Kit Parker has with partner VCI assembled another terrifically entertaining double-bill that they're calling Movie Bad Girls, Vol. 1. Both Sins of Jezebel (1953) and Queen of the Amazons (1946) are quite bad but have enormous value as high camp. Though not quite up to the delirious heights of Ed Wood, both pictures are spectacularly silly. Top of the bill Jezebel, in its home video debut, is presented in its original widescreen while Queen of the Amazons has been mastered off the original British nitrate negative.
Sins of Jezebel is a would-be biblical epic on a Lippert budget. The IMDb reports the film was shot in just three days for $100,000, but even Roger Corman would be hard-pressed to deliver something even this modest under those terms. More likely the film cost around $250,000 and perhaps took 12-14 days to shoot. There's no denying it, however: it's a cheapie.
Paulette Goddard, a long way from Modern Times, stars as the biblical temptress whose adoration of false idols brings ruin to Ahab (Eduard Franz), the smitten, weak-willed King of Israel, and his 9th Century, B.C. city of Jezreel. Against the better advice of Elijah (John Hoyt), here a cranky, Moses-like prophet, Ahab marries Phoenician beauty Jezebel (Goddard), who in no time is seducing warrior Nehu (George Nader, fresh off the set of Robot Monster) and royal adviser Loram (John Shelton) while ditching Jehovah in favor of installing her own shrine to Baal, one of the Phoenician gods.
The film was one of Paulette Goddard's last roles as a leading lady, her career in sharp decline after the late-1940s. Though she claimed to be as young as 39 when Sins of Jezebel was made, Goddard was actually pushing 50 and, while still attractive, looks middle-aged, and more to the point is totally miscast as a hot temptress. (Ahab rattles off a laundry list of Jezebel's attributes: "Such spirit! Such fire! Such beauty! Such grace!" Such nonsense.) Completely at sea in the part, her acting is limited to just two expressions: a come-hither look while flashing her pearly whites, and a come-hither look with one eyebrow quizzically raised.
All other aspects of the picture are either very badly done or misguided. An example of the latter is the incongruous casting of future Stooge Joe Besser as Yonkel, "Master of Chariots." The rotund comedian tries to inject bits of humor into his role, but his broad, contemporary persona is at odds with the tone of the film and he has little opportunity to do any of his normally enjoyable clowning.
Busy character actor John Hoyt, usually restrained playing austere authority figures, is uncharacteristically hammy in two roles. The film opens and closes with Hoyt playing a nameless religious scholar haughtily quoting extensively from the Book of Genesis (he tosses in several of the Ten Commandments as a bonus) as if the movie-going audience were naughty children arriving late for Sunday school. But it's as Elijah that Hoyt really cuts loose, gesturing broadly as if in a huge stadium, trying to be seen and heard by all.
Production values are low. A dancer entertains the king and his new bride over a lavish feast (almost a requirements of such films), absurdly gyrating in supposed exoticness. This reviewer isn't certain but I'd swear this same dancer (Yvonne De Lavallade?) would perform nearly exactly the same silly dance three years later in The Mole People.
Queen of the Amazons is much more conventional, rife with jungle movie cliches and built around two of the genre's most overused: ivory poachers and the search by a young woman for a missing fiance lost somewhere deep in the jungle. The film actually begins in "Akbar," in India, ostensibly to show Jean (Patricia Morison) and her party hot on her fiance's trail, but mainly to utilize stock footage taken in India. Jean's party, including the fiance's father, British Colonel Jones (John Miljan, who also incessantly narrates the picture), government agent Gary (Robert Lowery), Jean's spurned would-be lover Wayne (Keith Richards, not of The Rolling Stones, of course), the "Professor" (Wilson Benge; his character has no other name), and comic relief cook Gabby (J. Edward Bromberg).
Once in Africa, actually cramped soundstage "exteriors" and exotic locations no farther than the Pasadena Arboretum, the stock footage really kicks into high gear. The party rarely seems to take more than a few steps before stopping to admire ancient film clips of frolicking monkeys, surly lions, and restless natives. Miljan's narration slows things down even further: "We sensed we were coming closer and closer to danger," he says with Commander McBragg-like authority. "It seemed an evil force was trying to impede our progress," etc.
Eventually, the band discover the Queen of the title, Zita (Amira Moustafa), whose vast kingdom consists of a half-dozen straw huts, a pet lion, and a few wicker chairs. Nevertheless, she wields a lot of power all things considered, as she's somehow in league with the ivory poachers and wants Jean's fiance (Bruce Edwards) for herself.
Queen of the Amazons is extremely conventional but enjoyably silly, especially Moustafa's awesomely bad performance as the Amazon Queen. With her thick accent and stiff line readings she's reminiscent of but far worse than Zsa Zsa Gabor's role in (but not as) The Queen of Outer Space (1958). The underrated Patricia Morison, an attractive actress with an impressive range, only makes Moustafa seem even more amateurish.
Video & Audio
As with Kit Parker's other Double Feature releases, Sins of Jezebel and Queen of the Amazons look very good for their age and obscurity. Both films are presented on a single-sided, all-region DVD-9. Sins of Jezebel was released in September 1953, less than two weeks before The Robe premiered, and may have been trying to ride that religious epic's coattails. Jezebel was shot in garish Ansco Color and released in 1.85:1 widescreen. The DVD, 16:9 enhanced, presents the film at 1.77:1 and the compositions look very good in this ratio, despite the fact that a theatrical print with its share of splices has been used for this transfer.
Queen of the Amazons's transfer is derived from a British negative complete with a British Board of Film Censors seal and the Exclusive Films (Hammer Films' early distribution arm) logo. It runs just 52 minutes, nine minutes shorter than the original release version, but one doubts that the cut scenes were cinematic gold. Premused to be public domain, Alpha Video released a bargain DVD of Queen of the Amazons in 2003. Not having seen this previous version, I'd guess it probably looks like dog meat compared to this transfer, but may also be longer. There are no subtitle options.
Both movies are lacking trailers, but do include extensive photo galleries with lots of stills and ad art. Exhibitor material for Sins of Jezebel makes plain the picture was filmed for the "Giant Wide-Screen" while offering it in "Standard Screen" for those theaters not yet converted in late-1953.
VCI's usual biographies of key staff and crew are pretty good this time out, and trailers for about a half-dozen other VCI and Kit Parker titles are included.
Though the movies themselves have been widely variable, from excellent to, in this case, terrible, these Kit Parker releases have been one of the DVD highlights of 2006. This reviewer can't wait to see more.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel.