Devil Girl from Mars

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

(4/10) In 1954 British filmmakers took advantage of ten days of studio time left over from a TV show that finished early. The result was this ”Dracula from Space” film, remembered for its latex-clad dominatrix in the title role. It’s a hilariously campy romp played (with some skill) completely straight, and has a surprisingly good technical polish for a non-budget film. Unfortunately the script, whipped together in a matter of days, is disastrous from beginning to end. Features two Hammer horror scream queens.

Devil Girl from Mars (1954, Great Britain). Directed by David MacDonald. Written by John C. Mather & James Eastwood. Starring: Patricia Laffan, Hugh McDermott, Hazel Court, Peter Reynolds, Adrienne Corri, Joseph Tomelty, John Laurie, Sophie Stewart. Produced by Edward & Harry Danziger for Danziger Productions. IMDb score: 5.0/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

Joseph Tomelty and Patricia Laffan in Devil Girl from Mars.

Joseph Tomelty and Patricia Laffan in Devil Girl from Mars.

It’s funny how history changes things. Described by ”serious” critics as the low-point in Scottish director David MacDonald’s career, Devil Girl From Mars is the one film he is remembered for today, a film that is loved by science fiction fans and friends of B movies all over the world, and one that inspired both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Sure, this ridiculous science fiction yarn probably wasn’t quite what MacDonald had in mind as his legacy when he worked as an assistant producer in Hollywood for Cecil B. DeMille on films like Cleopatra (1934) and The Crusades (1935). After returning to Great Britain in the late thirties, MacDonald made a number of so-called quota quickies, and made himself a name as comedy director. During WWII he directed and/or produced a number of acclaimed morale-boosting documentaries, and his career seemed to be looking upward when he returned to feature film with the well-regarded thriller Snowbound in 1949. Unfortunately when it came time for his final breakthrough, the big-budget historical epic Christopher Columbus (1949), everything fell apart. The film was ridiculed by critics and audiences alike, and almost killed star actor and Oscar winner Frederic March’s career. Described by The New York Times as ”an uninspired succession of legendary but lifeless episode of tableaux”and later by Britmovie as ”a long and extraordinarily tedious affair”, this would have been his legacy unless Devil Girl from Mars would have come along, because nobody remembers any of the other low-budget movies he made after that.

Louis Posteur.

Louis Posteur.

Some of the credit for the fact that the film is remembered today should go the the wonky robot that has been described by critics alternatively as resembling a refrigerator, a gas pump or a steam cabinet, with stacked styrofoam cups for arms and a light bulb for a head. But let’s not kid ourselves. The real reason is actress Patricia Laffan as the Martian Nyah, decked out in black latex S/M gear and Darth Vader’s cowl and mantle.

The film takes place in a remote Scottish inn (this would later become a staple for cheap British sci-fi), where a diverse group of citizens converge. We have Hugh McDermott as the journalist (because all forties and fifties movies had to have a journalist), Hazel Court as the glamorous photo model from London, Peter Reynolds as the escaped convict with a heart of gold, Adrienne Corri as his former flame, a barmaid with an even more golden heart, John Laurie as the alcoholic innkeeper, Sophie Stewart as his sensible and godly wife, Anthony Richmond as the annoying kid of the show, Joseph Tomelty as a scientist investigating a supposed meteor crash, and last, and in this case least, James Edmond as the hunchback servant, because someone has to die in the movie.

Patricia Laffan interrupts Hugh McDermott, John Laurie and Hazel Court in their daily routines.

Patricia Laffan interrupts Hugh McDermott, John Laurie and Hazel Court in their daily routines.

Their mundane domestic disputes are interrupted as a flying saucer lands in the moors next door, and produces Nyah, mistress of the night, err, sorry, devil girl from Mars, and her trusty robot companion Chani, who possesses a lethal death ray, and is controlled via a remote control device (and in my opinion looks like a cross between a fridge and a mail-box). Nyah, the icy emissary from the red planet turns out to have great powers of mind control and some sort of Martian magic, and envelopes the inn with an invisible wall, so that the filmmakers don’t have to build any more sets.

Hunchback deadmeat James Edmond.

