Christian mutants and Satanist “norms” must unite against evil marauders in the nuclear-scarred ruins of New York in this 1952 curio set in 3000 A.D. A good cast and an interesting idea butt heads with a clunky script and an inexperienced director. 4/10
Captive Women. 1952, USA. Directed by Stuart Gilmore. Written & produced by Jack Pollexfen & Aubrey Wisberg. Starring: Ron Randell, Margaret Field, Robert Clarke, Gloria Saunders, William Schallert, Robert Bice, Stuart Randall.
1952 was a wonderful year for crappy low-budget SF movies, and my expectations were set on just around zero when it came time to take on a film with the title of Captive Women, which features a prominent PR picture of a hairy, bare-chested Stuart Randall in some sort of Roman/pirate get-up dragging two scantily clad, crying women by their hairs. But on closer inspection, the movie started to look rather interesting. Originally titled “3000 AD”, it is set in a post-apocalyptic New York, where sword-and-sandal tribes battle it out for existence among the ruins of a nuclear war. This was 30 years before the trope became the staple of cheap Italian films in the wake of Mad Max 2 (1981). It also contained a number of interesting actors with SF pedigree: Robert Clarke, Margaret Field, William Schallert and Gloria Saunders. The three first-mentioned all made up the lead trio of the surprisingly good low-budget cult classic The Man From Planet X (1951, review). What really peaked my interest was the fact that Captive Women (or “3000 AD”) was written by Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg, who also penned The Man From Planet X. Plus the film was distributed by major studio RKO and directed by Stuart Gilmore, better known as a thrice Oscar nominated editor, including his work in The Andromeda Strain (1971). So, I figured, I might even be looking at some sort of cult gem here.
As stated, the plot revolves around three post-apocalyptic tribes in New York City: the Norms, the Mutates and the Upriver People. The Norms have escaped nuclear radiation caused by WWIII in the 20th century by hiding in the subway tunnels. Here they still live out their lives in some attempt at peace and comfort, with all the trappings of the early Medieval period. But in their disappointment at God, they have started worshipping Satan. The Mutates, as the name suggests, have mutated due to the radiation. These live in a village above ground. The mutations mainly shows up as different degrees of facial scarring except in the case of their leader, the handsome Riddon (Ron Randell), whose only deformity seems to be some slight scarring at the elbow. However, due to their hideous appearances, the Mutates are treated as outcasts and vermin, and fair game for the bows of even the peaceful Norms. In order to try and enhance their gene pool, the Mutates kidnap Norm women, who they proceed to use as sex slaves, a fact that is oddly brushed aside almost as a triviality in the film. The twist is that the Mutates, despite their hardship, have remained devout Christians. The third group is the Upriver People, a roving band of merciless killers who are led by Gordon (afore-mentioned Stuart Randall). The Upriver People dress like pirates made up of dishevelled soldiers of ancient Rome.
The nominal leading man of the film is the Norm prince Robert (Robert Clarke), who hangs around with his right-hand man Bram (Robert Bice). On the eve of Robert’s marriage to the devious but beautiful Catherine (Gloria Saunders), the Upriver People attack the subway stronghold with the aid of Catherine and traitor Jason (Douglas Evans), and Gordon sets himself up as the new king, with Catherine as his queen. (Actually Jason was supposed to become king and marry Catherine, but Gordon had other ideas, and Catherine really wasn’t THAT interested in Jason, but rather the throne.) Only Robert and Bram escape, just to be captured by the Mutates — who spare them, because earlier in the film, they have rescued the Norm leader Riddon from the clutches of the Upriver People. The philosophical Riddon and Robert become friends and through theological discussions lay the seed of friendship between the Satanist Norms and the Christian Mutates. Together they plot a surprise attack at the Upriver People. But all in the Mutate camp are not happy with their leader’s association with the devil-worshipping Norms. Sneaky Carver (William Schallert) challenges Riddon to a traditional death match over the leadership of the Mutates. Riddon wins, but refuses to kill Carver — a mistake, Robert muses, as Carver, humiliated, slinks away from camp. He seeks out Gordon and the Upriver People in hopes of securing favours in exchange for his knowledge about the forthcoming attack against the Upriver People. This leads to the capture of Riddon. Whilst in prison, he is cared for by the kind-hearted handmaiden Ruth, our feisty heroine (Margaret Field), who sees past Riddon’s ugly elbow scar, and to her surprise finds another human being, a righteous, kind, brave and hunky one, at that. Already friends with a couple of Satan worshippers, Riddon has no problem embracing Ruth.
