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:: Monday, October 06, 2003 ::

Cat-Women of the Moon

Audacious and daring, Cat-Women of the Moon spins a cracking yarn of exploration, intrigue, romance and treachery -- set in a cloud-city deep in the bowels of the Moon. As epic in scope as it is feeble in purchase, Cat-Women of the Moon commands you to sit down and watch.

I'm not claiming that the film is without its faults. To be sure, CWOTM has its detractors. But if you haven't been getting your recommended daily allowance of love starved moon maidens on the prowl, CTOTM is your ideal supplement. Let's look at the film.

Not afraid to defy a major science-fiction convention, the film begins after rocket day. We meet our heroes in their spacecraft and well on their way to the moon.

Look familiar? Yes, it's the spaceship set from Project Moonbase. At least Heinlein had the good sense to leave the roller chairs and chaise lounge back on Earth.

Here's our mission commander, Laird Grainger (Sonny Tufts), faking the Gees. Laird has an incomprehensible mode of speech attributable to either his Boston accent, or his love of the fruit of the vine. IMDB says:

Born into a prominent Boston family of bankers whose patriarch was said to have arrived in America from England in 1683, Sonny Tufts would end his career as a Hollywood "bad boy," immersed in drink and scandal.

So one must guess that the answer is yes on both accounts.

Laird's crew consists of copilot Kip Reissner (Victory Jory), navigator Helen Salinger (Marie Windsor) and two red-shirts. When the Gees subside, captain and crew make their way to their duty stations (no weightlessness here) and assume their duties. Helen's first priority?

Oh, those B-movie dames... [DSM!]

Once settled into their office chairs, the crew contact mission control at White Sands. After Laird announces the rocket ship's status, he grudgingly allows his crew to say a few words to the folks back on Earth. He admonishes them not to say anything goofy, after all "this is a scientific mission, not a stunt."

Naturally the crew gets goofy. After all, the purpose of this scene is to introduce them. The red-shirts need only the slightest characterization: the young one is homesick, while the older red-shirt is greedy. You can tell because he takes the opportunity to endorse some company's product.

On the other hand, Helen's broadcast is decidedly cryptic.

I'm sure you agree that foreshadowing is best served right in your face.

After the broadcast, the film treats us to the Obligatory Meteor Swarm.

An object strikes the rocket in the atomic engine, and sends the ship tumbling. While the situation is dire for the crew, it's a lesson in film school 101 for the film-makers and for us.

Ever wonder why star trek never showed a shot combining the bridge's main viewer and the ol' shakey camera trick? The answer is that they could not. It's extraordinarily difficult (read: expensive) to superimpose an object (e.g., the viewer) on a moving target.

But CWOTM (bless its heart) gives it the old college try. You could say it goes where no man has gone before. Examine the picture above. As the cockpit lurches upward, the viewscreen's image remains fixed in the center of the screen. It's dreadfully noticeable and nearly destroys the willing suspension of disbelief we must maintain in order to take this film seriously,

Back to the film: With the engine damaged, Kip has only seconds to suit up and stop the acid leak before the ship blows apart. Does he succeed?

No. This is a deceptively short movie. The end.

Kidding! Of course Kip saves the day.

Mind you, Kip saved the ship by contradicting his skipper. Captain Laird is a by-the-book skipper. While Laird's grateful to be alive, he's a bit peeved his co-pilot disobeyed him. Typical male, proud peacock vanity. [DSM!]

With the ship out of danger and back on course (bless the atomic engine), the film sits back and relaxes. A little exposition here, a little romantic triangle (Laird-Helen-Kip) there: not much happens. However the crew begin to notice that the intensity of Helen's weird behavior varies inversely to their distance from the Moon. Odd, that.

Landing on the Moon (off-screen, natch) the crew considers their options. Ex-Navy man Kip wants to start work on repairs. As he says: "we never wanted to enter an engagement from which we couldn't disengage." But Helen is adamant: they're on the Moon, they should start exploring. And with that, they suit up.

I see two suits nicked from Project Moonbase and three from Destination Moon. Both of them Heinlein films. Heinlein's legacy in film is small. I count five:

(1) Destination Moon,
(2) Project Moonbase,
(3) The Brain Eaters,
(4) The Puppet Masters, and
(5) Starship Troopers.

CWOTM is not number six. Not even a pretender. By borrowing sets, models and costumes from previous Heinlein films, CWOTM tries to walk the walk, but it can never talk the talk. Let's just get that out in the open right now.

Oh, and Helen doesn't like her exo-atmospheric wardrobe. Neither does Kip. Together they commiserate and accessorize as best they can.

Helen suggests the crew explore a cave she observed during the landing. Despite Kip's protests that Helen could not possibly have seen a cave from the ship's point of vantage, the crew decides "why the heck not?" After all, caves aren't dangerous.

I forgot to mention that they've landed on the dark side of the moon. How did Helen pick a landing site she could never have seen from Earth? Call it women's intuition. [DSM!] Helen's landing site turns out to be a blessing in disguise: the bright side of the Moon is incredibly hot. Approaching the terminator (the line between bright and dark), Laird borrows one of Helen's cigarettes to illustrate the hazards of walking in the harsh solar light.

Absorbing the full spectrum of unfiltered solar radiation, Helen's (unfiltered) cigarette bursts into flame. And it's not been five minutes since Kip pointed out that cigarettes won't burn in an oxygen-poor environment. Consider your intelligences insulted. And not for the first or last times in the film, either.

As the crew proceed into the lunar cave, they feel their boots growing heavier with each step. The only, possible explanation is that they are passing into an atmospheric environment deep inside the moon. No really. Captain Laird explains why.

