The first “Amazon Women in Space” film, this 1953 low-budget clunker is one of the dumbest films ever made. However, despite its borrowed sets, atrocious acting and ludicrous script, it is thoroughly fun in its naivety. 3/10
Cat-Women of the Moon. 1953, USA. Directed by Arthur Hilton. Written by Roy Hamilton, Al Zimbalist & Jack Rabin. Starring: Sonny Tufts, Marie Windsor, Victor Jory, William Phipps, Douglas Fowley, Carol Brewster, Susan Morrow. Produced by Al Zimbalist & Jack Rabin. IMDb: 4.0/10. Rotten Tomatoes: 33/100. Metacritic: N/A.
In the fifties American manhood was threatened. When the men were off fighting WWII, women were called in to factories, retailers and institutions to take their place, and thus keep the wheels of society turning. In the process, many of them found that having a salary of their own greatly improved their freedom and made them independent of a male provider, which had been the norm up until then. As the men returned home, many women refused to let things slip back to the way they were before the war, and were backed up by a growing feminist movement and unions. Suddenly women’s liberation was thing again, and companies, now able to hire women for a lesser salary than men, didn’t necessarily protest. But a lot of men felt threatened by the loosening of their control over women, and the inevitable backlash resulted in what we today loosely refer to as ”fifties values”. No more “We Can Do It” and Rosie the Riveter; emphasis was now laid on ”traditional” family values: Christianity, patriarchy, chastity and female obedience. This was one of the driving forces in Hollywood behind an onslaught of ”Amazon Women” films, of which Cat-Women of the Moon is one of the best known examples.
Cat-Women of the Moon follows a team of what seems to be the five most inept astronauts ever put in a space bucket together, as they disembark for the first rocket mission to the moon. There’s the by-the-book captain, Grainger (Sonny Tufts) and his wife, navigator Helen (Marie Windsor, a dead ringer for Allison Janney), the maverick cowboy Kip (Victor Jory), who’s in love with Helen (naturally), the greedy technician Walt (Douglas Fowley) and the virginial radio officer Doug (SF darling William Phipps). Refreshingly, Cat-Women of the Moon dismisses with the usual pre-flight character introductions and technical mumbo-jumbo, and opens in medias res, as the astronauts are coming out of acceleration in their corrugated metal cockpit. After the usual in-flight mishaps (radiation leak in the engine room, erratic meteor), they arrive at the moon. Oddly, Helen “knows” a good place to land on the dark side of the moon, and as the team suits up in their space suits she also knows to lead them to a cave with breathable air. And this is where our adventure proper begins.
After being attacked by giant spiders, the team discover an old civilisation on the brink of extinction. In order to save oxygen, the ruling women of the moon have killed off all of their men. Now they have telepathically guided Helen (she is a women, so she has a mental link to them) to their city, so that they can commandeer the rocket and fly to Earth, where they will subdue the planet’s men. So much is told to Helen by the leaders of the cat-women of the moon, Alpha (Carol Brewster), Lambda (Susan Morrow) and Beta (Suzanne Alexander). The plan is to seduce the four men in the crew and have them reveal how to operate the rocket, then kill them and take off. Helen is unable to warn her crew mates, because she falls under the mind control of the cat-women.
The women’s plan works like a charm, only if it wasn’t for the surly cowboy Kip, who isn’t buying any of this “we come in peace” crap, and refuses to fall for the girls’ charm. And he brought his six-shooter along. He breaks Helen out of her spell by basically forcing himself upon her, after which she informs him that by “holding her tight” he can temporarily snap her out of the cat-women’s control. However, when he tries to inform his captain about this terrible threat to the crew and all humanity, he inexplicably chooses to add in what basically amounts to “hey, I’m gonna bang your wife, you fat idiot”, which doesn’t so much lead to the intended reaction, but instead to a fist fight between the two American heroes. Meanwhile, Walt’s greed lures him to his death, while Doug’s innocence almost does the same. But sweet Lambda has taken a liking to the cute Doug, and breaks up the in-fighting by informing the clueless men that the cat women are stealing their space suits and are headed for the rocket — which they have now learned to pilot. Sometime around here, the production crew ran out of time and money (seriously!), leading to what may be the most unsatisfactory but also funniest climax of a film you have ever seen. The entire last scene consists of one line shouted from off-screen!
