Queen of the Amazons (1946) -**
It really shouldn’t be all that hard to make an entertaining movie called Queen of the Amazons. You just get a bunch of sexy girls together, dress them up in furry bikinis, and find some excuse to get a virile, square-jawed Allan Quatermain wannabe caught in the middle when the ladies square off against as many swarthy, male extras in “native” costume as the budget will provide. Meanwhile, there are zillions of old public-domain adventure flicks you can raid for stock-footage establishing shots of the lost cities you’re too much of a cheapskate to build for yourself. Toss in as much tease as the relevant censors or classification boards are willing to turn a blind eye to (you can’t go wrong with fifteen girls taking a bath in a lake), and you’ve pretty much got all the bases covered. Even a jackass like Jerry Gross ought to be able to pull it off. Consequently, I am forced to conclude that Roger Merton and Edward Finney are even bigger jackasses than Gross, because their Queen of the Amazons, released by Lippert at the tail-end of 1946, is a rather dismal waste of 61 minutes, enlivened all too infrequently by impossible dialogue, rancid acting, and the egregiously haphazard use of enough stock footage for ten ordinary She rip-offs.
Akbar, India. Jean Preston (Calling Dr. Death’s Patricia Morison) arrives in company with her lifelong friend, Wayne Monroe (Keith Richards— no, not that one; this is the one who played small but conspicuous parts in When Worlds Collide and The Snow Creature); her father-in-law-to-be, Colonel Jones (John Miljan, from The Ghost Walks and The Unholy Three); and a dotty old entomologist known only as the professor (prolific bit-player Wilson Benge, whom the very attentive can see in The Picture of Dorian Gray and the 1944 version of Gaslight), in search of her vanished fiance. Greg Jones, the colonel’s son, came to India on safari some months ago, but he and his whole party vanished without a trace. After arranging to rent some rooms at a hotel, the travelers fan out into the city in search of leads, but all they find is lots and lots and lots of stock footage of elephants. Elephants on parade, elephants trunk-wrestling, elephants just standing around looking very large and extremely smelly— elephants, elephants, elephants! But back at the hotel, Jean has a run-in with a native girl whose brother makes a living as a safari guide, and a sizable bribe earns her a meeting with the man in question. The Indian girl’s brother does indeed remember acting as a guide for Greg (after a bit of confusion that serves only as an excuse to show a stock-footage flashback of some twit being “mauled” by a strangely playful tiger), but before he has a chance to go into much detail, somebody shoots him in the back from behind a curtain in Jean’s hotel room. All he gets out is that Greg left India for Africa after determining that whatever he was seeking on his safari lay there instead. As for how the gunman manages to get away without being seen when by rights he ought to be trapped in the room, I can only direct all complaints to screenwriter Merton.
Right, then— off to Africa, the fabled Stock Footage Continent. Obviously, the first thing Jean and company are going to need if they plan on following Greg into the bush is a guide, and Colonel Jones quickly finds one, a man by the name of Gary Lambert (Robert Lowery, from Revenge of the Zombies and The Mummy’s Ghost). Granted, it might seem to pose a problem that Lambert is a notorious misogynist, and categorically refuses to lead any safari that includes a woman, but Gary changes his tune when he meets Jean, and discovers that she’s an even better shot with a pistol than he is. (Of course, that display of trick shooting is absolutely the last time when we’ll see competence or resourcefulness of any kind from Jean Preston.) Lambert, in turn, secures the services of a cook, an old friend of his called Gabby (J. Edward Bromberg, from Son of Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera), whose main qualification for the job appears to be his ownership of a comic relief monkey. The next stop is a native village, where our heroes encounter stock footage of no fewer than three ritual dances before the chief lends them the services of Tonda, his greatest warrior (not Vida Aldana, no matter what the Internet Movie Database has to say on the subject— Tonda’s a guy, you know), and 40 “boys” to serve as bearers for all their stuff. After that… well, I sure hope you like stock footage, ‘cause that’s about all we’re going to get for the next half hour. In between recycled clips of prowling lions, fleeing antelopes, circling vultures, and the like, Wayne is murdered by someone whose footprints suggest a white man trying to imitate a native, and the porters begin muttering about a “white goddess” who is supposed to rule over a tribe of “she-devils” in the region of the countryside into which Greg’s trail leads. Inconveniently enough, however, the one native who seems to know anything concrete about this mysterious clan of honky amazons gets himself eaten by a lion in a truly incredible scene edited together from at least five separate stock-footage animal attacks. This, inevitably, leads to a timeout so that the rest of the Africans can avenge their fallen comrade by means of a long stock-footage lion hunt.