But, alas! As Ruth insults Catherine and Gordon one time too many, she is thrown in the stocks. Robert and Bram, at the other end of the forest, now plan a rescue mission for Riddon, as well as a way to deal with the Upriver People once and for all — inspired by the Biblical story of Moses parting the Red Sea (and drowning his pursuers). But out of the blue emerges Catherine, claiming to have been tortured by the Upriver People. She now sees the error of her ways, and wants to help Robert retake the thrown. But is she telling the truth, or is this yet another ruse to catch the Mutates and their new Satanic leaders in a trap? Well, you’ll have to watch and see if they manage to rescue Riddon and Ruth, so that our leading man and leading lady can have the first Christian-Satanist wedding and turn a new leaf for humanity, with the power of Christ prevailing, or if the faithless Upriver People will inherit the Earth. That is, if you can find the film. It’s not available online, but you can order a disc from well-stocked specialist purveyors.
So what’s what here? Well, for starters this is dirt cheap. Don’t be fooled by the RKO logo, the film was produced by low-budget specialist Albert Zugsmith for Albert Zugsmith Productions, along with writer-producers Wisberg and Pollexfen — the company would become American Pictures Corporation later that year. It was the first of three pictures the trio produced for RKO through APC, the other being Sword of Venus (1952) and Port Sinister (1953, review), all with budgets under 100,000 dollars. The entire film is studio-bound, except one or two dark shots. This gives the film that odd lack of geography that these low-budget adventure movies have. It feels as if all locations are right next door to each other, which they are, of course. The sets are obvious, but it almost feels intentional, as if the filmmakers were going for a German expressionist look, which Wisberg & Pollexfen did so well in The Man From Planet X, a tiny masterpiece produced on pocket lint and peanuts. Alas, that film had the advantage of Hungarian director Edgar G. Ulmer. And while Stuart Gilmore was a superb editor, as director he was certainly no Ulmer, and thus the trick doesn’t work quite as well in Captive Women. In fact, apart from the occasionally moody lighting, little in the movie works direction-wise. There’s little invention in the camera setup, and most of it is painfully static and slow-moving. The editing bears none of the hallmarks of Gilmore, but rather it was edited by SF staple Fred Feitshans, a Hollywood veteran who was actually Oscar nominated for his work on Wild in the Streets (1968). Captive Women cannot be counted among his best works, and the movie fell prey to the curse of “let’s try and fix it in post”. It was actually finished in the summer of 1951, but the studio didn’t like it. According Jack Pollexfen in an interview with film historian Tom Weaver in Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes, they sat on it for 15 months: “I think some of the delays were hopeless attempts to patch its flaws in the cutting room. It seldom works.” At that time, however, Pollexfen had left RKO.
Nonetheless, the film is not without interest, at least from a historical point of view. This was not the first post-apocalyptic film made. Jean Renoir made the surrealist short Charleston Parade (review) in 1927, and in 1933 RKO itself produced Deluge (review), set in the aftermath of a, well, deluge. The first film to specifically portray the results of a disastrous world war was H.G. Wells’ and William Cameron Menzies’ Things to Come (review) from 1936. This is of some interest here, as it has a segment portraying the same kind of Medieval pseudo-feudal society built among the ruins of a bombed-out London, with a warlord called the Boss playing the same function as Gordon in Captive Women. Also present in the film is a mysterious “sleeping sickness” which turns people into zombies, mirroring the Mutates of this movie. The first movie to specifically portray the devastation of a nuclear war was Arch Oboler’s flawed, but interesting Five (review), made in 1951. Oboler painted a picture of an empty world, although he didn’t much take into account the effects of lingering radiation. As far as I can tell, this is the first film that deals with the long-term effect of nuclear war — the one exception being Lippert Pictures’ 1950 movie Rocketship X-M (review), which shows mutated people on Mars. But Captive Women is the first movie to actually take on the theme of long-term effects of nuclear war on Earth, albeit not in the most realistic way. According to film historian Bill Warren, the producers originally wanted to show much more drastic mutations, and envisioned the film as a sort of post-apocalyptic Freaks (1932) — with the Mutates represented by midgets, pinheads, paraplegics and actors with other disabilities. But the censors vehemently opposed this, and insisted that the effects of radiation should only be shown as facial scarring. This is, of course, ridiculous, as scars aren’t inherited. Nevertheless, in its low-budget way, Captive Women achieves something quite poignant in being the first Hollywood film to tackle the long-term effects of nuclear radiation — this in a period when knowledge about these long-term effects were still only little understood, even by scientists.