Cat-Women of the Moon is one of those films that tend to show up on lists of worst movies ever made. And as with most of those movies, it isn’t. What it is, is a super-cheap exploitation movies filmed in under a week an a peanut budget and a script written on the back of a match-book. But for all its flaws, it looks reasonably good for a movie made on pocket lint, and it is quite entertaining in its ineptitude.
The movie was directed by Arthur Hilton, who was a respected editor, even Oscar-nominated at one time, who tried to make it as a director in the beginning of the fifties, but seemed to give up in 1954 as the results were less than inspiring, and returned to his day job, although he did do a little TV directing on the side. He also edited the Lon Chaney Jr. film Man Made Monster (1941, review). Cat-Women of the Moon was produced by B-movie legends Al Zimbalist and Jack Rabin, who also came up with the original story idea, which they handed over to Roy Hamilton, who was the man behind the original story of William Cameron Menzies’ The Whip Hand (1951, review). You can have a lot of fun nitpicking this script, but on the other hand it’s also sort of genius.
For example, the script completely bypasses the otherwise obligatory fifties exposition in the beginning of the movie, where someone stands in front of a chalk board explaining the basic physics of space flight, introduces the characters and builds up to the take-off. Because, the audience doesn’t really care. Instead, the film opens with a short voice-over extolling the wonders of space, and prophesises that some day man will be able to pierce their mysteries. Then the narrator gets impatient: “Why must we wait? Why not now?” BOOOM! The rocket takes off. It’s a brilliant opening, cutting straight to the heart of the story. This is what the audience came to see.
But oh boy, this is a dumb script. Of course, no-one expects solid science in a movie like this, but in Cat-Women of the Moon there’s not even an attempt made at simple coherence. Forget about the fact that there’s full gravity in the rocket at all times, and forget that there seems to be no actual mission plan or preparation for the first human moon flight. Apart from the fact that the captain is identified as pilot and Helen as navigator, no-one on board seems to have any actual qualifications for a space mission. And does the first mission to the moon really need a separate radio operator? Can’t the technician or first officer learn how to operate a short-wave radio? The crew seems like they just got hauled off a trawler, and they’re supposed to be doing “scientific” work on the moon.
Despite the scientific nature of their mission, the only things they pack for their first moon walk is a pack of cigarettes and a revolver. Not, for example, a camera. Or sample boxes. On the edge of the dark side of the moon, Grainger throws a cigarette over to the light side, and it instantly catches fire. Later, when the team heads into the caves, they discover liquid and decide it is water just by looking at it from afar. They decide because there is liquid, there must be an atmosphere, and take one of Helen’s matches. Because it lights, it means there’s oxygen, and because there’s oxygen, it means the air is breathable. Read the previous lines and try to spot all the holes in logic. After the crew have discovered GIANT MOON SPIDERS in the caves, and have no idea of what else might be out there, they, in the middle of their exploration of an unknown cave system, decide to simply dump their million-dollar space suits behind a rock. (They had to do this, because somehow they had to give the Cat-Women a chance to steal them.)
These are only a few of the gaffes occurring during the first half hour or the film. And we haven’t yet spoke of the cringe-worthy dialogue, the implausible character motivations, the contrived love triangle or the blatant misogyny and sexism of the script. And the less said, perhaps the better.
But despite the awful script, the film moves along at adecent pace. As Bill Warren and Bill Thomas puts it in their book Keep Watching the Skies: ”While it is rarely dull, it is also so excruciatingly, stupidly bad as to plumb depths unheard of in science fiction films of the time”. But all this dumbness id done with a sort of naivete, not least because the girls playing the cat-women do it with such serious sincerity and such seeming lack of realisation of how awful their lines and actions are.
The design of Cat-Women of the Moon is a lot better than one would expect from this sort of pocket lint production. The main reason for this is that very little of he design is made for this production. A lot of it comes from another film, which premiered shortly after this one, called Project Moonbase (review).