Hunchback deadmeat James Edmond.

In several long expositional monologues Nyah explains that Mars needs men. The war of the sexes was an actual war on Mars, and naturally the women won. But now the men of the planet are in decline because of degeneration, and the women of Mars need strong Earth men for labour and to provide semen for their Martian-making machines. No, the women of Mars do not engage in baby-making processes themselves, that would be primitive. Nyah was actually on her way to London, but got sidetracked to a small Scottish inn when her flying saucer was damaged while entering Earth’s atmosphere. Now she wants a specimen of Earth male to bring with her to London to show to her superiors as they arrive to harvest. The damaged ship? Not to worry, it is an ”organic, self-repairing metal”. It will soon be up to specs again.

This is the beginning of a rather tedious door-swinging farce where Nyah shows up and asks for a volunteer to go to Mars with her. Nobody volunteers, so she shows them her awesome powers and the awesome powers of her robot to prove that she doesn’t need anyone to volunteer. She can take whomever she wants by force. Then she leaves to let the men make up their minds, and of course to give the film a chance to get back to the mundane domestic disputes and a few ill-advised attempts at resistance. Nyah shows up at least three times with the same result, until she finally decides to show the scientist her spaceship, to REALLY prove that she REALLY doesn’t need anyone to volunteer, because the Martian technology is SO superior. And in the process she conveniently tells him how to destroy the spaceship from within as well. Ah, and you can probably imagine the rest.

Chani and friends. Note the forced perspective in the shot. The robot was not actually that big.

Chani and friends. Note the forced perspective in the shot. The robot was not actually that big – if you look closely you can see that it stands on a piece of dirt much closer to the camera than the actors.

I haven’t found any budget figures for the film, but there is no doubt that there wasn’t much of it. However, MacDonald makes due with what he has and wisely keeps the invisible wall intact during all of the proceedings. Visually the film is very similar to the American 1951 movie The Man from Planet X (review), that was likewise set in the remote moors, took place during a dark night, shrouded in shadow and fog to keep production costs down – both are heavily influenced by the Universal horror movies from the thirties in their simplistic visual style. However, the special effects are actually better than the ones often seen cheap American B movies of the era. The spacecraft is especially impressive, with its fast spinning outer ring and its blinking lights – although Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant thinks he has identified it as a ”clutch housing with a flywheel still attached”. The robot’s disintegration beam and Nyah’s skills at slowly disappearing before the eyes of the terrified humans use similar lap-dissolve techniques as were seen in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, review), and they are carried out almost just as well as they were in that big-budget film.

The UFO.

The UFO.

The interior of the spacecraft is also very well designed, and considering how campy the film is, it almost comes as a shock when it is revealed. Art director Norman G. Arnold clearly drew inspiration for the design for both the interior and the exterior of the flying saucer from The Day the Earth Stood Still, but there’s also nods to European silent films like Aelita (1924, review) and Metropolis (1927, review). Arnold was a prolific art director with over 100 films to his name, including Masters of Venus (1962), but never seems to have advanced past quota quickies and B movies. Considering the quality of the special effects, it’s surprising that special effects creator Jack Whitehead didn’t contribute to more than a fair dozen films.

Joseph Tomelty, Patricia Laffan, Adrienne Corri and Hugh McDermott.

Joseph Tomelty, Patricia Laffan, Adrienne Corri and Hugh McDermott.

As usual with British films, the acting isn’t an issue. Every toddler in Britain gets a classical Shakespearean theatre training and if you haven’t performed in either Hamlet or Macbeth before your 11th birthday, your are routinely thrown into the Thames as no self-respecting parent would have you around as a reminder of the family failure. In other words, even in the lowest-budgeted films of the British movie industry, the acting is at least passable, which is the case in this movie. Most of the characters are bland and uninteresting. Hugh McDermott as the journalist is a poor man’s macho hero, here relegated to ”the other man”. McDermott was a B movie staple, and had a supporting role in Nathan Juran’s H.G. Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon (1962). Peter Reynolds as the escaped convict is equally bland, but functioning, as the escaped convict. He also appeared in the 1960 remake of The Hands of Orlac and the Doctor Who film Dalek’s Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966). Rotund Joseph Tomelty was a stage actor who appeared in a number of A movies as well as a good portion of B’s on both sides of the Atlantic, and also had a role in Timeslip (1955, review). John Laurie was a highly respected character actor who has over 160 film or TV credits, including Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), but is probably best known for playing Private James Frazer on the TV series Dad’s Army (1968-1977). Sophie Stewart is perhaps best known for playing lead actor Raymond Massey’s wife in H.G. Wells’ daunting epic Things to Come (1936, review). And then there’s Patricia Laffan, Hazel Court and Adrienne Corri, but we’ll get to them later.

