted, belches forth a thick cloud of “acid fumes” – and, presumably, “atoms”. Kip descends, finds that the water line is beyond his help, and so does the next best thing: he grabs a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher and, uh, puts the acid out, I guess. He then climbs back up the ladder to the hatch, whacking the roof of the atom chamber with his head on the way. It wobbles in a rather alarming fashion.
Kip is temporarily overcome by fumes, and recovers to find Helen at his bedside, beaming at him. The two indulge in a brief debate on the nature of love, until Kip nobly rejects Helen, she being “Laird’s girl”, and all. Helen stomps off to Laird in a huff, announcing that he and Kip are a good match. “Strong mind and strong back!” she sniffs. “I suppose so,” chuckles Laird amicably (?). He then inquires as to the identity of “Alpha” and, when Helen says she cannot remember saying anything of the kind, diagnoses her as suffering, “A touch of space madness.”
Throughout this scene, it is borne upon us that Laird himself ought to be paying more attention to his duties: from the way the moon keeps shifting on the viewfinder, the ship must be lurching around like a kite in a hurricane. Perhaps our Commander should be keeping his eyes on the road and his hands upon the wheel. Laird then tells Helen to pick out her landing spot (isn’t that something you’d do before you left Earth?), and she replies that she already has: a valley on the dark side of the moon.
For some reason, Helen had a strange sense of déjà vu...
Laird is mightily puzzled by how she could know about such a place. “All man has ever seen is the bright side!” Sidestepping suspiciously, Helen replies that this valley is kind of near the bright side, but this answer does nothing to sooth Laird. “Why there? We’d planned to study the bright side, then circle to the dark side!” (Laird’s fixation on the bright side would seem to be an instance of opposites attracting.) Helen’s only response is that she’s sure this is the right spot; she doesn’t know why, she just is; which turns out to be good enough for Laird. The crew commences landing procedure, with Laird uttering the immortal command, “Start the retardant, Walt!” This apparently has the effect of swinging the ship from its parallel position into an upright one, in one smooth move.
The crew then prepares to go out and explore. The iconoclastic Kip does venture to express the opinion that they should check the ship over and make sure it’s ready for take-off before they go out, but the others scoff at him. Helen then invites Doug to help her into her suit. Lucky Doug.
And, ah yes, those suits. I’m pretty sure the suits themselves were salvaged from Destination Moon, but the helmets must have gone missing in the interim. Consequently, Walt and Doug get metal half-canisters on their heads (and tiny oxygen cylinders on their backs), while the other three get huge plastic bubbles, with the bottom of another bubble glued on for a face-plate (and no oxygen at all). Obviously, whoever designed these particular “futuristic” costumes forgot to put air-holes in them because, in an effort to hear and be heard, the three unfortunate actors with their heads trapped in these fish-bowls must shout everything that they say. (Apparently sound can travel in a vacuum, if there’s enough of it.) This is particularly painful in the case of Marie Windsor. As I’ve indicated, I’m fond of Ms Windsor, but it must be said that she had a voice which was better not raised, since doing so turned it into a simply horrible bray.
“THESE SHOES ARE HEAVY!!” shouts Helen, trying out her gravity boots. Laird orders his team to check each other’s equipment. “AND WHEN YOU GET OUT THERE, STAY ON THE DARK SIDE!!” he adds. Kip notices Helen tucking – get this – a packet of cigarettes into her suit (don’t you miss the fifties?). “I FEEL MORE AT HOME CARRYING THEM!!” she explains. Laird then objects to Kip carrying a gun. “YOU KNOW THERE IS NO LIFE ON THE MOON!!” (Not to mention no oxygen – although…) Kip insists, though, leading Helen to protest, “EITHER WE’RE ON A SCIENTIFIC EXPEDITION, OR WE’RE A BUNCH OF BOY SCOUTS ON AN OUTING!!” It is left to the viewer to judge which of these two groups she thinks would be carrying a gun. At this point it should be noted that Kip’s gun is a six-shot revolver, and that he does not pack any extra ammunition.
And this makes her look like a cat how exactly?
Laird then feels obliged to admonish his crew for their “infantile romanticism” (pronounced “in-fantle”), a line which prompts the single intentionally funny moment in the entire film, as Doug sheepishly whips his gag “Los Angeles City Limits” sign out of sight.
