A hapless US bomber crew during WWII crash land on an island inhabited by a tribe of glamour girls in leather skirts, and dinosaur stock footage from One Million B.C. The result in this 1951 lost world potboiler is surprisingly dull. 1/10
Untamed Women. 1952, USA. Directed by W. Merle Connell. Written by George W. Sayre. Starring: Mikel Conrad, Doris Merrick, Richard Monahan, Mark Lowell, Morgan Jones, Midge Ware, Judy Brubaker, Carol Brewster, Autumn Russell. Produced by Richard Kay. IMDb: 3.9/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.
During WWII a US bomber crew is shot down over the Pacific. After an emergency landing in the ocean, four crewmen survive for eight days in an emergency raft, before floating ashore on an uncharted island. These are: pilot and hero Steve (Mikel Conrad), the insecure Ed with an Oedipus complex (Mark Lowell), the macho Andy (Morgan Jones) and the Brooklynite comic relief Benny (Richard Monahan). Here they are captured by a lost tribe of female Druids, led by high priestess Sandra (Doris Merrick), who can’t seem to decide between marrying the men or killing them. During the one-hour running time they also confront a lot stock images of Slurpasaurs from One Million B.C. (1940), as well as stock images from a volcanic eruption, also courtesy of One Million B.C. Just when the men have started to enjoy their stay among the untamed women, the “hairy men”, who previously killed off all the male druids, return for more savagery. With their guns, the US air force guys have the upper hand, but only until they run out of ammunition … The whole story is told in flashback, as the beginning of the movie sees an army doctor (Lyle Talbot) trying to shake the sole survivor (or is he?) Steve out of catatonia, so ge can tell his story to archaeologist Montgomery Pittman, who in turn is to decide whether Steve’s nightmarish experiences with the untamed Druids from out of history have actually happened or are just the ramblings of a madman.
This is one of the many “prehistoric women” adaptations squeezed out on scant budgets in Hollywood during the forties and fifties, all with scant plots and scant production values, produced with the single hope that male movie-goers would pay the price of admission in the hopes of seeing a collection of glamour girls with scant acting talent in scant clothing. These films had one great blessing, and that was their grandmother One Million B.C., containing enough lizards with fins glued on, volcanic eruptions, lava rivers, earthquakes and landslides to fill each movie with about 20 minutes of exciting special effects footage. Special effects footage that producer Hal Roach gladly sold to anyone who was interested. By 1952, at least four films had already taken advantage of the “dinosaurs” and disasters of One Million B.C., and we have reviewed one of them, Two Lost Worlds, here on Scifist.
I have found little information on the actual production of Untamed Women, but it was produced by Jewell Enterprises for United Artists. Producers were Harry Rybnick and Richard Kay, best known for producing the new English-language material for the US release of Gojira (1954) as Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956). This was the last feature film screenplay by George W. Sayre, a 20-year Hollywood veteran with his feet firmly planted in the Z-movie swamp. We have encountered him before at Scifist, in the deadly boring Torture Ship (1938, review), where we were treated to a lot of ship, but a conspicuous lack of torture. The pattern continues in Untamed Women, where there’s no shortage of women, but none of them seem particularly untamed, but rather display a lot more civilisation and obedience that the assorted collection of dimwit men who land on their island. The direction is handled by W. Merle Connell, who made a number of tame sexploitation films in the same vein, including Test Tube Babies (1948) and The Flesh Merchant (1956), best remembered for a scene in which Joy Reynolds undresses behind a chair.
So what works in Untamed Women? Well, for starters, the opening sequence involving a B-29 bomber is actually quite nice. There’s good use of stock footage, and the air force even let United Artists have one of their out-of-commission planes to play around with (not fly, of course). There’s a somewhat coherent story, and occasionally the split-screen and back projection shots integrating the characters with the stock footage are somewhat nifty. But that’s about it.