The movie was produced by the New York-born Danziger brothers for their own production company, an outfit that made cheap quota quickies and later TV shows, all while the brothers made a good profit and eventually left the film business in the early sixties, moving into the hotel business and bought into the Cartier jewellery business in Paris. They were also responsible for the sci-fi film Satellite in the Sky (1956).

John C. Mather.

John C. Mather.

The origins of the movie have remained rather unclear over the years. The titles state that the movie is based on a play by John C. Mather and James Eastwood. Various reviewers, as well as Wikipedia, claim that it was based on a stage play. Given the kammerspiele feel of the movie, this would seem like a logical conclusion. However, even though science fiction plays were not that uncommon in the fifties (see The Perfect Woman 1949, review), it seems unlikely that a UFO story like this would have been performed at any respectable stage in Britain. Others have claimed it was a radio play, as it was not uncommon for British quota quickie production companies at the time to buy up bulks of BBC radio plays and film them. Such was the case with Spaceways (1953, review) for example. The problem with this is that there is no information online of either Mather of Eastwood ever working with radio. In fact, searching information on Mather is rather tricky, since there is another John C. Mather who won the Nobel prize in physics in 2006, and is hogging the internet. The lack of any evidence of a play called Devil Girl from Mars or any playwrights by the names of John C. Mather or James Eastwood have led some to speculate that this was either a teleplay that had been aired under another name, or just simply a script that was presented as ”play” to convince producers of its qualities – a ruse that wasn’t uncommon at the time.

Hazel Court and Patricia Laffan.

Hazel Court and Patricia Laffan.

However, some light is shed on the matter by the anonymous author of the The Bela Lugosi Blog, who’s managed to track down an interview with Mather, conducted by Frank J. Dello Stritto. Turns out Mather was a theatre producer in London, who among other things brought a washed-up Bela Lugosi to Britain in 1951 to tour with the stage version of Dracula. As a footnote to the interview, Dello Stritto writes that in 1954, Mather worked with the Danziger’s in London producing 26 episodes of the TV series Mayfair Mysteries for Paramount. The show wrapped 10 days early, which meant that the production team had 10 days of paid studio time to spare, and that they whipped up a screenplay in a matter of days. Eastwood is credited for the screenplay, but according the Mather everyone did a bit of everything in the chaos as they wrote, built sets, contacted actors, and most importantly, created the latex suit for Patricia Laffan. According to the blog ”Pat Laffan, in the title role, liked the feel of it and loved how it looked”. According to this story, such a play as Devil Girl from Mars never existed – unless it was based on some teleplay by Mather and Eastwood that never aired.

Peter Reynolds.

Peter Reynolds.

According to the blog, Mather moved to Italy after the film’s release, where he established a talent agency catering for American film companies shooting in the country, and later worked at the William Morris agency in London. In 1973 he returned to theatre production with a stage version of the hugely popular sci-fi-flirting British TV series The Avengers (no relation to the comic books). It apparently had extremely impressive special effects and was a hit with audiences, but was cancelled after seven weeks due to high production costs. Mather then retired from show business to write mystery novels. James Eastwood is best known as a writer of spy and mystery novels – in the sixties he wrote a series of books a bout a female secret agent called Anna Zordan, and as a writer of scripts for TV and film, mostly short productions.