Laird leaves the ship and descends via a one-person lift and, hey, it’s turns out that being the first man to set foot on the moon is no big deal after all, or at least nowhere here makes any kind of fuss over it, and nor does the Earth get anything more than a passing glance. As the others join Laird, we have a chance to admire the film’s moonscapes, which look suspiciously like the work of Chesley Bonestell. “200,000 miles away, we were,” marvels Laird to Helen, “yet we knew it would look like this!” So I guess they both saw Destination Moon?
Helen insists on going in a particular direction, and the increasingly suspicious Kip asks her why? “THERE’S A CAVE IN THE SIDE OF THE CRATER OVER THERE!!” she bawls. “I NOTICED IT WHEN WE WERE SETTING UP!!” Kip makes a sarcastic remark about buried treasure, provoking yet another reference to the book from Laird. Nevertheless, they do as Helen suggests. As they file towards the cave, “METEORITE!!!!” They dive for the ground, and the meteorite passes over their heads, crashing at a distance. In a graphic illustration of the perils of post-production special effects work, half of the crew gazes in horror in one direction, while the others gaze in horror in the opposite direction.
They set out again, and as they approach “the bright side” (and yes, there is a clear line of demarcation between bright and dark), Laird decides it’s time for Science!! To demonstrate the dangers of “the bright side”, he takes one of Helen’s cigarettes and – keeping a wary distance from the danger-zone – tosses it over the boundary line, where it instantly bursts into flames. The others gasp in amazement. Right along with the audience.
Um. Wasn’t the original plan to land on the bright side?
As they set off again Kip draws Laird aside, pointing out that Helen couldn’t possibly have seen the cave from their landing site. He continues to make sarcastic references to Helen’s “guesses”, until Laird asks him what he’s driving at? “I DON’T KNOW – BUT I BET IT ISN’T IN THE BOOK!!” Kip jeers. Meanwhile, Helen is discovering that the cave is just as she dreamed it – or did she? Perhaps this is the dream…
Fearing that the little woman may have exhausted herself during that strenuous hundred-yard stroll from the ship, Laird tells Helen that they can go back if she wishes, but she insists on forging ahead. Still, before long, she’s complaining about the weight of her boots. Laird is puzzled, observing that they worked fine outside. Kip then makes a startling discovery: water! This, in rapid leaps, leads to further deductions of atmosphere and gravity. To prove his theory, Kip takes a match from Helen and lights it. “It’s burning!” says Doug gleefully. “That means oxygen!”
And yet no-one of them thinks to bring up the little matter of the cigarette burning up over on the bright side…
Anyway, the crew quickly struggles out of their suits, much to their relief (and mine – oh, my aching eardrums!). So intent upon this are they, they don’t notice the shadow that passes across a nearby wall….
During this lull, Kip gleefully points out that none of this was precisely in the book, while Laird (who, in case you didn’t figure it out from the little cigarette demonstration, is the scientist of the group, sigh) struggles to find an explanation. Helen suddenly announces that they’re “near the end” of the cave, covering this piece of prescience with an observation that “the air isn’t stuffy”. Kip starts fondling his gun again, observing that, “Where there’s oxygen there’s life, and where there’s life there’s – death.” That’s the spirit! If we had more men like Kip, we’d have---less of pretty much everything else.
A spat between Laird and Kip over who gets to lead distracts the party from an ominous sight: a set of hairy legs dangling nearby...
No, of course it’s not the Cat-Women!! Oh, sure they’re a bunch of female-only man-haters; but like all true “lost world” wimmin, they’re also immaculately depilated, manicured, coiffed, and made-up at all times.
Anyway, the expedition sets off again, and suddenly Helen is suddenly attacked by one of the hardest working special effects in fifties science fiction: The Giant Dangling Hairy Spider Puppet!!!!
I WANT IT!! I WANT IT!! I WANT IT!! I WANT IT!! I WANT IT!!
Helen screams and runs away – tripping, of course, but at least not spraining her ankle. Laird, Walt and Doug grab the spider, whaling on it while it bounces up and down on its perfectly visible wires, until Kip is made blissfully happy by having a chance to put two bullets into a living creature. Instantly, Helen manages to blunder into Giant Dangling Hairy Spider Puppet #2, and exactly the same scene is re-enacted (except that this time Kip gets off three shots), presumably for the benefit of those of us who weren’t depressed enough at the sight of just one Giant Dangling Hairy Spider Puppet being punched, stabbed and shot.