The spacesuits were the same model of spacesuits that were first used in George Pal’s Destination Moon (1950, review), and then re-used in Flight to Mars (1951, review), and then used again in Project Moon Base. Two bucket-like metal helmets also hand-med-downs from Project Moon Base. One theory is that these suits were specifically made for the marketing department of Destination Moon, whose employees wore them while marketing the film about town, and that production company Lippert Pictures would then either have rented them to other productions or sold them off. The original suits used in the film were designed by co-writer Robert Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp, and were based on real high pressure suits that de Camp had been developing when he worked alongside Heinlein and Isaac Asimov for the US army during WWII. There are some claims that at least the PR suits used by the marketing department were made by Hollywood wardrobe company Western Costume, and could be bought (or rented) off the rack, which would account for their prevalence in low-budget productions and TV series. The helmets for three of the suits are of the plastic fishbowl type, and look much like the ones used in the TV series Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. But film historian Tom Weaver has pointed out that the Corbett helmets had a hinged ”door” in front, which these helmets lack.
Another thing lifted straight from Project Moonbase is the rocket cockpit, which looks cheap, but does its job (the walls seem to be constructed out of corrugated fibreglass roofing panels and there’s a 16 mm film reel attached to one of them). However the Project Moonbase cockpit had only four bunks and no seats. The producers of Cat-Women of the Moon remedy this problem by throwing in a beach lounger and office chairs. Yes, the astronauts on the first mission to the moon use swivel-chairs. The stars outside the cockpit are matted in. Due a wonderful matting mistake, you can sometimes see stars in the radio grille. The too-good-to-be-Poverty-Row matte paintings of the moon are painted by the great space artist Chesley Bonestell, who did much work for George Pal. They are probably also left-overs from Destination Moon.
The moon spiders are hilarious stuffy puppets on obvious strings. They do look very much like the ones that were used in Mesa of Lost Women, made earlier the same year. But, according to John Johnson in his book Cheap Tricks and Class Acts, the spider puppet for Cat-Women was made by prop monster maker Wah Chang at Projects Unlimited, that made a lot of props for the TV series The Outer Limits at that time, and later for a whole bunch of science fiction films and series. Johnson goes on to quote Marie Windsor, who in the magazine Filmfax said that ”I do remember we had a lot of trouble trying to make the giant spider work”.
The sets of the ancient lunar city were leftovers from the expensive Gary Cooper flop The Adventures of Marco Polo from 1938, and had probably showed up in numerous films prior to Cat-Women of the Moon. The he cave sets could have been made for the film, but I suspect were also lifted from some other production.
Now, the thing is that despite all the good sets and mattes and suits that the film is able to lend from the right and the left, the film still looks like it was made on a shoestring budget. Nothing fits together and it just looks just like the filmmakers rounded up whatever they could find abandoned in some studio warehouse. When trying to decorate the sets, it seems they took whatever was on hand. Apart from the loungers and the office furniture, the cockpit is outfitted with a 16 mm film real that someone stuck to one of the walls. The walls of the temple are decorated with everything from some strange lizard’s head to something that looks like a big toilet lid. Still, it’s a fun movie to look at. A shoutout should go to set decorator Fay Babcock, who was one of the early women in Hollywood in that position (by no means the first, though). She was nominated for Oscars twice, for The Talk of the Town in 1942 and Cover Girl in 1944.
The acting the film is mostly appalling. This is partly because of the awful script and dialogue, partly because there wasn’t much time for re-takes (it was filmed in five days), and partly because of the actors. Why someone had the idea to put Sonny Tufts in the film is beyond me. Although he was only forty-one years old when making Cat-Women of the Moon, he looks at least ten years older, has developed a good beer belly and and looks strangely absent in some shots, as if he is mainly focused on trying to stand upright. At one point in the movie he flubs his lines, which are filled in by Douglas Fowley.
Although she liked B movies, Cat-Women of the Moon was too much even for Windsor, and she refused to talk about the film for many years. According to Bill Warren she sometimes literally ran away when it was brought up. In later years, though, she took it with a laugh. To Tom Weaver, she divulged that the absurd ending of the movie was due to the fact that the film ran over budget and time. One day the producers simply walked in, ”pulled about six pages from the script, and said ‘Stop!’” William Phipps corroborates this story, and says that there simply wasn’t enough money to rent the studio even for another hour.