The script itself takes a shot at the one of the most popular sci-fi tropes of the fifties, besides the atom bomb and fear of communism: female emancipation. More often it would be Earth men who who travelled to the moon or other planets where women had taken power and enslaved their men. Here it is a representative of the women of Mars who comes to Earth, which is naturally easier on the budget. I have written more about the so-called ”Amazon Women” subgenre in my review of Cat-Women of the Moon (1953), so head over there for more on the background of this trope. Someone on the web pointed out that the script shares many similarities with the stage version of Dracula – as Nyah entering and exiting a room with people many times, controlling people through hypnosis, looking to snatch away someone of the opposite sex and having control over a henchman – the robot Chani is Nyah’s Renfield. Like Dracula, Nyah is a stern, majestic creature seemingly from another world that passes as human, is clad in a black cape and has supernatural powers. And knowing that Mather produced the Dracula play with Lugosi, this probably isn’t a coincidence.

Chani, the refrigerator with styrofoam cups for arms.

Chani, the refrigerator with styrofoam cups for arms.

The script itself is the absolute weak point of the movie. Almost nothing happens in the film, and the scenes in between Nyah’s visits seem like they’re cobbled together from script pages that someone dropped on the floor and didn’t bother to put back in the right order. In the script’s defence, we actually do get some character developments, but they are of the most predictable cut-and-paste type. The question that hangs in the air throughout the film is why Nyah works so hard to get someone to voluntarily go with her when it is clear that she could just grab the whole bunch and stuff them into the spaceship’s cargo hull if she wanted. She kills one guy, evaporates a fair number of trees and barns and makes herself disappear just to show her power, and even goes through the trouble of kidnapping the kid as extortion to get one of the guys to leave for Mars with her. But why? She has the power of mind control, for crissakes! She can simply hypnotise as many guys as she likes and have them parading like sheep into the flying saucer. Instead she shouts ”Puny Earthlings! I shall prove to you my powers!” And of course the next question comes to mind. Here we have an old alcoholic inkeeper in the middle of nowhere, an escaped convict with police on his heels, a middle-aged single journalist who’s clearly not advancing in his career, as he gets sent out to some remote moor to check out if possibly a rock fell there, and a bumbling (also single) scientist well past his prime. In steps a leggy, sexy, Martian dominatrix in a tight latex mini-skirt and offers to take them to a planet filled with millions of more women like her, and no competition from any other men – and all of them aggressively refuse the offer? I find it rather difficult to believe.

Even so, the direction is clean and professional enough not to let the script completely kill the movie. Unfortunately the actors haven’t been given any personal direction, other than ”stand on your mark”, and this is what they do, even in situations where the natural response would be to do something else, like run out to meet little Tommy when he is freed from the spacecraft.

Im just saying, this cannot merely be coincidence.

I am just saying, this cannot merely be coincidence.

I’m going to make a wild guess here, since I haven’t seen it corroborated anywhere. But we know that George Lucas was a huge fan of science fiction as a kid, and he would have been 11 when Devil Girl from Mars was released in the States in 1955, which would have been the perfect age for him to be absolutely enchanted by Nyah. And although it is almost certain that some of the inspiration for Darth Vader’s look came from the villain of the 1938 film serial The Fighting Devil Dogs; The Lightning, it is hard to believe that Nyah’s iconic latex get-up didn’t also stick with him for years to come. Another obvious offspring of Nyah is Tim Curry’s rendition of Frank N. Further in the 1973 play The Rocky Horror Show, and the subsequent film The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) – even down to the accent; ”We nyeed Yearth Myen”.

Patricia Laffan i Quo Vadis, 1951.

Patricia Laffan in Quo Vadis, 1951.

Patricia Laffan plays her role straight as a razor, and never ever winks at the audience – one of the reasons, I think, that the film has become such a cult classic is that nobody ever lets on how campy the film is. Actress Hazel Court said they had a lot of laughs between takes, but always stayed dead serious on camera. Although fond of the latex material initially, Pat Laffan had quite an arduous time with it during filming. She has said it was very hot to act in, and she had to stay on a strict diet during the week-and-a-half of filming. Once she was in costume, she couldn’t eat or drink anything before they got her out of it, because the slightest bulging of her stomach made it almost impossible to get off. Unfortunately Laffan is stuck with idiotic lines, and one would have loved to see a little more life and intelligence in the character. But Laffan pulls it off great. Patricia Laffan started out in theatre and worked her way through small characters in film until she landed the role that she is best remembered for, apart from Nyah. She played Emperor Nero’s third wife Poppaea opposite the great Peter Ustinov in the Hollywood blockbuster Quo Vadis in 1951, a film that was nominated for eight Oscars, but sadly came off empty-handed. It won two Golden Globes, though. But Laffan’s career never quite took off, even though she was a well-know face in British entertainment. Devil Girl from Mars was her only appearance in a science fiction film. Laffan passed away in 2014.

