Movie Review: Mesa of Lost Women (1953)


Zombos Says: Poor (but hilarity abounds)

Leering dwarf faces keep intercutting at inappropriate times, producing an effect not unlike the subliminals in Terror in the Haunted House. The spider women, with the notable exception of Tarantella, all dress like extras in She. Adding to the Woodian confusion, if you look quickly enough, you will see Mona McKinnon (Plan 9) and Dolores Fuller (Glen or Glenda?, Jailbait) among them. (Bad Movie Report)

There are movies that act like ridicule magnets. Anyone who has watched enough television or eaten too much popcorn at the cinema can easily name at least one special instance of ignominy felt from being spectator to a cinematic catastrophe, or feeling resentful from having time, better spent elsewhere, sinfully squandered and ticket money regrettably wasted.

Then again, there are people like our neighbor, Paul Hollstenwall.

“Wasn’t that a hoot,” said Paul, pulling up the collar of his raincoat and pulling down the brim of his hat.

No, wait a minute, I was only imagining he was standing in front of a sleazy theater. I adjusted my mental eyesight better. After watching the movie he brought over, Ron Ormand’s Mesa of Lost Women, I needed to do a lot of adjustment. We were in Zombos’ library and Paul was sitting on my left, dressed in his usual brown tweed sport coat, faded jeans, and worn Pumas. Zombos was sitting on my right and—wait, where’d he get off to?

“More like a howler,” I told Paul. “I’m not sure what jarring close-ups of leering dwarves, non-speaking hoochie cooch-dressed women, and a hairy spider with eight legs that doesn’t move them–the legs I mean–much, has to do with the title. No, wait, come to think of it, just about everybody was lost most of the time, including me and Jackie Coogan as the mad scientist Dr. Aranya, hanging out in a cave and doing what I’m still not sure of.”

“He was mutating spiders into giants and mutating women with his spider venom,” supplied Paul.

“Why? And why were those women and dwarves constantly underfoot? It doesn’t make sense.”

“He’s a mad scientist. What’s to make sense? Don’t they always mutate, create, or destroy things in horror and sci-fi movies? Because they’re crazy, I mean. The movie’s definitely a double-biller for a drive-in, so adding some feminine pulchritude kept eyes peeled on the screen more than Aranya or loopy Dr. Masterson (Harmon Stevens) would have.

Paul had a point. And he actually used the word pulchritude in a sentence.

“What surprises me is how good the cinematography is compared to the rest,” I said.

“That is because the directors of photography were too good for this dreck,” said Zombos, entering the library. “Ice cold mint juleps should be arriving just about…now.”

The bell on the library’s dumbwaiter buzzed. I headed over and extracted the drinks. Chef Machiavelli’s mint juleps would have even satisfied Tennessee Williams.

“The photography,” continued Zombos, “was done by Karl Struss and Gilbert Warrenton. More than adequate for this otherwise incompetent opus." He took the glass I handed to him and sat down on my right. "All that desert photography made me thirsty.” He took a sip then continued.

"Judicious use of dissolves, wipes, and recall the first meeting between Dr. Masterson and Aranya in the cave laboratory. That set was the size of a walk-in closet. Yet look at how they moved our view left to right, from in front of the lone lab table. It gave depth and liveliness to a tight and narrow space."

"Shame they couldn't clip the cantina scene with Tarantella (Tandra Quinn) doing her endless tarantella," I quipped.

"No!" Paul said. "She's so dark and mysterious. Don't forget she's really a spiderized woman."

"Well, she certainly had the legs for it, even if only two of them. Now, maybe you can tell me what Masterson going all loopy and weird was about?"

"He goes dopey after Aranya injects him with a drug," said Paul, "to stop him from interfering with Aranya's nefarious work—"

"—Making dwarves and spiderized woman. Okay then, what about the cantina scene? He shows up, sits down with a couple of perfect strangers, watches Tarantella dance—how'd she get there in the first place?—and dance. And dance some more. Said spiderwoman glares at him while he talks to the couple, a man and woman who don't know him from Adam. And he talks, and talks some more. And then they leave the cantina. He insists on them all taking a plane ride, with a little persuasion from his gun, the plane engine catches fire and conveniently they all crash land on Aranya's mesa." I stopped to take a breadth.

"Did you notice how the pilot did not turn his steering wheel at all during the flight," said Zombos. “He must have graduated from the Plan 9 school of method acting."

I continued. "Now they're all on the mesa, along with that giant spider that doesn't move much, and assorted dwarves and pretty women who stand around like a chorus in a Greek tragedy, only they don't say a word. We even see them, most of the time, standing a scant few feet away from everyone else, but everyone else doesn't see them at all. Then Wu, the token Chinese guy, buys it in the woods. Of course he has to mutter a proverb or two before getting killed about being killed, which is why they needed him in the first place I guess. And I think the mesa set was even smaller than the lab." 

"Indeed," added Zombos. "When the pilot takes out his penlight to light the way through the woods, everyone keeps moving back and forth through the same narrow path, holding hands."

"Then more close-ups of grinning dwarves and pretty women ensemble standing around an
arm's length away while the pilot and the woman from the cantina hit it off by the campfire. Out of the blue he's telling her what kind of woman he likes and they kiss." 

"At least much humor ensues with one fellow jumping TOWARD the nearly comatose giant spider when he sees it, and let us not forget the effusive potential for derisive commentary throughout," said Zombos.

"So," I summed up, "we've got a music score that runs rampant from the get-go, ignoring the action on screen much of the time, a confusing triple bypass flashback going on between characters to tell an already incoherent story, and a crummy script that opens up a world of mirth in the viewing, not to mention some bizarre scene cutting and papier mache mise-en-scène. Oh, and I shouldn't forget the ponderous Criswell-styled narration to aid in our understanding of this nonsense."

"And deliciously potent mint juleps to make it all go down agreeably," said Paul.

We all drank to that.  

This article originally appeared at Zombos’ Closet of Horrors.

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