MESA OF LOST WOMEN/1953/RON ORMOND/TANDRA QUINN
1953/Directors: Ron Ormond and Herbert Tevos/Writer: Herbert Tevos
Cast: Jackie Coogan, Allan Nixon, Richard Travis, Lyle Talbot, Paula Hill, Robert Knapp, Tandra Quinn, Dolores Fuller
I will agree somewhat with what one reviewer said about Mesa of Lost Women in that it seems to be more fun to read about it and the myths and legends surrounding it than it is to actually watch. Even seasoned cheese lovers seem to have a hard time with this film. I as well have a hard time with it though I have seen it a few times. The film is pretty short, only about 70 minutes, so considering you watch it in two parts it is not that much time out of your life really. The part of this movie, for me, that really makes the experience difficult is the infamously bad film score, but more on that in a moment. The film is often said to look like something Ed Wood Jr. would have created but I am not sure. I have long felt Wood was cast as the worst film director f all time and when a bad film (and Mesa of Lost Women is a bad film) comes along it sometimes is said to look like something Ed Wood Jr. would have done. I have long felt that Wood was a better film maker than the film world in general gives him credit for. But that may be a topic for a special post some other day. Mesa of Lost W omen however does have some connections to Ed Wood Jr. in an indirect way and those tenuous connections have led to speculation that Wood was involved with the project in some way or that he and Ron Ormond worked together. Maybe we can have a quick look at some of those before moving on.
First is the narration by Lyle Talbot. It is not the way the narration is read that is a problem but what the narration has to say or to pontificate to be more precise that has made it noteworthy. In fact I am posting the introduction later in the post for the reader to study and analyze at their leisure. Talbot would work with Wood in a few projects such as Glen or Glenda, Jailbait and Plan 9 from Outer Space. The narration does have a feel that one could call Woodesque but the famous Wood Criswell narrations and monologues were still years down the road. The film also has a brief but credited appearance by Wood’s gal-pal and film regular Dolores Fuller. She appears fleetingly at the end of the film where she surveys the desert landscape from some boulders and in the process adds a question mark the film’s ending. ¡®Is this really the end?’ Sort of thing. The most apparent connection is the already mentioned film score by Hoyt S. Curtain that would reappear one year later in Ed Wood’s Jail Bait, where it was really inappropriate and annoying. The film score consist of a Spanish style guitar played by someone who cannot Spanish guitar strumming two or three chords over and over. Occasionally the score is punctuated by a couple dissonant piano chords that pushes the score from the realm of the tedious into the irritating. And it not just that the Spanish sounding music is horrendous but it played constantly even over scenes that would worked with no score at all. People sitting around a campfire talking do not need repetitive guitar chords and clangy (at best) piano poundings to make the scene work better. Well Ed Wood Jr. liked the scored and lifted it literally from Mesa to his Jail Bait film which is basically a teenage delinquent film about a girl gang that terrorizes middle class America. I read earlier a site stating that while Ed Wood Jr. did not actually work on the film his influence can be seen and felt but I need to make clear that MOLW came out in 1953, the same year that Wood’s first film Glen or Glenda came out. It is hard to image Wood being any sort of influence after only one film released the same year as the film he was supposed to actually have influenced. Well lets move past these heated issue that may never be resolved and look at who is actually credited with creating this camp classic.
The directing credits are split between Herbert Tevos and Ron Ormond. We visited Ron Ormand’s The Monster and the Stripper here at the Caf¨¦ and soon to come will be Please Don’t Touch Me and his piece of evangelical religious propaganda If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do?. Not much on the net about Herbert Tevos and at IMDB he is only mentioned as co-writer and co-director of this one film. This is the man’s legacy in life. Seems to be different accounts as to how and why Ormond too over the project and what parts are his as far as the script and finished shots go. Not much on the net about Herbert Tevos and at IMDB he is only mentioned as co-writer and co-director of this one film. This is the man’s legacy in life. Seems to be different accounts as to how and why Ormond too over the project and what parts are his as far as the script and finished shots go. What seems to be clear is that project started off as Tevos’s alone and depending on who you read the project was canceled because he was too difficult to work with or that it all simply fell apart financially and artistically. Tevos seems to have vanished from the face of the earth and gave up on the project her called Tarantula and Howco Productions pulled in Ron Ormond to finish the script and shooting. There seems to be no way to tell where on man’s vision ends and the other begins but the final result is one of the most infamous z-movies of all time.