Hazel Court as the model.

Hazel Court as the model.

Although she had a supporting role, the most instantly recognisable name in the film is Hazel Court, one of the truly great horror actresses of the fifties and sixties. Playing the photo model from London, Court is perhaps the best actress in the movie, and does her role with charm, sincerity and grace, and hers is the only character that comes off as a real person. While very beautiful in black and white, the green-eyed redhead came off even more ravishing in her later colour films.

Court had a background in theatre, and made her film debut at the legendary Ealing Studios – makers of the superb Alec Guinness comedies of the forties and fifties – in 1944. She received wide praise for her role as a handicapped girl in Carnival (1946), which lead to a string of leads in films like Holiday Camp (1947), Forbidden (1949), Ghost Ship (1952) and Counterspy (1953). Her real breakthrough came in 1957 when Hammer Films made their first classic horror movie, The Curse of Frankenstein, starring Court, Peter Cushing and a then rather unknown Christopher Lee in the role of the monster, and directed by the now revered Terence Fisher. It was at this time she started hopping across the Atlantic, alternating in British and US TV shows and films.

Hazel Court in The Masque of Red Death, 1964.

Hazel Court in The Masque of Red Death, 1964.

Her next Hammer horror was The Man Who Could Cheat Death, which is often seen as one of the lesser films of the franchise, but which she says she liked very much. The rest of her horror films were all of the none-sci-fi kind, but worthy of mention none the less. She appeared in Doctor Blood’s Coffin (1961), directed by Nathan Juran, memorable for its gory scenes of the title character cutting organs out of live patients. She then went on to star in three of American low-budget master Roger Corman’s most memorable and best-regarded films, Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963) and The Masque of Red Death (1964). The Raven was really more of a comedy spoof than a horror film, and starred three of the great masters of horror; Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. Court said she had a blast with all the three of them, and especially remembers that they would spend all day trading stories about films they’d worked on. Especially Lorre, she says, was tired of being stuck in villainous roles, and was beside himself with joy at the chance of doing comedy, which he loved. She has often quoted The Masque of Red Death as her favourite film, and it is considered the best of Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, and more often than not as his best film, all counted. This film also starred Vincent Price.

Hazel Court in The Raven, with Boris Karloff, who she said was one of the most gentlemanly people she ever met.

Hazel Court in The Raven, with Boris Karloff, who she said was one of the most gentlemanly people she ever met.

In an interview with Bruce Hallenbeck in 1990 she says that she has no regrets whatsoever for being remembered as a scream queen from science fiction and horror movies: ”I think we’re all so lucky to have done 911 of these things. I think it’s wonderful that I made four classic horror films that are still remembered today. Here I am in my latter years, and it’s exciting to get these marvellous letters from people all over the world.” According to her daughter, Court would receive hundreds of fan letters a year from B movie and horror fans up until her death in 2008. About Devil Girls from Mars Court says: ”Oh, I think it’s wonderful! Even Steven Spielberg looked at it! It was the first, before Spielberg did everything else! It was made for nothing, practically. It’s a piece of film history now. And I think it’s wonderful to be part of’ it.”(Spielberg has said that he drew some inspiration from the movie for his epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1979) – and I’m guessing it’s about the spacecraft.) In an interview with film historian Tom Weaver (in the book Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes) she says: ”I ran the tape of that film the other day and I really thought it was amazing – for the time, and for what it cost.”

