Some movies are just plain nuts. Devil Girl from Mars (1954) is kinda like that. It seems pretty simple. The titular Devil Girl from Mars, black and white, the date. A mysterious meteor and an unidentified aircraft (the meteor destroys a plane, its explosion launching the opening titles). A reporter and professor in search of the meteor. All set in the remote Scottish highlands. Yeah. Things start to get goofy right away. Not to say science fiction can't play outside of Hollywood, USA (the Quatermass movies, for instance, are excellent) but an inn in the highlands as the primary location might arch a brow or two.
Even before the viewer is introduced to bonny Scotland (well, Scotland reconstructed in the studiothe sets are very well done, interior and exteriors) the credits inform that the whole thing is based on a play. That should raise flags. But like all lovers of B-movies, we proceed, throwing caution and sense to the wind.
Its origin in...some theater becomes evident as the movie continues. Half or more takes place in the inn and most of that in the same large room, containing a sitting area, dining area, and a bar stocked like a night clubthe inn is "closed for winter, except the bar." And it's plenty open. When the reporter and professor become lost, they stop at the "pub" (a far more accurate term) and quickly order a "couple of big scotches." The innkeeper is apparently a bit of a souse (when his wife lets him) and drinking almost seems to be a motif during the first half of the film. By minute 13, four character have had six drinks (one is claimed to be tomato juice but don't you believe it). At least three more are consumed just after the half hour markduring the "drinking speech." Another hint at the story coming from the stage is the tendency for the actors to emote and speechify rather than dialogue. Observe:
Carter (the hard-bitten reporterthey always are):
...well [drinking alcohol] is an acquired taste. I've acquired it.
Prestwick (the woman hiding out from her disappointing romantic past):
Did it take a long time? To acquire it, I mean.
Carter (chewing scenery like a wood chipper):
Long enough. There was the Spanish War, the invasion of Italy, D-Day, Belsen, Czechoslovakia, a few atomic explosions which I did not see. And now this: a Martian ship, a flying saucer. But for me it's not so much a landmark, but a journey's end....1
That the drinking motif drops away shortly after may just be symptomatic of the mess of ideas and directions the movie is moving in all at once.
Then there's another thing thrown in before the Devil Girl first appears in her flying toy top. See there's an escaped convict. A murderer (or not) and he shows up at the inn posing as a hiker. Just so happens that his girlfriend works there. Small world. This leads to some red herring-scented suspicions and pseudo-threats to the core group. Even a third-rate Howard Hawks would have a time directing this little band of trapped characters.
Of course, this is about a "Devil" "Girl" and it makes sense to take a look at that. See, there's yet another hit-over-the-head faux subtext: antifeminism. This might work in a competent play (one may pretend that the original was and the movie is a bastardizationthough one with the playwright helping with the adaptation) handled by a good director. Perhaps a novel. An interesting discussion could be made. Here it is not. And while pretty much goofy fun, not over the top and histrionical enough to really make the movie "great" in that sense saved for the truly nutty flick.
Again, going back to the theatrics of the speech rather than dialogue and discussion (at least Hollywood would have used a voice-over and given the viewer some exploding model work or somethingall that's left is Nyah, clad in her black rubber/plastic/leather outfit and her Ming the Merciless skullcap...which might actually appeal to some), it's best to let the Devil Girl explain:
Many of your earth years ago, our women were similar to yours today. Our emancipation took several hundred years. And ended in a bitter, devastating war between the sexes. It was the last war we ever had. ...
... After the war of the sexes, women became the rulers of Mars. But now the male is falling into a decline. The birthrate is dropping tremendously. Despite our advanced science, we still have found no way to create life.
Silly girls. Thinking they could rule better and without men. The word is "uppity," isn't it? If that isn't enough to inspire grins or groans at its inanity (a bit too stupid to be offensive but not enough to make it laugh out loud funny). So the women screwed up by conquering the male and are now suffering for it. Got what they deserve, right? Whatever. The level of discussion is lower than that of the fake butter at the bottom of the popcorn buckets that probably littered the theater floor after the showing.
Nyah reveals that she has come to earth mainly in order to get some "new blood," to "select some of your strongest men to return with me tomorrow." It seems, contrary to the 1967 movie, Mars needs men.
But "advanced science" can't save the women. Not the "paralyzer ray," the "organic metal" out of which the ship is built, or a "perpetual motion chain reactor beam"the ultimate weapon, it seems (how does it work? "As fast as matter was created, it was changed by its molecular structure into the next dimension. And so destroyed itself." Of course. Duh.). No, all those advances can't save them from the love of a good man. Or a strong man. Or some kind of man.
And she means to have this "new blood" ("there is no if"). Nyah is bulletproof, electrical shock proof, able to teleport (using the fourth dimension...), able to hypnotize, and colder than a Hitchcock heroine. Additionally, her advanced technology enables her to erect an invisible wall around the house to prevent escape (and contain the action to fewer sets) and she has the aid of a clunky, boxy (he ain't no Gort) robot named "Charlie" who is able to vaporize things like model trucks, prop trees, and even people (though apparently not eyeglassesgo figure).
Things happen. A child goes missing, the convict gets outed, the group has to decide who will return to Mars with her, thus saving the rest from deathone of those group dilemmas that, with good writing and direction, might have made for more interesting and tense filmmaking. Even the intrusion of a love interest (too quick and convenient to be anything but a poorly forced plot complication) does little to create suspense any more than the swell of saccharine music makes the awkward-looking love scenes "romantic."
In the end, one of the men volunteers to be the sacrifice. Does it really matter who? Suppose so. It was the one guy. Remember? Yeah, him. What a hero. And is the Devil Girl thwarted? Of course, she is. Devil Girls (especially Martian ones) are always thwarted (this time involving a rather nifty special effect that was a pleasant surprise). And it ends with the remaining survivors preparing to have drinks..."on the house."
Jokes aside, the first few minutes were promising. Nice sets, decent camerawork, seemed creepy enough for 1954. It began to spin apart after that. Pretty hard to recommend it. The sort of movie that would be run as a second or third film (since most viewers would nod off after the feature film) as part of one of those late night creature feature shows that used to exist on local television stations. Miss those days. This film would've felt right at home there. Not sure where it fits, now.
1The speech does not end there, it continues a few more lines. When I do these movies, I keep notes in little notebooks. Character names, summaries of plot points, the occasional phrase or observation I come up with to use later, all those quotes that I usually have to watch and rewatch the scene to get accurate. At that point in the speech, I broke down and wrote:
what is this thing about
Sorta sums up my first impressions.
(Sources: personal copy of DVD triple feature also including Monster from Green Hell and Rocketship X-M, facts checked and further research done at www.imdb.com; note: the sound was horrible for this movie and necessitated turning the television way up to hear anything...on the other hand, it was a one of those bargain DVDs)