The script takes some liberties, and stumbles on credibility. As the original title — as well as the long and dramatic voice-over in the beginning — implies, the film is set in the year 3000, a thousand years after a nuclear war. That the human gene pool would have been so degraded by a nuclear war as to bear its mutations some 30 generations after the fact seems highly unlikely. As does the fact that civilisation would have been completely wiped out, and somehow returned to the fashions and tastes of yesteryear. Why would we suddenly start dressing like Roman soldiers and Robin Hoods in the future? And also, while it is true that civilisations have been lost in the past, there are few scientists who argue that even a catastrophic event like nuclear winter or climate collapse would wipe out civilisation to Dark Ages levels. In all probability, a worst-case scenario would be a sort of agricultural steampunk society with a mix of 16th and 21st century technology. And 1,000 years after the event, there’s little doubt that humans would have evolved back at least to early 20th century levels of civilisation, but probably far beyond what we today could imagine. Civilisation would probably look very different today, as it probably wouldn’t rely on fossil fuel and nuclear power, but it would still be civilisation. And it’s clear from the film that the Bible has survived and its contents are common knowledge even among the Satanists — which begs the question why science books wouldn’t have survived as well.
But of course, this film is a fable and should perhaps not be scrutinised too closely from a scientific point of view. But even so, the script is problematic. For one, there’s just too many convoluted plot points throughout its 65-minute running time. Not only are there three warring tribes who all have their own leaders and generals to keep track of. All three tribes also have internal power struggles the movie wishes us to care about, and as if that were not enough, people keep shifting loyalties back and forth. This is basically Game of Thrones turbo-stuffed into one hour. And the characters and the dialogue is just atrocious. In an interview with Weaver in Starlog in 1992, William Schallert said that the script was constantly being rewritten, and the actors had to learn new lines or even parts.
And as if an ever-changing script, censorship meddling and a cheap budget wasn’t enough, the team was dealing with an inexperienced director. Stuart Gilmore, while a fine editor, had only ever directed a handful of straightforward westerns before. Now he was dealing with a studio-bound post-apocalypse SF turned period piece costume drama with multiple interlacing subplots and power plays, dramatic crowd scenes, sword fighting, choreography, large-scale practical effects, miniature photography, visual effects and themes covering the essence of mankind, war and peace and religious tolerance. Robert Clarke tells Weaver in Fangoria in 1986: “He was lost. Completely. The poor man had tremendous problems; there were too many people in the cast, too many actors with no dialogue in the scenes , and the fact that they had over-extended themselves for special effects…The whole film was ineffectual. Pollexfen and Wisberg were trying to make a better picture— sometimes, Hollywood thinks that if you spend more money, you make a better picture. Well, this is one instance where that didn’t happen. Gilmore was in over his head — he didn’t know directing”.
Pollexfen himself says to Weaver in an interview Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes (why does he always have such impossible names for his books?!) that they he and Wisberg had problems of their own: “Our main problem in Captive Women was that we were Battling Zugsmith too much to pay attention to the production. More serious, Howard Hughes, who normally left us to ourselves, insisted we take Stuart Gilmore as director. Stuart was one of Hollywood’s top film editors — had done most of Hughes’ most important films — and Hughes had promised him a chance at directing. While there have been exceptions, film editors generally don’t work out well as directors.”
We have seen before on this blog how RKO’s eccentric billionaire owner Howard Hughes could throw a spanner in the cogs of the films the studio produced. In 1950, after the completion of a nice, tight speculative thriller called “The Man He Found”, about Hitler and the Nazis secretly taking over a small American village, Hughes watched the finished movie and decided that Nazis were old hat, and insisted the movie be reshot with communists as the villains. The resulting patch job, The Whip Hand (1951, review), is still a nifty little spy-fi thriller, but it is badly hampered by the inclusion of a garish, over-the-top communist mad scientist ending. Captive Women also had all the ingredients of a cult gem like The Man From Planet X, had Hughes allowed Pollexfen and Wisberg to use an experienced director like Edgar Ulmer. The last nail in the coffin for the movie was Hughes’ insistence on changing the title from “3000 AD” to Captive Women, which made it sound like a lurid sexploitation movie. And in fact, there is little evidence of any captive women in the film. The title refers to the (mainly unseen) Norm women whom the Mutates capture. Ironically, the censors probably wouldn’t have let the producers show any captive sex slaves even if they intended to. However, the film was released as 3000 AD in the UK, and for its 1956 re-release in the US, the title was changed to another working title, 1,000 Years From Now.
There are several interesting themes in Captive Women, but unfortunately they never have time to develop. The religious angle is, curiously, the one that gets most mileage. The idea here is that 1,000 years from now, the people of the world (or at least New York) have reacted to a disaster in either one of three ways. They have either abandoned God, blaming him for their hardships, been strengthened in their faith or lost their faith altogether. This seems like a plausible scenario, although I’m not sure that a mass of people would turn to outright Satan worshipping as an alternative to Jahve. And unsurprisingly, the godless Upriver People are portrayed as much worse than the Satanists, who are really only believers led astray. But the theological discussions in Captive Women never reach deeper than the most superficial discussions on why God allows suffering, and whether mercy or egotism is the way to go. That the film ends with the camera zooming out from a wedding couple to rest on a cross puts it in the same category as Arch Oboler’s Five, which ends with the leading couple becoming the Adam and Eve of the new world. The Biblical allegory in Captive Women isn’t quite as strong as in Five, or indeed in another apocalyptic movie, When Worlds Collide (1951, review), and feels somewhat muddled.