(The $64,000 question is left unanswered: what do these spiders usually eat?)
This traumatic experience overwhelms Helen, and she has to lie down and recuperate. Kip, riding high on his triumph, somehow extrapolates the presence of Giant Dangling Hairy Spider Puppets into a need to check on their suits. He and Walt depart to do just that, while the puzzled Laird (Laird spends a lot of time puzzled – have you noticed?) goes with Doug to…do something, it isn’t quite clear. But anyway, Helen is left on her own. That mysterious shadow reappears, and someone slinks up to Helen, running a hand over her without making contact (if you get what I mean), then gently touching her hand. Helen shrieks hysterically, and the Mysterious Stranger flees, leaving behind a glowing light in Helen’s palm...
"I couldn't see who attacked me!"
[And do note the wrinkles in the "sky" behind them...]
Laird and Doug come running, and Laird opines that they should go back to the ship, so that Helen can rest up after her ordeal. However, a strange look comes into Helen’s eyes and, suddenly invigorated, she insists on pressing ahead – isn’t that why they’ve come? “I’ll tell you what’s out there! Adventure! Discovery! Knowledge!” As she speaks, she gesticulates a little too broadly with her hand, which she then snatches back self-consciously; and indeed, Helen will continue to make “Perfumes of Arabia” gestures for the duration.
Laird agrees that they’re there for all that, but suggests another day. “Now!” insists Helen, almost stamping her foot at him. “If you don’t wanna come with me, I’ll go on my own!” Nyah, nyah, nyah! Laird is forced to remind Helen that he’s still the Commander of the expedition. “Well, you’re not my Commander!” she yowls at him. You’re not the boss of me! Oh, wait – yes he is. “I know where I wanna go, and I’m GOING!!”
Marie, sweetie, please – don’t raise your voice...
Suddenly, Kip and Walt return with the grim news that the suits are gone! Helen observes triumphantly that this settles it: they’ll have to go on! “You seem very proud of yourself, Helen!” remarks Laird bitterly. “I am!” she throws back at him. Nyah, nyah, nyah!
Helen draws herself up, stomach in, chest wa-aay out, and stalks off, the others tagging helplessly after her. She leads them to the end of the cave – which suddenly opens up into a valley, with a very traditional-looking lost city at the far side of it. “There can’t be another world in the bowels of the moon!” objects Walt. Not to mention one with its own sky. As for the inside of it, well, we got Grecian columns, a statue of Buddha, another of Kali, and African artifacts on the walls… There’s even a carving that bears a resemblance to A Certain Ebon Deity...although his horns are a little droopy, which perhaps isn’t altogether surprising, under the circumstances.
I'm not the least bit surprised to find you involved in this...
As the crew gapes in amazement, Laird runs his hands through the ashes in a brazier. “Cold,” he observes. “I’d say there hasn’t been a fire lit here for many years – perhaps centuries. Probably an extinct civilisation…” Of course, as you’ve no doubt gathered by now, Laird only has to say something to be instantly squashed by his crew. Kip points out that it took “a form of intelligence” to steal their suits. “A very high form, to build a place like this,” Helen concurs, in a wholly unjustified tribute to the film’s art director, William Glasgow. The final blow is dealt by Walt, who finds a second brazier all ready to be lit – which (courtesy of Helen’s matches) they do.
By this time, however, Kip has
had enough, and he starts grilling Helen on what she knew and when she
knew it. Finally Laird intervenes, opining that they shouldn’t “lose
their senses”. Helen gives Kip a dirty look and invites Doug to go with
her, to look around. But no sooner are they around the first Grecian
column than Helen draws back, allowing Doug to be attacked – and us to
get our first good look at – a Cat-Woman!
Rowr!! Embarrassingly, Doug is unable to
fight off this slenderly built creature, and winds up on his back with
her hands around his throat, as Helen slips away...
Doug finally manages to call for help, and after a full second and a half of non-reaction the other men come running, causing the Cat-Woman to flee. Doug then makes the thoroughly incredible assertion that he couldn’t see what attacked him – of course not: she was only kneeling on his chest – then diverts attention from his embarrassing ass-whupping by pointing that not only did Helen not help him – she’s gone!
At that moment, a second Cat-Woman appears in the main chamber and waves her hands over the lit brazier. The fire goes out, and she vanishes. Noticing the former, at least, Walt yells, “The fire!” and all four men rush towards the brazier, mouths gaping, this incident being apparently even more startling than atmosphere on the moon, Giant Dangling Hairy Spider Puppets, or strange women in black leotards. The men spread out to look for Helen, and Kip is immediately jumped by three Cat-Women, who run away when he fires his gun.
