The Psychotronic Zone
By Ed Garea
Island of Lost Women (Jaguar Productions/WB, 1959) – Director: Frank Tuttle. Writers: Ray Buffum (s/p), Prescott Chaplin (story). Stars: Jeff Richards, Venetia Stevenson, John Smith, Diane Jergens, June Blair, Alan Napier, Gavin Muir, & George Brand. B&W, 71 minutes.
For such a lousy film, Island of Lost Women has an impressive pedigree in that Alan Ladd, who owned Jaguar Productions, is the executive producer. This explains the presence of Frank Tuttle as director, as Tuttle was at the helm of two of Ladd’s more successful pictures – This Gun For Hire (the film that made him a star) and Lucky Jordan (both 1942). This was Tuttle’s last film, and let’s just say he didn’t go out with a bang.
The premise is rather exciting: Two young men land on a island inhabited by three young, beautiful women who had never seen a young man before and are totally taken. Face it, this is the eternal male fantasy.
American radio broadcaster Mark Bradley (Richards) and co-pilot Joe Walker (Smith) are flying over the South Pacific on their way to Melbourne for an international news conference when a typhoon forces them off course. Not only that, they suddenly develop engine trouble (of course). Spotting a nearby island, they head for it, only to hear a male voice coming over their radio telling them to stay away. But as they’re about to crash, they have no choice but to land.
They are met buy a mysterious figure who identifies himself only as “Mr. Paul” (Napier). He has one question for them: how soon can they fix the plane and leave? Hospitable, isn’t he? As they have a meeting to attend and don’t want to spend any more time with Mr. Congeniality than necessary, they want to leave as soon as possible.
So far, so good ... until they discover that not only does Paulie Poo have three daughters, but they are major league babes to boot. The daughters, named after planets, are Venus (Stevenson), Mercuria (Blair), and the youngest, 16-year old Urania (Jergens), but for the purposes of this review, we shall call them Venus Jo, Mercuria Jo, and Urania Jo. (Thank goodness the youngest wasn’t given the full name of the planet, as that could lead to some complications: “Venus, bring Uranus over here!”) The girls are decked out in the latest fashions, with short skirts flashing lots of leg, and each is amazingly and immaculately coiffured in late ‘50s style, begging the question of where the island’s beauty parlor is located.
Joe figures that it will take several days to effect repairs. In that case, says Mr. Paul, Mark and Joe can camp alone on the beach. They can, however, join the family for meals at their shelter – a cave right out of Better Homes and Gardens, fully modernized with a large library, furniture, and shortwave radio. The power is supplied by the latest in solar furnaces. (A Lennox, we believe).
After Joe and Mark take time to refocus their eyes, they learn the girls were educated by their father using the library and the shortwave radio. They tell Mark that they hear his broadcasts on the radio, so we guess they’re fans.
Mr. Paul also tells Mark and Joe that he’s Dr. Paul. He used to be a atomic scientist, but after we fried Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he and Mrs. Paul (who made some superb fish sticks) were worried that civilization might nuke itself into oblivion, so they decided to move. Finding this nice little enclave through Century 21, they picked up and moved here. When they ask about Mrs. Paul, he tells them she died years ago (from boredom after reading the script), so it’s been just him and the vixens.
The next day or so, Joe and Urania Jo are gathering eggs at the chicken coop (guess Dr. and Mrs. Paul bought chickens with them) when Joe spots the name “Paul Lujan, California Institute” printed on the inside of the coop’s door. He can’t wait to tell Mark, who, in turn, tells the doc they know his secret and can’t wait to tell the world when they reach Melbourne, as the doc’s disappearance was big news at the time.
This causes Paul to blow a major fuse. Desperate to protect his privacy, he blows up the plane with his latest toy, a flame-throwing Luger. Mark and Joe try to get the babes to steal tools for them so they can build a raft, but the girls nix the idea.
Later that day, they convince Big Daddy to invite the boys to dinner to smoke the old peace pipe. While Joe helps the girls in the kitchen, Paul takes Mark to Deep 13 to show him a process he invented to create a special isotope from uranium on his handy-dandy laboratory reactor. (Doesn’t every mad scientist have one?) As Paul continues the tour, Mark leaves the door ajar and the girls hear their father warn him that he’ll kill anyone who threatens to expose his work, whatever that is.