Court moved to the United States permanently in 1961, where she quickly struck up a life-long friendship with Vincent Price, who she thought was one of the most wonderful and friendly people in the world. Price, an avid painter himself, encouraged Court to pursue her hobby as a painter and sculptor professionally. Masque remained her last film role, apart from an uncredited cameo in one of the Omen sequels. She did appear in a number of TV series up until 1975, but focused on her art, and became an established artist. I could go on forever about Hazel Court, but if you’re interested in knowing more about her, I recommend the afore-mentioned interview by Hallenbeck, or a very fun interview at Temple of Schlock. See also the obituaries in Cinefantastique, The Independent and The Guardian.

Peter Raynolds and Adrienne Corri.

Peter Raynolds and Adrienne Corri.

The third great actress worthy of mention is Adrianne Corri, who plays the barmaid. Not her best role by far, but she does compare favourably to her male co-stars. ”The flamed-haired Adrienne Corri was an actress associated with determined and feisty characters – often reflecting her own up-tempo character”, writes The Scotsman in it’s obituary. Equally at home on stage and in film, Corri, the Scottish-born daughter to Italian parents, got her first screen role in 1949, and can be seen as one of the Christian slaves in Quo Vadis. One of her best roles was as the voluptuous, spoiled girl in Jean Renoir’s The River (1951). To many horror and sci-fi fans Corri is known for her roles in a number of Hammer’s less known horror movies, and for her thigh-high holster-adorned boots as the moon sheriff in Moon Zero Two (1969).

Adrianne Corri filming the infamous rape scene in A Clockwork Orange with Stanley Kubrick behind the camera.

Adrianne Corri filming the infamous rape scene in A Clockwork Orange with Stanley Kubrick behind the camera.

However, she has gone down in movie history as Mrs. Alexander, the victim of one of the most disturbing rape scenes ever put on film, in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). The scene where she is naked, save for her red socks, being raped by Malcolm McDowell, took a whole day to film, and another scene where McDowell slaps her required 39 takes, until McDowell finally told Kubrick that he refused to slap Corri one more time. An IMDb trivia entry claims that Corri ”resented” Kubrick because of her treatment on the film, but there is no evidence for this in any of the interviews I have seen cited. In fact, she knew exactly what she was getting herself into, after two other actresses had quit the role mid-film because they found the going too humiliating. Corri had no qualms about getting naked, as long as she got paid, and said that as a former gymnast she was strong enough to take the physical strain.

Adrianne Court.

Adrianne Corri.

According to one story, before the rape scene, she jokingly said to McDowell: ”Well Malcolm, now you’ll get to see that I’m a real redhead”. In an interview she states that Kubrick was a difficult director to work with, especially for women, but that it was fine as long as she put him in his place: ”One has to be very tough with Stanley. He appreciated it.” After filming she had a conversation with Kubrick where he told her that he always lost his socks when doing the laundry. She gave him a pair of bright red socks as a gift, a reminder of her own red ones in the film. Corri’s career dwindled in the seventies, as was often the case with actresses, especially those working mainly in B movies, after they reach a certain age, but she created herself a second career as a renowned art historian. Corri also acted in a fair number of science fiction TV series, including Dr. Who and UFO.

Composer Edwin Astley.

Composer Edwin Astley.

Very little has been written about the music of the movie, but it is actually terrific. Much of the drama and suspense in the film is created by the bombastic classical score which wouldn’t be out of place in some heroic period piece – although it is sometimes at odds with the campy proceedings of the film. Revealing the walking refrigerator to a thunderous roar like the Earth was splitting at it seams is a bit of an overkill. The music was composed by one of Britain’s most prolific and iconic TV composers of the fifties and sixties, working on TV series like The Adventures of Robin Hood, Ivanhoe and The Saint Edwin Astley. He also provided music for a number of both A and B movies, best known perhaps for the Peter Sellers/Jack Arnold collaboration The Mouse that Roared (1959). Astley occasionally dabbled in science fiction, scoring films like Womaneater (1958), Behemoth the Sea Monster (1959), Kadoyng (1972) and Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973), as well as the TV series The Champions and Department S.

The UFO is landing.

The UFO is landing.