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The story is a bit convoluted but essentially it is a mad doctor tale. The said mad scientist is Dr. Aranya and is played by Uncle Fester himself Jackie Coogan. He sports a mangled eye ball which he has no problem showing off by taking off his eyes glasses when talking to people. He has a vision that involves insects (hexapods the narrator calls them) ruling the world and in his laboratory hidden in the caves of the Zarpa Mesa in the middle of the Muerto Desert in Mexico. If you do not know basic Spanish and have no clue what Aranya and Muerto mean have no fear for the narrator and actors will fill you in with free Spanish lessons. The doctor’s experiments have so far yielded a race of supposedly super spider-woman like Tarantella (Tandra Quinn) but I am not sure exactly what super powers they actually have other than doing odd dances for drunken patrons in cantinas at night. The experiments with men have not turned out so well. We are reminded how male insects are usually puny and weak and so the male results of his crossbreeding experiments have continuously produced nothing but dwarves (like Angelo Rossitto of various Al Adamson films fame). Later in the film the dwarve’s faces pop out at us suddenly in instances of strangely inappropriate editing. Doctor’s Aranya’s experiments have drawn the attention of Mr. Masterson (Harmon Stevens) who must have read about them in the latest scientific journals and then looked up his address for the secret caves of the Lost Mesa in the local phone book. Masterson is at first intrigues and curious abut the doctor’s experiments (or else why risk the Desert of Death just to meet the guy). He has no issues with his experiments producing subservient spider women who can’t dance or grinning dwarves but he draws the line when he sees a giant spider wearing a halter top. Tarentella injects him with something that drives him insane but he still manages to escape and winds up at the local Muerto Desert insane asylum.
Now I am leaving out a crucial element to the deeper understanding of the plots twists and turns. The story we are discussing now is being told as a flash back. Or maybe it is a flashback within a flashback or two simultaneous flashbacks, one by pilot Grant Phillips (Robert Knapp) and one is, possibly, a peek into the mind of Pepe the simple Mexican jeep driver. We are introduced to Grant and his girl friend Doreen (Paula Hill) at the films beginning by narrator Lyle Talbot as he ruminates over the place of the puny bipeds known as mankind vs. those of the hexapods (insects I guess though spiders, which the film is sort of about, have eight legs so shouldn’t he be talking about octapods?) in the scheme of the Universe. They are wandering around getting their brains friend in the sun but luckily an oil surveying team spots them and takes them back to camp where all the flashbacks begin. This takes us back to our synopsis where Doreen and her rich husband Jan Van Croft (Nico Lek) are being entertained at the same by the recently escaped from the loony bin Dr. Masterson (who is very well dressed, extremely polite and packing some heat) and the uncoordinated Tarantella as she does the dance of the spider woman or something. But no matter how coordinated she is the music score was never meant to dance to so I’ll cut her some slack. Masterson will not and he shoots her in cold blood and then kidnaps Doreen and Jan and they head to Jan’s waiting plane which is piloted by our hero Grant.
Also among the gang is George the male nurse (George Barrows) and manservant Wu (Samuel Wu) who can only speak in short aphorisms and sayings that sound like samples from a Confucius primer. After a failed hijacking from the dingy Masterson (any could have cold cocked this space cadet and taken the gun from him at anytime) the plane is forced to land on top of the Lost Mesa of Zarpa of course. Soon Doreen is seeing giant spiders puppets (well, one giant spider puppet actually) that look just like the one in Cat-Women of the Moon, released the same year and as far as I know had no involvement by ed Wood Jr.. George feels the need to roam around alone on top of the Mesa even after Doreen has seen huge spiders and soon is killed off. All the time extreme close-ups of a grinning Angelo Rossitto keep cropping up at the oddest moments. When a valuable comb is lost by Doreen in all the confusion Jan Van Croft keeps really pissed off and demands it be fund. Poor Wu walks off mumbling ancient proverbs into the night and suddenly Doreen realizes that while she loved Jan for his money she suddenly has lost interest in one split moment and falls for Grant who is dirt poor because he probably would never make a fuss over a lost comb like that. Wu we find out is actually working for Aranya and he reports the situation to the doctor who repays his services by having his spider girls maul him to death. Eventually of course Grant, Doreen and Masterson wind up in Aranya’s laboratory for the final scenes of everyone calling Aranya insane and he gloat a little before his inevitable demise at the hands of the good guys. As it happens the drug Tarantella gave Masterson wears off just at this moment and he throws together a couple batches of bubbly liquids laying on the table in just the right proportions to make a liquid time bomb. No, seriously. And everyone just stands and looks and waits to be blown up but Masterson tells Grant and Doreen to run for it and no one stops them or runs themselves and so soon the lab blows up. We are back to the oil camp with grant ranting abut the need to get some oil cans and blow up the Mesa. Of course no believes him. His brain is cooked. No one but Pepe or course, but he is just a jeep driver and, well, a poor, superstitious Mexican guy.