What doesn’t work? Well, pretty much everything else. While somewhat coherent, the script is still appallingly bad. The story shifts wildly from one sequence to the next, and little of it makes any sense. The Druid women claim to be ancestors of the English Druids, who, fleeing from the persecution of the Romans around 50 A.D. mounted a flotilla and came to the island. This would make sense, unless the island in question was located in the Pacific. How on Earth did they end up there? Of course, the Druid angle is just a convenient way of getting around the inevitable problem in all lost tribe and jungle movies: the language barrier. British Druids = English, right? Well, not the English of today, of course, which is why the script have them speak in a sort of Hollywood faux-Shakespearean manner, using words like “ye”, “thee” and “speaketh”. In reality, of course, the Druids would have spoken nothing like intelligible English. In fact, we don’t know what language the Druids spoke, but the people of Britannia at the time would have spoke languages in the Celtic language family. Funnily enough, the Druids in the film are much easier to understand than the Americans, speaking the “hip” jargon of the era. Geography and language aside, the Druids’ apparent hatred of men (or at least Sandra’s), stems from the fact that four years ago, “hairy men” came from the sea and slaughtered all the Druid men. We later meet these Stone Age brutes: bearded, unwashed barbarians swinging clubs and wielding spears. Who are they? Where did they come from? Why are there Stone Age barbarians living somewhere on an island in the Pacific and why are they constantly raiding the Druids’ island? The movie answers none of this. Neither does it answer why there are mammoths and dinosaurs on the island.
The dialogue is marvellously bad. The men speak only in macho one-liners and intensely bad puns. Mikel Conrad gets the film’s most legendary line: “Shoot anything with hair that moves.” There’s a voice-over in the beginning of the movie that sounds like a bad parody of a Mickey Spillane story. The women are stuck with lines like: “Thou speakest in riddles” or “Prythee, tell me more about this … Arkansas”. All the girls except the somewhat older Sandra suffer from a bad case of “born pretty yesterday” syndrome. Sandra, on the other hand, changes her mind about killing or marrying the men so many times it makes a viewer’s head swirl. And then, just to add some extra tension to the story, she allows them to live, but forbids them to have anything to do with the girls, despite the fact that the women themselves have repeatedly brought up the inconvenient fact that there are NO MEN on the island and saving the surviving Druids will be of little consequence of they do not somehow find some men to reproduce with. Sandra, apparently, has not given this much thought.
I could go on, but you get the gist. As in most films of this type, there is little “barbarian” or “untamed” about these women, rather they behave very much like 1950s pageant girls tend to behave, even lining up in pretty rows for the camera every time they convene in groups. They also take care to point with their feet when lounging on logs, and keeping one foot in front of the other when posing for the camera. And fortunately, the prehistoric island also seems to have a fabulous, hair dresser. Not even when making war do these women seem to lose their glamorous hairdos. To their credit, some of them are decent actresses. Their material doesn’t do them any favours, though. The men fare little better, and their acting isn’t improved by the fact that for much of the movie, they are forced to wear absolutely terrible false stubble — it looks like someone slathered glue on their faces and then just slapped on a bunch of pubic hairs. And while I applaud the unusual attempt at realism, it’s only inserted so that the women can mistake them for “the hairy men”.
There are some things that this film slightly apart from many of the other “matriarchal tribe” movies of the era. Usually, the men (who are infallibly American doofuses) are captured as breeding stock by the tribe, who is ruled by a ruthless matriarch. But after the men have slapped around some of the dames and then forced themselves on them, they also infallibly see the folly of following a female leader, and realise that women are not created to govern and rule, but rather to love empty-headed American machos, bear children and make dinner. Here, the female authority is mostly treated with respect, although there is a brief moment when Sandra wishes to surrender the leadership of the tribe to Steve, but for reasons you may find out yourself by watching the film, this transfer of power never comes into fruition. And when the men offer to protect the women from the hairy men, it’s not because the women can’t defend themselves per se, but because the Americans have guns. The problem with this film is perhaps that while it refrains from the most egregious misogyny and anti-feminism that is often the moral conclusion in these kind of movies, it fails to replace these with any other moral conclusion, leaving the viewer somewhat disappointed at the end. When it all is over, and our surviving protagonist has survived a plane crash, a week drifting at sea, an Amazon warrior tribe, a valley full of dinosaurs, a tribal war and a volcanic eruption, we the audience sit back and wait for the “so what have we learned from this?” moment, but it never arrives, and the film sort of ends with a shrug of the shoulder. “OK, so this happened.”