One point of interest is the Satan worshipping angle. If the idea of survivors of a nuclear war living underground and worshipping the devil feels familiar, it is probably because you have seen it in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). It’s not unthinkable that Mort Abrahams and Mort Dehn came up with the same scenario independently of Captive Women, but at least the similarities make you wonder. A clear inspiration for the basic setup of Captive Women is H.G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine (1895). The book, as most of you probably know, features a time traveller going thousands of years into the future, finding that humanity has evolved into two distinct groups, the peace-loving proto-hippies, the Eloi, and the troll-like underground dwellers, the Morlocks. Occasionally the Morlocks capture individual Eloi for food. Captive Women reverses the dwelling situation, but the idea of the mutated brutes dragging off innocent women remains. Captive Women, however, does not have Wells’ astute social commentary.
Speaking of social commentary, one thing that strikes a modern viewer is that nuclear war seems to discriminate on the basis of skin colour. Each and every survivor of the ethnic melting pot that is New York is white as cream. There is not a single Latino, black, Asian or other ethnic group represented in the film. This, of course, is one of the most prevalent tropes in old SF movies, or in fact old movies of any kind. Ethnic minorities are present only if the plot calls for ethnic minorities of some kind — otherwise the world — the United States in particular — is snow white. Now, of course there were several structural reasons as to why Hollywood studios didn’t hire ethnic minorities, blacks in particular — this was a time when America was still deeply segregated. Even progressive filmmakers would have found it difficult to present a truly multi-ethnic cast due to a number of reasons — not that it was impossible, as the few exceptions clearly show. See the afore-mentioned Five as one example, or the post-apocalyptic The World, the Flesh and the Devil from 1959. That the producers of Captive Women were not insensitive to these issues is clear: in 1947 Aubrey Wisberg received the International Unity Award from the Inter-Racial Society, for The Burning Cross, a film which depicts the atrocities of the Ku Klux Klan. But I sometimes wonder what white audiences, for example in New York, thought about these kinds of futuristic films in which a future world was presented as exclusively white. New York was a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities in the fifties, and people would have seen Caucasians, Latinos, blacks and Asians every day going to work. Did white audiences buy this vision of the future, where all survivors of a nuclear holocaust were white? Or was even the atomic wasteland segregated? Or did segregation in the fifties run so deep that people didn’t even reflect on these questions?
Say what you will about the film and is flaws; the script at least tries to tackle bigger issues than many of the cheap SF movies churned out in the period, and despite the inept direction does manage to build up a certain low-budget atmosphere, which is in some way aided by the claustrophobic studio-bound circumstances. And while the acting is often quite stilted, there’s some pretty good talent aboard. Ron Randell as the Mutate hero carries the movie and makes for a sympathetic and wise hero with his smooth English accent (Randell was Australian). He is well backed up by Robert Clarke, and William Schallert does a good, obnoxious villain. Both female leads are unusually active, and Gloria Saunders in particular is delicious as the evil Catherine. My main problem with the female leads is that the two actresses are made up so similarly that I sometimes have difficulty figuring out who is who. Both brunettes wear white dresses of similar style, have their hair made the same way and wear similar make-up. In wide shots it’s sometimes impossible to tell them apart.
The movie received generally bad reviews upon its release. According to Hollywood Reporter Captive Women was a “pretentious, long winded dissertation on the bleak future lying ahead […] While the intent is certainly laudable, the pompous, hackneyed dialogue and the stilted performances make this […] a long 64 minutes.” The Monthly Film Bulletin called it an “unattractive farrago” and claimed that the “preposterous story contrives to be both childish and absurd.” Variety found the movie’s plot to be plodding and most of the good ideas left off screen, although the camera work was good as was Ron Randell’s acting.
Today Captive Women has a somewhat decent 5.3/10 rating on IMDb based on a mere 87 votes, which speaks to its obscurity. It has no Rotten Tomatoes consensus. It gets 1/5 stars on AllMovie, with Hal Erickson writing: “Production values are better than one might expect, though the film suffers from rather shoddy special effects”. TV Guide gives it 1/4 stars, calling it a “silly post-nuclear sci-fi drama” and “shaky”, albeit with “halfway decent visual effects”. Parish and Pitts in the book The Great Science Fiction Movies II (they seem to have a very broad definition of “great”) write that Captive Women “has an engrossing premise which is executed in a mundane fashion. Its vision of a post-atomic Earth is one of the first for the Cold War era cinema, but its overly melodramatic plot negates the impact of an atomic aftermath.” Bill Warren in his book Keep Watching the Skies! calls it “a curiosity primarily of interest to SF movie buffs and film historians. It’s dry, badly paced and unimaginatively made.” However, like so many others, Warren praises Ron Randell’s acting.