The girls are aghast and agree not only to supply the boys with tools, but also to show them a secret cave where they could work in secret. As time passes, Mercuria Jo falls for Joe and Venus Jo for Mark. Urania Jo wants to get in on the action and kisses Mark, afterward telling him she knows all about “love at first sight,” having read about it in books. Mark informs her there’s more to love than is in the books.
The next morning, Joe, all hot and bothered, tells Mark he wants to bring Mercuria Jo along with them, but Mark tells Joe that the raft is a subcompact and cannot sustain additional passengers, despite his having the hots for Venus Jo. Later, while Venus Jo is swimming, Mark spots a rubber shark in the waters, and, with the help of stock footage, kills it before it can have “fillet of babe” for dinner.
As Mark carries Venus Jo from the sea and they embrace, she’s real gone, man. She pleads with Mark to take her along for the ride. Urania Jo overhears this and green to the gills with jealousy, runs to tell Big Daddy all about it and brings him with her to the secret cave.
A showdown ensues as Venus Jo and Mercuria Jo tell their father that they’re standing by their men. Dr. Paul returns to his laboratory with Urania Jo, who is now questing her father’s dictum that the world is doomed to annihilation. She tries to hide his flame-thrower so the peace-loving man cannot act on his homicidal urges. Dad finds it anyway behind the fridge and abducts Joe, forcing him to broadcast over a loudspeaker that he will be released only if the girls come home to Papa.
After Joe is locked in a storeroom, Urania Jo grabs the gun. In the ensuing struggle the gun goes off (naturally), setting fire to the lab and the cave. When Paul tries to open the storage room door to free Joe a falling shelf knocks him silly. Hearing Urania Jo’s screams, Mark and the girls rush to the cave, where he frees Joe while the girls take care of Daddy.
As they take cover behind some boulders on the beach, an atomic explosion shakes the island, forming a huge mushroom cloud. Catching the blast on radar, the Royal Australian Atomic Energy Commission contacts the American Air Force to investigate. As he looks over what used to be his island, Dr. Paul admits the irony of having escaped from the world’s madness only to destroy his own island atomically. As he finishes this little speech they spot the Air Force plane and realize they’ll soon be rescued. Venus Jo spots the plane and says, “Here comes your world,” but Mark grabs her in his arms, assuring her that it’s “our world.” (oh, brother)
The first thing we notice about the film is a resemblance to Forbidden Planet, with the father figure warning the visitors away and the inevitable forbidden romance. But the comparison stops there, for Forbidden Planet is actually quite entertaining, while Island of Lost Women should be titled Island of Lost Entertainment.
The only thing that saves this film from being a complete snoozefest is the seriousness with which the characters spout their lines about social conditions. We had to love our mad scientist, who one minute vows his total opposition to violence and the next minute is threatening to kill anyone who tries to escape from his little paradise or threatens to tell the world what he’s up to. The movie manages to run 71 minutes without anything remotely interesting taking place. Even the romances are dull and subdued. Add to this the most ridiculous atomic explosion since Bride of the Monster and what we’re left with at the end is straight hokum minus the camp needed to make it entertaining.
Faces in the Crowd
Top billed Jeff Richards played professional baseball with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League, and the Salem Senators before an injury put his career on hold. He signed with Paramount, and his first film was as a baseball player in Kill the Umpire (1950) with William Bendix. Afterward, he signed with MGM, were the studio was grooming him as a John Wayne type. However, his career there never blossomed; his biggest role was as Benjamin Pontipee in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Despite interest from both the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers, Richard signed with Warner Brothers. He did little at the studio and was signed by Jaguar right before filming Island of Lost Women to a five-year contract.
John Smith began in films in 1944 with an uncredited role as a choir member in Going My Way. He is best known for his role as Slim Sherman on the TV Western, Laramie (1959-63).
Alan Napier was a veteran of over 145 moves and television shows. His best known role was that of Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler, on Batman (1966-68).
Venetia Stevenson, daughter of English director Robert Stevenson, was a Warner Bros. contract player, but could never get out of the B’s. Formerly married to Russ Tamblyn, she later married Don Everly of The Everly Brothers and retired from acting to raise a family. She divorced Everly in 1970.
June Blair was borrowed from 20th Century Fox for the movie. She worked mainly in television and was best known for her appearances on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. She posed for Playboy and was Playmate of the Month in its January 1957 issue. She was married to David Nelson from 1961 to 1975.