Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Planeta de las Mujeres Invasoras (Mexico, 1965)

In my recent review of Gigantes Planetarios, I characterized that film as being a departure from the typical Mexican sci-fi films of its era, my point being that the typical Mexican sci-fi films of its era were incorrigibly good natured and horny. Instead, Gigantes Planetarios was a fairly straight-faced space opera, with a ladling on of good ol’ Cold War anxiety for added frisson, and with little of the cheesecake and burlesque antics common to its peers. To make up for this lapse, the makers of the film’s rapidly following sequel, Planeta de las Mujeres Invasoras, made that film’s cast top heavy with a virtual who’s who of Mexican B movie bombshells.

Chief among these bombshells is former Miss Mexico Lorena Velazquez, who had a lengthy run as Mexican genre cinema’s leading lady of choice, meaning that she played opposite Santo on more than a few occasions. She was also one of the titular stars of the first three Las Luchadoras films, the only female driven series in the lucha genre. Starring alongside Velazquez in those films was American actress Elizabeth Campbell, who also appears here. Campbell was no slouch herself when it came to racking up an impressive slate of appearances in Mexican pulp productions, and even continued on in the Las Luchadoras series after Velazquez’s departure, making the loopy Las Mujeres Panteras in 1966. And last but not least, we have Italian beauty Maura Monti, whom you’re probably already sick of me going on and on about.

Alongside this top billed trio we see returning to Planeta all of the major players, both in front of and behind the camera, from Gigantes Planetarios, including prolific, German born director Alfredo B. Crevenna. And along with them come many of the costumes, props, sets, locations and special effects from Gigantes Planetarios. All of this suggests the possibility that the two films were filmed back to back, a practice that was not uncommon in the Mexican film industry of the day -- not to mention a specialty of Crevenna’s, who boasted of having a system that allowed him to complete four films in just eight weeks.

The first act of Planeta catches us up with our band of intrepid space travelers from the first film, which includes fearless scientist Daniel Wolf (Guillermo Murray), his faithful secretary Silvia (Adriana Roel), the prizefighter Marco (Rogelio Guerra), and Taquito, Marco’s manager (played by Jose Angel Espinosa, whose quotation mark bracketed nickname, “Ferrusquilla”, in the grand Mexican movie tradition, sounds a grave warning of comic relief hijinks to come). As we join them, Marco is trying to restart his fight career on a clean slate, and has promised Silvia that he won’t throw his upcoming fight as he has been known to do in the past. Marco stays true to his word, but, unknown to Silvia, he has accepted a payoff in exchange for taking a dive, which means that, in winning the fight, he has crossed the two bumbling mobsters who paid him.

Those mobsters catch up with Marco the next night, when he is out on a date with Silvia at an amusement park, aboard a flying saucer shaped “Trip to the Moon” ride. (In a nice bit of self referential humor, Silvia at first playfully objects to going on the ride, calling it “childish”, and adding, “They simulate the Moon with painted backdrops”.) Little do Marco, Silvia, the thugs, and the assembled other passengers realize, but the ride has been substituted for by an actual flying saucer piloted by the sexy space ladies Martesia (Campbell) and Eritrea (Monti), a ruse that makes it that much easier for the two to whisk these unsuspecting Earthlings to their home planet.

That planet turns out to be the “Planet of Perpetual Day” (keeping in mind that the planet our crew traveled to in Gigantes Planetarios was the “Planet of Eternal Night”) a world whose constant blinding sunlight makes living on its surface impossible. And inhabiting that planet is a subterranean race of “heartless” women ruled over by their extra-heartless Queen, Adastrea (Velazquez). In a refreshing change of pace from most old school space operas depicting planets inhabited by Amazonian races, it’s not men that Adastrea and her people are after this time. Instead what they want is to harvest these Earth peoples’ lungs so that the femaliens themselves might be able to survive in Earth’s hostile atmosphere, thus making it easier for them to invade and take over.

Fortunately for Adastrea’s unhappy new guests, she has a twin sister, Alburnia (Velazquez again), who, by some bizarre accident of birth, is every bit as kind and virtuous as Adastrea is a ravening bitch. The perpetually mini-toga’d Alburnia pledges to help the Earthlings and, at Marco and Silvia’s urging, sends her servant Fitia (Monica Miguel) to Earth to fetch Wolf and Taquito. Though Fitia ends up, through a chain of circumstances I can’t be troubled to explicate, dying in the trunk of Taquito’s car, she does manage to pass on Alburnia’s message at least in part, and, with the aid of some recycled footage from Gigantes Planetarios, Daniel is soon jetting off to Adastrea’s planet in his rocket ship with Taquito at his side.