The film was nominally edited by Brough Taylor, but IMDb also lists Peter Taylor as an uncredited editor. Peter Taylor was an up-and-coming editor, who earlier that year had edited David Lean’s Hobson’s Choice. Three years later he would win an Oscar for his work on another David Lean film; The Bridge on the River Kwai. Brough Taylor, on the other hand, doesn’t have a single IMDb credit apart from Devil Girl from Mars. At first I thought that Brough might have been a brother of Peter’s, maybe an assistant trying his hand at editing. Then I read that Peter Taylor’s full name was Peter John Brough Taylor. I suppose he just didn’t want his name on a movie like this. Probably a smart move.

Makeup artist George Partleton isn’t presented with much of a challenge on this film, but he was one of Britain’s top makeup people. He didn’t work much in sci-fi, but to give you the gist of what level of professional he was, I’ll list his four IMDb showcase films: The Bridge of the River Kwai, Lolita (1962), Get Carter (1971) and A Clockwork Orange.

The sound editor on Devil Girl from Mars was a 25-year old film aficionado who was in the process of working himself up in the business. He started as an editing trainee in 1944 and went on to work in both image and sound editing departments for film and, TV, and later worked as writer, producer, director and even composer on a number of films. In 1957 he got the chance to direct his own TV series, and said he had envisioned a grand adventure on the scale of Ben-Hur. As he spoke with his producers as APF, though, they informed him that not only was there no money for such a show, there wasn’t even money to hire any actors. The show would have to be made with puppets. Gerry Anderson, as the former editor was called, was devastated.

Gerry Anderson with his puppets from Thunderbirds.

Gerry Anderson with his puppets from Thunderbirds.

However, Anderson became quite adept at the technique he called ”supermarionetting”, where puppets would be controlled by wires inside the bodies. In 1962, after a number of fairly popular puppet shows for APF, the studio commissioned a science fiction show, which became Fireball XL5 – and it proved so popular that NBC bought the distribution rights for USA. This would be followed by series like Stingray, and most importantly Thunderbirds, which became a resounding success all over the world in the mid-sixties. Later he also branched out to live-action series like The Secret Service, UFO and Space: 1999. He was also involved with the sci-fi films Thunderbirds are GO (1966), Thunderbird 6 (1968), Doppelgänger (1969), Invasion: UFO (1974), Invaders from the Deep (1981) and Thunderbirds (2004). Although he never received any major awards for his work on his groundbreaking puppet shows, mainly aimed at children, he was made a Member of the British Order by Queen Elizabeth for his contribution to British animation.

Matte painter Bob Cuff later worked on films like The Day of the Triffifds (1962), First Men in the Moon (1964), The City Under the Sea (1965) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Dennis Grisbeck at Monstershack points out that the idea of self-repairing metal probably hasn’t been used in a film after this one until Terminator II (1992).

The films star: Pat Laffan.

The film’s star: Pat Laffan.

So what are we to make of this movie? On the one hand, it is a blast any time Nyah is in frame, and one can’t help but love the wonderfully inept robot. Technically it is well-made and polished for its budget, the space ship is well designed and the special effects are surprisingly good. The acting ranges from capable to good, especially the women stand out. But despite all this, it is a slow-moving yarn, and the budget limitations are obvious. The script is bad from beginning to end, there wasn’t enough time to do anything with camera or direction and the characters are one-dimensional and uninteresting. Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant sums it up: ”Devil Girl from Mars is more corny than it is incompetent.”

Janne Wass

Devil Girl from Mars (1954, Great Britain). Directed by David MacDonald. Written by John C. Mather & James Eastwood. Starring: Patricia Laffan, Hugh McDermott, Hazel Court, Peter Reynolds, Adrienne Corri, Joseph Tomelty, John Laurie, Sophie Stewart, Anthony Richard, Stewart Hibberd. Mussic: Edwin Astley. Cinematography: Jack E. Cox. Editing: Peter Taylor. Art direction: Norman G. Arnold. Makeup artist: George Partleton. Sound editor: Gerry Anderson. Special effects: Jack Whitehead. Matte painter: Bob Cuff. Costumes: Ronald Cobb. Produced by Edgar & Harry Danziger for Danziger Productions.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Devil Girl from Mars

  1. Pingback: Timeslip | Scifist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s