This is, by the way, the sixth shot fired from Kip’s revolver...
Paging Dr Freud.
Doug then redeems himself a tad by capturing a fourth Cat-Woman, but she vanishes beneath the very eyes of the Earth men. After a stunned moment, Kip makes the inevitable remark: “Anything in the book about that?” Seeing that Laird has been thoroughly crushed, Kip announces that he has “a feeling” (hey, I thought only wimmin got those!?) that Helen will be back. The men agree to wait an hour.
Helen, meanwhile, is finally meeting up with her moon-bound sisters – and ooh, check out the lace curtains! “It’s been a long journey, Helen – welcome to the moon!” pronounces Alpha, with all the warmth and sincerity of an airline stewardess (and I can say that! – this was 1953, remember!). Holding Helen’s hand, Alpha proclaims that she is now “one of us”, although I suspect she means “one of those”, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Alpha then explains that the Cat-Women can project their thoughts, as well as speaking “all of the Earth’s tongues”, while Beta chips in with, “Don’t forget, our generation pre-dates yours by centuries!” Eh?
Helen thanks them for her genius-level skill in celestial navigation, and makes reference to “the others”, allowing Beta to sniff, “We have no use for men!” I don’t dispute the sentiment, necessarily, but given that we learn that the last moon men died out about twenty years earlier, this pronouncement does rather smack of sour grapes. Although – it is fairly strongly suggested that Beta, at least, wouldn’t have any “use” for men even if there had been some around – if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
Alpha goes on to explain about the depletion of the moon’s atmosphere and the planned genocide (!) to restrict the population, which as it turned out was only postponing the inevitable, and which left the few eventual survivors trapped in this small pocket of air. Their only hope was to wait and hope that a spaceship would come and allow them a means of escape. After bemoaning the fact that there were no “all-female crews” (right on, sister!), Alpha tells Helen they decided to concentrate on her – and that, now that’s she’s here, she, Beta and Lambda will return to Earth with her. Helen points out that they need the men’s knowledge to fly the ship, and that they (the Cat-Women) have admitted not being able to read their minds or control their actions. “They will teach us how!” smirks Beta. “Show us their weak points! We’ll take care of the rest!”
The thing I enjoy about this film is its graphic realism.
Hmm. For someone who’s never been around a man, Beta sure does seem to understand them. Though I guess if she’s been reading Earth women’s thoughts all these years, she’d have a pretty comprehensive knowledge of men’s “weak points”, if nothing else…
Helen then makes the discovery that she doesn’t care what happens to her colleagues. “Of course you don’t – because we don’t,” explains Alpha. (“One of us, one of us…”)
Back with the men, Laird is pointing out it’s been an hour. “You were wrong, Kip!” Right on cue, Helen arrives with her new sisters. After a repeat of the “They speak English!” trope, Helen explains that Kip’s gun frightened the moon women, and that she promised he’d put it away. Kip refuses, then gets belligerent on the subject of the suits, finally provoking a cry of, “Oh, don’t be such a boor!” from Helen. At this, Alpha proves she speaks the universal female language, at least, saying in a pitying tone, “It’s all right, my dear – I understand!” Helen then dismisses Kip with a sniffy, “Pay no attention to him – he’s only the co-pilot!”
Helen introduces Laird, Doug and Walt – whose “weak points” are, we assume, rather more accessible than Kip’s. The Cat-Women start plying the Earth men with food – except for Kip, who plonks himself down in a chair at one edge of the room, spreads his legs, and starts waving his gun around in front of his crotch. As the others roll their eyes ecstatically over what looks like lunar fondue, Kip defiantly unwraps his space-rations and has a meagre dinner. As he does so, he allows his contemptuous gaze to travel up the length of a Cat-Woman, from her little black booties to her styled-with-glue hair – stopping briefly at the tray she holds, which appears to be stacked with Hostess Sno-Balls. Kip then screws up the wrapper in which his rations came and tosses it away – thus earning himself the dubious honour of being the very first Interplanetary Litterbug. Nice one, Kip.
Hostess Sno-Balls! These are hard to make. They're a very advanced race.
