‘WB Archive Collection’ - 1958. Color and CinemaScope. 80 mins. AR: 2.35:1 Directed by Edward Bernds. Story by Ben Hecht. Screenplay by Charles Beaumont. Cinematography by William Whitley. Set Decoration by Joseph Kish. Second Unit Director – William Beaudine Jr. With: Zsa Zsa Gabor, Eric Fleming, Laurie Mitchell, Paul Birch.
It should be noted that Laurie Mitchell, the ‘heavy’ in this Sci-Fi frivolity, passed away on September 23 of this year, aged 90, of natural causes. Her contribution to the supplemental commentary track, prompted by historian Tom Weaver, has therefore become instantly of real value.
The nominal protagonist, played by Hungarian glamour queen Zsa Zsa Gabor, incidentally, died on December 18th, 2016, aged 99. These were some durable ladies. Though Zsa Zsa’s shtick robbed her of any claim to serious artistic endeavor, she’s actually quite pleasant in this undemanding role, always looking at the actor she is playing with and listening to what he or she is saying. She’s an odd piece of workmanship, but she’s in the moment when the camera rolls, and actually that’s a tad more than most of the other all-female inhabitants of the planet Venus. Apparently off-screen she was a terror. Too many pretty young Venusians to distract the male cast and crew members.
Yes, it all takes place on Venus. For no particular reason at all. And the masked ‘queen’ (Ms. Mitchell) plans to destroy the Earth with a death ray. Shades of the Flash Gordon serials. I guess that’s where Ben (NOTORIOUS, FRONT PAGE, KISS OF DEATH) Hecht (!) and Charles (TWILIGHT ZONE, THE SEVEN FACES OF DR. LAO, BURN, WITCH, BURN) Beaumont (!) derived some of their inspiration. There is not a word, not even a syllable that brings either of those fine screenwriters to mind. It has been long-rumored the film was supposed to have been intended as a smart and biting satirical comedy, but the producers cut out the funnier gags and demanded the film be played straight. And it has been acknowledged elsewhere that the story appears to have very likely been cannibalized from an earlier film called ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS.
Warner Archives’ restorative touch has punched up the art direction. The sets consist of a collection of ceiling-high flats painted in bright, gaudy colors, which the art department team keeps re-arranging like a rubic’s cube, hoping that undemanding viewers will accept them as different spaces. I’m sure it kept the budget down, and it kinda works.
This is a party film – a bunch of people sitting around and accepting it’s foibles and having a good time should work just fine as the film’s latter day audience.
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