Only the most ardent of SF completists on the web have bothered to dig out this hard-to-find movie, and the overall impression seems to be “bad, but somewhat interesting as well”. That is, with the exception of Erik Beck at Nighthawk News, who calls it “a little crap piece of post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi garbage”. However, he concedes that “it’s not really bad enough to be among the real drecks of the cult films of this era, yet it’s also far too bad to really be worth remembering either. It just kind of exists in this nether region, neither really deserving to be forgotten or remembered”. Mark David Welsh writes: “This is a production with some points of interest, but not a great level of entertainment value. […] Unfortunately, its moral and physical conflicts result in highly predictable outcomes and the cheesier aspects rob the drama of any real punch.” Dave Sindelar rates Captive Women as “not particularly good, but it is entertaining enough”. And Mark Cole at Rivets on the Poster writes: “If you accept it for what it is (a low budget offering with a few interesting elements), then it is moderately amusing – and, thankfully, as it is only a little over an hour long, relatively painless. Yes, they made many far better SF films during the Fifties. But, then, you’ve seen them all.”
Like Tom Weaver, I have a bit of a soft spot for Captive Women, although I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that makes this obviously clunky and flawed cheapo stand at least slightly above the bulk of the low-budget SF time-fillers produced in the early fifties. There is something in that slow, ponderous pace which makes time for theological discussions, something about the claustrophobic, staged atmosphere that is appealing, in the same way as Richard Stanley’s Hardware (1990) is endlessly appealing, despite its complete absence of plot and hokey special effects. It’s the fact that you can see that this film could have become a cult classic, had it had a better director. And, frankly, I’m just a sucker for post-apocalyptic movies. But we’re not kidding anyone. It’s not a cult classic, and it is still a bad movie.
Writer-producer Aubrey Wisberg was born in the UK in 1909 and emigrated to Georgia with his family in 1921, attended Columbia University in New York, and during his long career worked not only in the movies, but also as a journalist, author, and radio and TV dramatist. He rattled around Hollywood as a popular low-budget screenwriter from 1943, and in 1949 teamed up with Californian journalist and playwright Jack Pollexfen who made his bones in the movie business by writing training films for the US Airforce during WWII. Their first hit (well, for a low-budget potboiler, anyway) was Treasure of Monte Christo, a modern reinvention of Alexandre Dumas’ famous story. This would become something of a trade mark for the pair, and Pollexfen in particular, who made a dozen movies reinterpreting either historical figures or historical novels. The writer-producer pair had their real breakthrough with The Man From Planet X in 1951, a super-cheap surprise hit rushed into theatres to take advantage of the buzz around the upcoming big-budget production The Day the Earth Stood Still (review). It cost only 41,000 dollars to make and made over a million at the box office.
In 1951 Pollexfen on his own collaborated on The Son of Dr. Jekyll (review). Wisberg and Pollexfen went on to co-write and produce Captive Women, Port Sinister and The Neanderthal Man (1953). Wisberg co-wrote cult director Antonio Margheriti’s first Gamma One Quadrilogy film The Snow Devils (La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin, 1967) as well as Mission Mars (1968). He is probably best known for writing and producing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s debut movie, Hercules in New York (1969). Pollexfen didn’t make much better films, though, as he co-directed the abysmal Lon Chaney Jr. vehicle Indestructible Man in 1953 and the even worse Monstrosity in 1963 (to his credit, though, the studio went bankrupt in the middle of filming). Editor Frank R. Feitshans Jr. edited most of the duo’s sci-fi films, as well as The Green Hornet TV series (1966-1967) and the bizarre film Frogs (1972). Wisberg passed away in 1990 and Pollexfen in 2003.
In an interview with Tom Weaver, Jack Pollexfen says that Captive Women did not have a budget of over 100,000 dollars, as is sometimes claimed. According to him it cost 84,000 dollars, which included a 15,000 writer/producer fee for him and Wisberg, as well as a 2,500 associate producer fee for Albert Zugsmith. While Pollexfen and Wisberg stand as co-founders of APC, Pollexfen says that they had little to do with the company, which was the brainchild of Zugsmith, and that they both declined to become partners in it, which is probably why it disbanded so quickly after its foundation, after producing only a handful of pictures. According to Pollexfen, Zugsmith had a reputation as a millionaire after successful career as a sales broker in the media field. When Howard Hughes was “muttering” about selling RKO in the early fifties, Zugsmith presented himself as a potential buyer. His money was also one of he reasons as to why RKO backed his companies — he offered to put up the money for any potential losses. To Weaver Pollexfen says “We made no losses, which was fortunate, since [Zugsmith] had no money, according to one RKO attourney”. One gets the feeling that Pollexfen tried to get as far away from Zugsmith as quickly as possible.
