What was the first science fiction movie of the 1950s to be remade?
I’m thinking that you’re all guessing that it was a ground breakingly awesome conceptual dream, like maybe FORBIDDEN PLANET or THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD with all its fancy naturalistic dialog or maybe even EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS with those cool Harryhausen saucers crashing into every important DC landmark or maybe THEM, the CITIZEN KANE of Big Bug Flicks, or maybe something foreign and light years ahead of its time with its green attitude like GOJIRA. Well, you’re all wrong. It was CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON (1953), remade as MISSILE TO THE MOON (1958).
But I’m also thinking that you know where this is heading, and you’d be right:
FACE-OFF: To Decide The Best Ever Amazons On The Moon Movie Of The 1950s!
Long-time readers know the drill. I score the rival films like a boxing match with a ten point must system for each round. We tally up the score and the one with the most points at the end is declared the winner. It’s all very scientific.
Title: CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON. MISSILE TO THE MOON. Do I have to discuss this one? CW7/ MM3
Dimensions: For some inexplicable reason, C-W was filmed in 3D. Yes, it was a craze at the time, but it was also filmed on a soundstage with shallow sets so the couple of 3D shots we get are of gratuitous meteors streaking towards our faces. Still, I only saw this in 2D, so I might have missed some. On the other hand — I usually dislike 3D movies as they make my eyes hurt (the modern generation of them, anyway) and usually add little to the story. MM managed to get by in 2D without a problem. In the end, little to chose from. CW5/MM5
Lunar Landscapes: As per above, CW was filmed on a soundstage with generally decent backdrop paintings and a few distant matte shots. Sometimes the backdrops made it seem as if the lunar landscape was about twenty feet wide, and, weirdly, a distant matte shot of the Cat-Women’s lair (which is inside the moon) shows clouds. There is also an inexplicable backdrop painting of Monument Valley at one point. I though I was hallucinating, but Warren mentions it as well. MM was filmed in Red Rock Canyon, near Mojave, California. Pretty much looked like it, too. CW6/MM4.
Rocket Crew: Sonny Tufts was the captain of the C-W crew. Although I can’t say that I’m totally familiar with his oeuvre, Jesus Christ, he may be the worst actor I’ve ever seen in an, you know, actual movie where everyone keeps their clothes on. He was supposed to be this tough guy martinet type and he would frequently start off shouting his lines but somewhere along the way he’d either forget them, or get sheepish, or just say, screw it, and end up looking down at his feet and mumbling. The rest of the time he stands around grasping his belt with both hands as if afraid he was going to be depantsed and radished at any second. Admittedly, part of the charm of this movie is watching him preform. His rival, Richard Travis, of the MM crew, also starred in MESA OF LOST WOMEN, and you have to give him points for soldiering on after that experience. He was also born in Carlsbad, New Mexico, so that’s got to account for something. Unfortunately, he utterly (sometime literally) sleepwalks through this role. I don’t have the space (or energy) to critique the entire crews, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention Victor Jory, the well-known character actor who essays the second in command in C-W. I like this guy. He’s kind of shrimpy and odd-looking and this may be the first (or only) time he got to play the romantic lead in a film, and by God he runs with it. Good job, Victor. C-W8/MM2
Lunar Women: What we have here are International Beauty Contest Winners (MM) vs the Hollywood Cover Girls (C-W). On the whole, the IBCW were garbed more imaginatively (if not attractively) than the HCG, who wore basically black leotards. Their make-up, though was incredibly garish and unattractive, making them look like deranged or drunken floozies. One of the IBCW was the extraordinarily lovely Sanita Pelkey (see my Cheese Magnet review of THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW), a late 1950’s Miss New York, who had a tragically short career and a largely unhappy life where, if there any justice in the world, she would have been a major star and we’d all still be talking about her today. The big shots who made MM horribly underutilized her, sticking her in the back of the chorus where she was barely noticeable. I’m going to take a point away from them just for that affront. C-W7/MM3
Lunar Spiders: Each film has giant cave spiders. C-W, in fact, has two, though really it was only one getting to play two scenes. Not much to choose here, as both are rather low on the giant-spider scale, but they did supply a certain amount of amusement. Especially in C-W. When the spider comes out of the shadows to unexpectedly attack the female crew member, all four male crew members leap on it like a pack of dingoes, savagely stabbing it with long-bladed knives that you had no reason to suspect they had. The spider, though out-manned, fights back gamely, and the Chief Minion remarks laconically, “Why don’t they just cut its strings?” C-W wins this one because their spider was slightly more plucky. C-W6/MM4
Climax: Gotta say, MM wins here. At the climax of the film one of the IBCW who has fallen in love with one of the earthlings tosses a grenade that blows a hole in the dome and sucks all the air (rather slowly) out of the remains of their city. Fairly dramatic. In C-W Victor Jory and the baby-faced radio guy confront the Cat-Women who have stolen their spacesuits and are heading for the rocket. Radio guy stays behind a moment to administer first aid to a fallen ally as Victor Jory runs off-screen chasing the fleeing Cat-Women. Two shots ring out. Jory shouts: “The Cat-Women are dead! And Helen’s all right!” and that was pretty much it. They’d run out of time/ money. CW3/MM7
Before I announce the tally, just a few interesting random facts (as the suspense builds): The Rock Creatures in MM might have been the best part of the film. Even if they looked a little too much like Gumby. Neither film took notice of the extremely low Lunar gravity and neither also seemed the least bit conversant with the nature of a vacuum. The interior sets for C-W (as Bill Warren notes) were left over from 1938’s THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO, and were much cooler than the MM interiors. The control room for the C-W spaceship had one of my favorite 1950s technical tropes: the chairs were simple desk chairs, on rollers. They did have seatbelts, though.
And now, the winner: CAT-WOMEN in a walkover, 42-28.
To Quote Bill Warren on these films (because he gets it so right so often): CAT-WOMEN is “…one of the most alarmingly awful films in the history of movies…rarely dull, it is also so excruciatingly, stupidly bad as to plumb depths unheard of in science fiction films of that time…It is, however, very entertaining for those with a receptive attitude…[and to conflate two quotes here, without distorting any meaning] MISSILE TO THE MOON “…effortlessly manages to be even worse, as it substitutes a jaded incompetence for that film’s [C-W’s] innocent naivete…”
I would almost totally agree, except to say that I have seen films that were a lot worse than CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON. Check it out.