Untamed Women opened in September 1952 to little fanfare, and I have found no contemporary reviews. Film historian Bill Warren in his book Keep Watching the Skies cites the Monthly Film Bulletin, which wrote that the picture was “most ineptly acted and directed, the Untamed Women in particular revealing many obvious qualities except that of acting ability”. Its reputation has not improved massively over the years, as it has not even got a page at Rotten Tomatoes, its 3.9/10 rating at IMDb is based on only a little over 100 votes, and the movie isn’t available for streaming online — either legally or illegally. You can, however, find it on DVD. AllMovie has a 1/5 star rating but no review. TV Guide doesn’t give it a star rating, but writes: “On an invisible budget and with less than a week’s worth of production, Untamed Women looks just as you would expect it to look”. Bill Warren spends a long time bemoaning the trope of “verifying for the viewers” that the events, often told in flashback, in movies such as this are actually “true”. That is, they “did happen” within the frame of the story, and weren’t just dreamed up by some shell-shocked air force pilot. In this case Mikel Conrad brings back a medallion which is verified by an archaeologist to date back to the time of the Druids. And to make it even more convincing, Conrad tells the story under the influence of sodium pentothal (“truth serum”). What, asks Warren, is the point of this? Whom are the filmmakers trying to convince? Whether the doctor or archaeologist in the frame story believe Conrad or not is of no consequence to the movie. And the audience knows that both the island of the prehistoric women and the medallion and the doctor and Mikel Conrad’s characters are all fiction, because this is a movie. Why bother with all the convincers? Warren writes: “The title alone might indicate that this is a terrible film. The indication is accurate.”
Untamed Women has garnered some significance as one of the many fifties candidates for the title “the worst movie ever made”, and as such has a bit of a reputation among bad movie fans. As I wrote in my review of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952, review), the fact that a film is “frequently named as one of the worst movies ever made” is generally an indication that it is, in fact, not one of the worst movies ever made. If it was, then it wouldn’t be frequently mentioned anywhere. However, of the movies frequently named as a candidate for the title of the worst movie ever made, Untamed Women is among those that come closest. That is mainly because it lacks some of the outrageousness that many other of these “so bad they’re good” movies have — I’m thinking Cat Women of the Moon (1953), Mesa of Lost Women (1953), anything directed by Ed Wood, Robot Monster (1953), Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, etc. The untamed women are so tame that they don’t do anything to lift the film out of its slow-moving tedium. More than anything, they seem like a group of pageant contestants on holiday. And while the leather mini skirts may have raised a few heartbeats in the fifties, they ar quite modest, even for the time. Remember, this was the era in which the bikini shock waves were felt around the world, and movie stars would increasingly be photographed in the tiny two-piece bathing suit.
In the world of devoted online critics like me, who seek out the most obscure of bad movies, the overall impression seems to range from “for a bad movie, it’s OK” to “yawn”. Gene Phillips at Naturalistic Uncanny Marvellous writes: “Connel’s direction is actually pretty good within the limits of his budget, and the actors, mostly minor players who were never even modest ‘names,’ generally play the melodrama straight, to reasonably decent effect. There are, to be sure, some goofy lines in the script […]. Yet I think Sayre was pretty creative overall in his take on the Amazon-tribe trope.” Mark David Welsh isn’t as impressed: “This is all pretty tepid stuff, seriously hampered by comic relief courtesy of bombardier Richard Monahan, whose wisecracks are extremely tiresome. Mainly because he never shuts up. Character development is restricted to Mark Lowell’s sudden (and rather stilted) whining about his mother (as a consequence a plant tries to eat him) and the new FX are very limited indeed”. Neither is Mark Cole at Rivets on the Poster: “It’s not very exciting, and it lacks the extra something that would have made it a memorably bad film instead of a moderately dull and silly one”.