I don’t think that I have, at this time, seen another film with Marie Windsor, but I really, really liked her right from the start. Just like Victor Jory, she soldiers through the film like the true professional she is, never cracking up and just giving it her best all the way through, despite the drunkenness of Tufts, the ineptitude of her female counterparts and the mumbling of Fowley. This was probably one of the few times Victor Jory got the chance to play a “romantic” lead, and even looks like he is enjoying himself on occasion, although it does seem as if the enjoyment wears off the longer the movie progresses.
William Phipps, the ever-pleasant character that he is, looks utterly lost through most of the film, and like the rest of the cast probably wondered what he was doing there. He is well-cast as the boyish Doug, but it’s a far cry from his impressive turn in the lead of Arch Oboler’s post-apocalyptic low-budget epic Five (1951, review). Phipps has spoken harshly about the production of Cat-Women of the Moon. According to Warren, he said about the ending of the film: ”That’s the thing that really stays with me about Cat-Women, because I though then what I think now: ‘Boy, what a shitty way to end a movie!’” Phipps also commented on the office furniture in the cockpit saying ”I thought I was working for Soupy Sales”. His second shock was the giant spider, which he thought would ”kill the film”.
The rather talent-challenged Cat-Women were labelled as ”The Hollywood Cover Girls”, and Carol Brewster as Alpha has the largest resumé, of a whole 41 film or TV appearances, often as ”girl”, ”harem girl”, ”saloon girl”, ”party girl”, ”one of Frenchie’s girls, ”model” or ”dancer”. She tries very hard in what was without compare the biggest role in her career, although she is stuck with lines like ”Our generation predates yours by centuries” and ”We will get their women under our control and soon we will rule the world!” She had an uncredited bit-part in Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and appeared in the John Carradine movie Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970).
Cat-Women of the Moon’s greatest asset, apart from the “Hollywood Cover Girls”, was the fact that it was filmed in 3D, as part of the short-lived 3D-craze of the early fifties. However, when seeing it today in flat 2D, there is little in the composition suggesting much depth, apart perhaps from a few scenes in the grand lunar hall and a few moon rocks placed in the foreground. For some strange reason, the film was remade in colour in 1958 as Missile to the Moon.
The ”Amazon Women” subgenre follows a fairly rigid formula. In its truest form, the films depict a party of American men happening on some ”lost tribe” of women, who have either killed off or enslaved their men, and in gaining their freedom from the patriarchal yoke, they have lost their knowledge about love and become cold-hearted, calculating and ruthless. As the films posit it, the only reason they act in this strange way is that they simply haven’t felt the lurrve of a real man, a real American man, that is. What they really need is the strong, rough hand of a dominating man, most often a slumming middle-aged actor past his prime, and they’ll suddenly realise that life is so much more pleasant if you let a man degrade and manhandle you a little bit. And those who don’t fall head over heals for these Adonises from Hollywood are simply killed off by the American liberators.
Another reason these films were so popular for decades to come is the scintillating male fantasy of happening upon a society of porn star-beautiful women with no men around. Either there’s the possibility of kinky lesbian sex behind closed curtains somewhere, or then each and every one of these women are virgins ready to be ”plucked”. This was naturally never expressed as such in the fifties, but the hints are fairly obvious. And of course one of the main aims of the films were to show how absolutely awful a society run by women would be, either in its inapt silliness or its cold-hearted cruelty.
Surprisingly, the film got a rave review by Variety when it premiered. Variety calls it an ”imaginatively conceived and produced science fiction yarn”, and go on to say that the ”cast ably portray their roles”, and continues: ”Arthur Hilton makes his direction count in catching the spirit of the theme, and art direction is far above average for a film of this calibre. William Whitley’s 3-D photography provides the proper eerie quality.” The New York Times short review kept things pretty neutral, but ended on a negative note: ”At any rate, being hep cats as well as moon maidens, they try to get their hands on the visitors’ rocket ship, hoping to come down here and hypnotize us all. Considering the delegation that went up, it’s hard to imagine why.”
Today, Cat-Women of the Moon is one of those films that so many love as a so-bad-it’s-good movie. It has an appropriately low 4.0/10 rating on IMDb and a 33% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. AllMovie gives it 1.5/5 stars, without even bothering with a review. The SF Encyclopedia writes: “An accurate plot summary sufficiently conveys the risible absurdity of this film, eliminating any need for further criticism, yet Cat-Women of the Moon also qualifies as one of the most influential science fiction films ever made”.