Ever since Doug and Lambda first locked eyes---zing! It’s lurrve! It eventually occurs to him to ask after the Cat-Women’s “men folk”, and Lambda tells him sadly that they died out when she was just a child – which prompts a huge grin from Doug and a cheerful exclamation of, “Gee, it’s lucky we came along!” Lambda has already inquired of Doug whether he has “a special Earth girl” – bet you didn’t see that one coming – and with his road clear, Doug proceeds to dazzle the innocent young Cat-Woman with glorious visions of life on Earth. By which of course he means Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, Walt and Laird are busy fully justifying the Cat-Women’s low opinion of their sex. Walt, after leering at Beta and talking with his mouth full, falls hook, line and sinker for her scoffing remark, “Gold? But it’s so common!” Laird responds to Alpha’s flattering attentions by squirming in his seat and going, “Uhhuhhuhhuh!”, but still refuses to explain the automatic pilot to her – at least until she starts plying him with booze. At which Laird (or at least Sonny Tufts) sits up, rubs his hands back and forth over his thighs, and literally licks his chops in eager anticipation.
At length the Cat-Women leave for the night. Kip tries to pull his demoralised colleagues into line but gets nowhere, with the others laughing meaningfully over Walt’s departure with Beta. This is the final straw for Kip: he hauls Helen into the next room, and accuses her of working with the Cat-Women. In the process, he grabs her hand, which somehow breaks Alpha’s control over her – ain’t it romantic? – and what was shaping up as a violent row turns into one of the most hysterically overwrought declarations of mutual passion ever committed to film.
However, not realising how he’s broken Alpha’s hold on Helen, Kip releases her hand – and next thing we know, she’s got that look in her eye again. Kip wants to do the right thing and tell Laird what’s happened, but Helen convinces him to leave it to her. They go back in, and Kip apologises to Laird for having doubted Helen (during which exchange, Jory and Tufts have the most amusing neck-rubbing contest). Kip then suggests to Laird that when Walt gets back, he “eat him out on general principles”. I think he means “chew him out”.
I hope he means “chew him out”.
If anyone ever asks you to define the expression "caught between a rock and a hard place"...
Meanwhile, Beta having made it a condition of showing Walt the cave of gold that he first show her the rocketship, she pumps him for information about its controls and soon has a firm grasp of how to operate it:
Beta: “In other words – this controls this, in a ratio of six-to-one; the speed control retardant; the stabiliser; and the cut-off!”
Walt: “You’re too smart for me, baby! I like ’em stupid!”
Along with all the major male anxieties addressed in these lost civilisation films, Cat-Women Of The Moon deigns to deal with a more minor, if persistent, one: just what do women do, when they’re alone together? The answer is more horrible, more terrifying, than any man could have possibly imagined. No, they don’t sit around talking about men; and nor – worse still! – do they sit around not talking about men. They do – Interpretive Dance!!
Or at any rate, the Cat-Women do. This embarrassing sequence goes on for some time, until a restless Doug rises from his bed and enters the room, drawing Lambda from the ritual, and into a passionate embrace. They leave together….
Oh, okay – so life in Brooklyn is better than a life spent doing Interpretive Dance. Probably.
Kip observes these departures, and goes back to report to Helen that, “I feel like a chaperone at a fraternity dance!” Set on her own schemes, Helen warns Kip that Lambda is, “The dangerous one!” “That kid?” objects Kip, but agrees to go after the love-birds, observing that, “In the mood they were in, I don’t imagine they went very far!” Because, you know, when you’re about to have illicit sex with someone from another species, you want to stay as close to the other members of your expedition as possible. With Kip out of the way, Helen moves in on Laird…and I do like the business-like way she rubs her hands together before getting down to work.
Considering how many years they've had to work on this, you'd think they'd be a bit more coordinated.
Meanwhile, in the cave of gold, as Walt slobbers and slavers and counts up his wealth, Beta strikes a blow for all women of all nations, all worlds, all universes, by drawing a knife and shoving it slo-oo-owly between his shoulder blades...
Outside, Doug and Lambda are kissing in the, uh, Earth-light, I guess, when suddenly Lambda breaks down, confessing the Cat-Women’s evil scheme to Doug. Kip returns to the main building where, to his indignation, he finds Helen cosying up to Laird. “You know,” Laird observes, rubbing his neck frantically, “I’m beginning to think there’s something to this whole ‘moon’ and ‘romance’ stuff!” Helen chips in, informing Kip that all that “poppycock” she spouted outside on the terrace was just to get him to go away – “So go away!” she orders, rubbing herself against Laird, who responds with a goofy smile and more “Uhhuhhuhhuh!”-ing. Kip walks off in disgust. (Hey, Kip! Take me with you! Please!!)