Erik Beck at Nighthawk News notes similarities between Forbidden Planet and Untamed Women, not in this film’s favour: ” If you want to watch men pretend to be scared of an armadillo, then go ahead and sit through this crap. But if you want to see how men can interact with a beautiful women who’s never dealt with them before, you are so much better off watching Forbidden Planet that I don’t know where to begin explaining why.” Mark Mihalko at The Ringmaster’s Realm also proposes you give this one a pass: “Actually, this is not just bad, it is the double whammy of bad and boring. The plot is choppy, the pacing off and really there is not much to see with most of it being random stock footage spliced together. In the end, this does not offer much and should be ignored”.
Actually, the above pretty much sums up my feelings on Untamed Women. After watching it, I was strongly of the opinion that it is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. After sleeping on it, I must admit that the film — although not particularly enjoyable — was at least possible to sit through without falling asleep, and did occasionally have the feel that someone at least tried making this a film worth watching. The merging of stock shots and live-action footage did take some planning and creative work, they did actually manage to get a B-29 bomber and scuttle it, and there is at least one funny joke in the movie. But it is badly written, badly acted and extremely sluggish. Nobody ever seem to be in a hurry anywhere, be it when the four Americans “escape” from a cave, or when fleeing from monsters, everybody sort of just leisurely stroll from one shot to the next. I think the problem with the movie is that it tried to keep a sense of realism when no such thing was called for, which just makes it rather dull.
There is not much biographical information available either online or in my movie library about lead actor Mikel Conrad, other than the fact that he was born in Ohio in 1919 and died in Los Angeles in 1982. He is best known for writing, producing, directing and starring in America’s first flying saucer movie, creatively titled The Flying Saucer (1950, review). Today, the film is better known for its trumped-up PR campaign, in which Conrad claimed that the film contained actual footage of a flying saucer, filmed by himself. In reality The Flying Saucer is a deeply disappointing red scare espionage potboiler in which the flying saucer is presented as nothing more than an experimental Soviet airplane, and doesn’t show up before the last scene. Before The Flying Saucer Conrad had been an anonymous stock player at Columbia and Universal, until Universal somewhat unexpectedly placed him in the lead of the B-movie Arctic Manhunt in 1949. Untamed Women was his only other leading role, and the last movie he made before an uncredited walk-on in the US version of Gojira. Conrad played all his three lead roles with a sort of gruff boorishness: the cynical loner who, when pushed, turns out to have a heart beneath the ragged exterior. If we’re being generous, we might concede that he has some degree of charisma to make up for his limited acting chops.
Morgan Jones who plays Andy was a bit-part and supporting actor who appeared in a good two dozen films and over 150 TV eposides in his career. He had a small role as a spaceship crewman in Forbidden Planet, but played the second lead in the Roger Corman-directed Not of This Earth (1957). The same year he had a small supporting role in The Giant Claw. He appeared in a number of SF TV shows, including The Twilight Zone, The Invaders and Knight Rider. He played one of the security officers detaining Spock and Kirk in the 1968 Star Trek episode Assignment Earth.
Mark Lowell, who plays Ed, with the troubled maternal relation, was another bit-part actor, who also occasionally worked as a dialogue supervisor and writer. He wrote the scripts for such sexploitation pictures as High School Hellcats (1958) and The Diary of a High School Bride, and, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, the dialogue for A Fistful of Dollars (1964). As an actor he had walk-on parts in Donovan’s Brain (1953) and Attack of the Puppet People (1958).
Sandra, the high priestess of the Druids, is played by Doris Merrick, a decade or two older than the rest of the girls. Still, she outlived many of her younger co-stars. She passed away in November 2019, at the respectable age of 100 years. Born in June 1919 in Chicago as Doris Simpson, she was a talented singer and in 1935 signed a contract with NBC Radio, reports a Telegraph obituary. She branched out to modelling and acting, and in 1941 signed a contract with Warner, as so many other “glamour girls”, after winning a modelling contest. The studio assigned her the stage name Beth Drake, which she didn’t like, and soon changed to Doris Merrick, adapting the surname of her then-husband, drink salesman and former boxing champion Max Marek. Her first big movie was the James Cagney wartime propaganda movie Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), in which she appeared as a dancer. The Yuma Sun caught up with Merrick shortly before her death, and in December 2019 published an interview with her (apparently unaware of her passing the month before), in which they report she has a poster of her and some of the rest of the cast, including Cagney, hanging on her wall.