In his 1/5 star review, Derek Winnert calls the movie ” hilariously inept and breathtakingly amateurish”, but concludes: “It may even be a good/ bad cult movie in the making”. Richard Scheib at Moria likewise gives it 1/5 stars: “Perhaps the worst thing about Cat Women of the Moon is not necessarily any of the effects but Sonny Tufts.” Mitch Lovell at The Video Vacuum on the other hand, isn’t bothered by the bad acting and crappy sets, and gives Cat-Women of the Moon 2.5/5 stars: “While it ain’t great by any shakes, if you’re into cheesy 50’s Sci-Fi films, you certainly can do a lot worse.
Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide gives Cat-Women of the Moon 1.5/4 stars, and John Stanley in Creature Features 1/4 stars. In The Sci-Fi Movie Guide, Chris Barsanti writes: “An aggressively silly picture with romance, excitement and plenty of unintentional laughs.” Bill Warren spends several pages listing all the flaws of the film, but concludes: “I don’t mean to thrash this poor little movie mercilessly: I have a good deal of affection for it. […] The total, childish artlessness of Cat-Women of the Moon makes this harmless but silly film very entertaining, although it certainly is one of the worst pictures ever made.”
There’s no doubt that like Plan 9 from Outer Space or Robot Monster, Cat-Women of the Moon is one of the best-known bad films of the fifties, and has become a certified cult movie. And the thing that all these films have in common is not necessarily that they are bad (which they are), but that they are fun. You can go on nitpicking the scripts and the dialogue and the sets and the acting forever, but the fact is that after watching it, you will have a smile on your face, and in the end, what more could you ask from a dumb, no-budget programmer? The gender politics of the film are dated and even offensive, but they don’t seem cynical, belittling or aggressive, as in the case of the film that this one borrowed most of its sets from, Project Moonbase.
As the SF Encyclopedia points out, this was the first of a string of films in which US astronauts discover a matriarchal society in outer space, and it was followed by a number of similar movies. How influential it was on these films is unclear, as this was not a new idea, as I have pointed out above. It was even spoofed in the 1931 musical comedy Just Imagine! (review), and Abbott and Costello actually spoofed it just months before Cat-Women of the Moon was released in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars. The modern take on a matriarchy has deeper roots in literature than one might suspect. In 1666 Margaret Cavendish wrote a brilliant SFF novel in which the female protagonist becomes queen of an alternate reality. In 1762, Sarah Scott described a Christian Socialist society ruled by women and in 1893 Alice Jones and Ella Merchant created a matriarchal society on Mars. The late 19th and early 20th century was a golden age for feminist utopias, which, naturally, also prompted a good number of ridiculing rebuttals, describing how silly and/or terrible a society run by women would be. One of the first cinematic rebuttals was the 1924 silent film The Last Man on Earth (review). Reversed gender roles are a staple on stage, from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew to Thomas’ Charlie’s Aunt. In 1781 Danish playwright Johan Herman Wessel wrote the futuristic comedy Anno 7603, which features a matriarchy, and in 1932 Katherine Hepburn made a splash on Broadway in the lead of The Warrior Husband, about an Amazon society, in Julian Thompson’s 1924 play, which was filmed in 1933. A number of other Hollywood comedies made light on the feminist movement by envisioning poorly functioning female societies and the trope got an SF treatment in the clunky Untamed Women (review) in 1952.
So while Cat-Women of the Moon might be, as The SF Encyclopedia puts it, influential, as far as popularising the trope of Amazon Women in Space, one should not overstate its innovative qualities. The trope was well established long before the film came along.
Sonny Tufts was a character actor of B crime dramas and westerns who suddenly shot to minor stardom during WWII, when all the big stars were serving in the war. Tufts escaped the draft because of an old football injury, and was suddenly cast as a leading man. When the big shots returned to Hollywood in the mid-forties, Tufts’ career started to decline, and he suddenly found himself the butt of jokes at talk shows. His failing career caused him to start drinking heavily, which didn’t help matters, as it affected both his physique and his work. Tufts did get a second chance when Billy Wilder cast him in a prominent role in the Marilyn Monroe film The Seven Year Itch in 1955, but he wasn’t able to make anything of it, and only got a handful of roles in B movies and TV series after that. His downfall was also sped up by drunken antics, such as biting strippers in their thighs. William Phipps tells Tom Weaver that in fact, Tufts was a wonderfully funny character who was miscast as John Wayne-type western heroes. According to Phipps, Tufts should have been cast in comedic roles. About his drinking, Phipps said that this has been overstated: yes, he drank, but so did a lot of movie stars, and that didn’t stop them from acting.