Or rather he tries. Listen to him again. Whether from the stress or the sauce, Laird can't remember his line. Listen to the greedy red-shirt recover it. No second-takes on this film, that's for sure.

And with the discovery of a breathable atmosphere (confirmed by one of Helen's cigarette matches), the crew doff their suits. And just leave them in a pile, where any old Cat-Woman could steal them. Really. In shirtsleeves, our crew is now much more vulnerable to any potential giant spider attacks.

Visible piano wires and all, a giant spider lurches onscreen. With bared knives, our crew makes short work of it. Screaming in agony, the giant spider dies. Mind you, it's an official movie rule that every deadly spider has a vengeful mate.

This giant lunar spider's a bit hardier than its mate. When knives fail to silence it, Kip finishes off the beast with his gun. Good thing he brought it along! What, you've never heard a spider scream?

Consider it worth the price of admission.

As the men battle the spider, a Cat-Woman slinks onstage to plant some sort of device into Helen's palm. Is this really necessary? Aren't we already aware that Helen is under the telepathic control of the Moon's Cat-Women? Isn't this the film-equivalent of navel gazing?

Onward! By force of will and sheer women's intuition, Helen leads the crew to the destination of her mysterious quest: a giant, cloud-lined chamber deep within the heart of the moon. Inside, the crew mates discover the ruins of an ancient city.

Not too long into their cloud-city sojourns, our heroes are attacked by vicious lunar Cat-Women

While the fight favored our crew, Helen didn't appear to be a team player. Were her loyalties divided?

In fact they are. Cat-Woman "Alpha" steals Helen away to a secret cat-lair. There, she dumps a major load of exposition explains why Helen has come to be a member of this first lunar expedition.

For several years, Helen has been under the telepathic control of the Cat-Women. Educating her in the ways of celestial navigation, the Cat-Women have strived to secure for Helen a place on a lunar rocket.

Now that Helen is on the Moon (and within the total telepathic grasp of the Cat-Women), she shall be the means through which the Cat-Women can steal the rocketship and travel to Earth.

Why? To take over the world, of course. But how?

As you know, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Helen introduces the crew to the Cat-Women, who promptly ply the men with food and wine.

From the DVD Liner Notes:
Phipps [Homesick redshirt] recalls that Victor Jory [Kip] and Windsor [Helen] "took themselves so seriously," particularly Jory, who grumbled on the day before shooting began that if star Sonny Tufts [Laird] (a known carouser) took a drink during working hours, "I'll knock him on his (bleeping) ass!"

Here's Laird asking for a refill on the wine.

Since the Cat-Women can't establish psychic links with the Earthmen, they try to trick the crew into revealing how the rocketship works. Once the Cat-Women learn enough to fly to Earth, they'll dispose of the crew.

Always the skeptic, Kip's wise to the Cat-Women's treachery. He confronts Helen to make her spill the beans.

Always the gentleman, that Kip.

Meanwhile, the Cat-Women have the greedy redshirt totally bamboozled. He brings a Cat-Woman aboard Moon Rocket 4 and explains how he works the controls. She catches on quick... too quick if you ask him.

Once the Cat-Women learn all they can from him, they lure him with the prospect of gold nuggets to a deadly ambush. One down, three to go.

Sated, the crew retire for the night. They awake to the sights and sounds of the mysterious Cat-Women of the Moon interpretive dance.

The dance doesn't advance the plot, doesn't develop the Characters of the Cat-Women and doesn't really deserve to be in the film. Unless you came to the theater expecting to see Lunar Cat-Women dance. Enjoy it while it lasts, because the rest of the film quickly heads downhill.

With not much time remaining in the film, the love triangle between Laird, Helen and Kip is hastily resolved. An argument reveals that Helen's love for Laird is a hypnotic suggestion planted by the Cat-Women. Her trance shattered by Kip's strong grip, Helen declares her love for Kip. Laird takes the news rather well, considering.

Lambda, the youngest of the Cat-Women, falls hard for the homesick redshirt. Betraying her Cat-sisters, she confesses the Cat-plot and urges the men to leave at once. As the crew make their way back to their spaceship, the Cat-Women attack!

With his trusty pistol, Kip dispatches the Cat-Women (off screen). I suppose the film-makers couldn't think of a heroic way to show a leading man gunning down a gaggle of gals. Come to think of it, neither can I.

Our protagonists return to their rocketship and blast off. Helen (properly disabused of the notion that Cat-Women should take over the world) becomes once again a team player. When Mission Control radios for an update, the crew ruefully sigh that that's a long story. The end.

Upon reflection, Cat-Women of the Moon isn't the epic space struggle I thought it would be. It steals from the best, but churns out the worst. It's possible to film a space-age battle-of-the-sexes. In Like Flint hinted at the possibilities. But this film lacks Flint's charm. In fact, it lacks any charm.

Cat-Women of the Moon shares many of the same faults plaguing Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. Why go to the trouble of putting on the tropes of science fiction if you intend to contradict the science? Why take the pains to establish a presumably plausible (for 1953) journey to the Moon, if the film is more properly filed in the "lost tribe of Amazons" genre?

I'm not saying Amazon films don't have their place in the pantheon of B-moviedom: they do -- right next to the Women in Prison films. Just don't dress them up in Heinlein sets and costumes. That's almost false advertising.

In summary, Cat-Women of the Moon is a pretender to the rocketship film genre. It's not even a good drive-in movie. Would you take your date to a he-versus-she film in which one side won?

Two ears down
:: Anna 10:24 PM [+] ::

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