Warner didn’t renew Merrick’s contract, but she got picked up by Fox in 1942, and had a large role in the B-thriller Time to Kill (1942), which she considered her favourite, and in 1943 Fox built her up as one of their stars, having her go on tour supporting the US troops by selling war bonds in a show alongside such dignitaries as Cagney, Rita Haywoth and Marilyn Monroe. In April 1943 she even appeared in the US army weekly Yank as a pinup girl. In 1944 she seemed to hit the big time with a leading role opposite Laurel & Hardy in The Big Nose. However, Fox had a hard time placing her, and loaned her out to other studios, for which she appeared in lead roles in B-movies. Her career dwindled after the war, as she got placed in smaller supporting roles, and when she did score a lead, it was in B-quickies with directors like Sam Newfield (The Counterfeiter, 1948). She briefly transitioned to TV in the early fifties, and had two more starring roles, both in low-budget SF’s, Untamed Women and The Neanderthal Man (1953). After playing an uncredited nurse in Interrupted Melody (1955), she left the movie business behind her.
Midge Ware, playing Myra, one of the four girls who attach themselves to our heroes, and thus get on-screen credit, sadly passed away just this summer, in June 2020. Ware was one of the glamour girls of the lot who had a pretty substantial TV career. Already a seasoned showbusiness veteran by the time she entered the movie business, Ware was a photo model who appeared in numerous ads and according to IMDb, on the cover of hundreds of magazines. According to he western blog Boot Hill, Ware graced the cover of Esquire twice, in 1953 and 1954, and n 1953 was the first “Miss No-Cal”, the face of the newly invented first zero-calory soda, marketed to diabetics. Voted the “girl with the trimmest torso” in 1953, she had been snatched up by Warner as early as 1949, but didn’t make her film debut, in an uncredited walk-on role, until 1951. Her film roles were rather distractions from her modelling, although she did appear on stage, even in very successful and long-running shows. However, she became steadily employed in TV in the fifties and sixties, with guest spots in many high-profile shows and even as a leading lady in a short-lived western series.
According to Boot Hill, Ware was a long-time practitioner of the Infinite Way, one of the many new age-philosophies that cropped up in the sixties and seventies. After her active career in front of the camera was over, Ware became very active in community work, and in 2016 she received The President’s Lifetime Achievement Award signed by Barack Obama for her volunteer work at the Motion Picture and Television Retirement Community.
Carol Brewster was another one of the girls who had a decent run in Hollywood. In fact, she also deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award for appearing in both Untamed Women and Cat-Women of the Moon. Brewster grew up in Hollywood, and was around movie stars from her teens. She performed in numerous radio shows as a kid, and after high school was determined to become an actor. She got signed to MGM at 22 in 1949, and had a number of bit-parts in big pictures, including Flamingo Road (1949), Show Boat (1951), The Belle of New York (1952) and The Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), and worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. But alas, her only featured roles came in cheap B-movies. Disaster struck in 1955, when Brewster came down with polio and was confined to a hospital for several months. However, she made a full recovery and took back to acting. According to herself in an interview with Skip E. Lowe, the master of interruptions, she wanted so bad to become a famous actress, that she had worked herself sick, and says she approached life and acting very differently after having a brush with death. Her movie career never took off after her illness, but as she tells Lowe, she had much better roles in TV. She did her last film role in 1970. According to Newsbreak, she started designing purses during a hiatus in acting, which eventually grew to a company employing 10 people. Brewster is still with us today, as of November 2020. You can watch Skip’s half-hour interview with her here on Youtube, unfortunately it never touches on either Untamed Women or Cat-Women of the Moon.