However, for SF fans, Zugsmith is a character that cannot be ignored. Along with Wisberg and Pollexfen he also co-produced Port Sinister for APC/RKO in 1952, and that same year produced the awful propaganda film Invasion, U.S.A. for APC/Columbia. He had his greatest success between 1955 and 1958 at Universal, where he made such bona fide classics as Female on the Beach (1955), Written on the Wind (1956) and most notably Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1957). And during his stint at Universal he also produced the film that has made his name in SF circles, namely Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). In 1963 Zugsmith produced and directed The Great Space Adventure in the Philippines, which was never finished, and he had a cameo in The Thing with Two Heads (1972). In 1958 Zugsmith moved briefly to MGM, where he made a string of movies with bombshell Mamie Van Doren, which all lost money. He continued producing comedies with suggestive titles (Sex Kittens Go to College) at Allied Artists, some of them starring Van Doren, made a brief return to Universal, again teaming up with Van Doren for College Confidential (1960), produced and/or directed a couple of films in Berlin and in the Philippines with George Nader, and made a dozen films for his own company or collaborating with other independent producers on movies with titles like The Incredible Sex Revolution, Psychedelic Sexualis, Sappho Darling, The Very Friendly Neighbours and Violated!.
Nominal lead actor Robert Clarke came up through the ranks from school plays to radio and then Hollywood, where he gut stuck in the B or even Z movie quagmire before embarking on a rather successful career as a TV show guest star in the late fifties through to the late eighties, and even put in a few film cameos during the nineties and the naughties. He passed away in 2005.
Despite having appeared in close to 150 films and TV shows, Clarke is best known as the hero of a number of schlock science fiction films. This included The Man From Planet X, opposite Captive Women co-stars Margaret Field and William Schallert. He was the hero again in The Astounding She-Monster (1957), The Incredible Petrified World (1957), opposite John Carradine, The Hideous Sun Demon (1959), which he co-wrote and co-directed, Beyond the Time Barrier (1960), directed by Ulmer, Frankenstein Island (1981), again with Carradine, and the sci-fi comedy Midnight Movie Massacre (1988). He also appeared as the narrator in Byron Haskin’s Jules Verne adaptation From the Earth to the Moon (1958), in Where’s Willie, Alienator (1990), and The Naked Monster (2005), his last production. Clarke guested a number of sci-fi TV shows as well, including an episode of Knight Rider (1984). Clarke is not to be confused with Robert Clark, director of The Whispering Shadow (1933, review).
The real lead actor in Captive Women is Ron Randell. Born in Australia in 1911, Randell (who pronounced his name “Randall”), he worked his way from stage to theatre to stage in Sidney and Melbourne before travelling to the US for medical treatment in 1943. While he tried to get a foot into US showbiz, the doors wouldn’t open then. Instead, he went back to Australia, where he entered the movie business and in 1944 became a nation-wide star thanks to his portrayal of aviator ace Charles Kingford Smith in the film Smithy. This opened the doors to Hollywood, as Columbia flew him over in 1946 on a long-term contract, introducing him to US audiences as the titular British super-sleuth in a new series of Bulldog Drummond films — of which he ultimately only made two, before focusing on supporting parts in A movies instead. As is evident from his involvement in Captive Women, his plans of becoming an A-movie leading man didn’t quite work out as intended.
Like many of the leading men we review on Scifist, Randell had a decent, if somewhat forgettable career in Hollywood. While a minor would-be star in the forties, in 1951 his marquee draw was such that he was fourth-billed even though he was by all accounts the leading man in Captive Women. Offered little more than bit-parts in A movies and if lucky lead roles in B pictures, he tried his luck in the UK and Germany, and returned briefly to Australia in 1955 to star in a stage production. He returned to Hollywood again in 1956 and continued working steadily, mainly in supporting roles in films and guest spots on TV. However, his bread and butter came from the stage, on which he continued to perform throughout his career, both on and off Broadway, in London and Australia. His SF credits are thin, but he did star as a mutant avenger in the film The Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961), and had guest spots on Out There and The Outer Limits.
Lead actress Margaret Field was discovered by a Paramount talent scout in 1945, but received mostly bit-parts until 1950, when she played her first leading lady role in A Modern Marriage (against Robert Clarke). She appeared alongside Clarke and Schallert in The Man from Planet X, her only other SF movie. Field has a remarkably expressive face and speaks worlds with her eyes. She is able to bring believability to even the most incredulous scenes, but unfortunately she is underused in Captive Women. It is a pity she never achieved wider fame, as she was almost completely consigned to B or Z films, along with a few stints in A-listers and some TV work. If she looks familiar, it may be because of her strong family resemblance to her daughter, two-time Oscar winner Sally Field.
