Director/Screenplay/Producer – Cy Roth, Photography (b&w) – Ian D. Struthers, Art Direction – Scott MacGregor. Production Company – Criterion Films
Anthony Dexter (Luther Blair), Susan Shaw (Hestia), Paul Carpenter (Captain Larson), Jacqueline Curtis (Duessa), Owen Berry (Prasus), Harry Fowler (Sydney Stanhope), Sydney Tafler (Higgins), Rodney Diak (Anderson)
A five-man joint Anglo-American space mission, Expedition 13, is launched from Earth to explore the thirteenth moon of Jupiter. The astronauts land to find an Earth-like world. After saving a woman being menaced by a monstrous creature, they follow her into a cave. They discover a society there and are welcomed by the aging Prasus, who tells him that this is New Atlantis and was founded by the survivors of old Atlantis on Earth. He is the last man left alive and all that remains are the women of New Atlantis. The expedition leader Blair is told that Hestia, the girl he saved, Prasus’s daughter, is now his because he saved her life. As the men enjoy life in New Atlantis, sedition grows amongst the ranks of the women.
The 1950s was the Golden Age of Science-Fiction. Mostly the genre was obsessed with alien invaders and atomic monsters and a distant third to this was films dealing with space exploration. Destination Moon (1950) had started the decade off with the sheer boldness of its vision but interest in outer space and conquering the High Frontier had soon given away to an age of anxiety. Among these ventures into space was a bizarre genre of films that might be called outer space sex fantasies, which include the likes of Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), Cat Women of the Moon (1953), Devil Girl from Mars (1954), Queen of Outer Space (1958), The Astounding She-Monster (1958), Missile to the Moon (1959) and Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962) in which astronauts encounter planets filled with all women or else women come to Earth seeking male breeding specimens. These films reveal attitudes that would appal us today – where women are regarded as evil or at best misguided for thinking they can dispense with men; where what they are really hungering for all along is some old male loving and, once applied, this sets the traditional balance of the sexes aright once again. In other words, they are male-centric fantasies about putting women in their place for thinking they know better than men.
Cat Women of the Moon is usually regarded as the Z-movie classic in this particular genre. I would be happy to put forward the argument that Fire Maidens of Outer Space is an even worse variant of essentially the same plot. The effects are expectedly impoverished – when we see the rocketship coming in for a landing, the rocket’s vapour trail has merely been double-exposed over the trees. The alien moon looks laughably terrestrial – the planet’s surface seems like no more than a standard woodland park with a monster roaming in the trees amid nicely mown pathways, while the cave where the New Atlanteans live appears to have its own sunlight and hedges and looks as though it has simply been shot at some holiday resort or sanatorium. The science is feeble – at one point, it is announced ‘Gentlemen, we are in freeflight,– [an early way of referring to zero g] but all that we see are ordinary men sitting in lab coats and civvies around a console. (Not to mention smoking in a recycled air environment).
Perhaps what is worse than this is the sheer shabbiness of Cy Roth’s set-ups – this is a director to whom style seems an alien concept and who has just shot each scene by vaguely aiming the camera in the direction of what is happening. Visually, the film looks shabby. If you say nothing else about ‘Cat Women of the Moon, at least Arthur Hilton had an essentially competent directorial style. This is a far more poorly directed, lazily plotted, shabbily shot and indifferently produced film in all regards.
Fire Maidens of Outer Space was the third and final directorial film of American director Cy Roth. Elsewhere, Roth directed two pitifully cheap war films Combat Squad (1953) and Air Strike (1955). Although Fire Maidens of Outer Space is a US production, you get the impression that it was shot in England due to the number of British actors among the supporting cast. This has been explained away by stating that the expedition is a joint Anglo-American mission.