Meanwhile, at the tiki bar which has been pressed into service as the palace of Zita (Amira Moustafa), that white goddess the native porters are all crapping their loincloths over, we see that Greg Jones (Bruce Edwards, of Bedlam and The Black Widow) is alive and well. He’s also forsaken Jean Preston and fallen in love with his savage hostess. Evidently, Greg was the only one to survive when his party was fallen upon by Zita’s followers— a state of affairs which sprang directly from the queen having taken a fancy to him— and now he is, for all practical purposes, the king (or at least prince consort) of the amazons. He and Zita have informants all over the continent, and consequently they know that Jean and the others are on their way. In fact, Zita has already sent some of her warriors to collect the interlopers, but Greg will not be able to greet them upon their arrival, for he is due to represent his adoptive tribe at some bullshit plot-device council of chiefs, and he won’t be back for at least a week. That gives Zita plenty of opportunity to establish her ascendancy over Jean, who turns out not to be bothered overmuch, because she’s gone and fallen in love with Gary Lambert over the course of their trek across the wilderness. Finally, almost as an afterthought, we get the solution to the mysteries of Wayne’s murder, the death of the other guide back in India, and the reason behind Greg’s detour across the Indian Ocean. His “safari” was really a government-sponsored operation against an ivory-smuggling ring, which he had tracked from Akbar into the wilds of Africa. The smugglers thought they were through with Jones when Zita’s tribe attacked his party, but they got worried again when Jean and the others showed up— so worried, in fact, that their leader has personally infiltrated the rescue expedition. He’s Gabby the cook, and now that his companions have succeeded in making contact with Greg, he’s going to have to take a rather harder line in dealing with them.
Queen of the Amazons really is one of the very worst movies of its type that I’ve ever seen. I expect illogic, I expect miserable acting, I expect terrible comedy perpetrated by trained monkeys, and I expect as much stock footage as the filmmakers think they can get away with. Really, the difference between this movie and any other B-grade H. Rider Haggard knockoff is merely a matter of degree, but Queen of the Amazons proves the more general applicability of the famous Soviet military dictum that quantity has a quality all its own. Illogic is one thing, but some kind of threshold has definitely been crossed when it is revealed that Zita and her tribe were civilized Europeans about ten years ago, and that they found their way to Africa when the ocean liner on which they’d been traveling went down in a violent storm— the all-female character of the tribe stems from the once common practice of giving women and girls the first crack at the lifeboats on a sinking ship! Miserable acting is one thing, but Patricia Morison is something special in that she is apparently capable of conveying no emotion between bored equanimity and shrieking hysterics. Stock footage is one thing, but it’s quite another when it accounts for a good two thirds of a movie’s total running time. You also have to marvel at the production’s greater-than-average cheapness. Not only does Zita rule her wild savanna kingdom from what looks like a rented cocktail lounge, she’s also less the Queen of the Amazons than the Queen of the Amazon— to all appearances, her “tribe” consists of just one other woman! I knew already from seeing some of their 50’s-vintage sci-fi movies that Lippert had a knack for distributing crap, but I still wasn’t prepared for Queen of the Amazons.