William Schallert is perhaps best known in the industry as a liked president of the Screen Actors Guild, and as a hugely prolific bit-part and supporting actor with credits for nearly 390 films or series. This number isn’t too startling for actors who got started during the twenties or thirties and appeared in a number of shorts and serials, but it is an impressive stack-up for someone who started his film career in the late forties. On the other hand, his career lasted almost all the way up to his death at 93 years old in 2016. For baby boomers he may be best known as family father Martin Lane in the Patty Duke Show in the sixties.
For sci-fi fans Schallert is something of a cult actor because of his numerous bit-parts in science fiction from 1949 all the way to 2010. He began his journey in the pseudo-sci-fi movie Mighty Joe Young, and appeared in an episode of the TV show Space Control in 1951 before The Man from Planet X was released. He appeared, sometimes in more substantial supporting roles, sometimes in bit-parts and sometimes as no more than an uncredited extra, in The Man from Planet X (with Clarke and Field), Invasion U.S.A (review), Port Sinister (1953, review), the film serial Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953), Tobor the Great (1954, review), Gog (1954, review), as an uncredited ambulance attendant in the classic giant ant film Them! (1954, review), as the weatherman in the surprisingly good invasion film The Monolith Monsters (1957), as the Earl of Warwick in Irwin Allen’s highly pretentious The Story of Mankind (1957), as one of the doctors in another timeless classic, Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). He had an actual substantial role as the head of CIA in the underrated A.I. movie Colossus: The Forbin Project, appeared as Martin Short’s doctor in the hilarious sci-fi comedy Innerspace (1987).
On TV, Schallert is probably best known for playing the Federation representative Nilz Baris in the Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles (1967), as well as appearing in both the original The Twilight Zone (as a policeman in episode Mr. Bevis, 1960) the remake of the episode A Good Life, directed by Joe Dante (as the father) in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), as well as Father Grant in the remake of the episode Shadow Play (1987) in the TV series reboot of The Twilight Zone in the eighties. He also guested a host of other sci-fi series, including Men Into Space (1960), The Wild Wild West (1967-1969), Land of the Giants (1969), The Six Million Dollar Man (1974), The Bionic Woman (1976), Quantum Leap (1989), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993), Lois and Clarke: The New Adventures of Superman (1994) and Medium (2010). Vampire fans may recognise him as Mayor Norris in True Blood (2008-2011).
Gloria Saunders gets a meatier in Captive Women part than Field as the evil Ruth. This was far removed from her subdued performance in the low-budget Arctic adventure SF movie Red Snow (1952, review) released earlier the same year, in which she played Ray Mala’s Inuit wife. Saunders worked as a child actor in radio and on stage in North and South Carolina, and in 1944, only 16 years old, she screen tested for Paramount. But just months later, in 1945, she suffered a car accident, which left her face scarred with a cut from her chin to the forehead. Plastic surgery removed most of the scarring, but she still found it hard to get cast, because of some small remaining scarring above her nose. However, she was able to find work in TV and first turned heads in the recurring role of Ah Toy in the series Mysteries of Chinatown (1949). This wasn’t the first nor the last time Saunders played Asian or Native American roles: she is probably best remembered for playing the mysterious Dragon Lady in the show Terry and the Pirates (1952-1953. Carol O’Dell writes in her book June Cleaver Was a Feminist!: “And if Saunders’ name doesn’t sound very Asian, it’s not surprising. The South Carolina-born actress was as Asian as apple pie*. Nevertheless, she looked exotic enough by Hollywood standards at the time to eke out a career playing a number of “others” — gypsies, Indians, Arabs. Regardless of her heritage, Saunders cut an amazing figure in her role. Supermodel slim, often poured into form-fitting sheathes, Saunders‘ jet-black hair and extravagantly made-up eyes made her a menacing mix of beauty and power.” (*As an aside: the apple actually comes from Asia and was brought to America from Europe.)
Red Snow and Captive Women were part of Saunders’ attempt at a comeback to the movies following a second round of plastic surgery, now removing any traces of her scars, but despite her now smooth skin, she got stuck in bit parts and “second woman” parts in cheap B-movies. However, she returned to TV in 1953 and didn’t look back. After she remarried, she left showbusiness in 1960. Sadly, she died young, only 52 years old, in 1980.
Stuart Randall, who plays Gordon, the leader of the Upriver People, was originally a singer, and tried his luck in Hollywood in 1950. Almost exclusively stuck in B movie supporting parts, he was nonetheless well served by his strong, chiseled features and dark, clean voice. These were features that often caused him to be cast as Native American, but just as often as ruffian or henchman. Still, I’d bet my Stetson that of the over 150 roles he did in film or TV, over half were as sheriff or marshal. Friends of old western TV series will no doubt now Randall’s face, even if the name may be unfamiliar, as he appeared in almost all the classic westerns series in the fifties and sixties, from The Lone Ranger to Cimarron City, from The Texan and Wagon Train to Laramie and Bonanza. He appeared in a number of Jack Pollexfen’s films, including The Indestructible Man (1956), as the police captain.