Victor Jory was a well-respected character actor, who appeared in A films like Gone with the Wind (1939) and Papillon (1973), but mostly played heavies in B movies. Jory also appeared in a few memorable episodes of Tales of Tomorrow (1952, review) and a number of other sci-fi series, as well as the film The Man Who Turned to Stone (1957), where he actually played the lead once more. Phipps said Jory was woefully miscast as the romantic lead, but apparently tried to make the most of this opportunity. He was also, according to Phipps, a self-absorbed ass.
Marie Windsor had a long and successful career that lasted from 1941 to 1991. After appearing in mostly uncredited bit-parts in the forties, she rose to fame as a no-nonsense leading lady in a whole slew of B movies in the fifties, and was at one point called ”Queen of the B’s”. Windsor even appeared in a number of very well-regarded movies. The best known is one of Stanley Kubrick’s lesser known films, the noir The Killing (1956), about a race-track heist, where she had a fairly prominent role. She played the female lead in a couple of other critically acclaimed film noirs as well. However, she later said she was more than happy to be the star of B movies, and much rather did that, than play bit-parts in A films. In the fifties Windsor gradually shifted to TV work, and appeared on a number of high-profile series, like Lassie, Perry Mason and General Hospital. She also appeared in the sci-fi films The Story of Mankind (1957), and The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963), where she again played the female lead. She had a small role in two episodes of the Batman TV series involving Otto Preminger’s Mr. Freeze in 1966. Like Jory, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was awarded a Golden Boot for her work in westerns in 1983.
William Phipps had small roles in Invaders from Mars (1953, review), The Twonky (1953, review), and a prominent part in The War of the Worlds (1953, review). He also appeared in a bunch of sci-fi series. He soldiered on in a number of B movies in the fifties, and then became a sought-after guest star on TV, and made appearances on over 200 TV shows between 1951 and 2000. As I’ve stated before, I think it’s a shame that he was never cast in bigger roles in better movies, because I think he had more talent than he was given credit for.
Douglas Fowley was by this a noted character actor, remembered for his role as the cocky soldier clicking his false chompers in Battleground (1949), and for his unforgettable turn as the film director in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), where he desperately tries to make a former silent movie starlet speak into a microphone in a bush. He became a staple TV actor, as so many old B stars, appearing as Doc Holiday on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-1961) and Granpa Hanks in Pistols and Pettcoats (1966-1967).
Susan Morrow as Lambda even shows some signs of acting abilities, and in the past she actually had a couple of leading roles. She starred in the female lead opposite a young Charlton Heston (playing a Crow indian) in 1952’s Savage, and played the lead in the Z movies The Body Beautiful, Man of Conflict and Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic Invaders, all in 1953. She had prominent roles in some slightly higher-up-the-food-chain C movies, and then her career fizzled out in TV. Suzanne Alexander and Bette Arlen had similar career trajectories (without the leads), both with some 20 performances to their credit. Arlen also doubled as dance choreographer on the film, and it seems the dance routine was put together in the studio parking lot the morning before filming. It’s the kind of thing the girls in my elementary school would put together for Christmas shows, only slightly worse. The other three Cat-Women only have a handful of film roles, and it is probably safe to say that the Cat-Women weren’t signed because of their acting abilities. They do, however, have other protruding attributes.
Cinematographer William Whitney and editor John A. Bushelman later scored some renown on TV, both getting Emmy nominations, Bushelman for sound editing, though. Believe it or not, but art director William Glasgow was Oscar nominated in 1964. He also worked on The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), the cult classic It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), Curse of the Faceless Man (1958) and Invisible Invaders (1959).
The special effects were, as mentioned, done by Wah Chang, in collaboration with Willis Cook, who also worked on Jack Rabin’s underground adventure Unknown World (1951, review) and the Ray Harryhausen classic The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review). Rabin and Zimbalist worked the visual effects, along with frequent Rabin collaborator David Commons on titles and optical effects.
