Aliens, Science Fiction

Mars Needs Women (1967)

Comments Off on Mars Needs Women (1967) 25 May 2015

Mars Needs Women Cover

Studio: MGM Limited Edition Collection

Theatrical Release: Syndicated to television in 1968

DVD Release: November 20, 2014

Rating: Not Rated

Directed by Larry Buchanan

Review by Tim Bodzioney

Mars Needs Women is a terrible movie. That the movie is terribly written, directed, edited, and acted (generally) are not its worst offenses. There are plenty of movies that are terrible and somehow irresistible.   Some refer to these as ‘guilty pleasures.’ I think the cinematic ‘guilty pleasure’ is similar to rating pizza. Much of it has to do with the age in which one first partakes.  I don’t think many would confess pleasure, guilty or otherwise, from Mars Needs Women.

The span of prolific Texas auteur Larry Buchanan stretches from the early 60’s to the late 80’s.  Buchanan dabbled in many genres including sexploitation, horror, science fiction, crime, westerns, and even religious pictures, showing an affinity for none. In the mid 1960’s Buchanan wrote, produced, and directed eight made-for-television movies for American International Pictures. Several of these movies were remakes of earlier AIP pictures. Mars Needs Women produced in 1966 falls in the middle of the group.

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Mars has a shortage of women due to some sort of genetic mishap; men on the red planet outnumber women by a ratio of one hundred to one. After a series of messages to the space center in Houston, the Martians send down five males to search for five healthy female specimens for breeding purposes. This wacky premise could be for an Ed Wood movie, minus only one small detail — Ed Wood movies tend to be fun.  Mars Needs Women is not fun.

The group of intergalactic reproductive pioneers is led by Bop (is this a UPA cartoon?), played by Tommy Kirk — perhaps they should have hired Dizzy Gillespie for the role? The women selected for breeding naturally include a stripper, an airline stewardess, and a college homecoming queen (this sounds like a setup for a joke about Martians at a Mensa meeting). With all the different forms of female specimens on a planet the size of earth, these were the best the Martians could come up with? I guess even from outer space they wanted their women hot and servile, 1960’s style. However Bop, while posing as a reporter for a Seattle newspaper, discovers a hottie scientist, Dr. Marjorie Bolen (Yvonne Craig), who understands the sexual mores of Martians. 7 Mars Needs WomenI’d like to see the college course catalog descriptions of those classes!

 One of AIP’s demands of Buchanan was that he employed a couple of ‘stars’ on each of these movies. Rapidly fading John Agar appears in three of these Buchanan movies. Tommy Kirk was a major teenage star at Disney, starting with The Hardy Boys on The Mickey Mouse Club, and shortly thereafter moving to features (Old Yeller, Swiss Family Robinson, The Absent Minded Professor and its sequel, Son of Flubber, along with the Merlin Jones epics). It’s hard to believe now, but Disney comedies of that era were big money makers.

Kirk’s career was riding high in the early 60’s when the mother of a high school boy reported an affair between Kirk (then in his early 20’s) and her son to studio head Walt Disney. That pretty much ended Kirk’s career. There was some episodic television work on his way to second-tier beach movies at AIP and worse. Imagine working with the likes of Buchanan and Al Adamson after those Disney hits? While it took Agar nearly 20 years to work his way down from directors like John Ford, Raoul Walsh, and Allan Dwan to Buchanan, poor Tommy Kirk made the descent in a couple of years. The sad part is that unlike Kirk, Agar was never a very good actor and yet still had a 20-year career.

Kirk is very good in those Disney movies. His performance in Mars Needs Women is erratic. Most of the time he looks like he’s adrift alone without any help while reciting the impossible Buchanan script. He has a good scene in a planetarium where after an audio malfunction, he gives an impromptu talk about life on Mars to a group of rowdy elementary school children. It’s reported that he wrote his dialogue for that scene.

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Yvonne Craig fares much better. She delivers her lines with an energetic sincerity that comes off well. Craig seemed to be skating at the edge of stardom for over ten years from the late 50’s to early 70’s, appearing in several big-budget studio movies including a couple with Elvis, as well as numerous episodes of popular television shows of the era. Her career defining role was as Batgirl in the third season of the 60’s TV show.

The rest of the actors aren’t so lucky; all of them come off as stiff and amateurish.

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Then there’s the performance of the wall-mounted speaker in the space center; because of the micro budget, much of the action takes place off screen and is recounted over the speaker. The camera even zooms arbitrarily in and out of the speaker.  The speaker performs admirably.

Buchanan’s script is daffy. After failing to negotiate for females with the military, where do the Martians decide to land? New York? No. Cleveland? No. Kansas City? No. San Francisco? No. And heaven forbid the aliens land any place outside of the USA. Why not land in the very location of the space center? That’s right, Houston. Nobody there would be expecting the Martians, especially after several attempts to do this peacefully, to kidnap women from their city!

But even that has a topper, because the movie wasn’t filmed in Houston. It was filmed in Dallas, pretending to be Houston. That may be the best performance of the picture.

Because the script offers no real characters the actors play their roles in one gear — such as Byron Lord (that can’t be a real name) as Colonel Bob Page. No matter the situation, he spits and shouts his dialogue in a state of extreme urgency. Too bad we don’t get to see him order a cup of coffee.

It seems like half of the movie is either boring military stock footage or second unit location footage of Dallas. Seeing location footage of Dallas in the mid 60’s is one of the more interesting elements of the movie. And it’s only interesting to me because my in-laws are from the area, and it was fun seeing Dallas as they knew it in their youth.

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There are scenes of the Martians endlessly roaming the streets. The locations and editing of these scenes have no purpose other than to pad the running time to 80 minutes. One of my favorite scenes takes place in a strip club. I’m certain it was a real strip club, populated with friends of the director and crew. What was intriguing to me was the presence of women patrons in this club. They’re not alone. They appear to be on dates. But what kind of date is that? It reminded me of the scene in Taxi Driver where Travis takes Betsy to a porn movie. I was waiting to see at least one woman indignantly storm out of the club. But oh, that would have been dramatic — no such luck in this movie.

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Mars Needs Women comes to DVD as part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection from 20th Century-Fox Home Video. It is marketed as being ‘manufactured on demand.’ It was originally released in 2001 as part of the MGM Midnight Movies collection. I didn’t see that release, but I’m guessing it’s the same transfer. It looks fine for an ultra low-budget (even by AIP standards) feature. It’s a 4:3 transfer that does not appear to be zoomed in. This release, like the older one has both English and Spanish soundtracks and subtitles. There are no other extras.

I have to confess that there were a couple of times while watching the movie that I thought that maybe Buchanan was pulling the audience’s leg. The movie sometimes has a weird, surreal quality of an experimental film. For a fleeting moment, I thought maybe the movie is sly commentary on Cold War 1960’s America. A nation obsessed with ‘the other,’ whether foreign (communism) or domestic (race) and fears of intermingling cultures, or worse, sex with OUR women! But again, no such luck — there’s nothing so thoughtful going on in this movie. Buchanan was just a cynical hack after a quick buck, and not even a good one like Hershel Gordon Lewis. If  a cop had been present, he would have told me to just keep moving, ‘nothing happening here.’ To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a bad movie is just a bad movie.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

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