As Prince Robert’s right hand, prolific character actor, stocky Robert Bice did one of his many substantial, if not always memorable, supporting parts. Much like Randall, Bice was a western staple who had better luck on TV than on the big screen. He is also of some SF interest. He had a small role as an Eskimo chief in Red Snow, and a larger one in Invasion, U.S.A., where he played one of the five main characters hypnotised by “Mr Ohman” into believing swarthy hordes of Asian communists have invaded the US. He had smaller roles in Port Sinister, The Snow Creature (1954, review) and Space Master X-7 (1958), and yet a substantial role in the cult classic It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), as Major John Purdue aboard a space ship invaded by an alien. Bice plays the character who crawls down an airduct in one of the film’s most memorable scenes — one which would come to inspire Alien (1979) and a number of other movies.
An interesting character is Chili Williams, the woman credited in the film as “second captive”. Williams might be known to mature readers as “the Polka-Dot Girl”, a nickname she earned when a pinup set of her wearing a polka-dot “dance-set”, or “bikini” as it was later to be called, in LIFE magazine in 1943 went viral among US soldiers overseas during WWII. The photos of the then unknown model prompted over 100,000 requests for copies. Williams’ real name was Marian Sorensen, born to Danish parents in Minneapolis. Her pseudonym was thought up by model agent Harry Conover, who liked to rename his models (including Candy Jones and Dusty Anderson). In fact, the polka-dot bikini shoot was her first major photoshoot, and the “dance-set” had been stitched together on the fly by photographer Ewing Krainin. Despite the enormous popularity of the set, Williams originally didn’t get a penny from them. At 22, inexperienced and nervous, she didn’t think twice when signing the standard release form giving the rights to the pictures to the photographer and the agency. In an interview in Harrison’s in 1944, she complains that she can’t send her fans any copies of the set, because she doesn’t even have money for stamps. Nevertheless, the set made her an instant celebrity with several more photo shoots lined up, and a contract with RKO — after failing to impress Warner producers with her acting talents. To paraphrase IMDb, she “decorated” 20 movies, mostly in uncredited bit-parts, although she did have a couple of featured roles in low-budget comedies. More often spotted in the gossip columns of magazines regarding her affairs and scandals than in the movies, her acting career didn’t so much dwindle as never quite took off, and Captive Women was her final appearance. After this, she retired from showbusiness and opened a dress store.
Some mention should also go to the special effects creators. One of the effects creators was Louis Dewitt — making his (uncredited) movie debut. He was accompanied by Irving Block and Jack Rabin. Often working together, the three have an impressive roster as visual and special effects creators, and sometimes producers, writers, art directors and even cameo actors of a whole slew of science fiction B movies, and even the occasional A-lister. We first encountered Rabin and Block on Scifist in connection with Rocketship X-M (1950, review). Between the three one can count, among others: Flight to Mars (1951, review), Invaders from Mars (1953, review), Robot Monster (1953, review), Cat-Women of the Moon (1953, review), Forbidden Planet (1956), Kronos (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959), Phantom Planet (1961), Deathsport (1978) and The Bees (1978). While often hampered by microscopic budgets, Block, Rabin and Dewitt always found a way to deliver — in some fashion — the shots needed for a story, in most cases elevating the movie from forgettable schlock to at least memorable schlock. Whether creating original mattes and miniatures or brazenly stealing stock footage or using string and chewing gum, they often produced images that really should not have been possible to achieve for the money they had on hand.
Captive Women was released in some states as a double bill with Invasion, U.S.A., and in the UK it was released under its original title 3000 AD. It was re-released in the US in 1954 as 1000 Years from Now.
Captive Women. 1952, USA. Directed by Stuart Gilmore. Written by Jack Pollexfen & Aubrey Wisberg. Starring: Ron Randell, Margaret Field, Robert Clarke, Gloria Saunders, William Schallert, Robert Bice, Stuart Randall, Paula Dorety, Chili Williams, Eric Colmar, Doug Evans. Music: Charles Koff. Cinematography: Paul Ivano. Editing: Fred Feitshans Jr. Production design: Theobold Holsopple. Costume design: Yvonne Wood. Makeup: Steven Clensos. Sound: Frank McWorther. Special effects: Roscoe Cline, Louis Dewitt. Visual effects: Irving Block, Jack Rabin. Produced by Jack Pollexfen & Aubrey Wisberg for Albert Zugsmith Productions & RKO.