Upon arriving on the planet, Daniel poses as a hard hearted rogue in order to seduce his way into Adastrea’s trust, which he easily does by liberally dishing out the kind of romantic sweet talk Earth scientists are known to be so adept at. Meanwhile, Adastrea has determined that it is the lungs of Earth’s children that are ideal for her purposes, and so aims a weapon called “The Thunder Mirror” at our world, calibrating it so that it will only kill adults. Once all the grownups are out of the way, Martesia and Eritrea wait Earthside to begin a massive kidnapping campaign. See, I told you these women are heartless!

Planeta de las Mujeres Invasoras represents just one front in an ongoing war of the sexes that raged throughout Mexican B cinema during the 50s and 60s. In many of those battles, the men were represented by wrestlers, and the women by vampires, fembots, harpies and witches (to name just a few). It’s hard to tell whether Mexican audiences at the time -- or at least their male half -- saw these films’ vision of a world under threat of malevolent female rule as laughable, or terrifying, or both (or, as certain laugh lines in Planeta seem to suggest, a fait acompli), but, whatever the case, the evidence suggests that they couldn’t get enough of it.

And when the result is a film as fun and ceaselessly dopey as Planeta, who can blame them? Typical of this kind of fare, the movie is just too silly to come across as mean spirited. And, though its sexual politics are backward, the way it so clumsily clubs you over the head with them only serves as a reminder of just what a relic of the Stone Age they are – or, at least, should be. In addition, despite all the heroics of the movie’s generically square jawed leading men, the players you walk away from the film remembering are the trio of female stars whose names appear above its title. Velazquez gets a perfect showcase here, tucking into the scenery like a true diva in both facets of her Janus-faced double role. The way she wrests the last drop of high melodrama from her every moment on screen demonstrates why she was such a popular and perfect choice for these kinds of comic book movies, and also provides a great example of the deceptively high amount of hard work that goes into being a B movie queen.

As for Campbell and Monti, it’s hard for me to argue that they are used for anything much beyond eye candy here. Though I must point out that it is eye candy that’s dressed in fetishistic retro-futurist space lady costumes, which is not really an argument for their performances having any objective value, really, but more an indication of the bias on my part that renders me incapable of judging. I am but a man, after all. And, until the evil space ladies come along to silence me, I have to tell it like it is.


dfordoom said...

I'm going to have to find some of these movies. Are there any worthwhile English-friendly DVD releases of Mexican sci-fi?

TheDoug said...

dfordoom, you can find this in a 3 for 1 price set titled:3 En 1 - Aventura Al Centro De La Tierra, Gigantes Planetarios, El Planeta De Las Mujeres Invasoras DVD
at and other on-line retailers.

dfordoom said...

So that 3 for 1 set has English subtitles? Amazon don't provide much information about it.

TheDoug said...

No subtitles! Many of these dvds are formatted without english subs.

Michael Barnum said...

Subtitles or no, I am heading to right now!

Todd said...

Thanks, Doug! I didn't even know that those were available on commercial DVD... and at such a great price! Here's the Amazon link for the lazy people. I'd also highly recommend Santo vs. the Martain Invasion for anyone interested in Mexican sci-fi from this era.

Todd said...

Oh, and also Ship of Monsters.

Radio Schmaydio said...

>>It’s hard to tell whether Mexican audiences at the time -- or at least their male half -- saw these films’ vision of a world under threat of malevolent female rule as laughable, or terrifying, or both

Or...secretly desirable.

I will never tire of your Maura Monti reportage!

I just loaned my copy of Santo vs. the Martian Invasion to the parent of one of my daughter's classmates. He grew up in Mexico City and hadn't seen a Santo movie since he was a kid.

In other news: Todd, I didn't realize you knew Memsaab! Greta's one of my dear friends from college and Boston.

Todd said...

"Or...secretly desirable."

Given the compulsiveness with which the subject is returned to again and again, I'd say you're certainly not wrong.

Yes, though I've only gotten to know Memsaab recently via this whole blogging business, she's come to feel like an old pal. Old Dara Singh movies are a powerful social cement.