And while you’re there?
Film Movement+ maintains an incredible library of well over 500 different cinematic treats from around the globe. No matter your desire, I suspect there’s something in their catalogue to tickle your fancy.
Though it’s easy to dismiss so much of it as – ahem – shlock, so very much of these early films went to great lengths to establish some of the basic tropes that ruled an awful lot of genre entertainment for the decades that followed. Alien invaders of Earth largely came to prominence at this time, and they often looked down on us commoners with a lowly place in the galaxy and our flawed understanding of science. They typically brought with them their ray guns and their robots if for no other reason than to demonstrate their superior grasp over weaponry and manufacturing. Furthermore, they often spoke the language of ideas only the brainiest among us could understand, which tended to yet again put the regular Joes like you and me in our place. And – dare I mention? – there was always the prospect of some interspecies lovemaking possible, though industry censors would’ve never allowed anything close to legitimate coupling to play anywhere near your local movie theater.
Because these films put so much of the building blocks in place for storytellers to build on later, I do tend to admire even the lesser entries like Devil Girl From Mars (1954).
Why, even its bare bones production is showing from start-to-finish in what some have labelled a ‘one-house affair.’ Our fiendish invader is decked out what looks like black patent leather (gasp!) looking like a low-rent Darth Vader well before his time on the silver screen. She stares out mercilessly from under a black skull cap, the kind Ming the Merciless first introduced we puny Earthlings to. And she possesses the power to mesmerize both men and women to do her bidding, though – as we learn – she’s come here with only the intention of finding a few good men able to assist in repopulating the society of Earth.
Yes, she has sex on her mind. Not gratuitous or romantic, per se. Just the kind that’ll bring her people back into prominence. And who can blame her from coming here? We Earthmen are such catches, especially in this part of the galaxy.
Mars needs men. I’m sure if she asked she’d fine plenty of takers.
From the film’s IMDB.com citation:
“An uptight, leather-clad female alien, armed with a ray gun and accompanied by a menacing robot, comes to Earth to collect Earth’s men as breeding stock.”
In all of Science Fiction and Fantasy films – especially those conceived and produced in bygone eras – it’s exceedingly rare for those invading Martians (or any other species, for that matter) to travel across those vast distances because they want our men. Generally, it’s the women who are in grave peril, and it’s up to the – ahem – rough’n’tumble of the species to take up arms, rise up, and send those aggressors back home with their proverbial tail between their proverbial legs (assuming they have a tail … or legs, for that matter).
And yet 1954’s Devil Girl From Mars turns the tables on those gender roles: Nyah (played with stoic delight by the perfectly lovely Patricia Laffan) shows up with his ship, her laser, and her robot, delivering a story of how the Red Planet’s ‘War Of The Sexes’ left Martian females without enough Martian males to warm up their beds at night. In order to rebuild the species, she’s come to Earth in search of some red-blooded males, and – by hook or by crook – she’s intent on bringing home the bacon … metaphorically speaking, that is.
Given the fact that so much of the film’s action takes place around a single set piece – namely, a secluded Scottish inn resting in God’s country – it comes as no surprise that IMDB.com lists that the script evolved from what may’ve been a stage play crafted by John C. Mather and James Eastwood. As one who spent a fair amount of my extracurricular time in high school and college involved in theater, the entire structure of the film feels like it could’ve been assembled that way originally and then, perhaps, expanded to film when the opportunity presented itself. Information available from Wikipedia.org suggests that Mather was involved in transforming the property for director David MacDonald; apparently, a previous production finished its studio booking early, so rather than lose the time and resources with downtime he was conscripted to put Devil Girl into high gear.
Outside of the obvious, there’s very little to distinguish Devil Girl. The cast is a competent ensemble to deliver what tension the thin script provides. The narrative wastes an awful lot of space, however, as Nyah ends up passing back-and-forth from her ship to the Inn’s sitting room, issuing decrees, threatening the plebes. Essentially, she’s whiling away her moments waiting for faithful robot to repair the vessel; the various exchanges don’t so much advance the plot as they fill time in an otherwise trim 80-minute feature. She gravitates from taking one man back home with her to the next, ultimately falling prey to the cast’s last-ditch effort to save themselves from eradication.
To her credit, Laffan gives the work its only real teeth. In the guise of the dominating Nyah, she chews through scenery so admirable I’m surprised the silver screen didn’t see more of her, at least in similar fare. It would appear that her work had dried up by the late 1960’s – a crying shame – and she must’ve transitioned into other things. Fortune favors the bold, and she certain gave Mars – along with the sexual subjugation of men – about as enticing a look as one could imagine at the time.
When it comes to vintage Science Fiction and Fantasy, I’m really not one to mix words: I know what I like, and I’m happy to promote what I know. Devil Girl From Mars – as imperfect as it is – remains one of those lesser features that never quite had the chance to be anything more than ‘cult.’ Like a theatrical play, its shooting location is largely limited to a single venue. Its story requires more than a fair amount of high camp. And its practical effects – while only occasionally impressive – don’t quite rise to the level of big studio competitors. Still, … can I just say I had a lotta fun watching it? Some days, that’s good enough for me!
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Film Movement provided me with a complimentary streaming link to Devil Girl From Mars (1954) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.