Wah Chang started as a model builder for Disney, creating maquettes that the animated characters were based upon, and worked on Fantasia, Pinochio (both 1940) and Bambi (1942). He also got into stop-motion animation, and directed and produced his own shorts. He later started designing creatures and props for film and TV, and also created and filmed other special effects, sometimes through his company and sometimes by himself. Unfortunately it’s hard to find information on exactly what he did because of the way he often worked through a company (as is often the case with effects), and thus sometimes remained uncredited, but this at least is known:
Chang did the spider puppet for Tarantula (1955, review), stop-motion work for Monster from Green Hell (1957), the scorpion puppet for The Black Scorpion (1957), stop-motion puppet for Kronos (1957), and designed the iconic time machine for George Pal’s The Time Machine (1960). He worked on Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961), Master of the World (1961) and Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962), as well as The Power (1968), Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968) and Planet of the Apes (1968). Chang also worked extensively on the TV series Land of the Lost (1974-1977), for which he designed and built most of the dinosaur puppets. In addition to this, he created some of the iconic creatures and props for the original Star Trek series, like the Salt Vampire, Balok’s false image, the Romulan bird of prey, and the famous Gorn from the episode Arena, as well as the original tricorder, and most famously the communicator. His work mostly went uncredited, and thus he never achieved the acclaim he should have during his active years. His company Project Unlimited won the Academy Award for the special effects for The Time Machine, but because of the way the credits were submitted to the Academy, his name was not among the recipients (he did receive a plaque at the ceremony, though, as someone apparently informed the Academy that he had been left out). Film historian Bob Burns later told the Los Angeles Times that this didn’t bother Chang: “He was the most humble, gentle man I’ve ever known in my life,” Burns said. “He never boasted about anything he did, and he just did remarkable stuff.” When the Star Trek cult gathered speed, though, he started gaining wider recognition for his work, and in 1984 he received the George Pal Memorial Award by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.
The one thing does does stand out on this film is the score, a trippy, flute-heavy composition by the great film composer Elmer Bernstein, who avid readers of this blog will remember also worked with Zimbalist and Rabin on Robot Monster. In his book Film and Television Score 1950-1979 Kristopher Spencer cites Bernstein from an article in the magazine Music from the Movies. In it, Bernstein explains that like a lot of liberal Hollywood people, he was at this time in his career, if not blacklisted, then at least graylisted: ”Robot Monster and Cat-Women were done during a period when I was under a political cloud and those were the only films I was offered to do. But I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of trying to help a film, and I had as much fun working on those films as I did on The Ten Commandments.”
Cat-Women of the Moon. 1953. USA. Directed by Arthur Hilton. Written by Roy Hamilton, Al Zimbalist & Jack Rabin. Starring: Sonny Tufts, Marie Windsor, Victor Jory, William Phipps, Douglas Fowley, Carol Brewster, Susan Morrow, Suzanne Alexander, Bette Arlen, Roxann Delman, Ellye Marshall, Judy Walsh. Music: Elmer Bernstein. Cinematography: William P. Whitley. Editing: John A. Bushelman. Art direction: William Glasgow. Set decoration: Fay Babcock. Makeup artist: Harry Thomas. Moonscape paintings: Chesley Bonestell. Sound: Lyle Willey. Special effects: Wah Chang, Willis Cook. Visual effects: David Commons, Al Zimbalist, Jack Rabin. Produced by Al Zimbalist and Jack Rabin for Z-M Productions.
Awesome review, this film sounds delightfully insane. Interesting production history, funny how most of the film’s stuff was so blatantly taken from another film.
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Thanks again! Apparently the two productions co-operated in a money-saving effort. Cat-Women of the Moon and Project Moonbase were filmed back-to-back on the same set. See my review of Project Moonbase.
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I enjoyed your very thorough review. Two very minor corrections (or nit-picks): “Cat-Women” and “Project Moon Base” weren’t actually filmed back-to-back; Hollywood trades confirm that PMB was shot in February of 1953, and also that CWOTM didn’t go before the cameras until October of that year. Regarding release dates, PMB was playing in Los Angeles theaters by the end of August 1953, and though Variety reviewed CWOTM after a December ’53 preview screening, I don’t think the film actually reached theaters until March of 1954.
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Thanks Mark! And thanks for the corrections!