One of the actresses who are still alive from the production (as far as I can tell, in Nov. 2020) is Judy Brubaker. Brubaker started her showbiz career as a singer in the army during WWII, a war in which she lost her brother. After the war she moved to Los Angeles o pursue a career as a singer and actress. Her movie career was neither long nor distinguished, according to IMDb she appeared in four B-movies, after which she moved to Chicago where she continued to pursue a career in music. Lately she has been collaborating with pianist John Thomas, you can watch a series of videos of them doing a number of scaled-down jazz standards on Thomas’ Youtube page. There’s also a blog post from Katie Devine, in which she recounts a run-in with Brubaker in Provincetown in Massachusetts from 2014, when she was still “performing weekly” in the small town. Brubaker talks to Devine about Untamed Women; “gleefully recounting that it was hailed as one of the worst movies of its time. She seems oddly excited about this distinction, about how very bad it was. You have to watch it, she says. She was friends with Marilyn Monroe then, and tells me what a sweet, sad girl Marilyn was.” It’s a really sweet little post, so head over to read it. I have tried reaching out to Brubaker through John Thomas, but have as of yet had no luck.
The last of the four featured girls in Untamed Women, Autumn Russell, also seems to be alive an kicking as of 2020. She appeared in close to a dozen films between 1952 and 1960, mostly bit-parts, but she did have a second female lead appearance in Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), and appeared in a walk-on role as a slave girl in Spartacus (1960). Unfortunately I can’t find a list of the rest of the untamed women anywhere, but apparently one of them was apparently aspiring actress and beauty queen Billie Nelson Tyrell, who left no big mark on Hollywood through her acting, but did raise a few eyebrows with her doll collection. A lifelong collector of celebrity dolls, she opened a vintage doll shop in Hollywood in the seventies, and the stars would come in and sign there own dolls. At one point, she was estimated to have the largest collection of celebrity dolls in the world. At an auction in 2011, they sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The best known actor in the film is the one playing the doctor in the frame story, on screen merely for about five minutes, a segment probably wrapped up in under a day. This is Lyle Talbot, who may be known to most people as a fixture of Edward D. Wood Jr.’s pictures. However, in his day, Talbot was a matinee idol, often in supporting roles in A-movies or as a lead in B-movies. A lifelong entertainer, Talbot hooked up with a travelling show in his teens, learning the craft of the magician. He later segued into theatre, eventually founding his own travelling theatre company. When sound movies came along, his stage-trained delivery and especially his booming barytone opened the door into Hollywood. Along with James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland and others, he protested the “assembly line” operation of the movie business, often requiring actors to work 12 hour days 7 days a week, and became co-founder of the Screen Actors Guild. In the fifties he turned to TV, where he had a most successful career, including big recurring roles in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1955-1966) and The Bob Cummings Show (1955-1959). He kept acting up until the late eighties.
Talbot was no stranger to SF movies. He played the lead in the dreadfully bad Torture Ship (1939, review) and has the distinction of having played both Commissioner Gordon (Batman and Robin, 1949) and Lex Luthor (Atom Man vs. Superman, 1950). Talbot played the “male nurse” in Mesa of Lost Women (1953) and appeared in Tobor the Great (1954). And in 1957 he appeared in the beloved Plan 9 From Outer Space.
The makeup artist’s parents apparently couldn’t decide on razor brands and named their son Harry Gillette.
Untamed Women. 1952, USA. Directed & edited by W. Merle Connell. Written by George W. Sayre. Starring: Mikel Conrad, Doris Merrick, Richard Monahan, Mark Lowell, Morgan Jones, Midge Ware, Judy Brubaker, Carol Brewster, Autumn Russell, Lyle Talbot. Music: Raoul Kraushaar. Cinematography: Glen Gano. Art direction & special effects: Paul Sprunck. Makeup: Harry Gillette. Sound: Dale Knight. Visual effects: Alfred Schmid, Roy Seawright, Frank William Young. Costumes: E. Anderson. Choreography: Fawn Pickett. Produced by Richard Kay for Jewell Enterprises & United Artists.