Lambda joins the other Cat-Women, and Alpha gives it as her opinion that four of them will be well able to conquer the Earth all on their own. You might be tempted to accuse Alpha of getting overambitious here; but then again, as far as she knows the best that the human race has to offer is represented by Sonny Tufts, Victor Jory and Marie Windsor; so you can’t really blame her for getting carried away.
Lambda then makes a brave, if stupid, attempt to convince the others that they don’t have to conquer Earth; they can just live on it. “She’s fallen in love!” sneers Beta, and Lambda admits this to be so. Alpha is furious, informing Lambda that when she gets to Earth, she and Beta will have breeding partners chosen for them “eugenically” (why do I suspect that this arrangement is even less appealing to Beta than it is to Lambda?), and will bear girl children for the glory, yada-yada. Lambda continues her defiance, until Alpha deals her a thunderous blow on the cheek – her hand clearly not getting within six inches of Lambda’s face.
You GO, girl!!
Meanwhile, Doug rushes in to tell all to Kip, who treats him to a healthy dose of sarcasm until he gets to the part about the women working on the men – Laird included. “Laird!” exclaims Kip, light dawning.
(Man, but Victor Jory’s eyes were close together! You know, my grandmother always said you couldn’t trust a man whose eyes were too close together…among others.)
Kip rushes back into the main room, where Laird is helpfully explaining the workings of the ship to Helen. Kip accuses her of being a, uh, cat’s-paw, spills his guts about the earlier scene on the terrace, and – finally realising the significance of the hand-holding – grabs Helen, traps her arm under his armpit (ew!), seizes her hand in his, and breaks the spell again. Helen moans, “Oh, thank you, Kip!” and continues to hitch her breath and gasp in a way that, well, let’s just say that if Kip and Helen weren’t already planning on getting married when they returned to Earth, now they’d pretty much have to. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.
This scene ends with another Hysterically Overwrought Declaration, another Passionate Embrace – and Laird giving Kip a well-deserved punch on the nose. Helen, the spell broken again, takes advantage of the fracas to run away. Lambda joins the men, telling them that Helen, Alpha and Beta have left for the ship with three of the suits; she herself hid the other two. Kip, Doug and Lambda rush off, leaving Laird alone to wax philosophical:
Laird: “There comes a time when you can’t find it in the book! I know that now…”
Lambda gives the two hidden suits to Kip and Doug, then dematerialises herself, rematerialising in front of the three women. (This does kind of raise the question of why the Cat-Women didn’t just materialise themselves onto the ship – or down to Earth, for that matter.) She first tries to convince them that her earlier behaviour was “a moment of weakness” and then, when they don’t buy it, tries to break Alpha’s hold on Helen. She begins to make ground, so Beta picks up a piece of foam rubber lying handily nearby, and taps her on the head with it, killing her.
Tragically, Lambda was destined to know neither the pleasures of living in Brooklyn, nor of what we call a "Coke".
Poor Lambda’s sacrifice has not been in vain, however. Doug and Kip catch up, the former sinking to his knees to weep for his lost love, the latter firing his gun wildly – his empty gun. Hmm...
(Furthermore, Kip favours that unnerving “jerk your wrist up and down” mode of gunplay.)
Cat-Women Of The Moon then reaches its unforgettably dramatic climax as---the camera stays on Doug and Lambda, and Kip’s dubbed voice announces cheerfully, “Doug, the Cat-Women are dead! Helen’s all right!”
Fade to the rocketship, where Laird has just finished comforting Doug; a scene we are mercifully spared. Doug makes radio contact with Whitesands, the radio operator sputtering, “What? Who? Whitesands to Moon Rocket 4 – was that you?” No, it was Jehovah’s Witnesses! Who else, you moron?
Mission control then asks what happened?
“That,” says Doug mournfully, “is a long story!”
Doug, my boy (she said, glancing down to discover she’s written an appalling fifteen pages of text!!), you are so right. You are so-oo-oo-oo right…
Want a second opinion of Cat-Women Of The Moon? Visit Badmovies.org.
Click here for some Immortal Dialogue! (And in spite of appearances, no, I did not transcribe the entire film.)