1953 was a banner year for producer Al Zimbalist. Storyteller Arch Oboler may have beaten him to the punch by lensing the first 3-D feature, Bwana Devil, but Zimbalist upped the ante by releasing a 3-D double shot from which the cult film world has yet to recover.

Distributed by the arguably successful Astor film company, Cat-Women of the Moon and Robot Monster have each earned their rightful place in the pulp film pantheon. No one would argue that both films are indefensibly bad. Robot Monster is far too easy a target, and little time should be wasted on chronicling its shortcomings. You don't need the enhancement of 3-D goggles to spot a dog like this coming down Fifth Avenue.

Cat-Women, however, benefits marginally from an experienced cast who must be credited with delivering workmanlike performances in the midst of what must have seemed insurmountable circumstances. One glance at the faces of Victor Jory or Marie Windsor as they strap themselves into castered office chairs, praying they pass muster as rocket cockpit paraphernalia, is most revealing. What senses of humor these hearty thespians must have possessed, maintaining poker faces from blast off to closing credits.

Veteran director Herbert L. Strock once noted that Victor Jory drove him crazy with scene-stealing facial ticks and gestures: nose-pulling, ear-tugging, etc. The actor is decidedly restrained in Cat-Women. Who’d want to steal such scenes? The usual Jory idiosyncrasies are absent as he and his fellow players strive vainly to lend gravitas to the absurd screenplay.

It's a skeletal story detailing a platoon to the moon who encounter a subterranean race of slinky women sporting black tights. Initially hostile to the newcomers, they settle quickly into the timeworn filmic cliches of flirting and exotic dancing. One of the Cat-Women, Betty Arlen, choreographed the ludicrous terpsichore.

Billed in the opening credits as "Hollywood Covergirls," the moon's busty rulers exhibit no feline attributes and are referred to as Cat-Women only once, and that reference is delivered off camera as the film hastily concludes.

Interestingly, the possibilities of the 3-D process are criminally neglected throughout the film. You'd think that jutting moonscapes and soaring spacecraft would be just the kind of eye-popping stuff to show off the potential of a pioneering process. Yet most of the picture lies flatter than a rug, stubbornly refusing to leap at its thrill-hungry ticket-buyers. A gargantuan spider-doll is tossed at the hapless troop of explorers, then hastily dispatched, its thrill potential minimally exploited. Marie Windsor recalls that frustrated puppeteers couldn't quite manage the stuffed arachnid. At one point, one of its legs fell off.

Cat-Women was just one of three unremarkable turns Arthur Hilton took as a director. As an editor, he had been Oscar nominated. Hilton spliced some mighty fine films in his day, including classic thrillers such as Scarlet Street, Phantom Lady and Robert Siodmak's textbook noir, The Killers.

A weary-looking Sonny Tufts, midway through a turbulent career playing second-string everymen, looks positively chagrined throughout. Marie Windsor, a B queen with impressive acting chops, was reluctant to discuss Cat-Women, understandably preferring to cite her appearances in a pair of seminal films noir. She played flinty Sherry Peatty in Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, and stole scene after scene from nail-hard tough guy Charles McGraw in Richard Fleischer's The Narrow Margin.

A remarkable footnote to the Cat-Women saga is the fact that someone thought it would be a great idea to remake it. The job fell to low-budget thrillmeister Richard Cuhna, who directed Missile to the Moon just five years later.

Producer Al Zimbalist finished out the fifties with a forgettable Tarzan flick, starring studly Denny Miller as the Ape Man and a second jungle jumble called Watusi. But he'll rightly be remembered for giving the decade a few of its more noteworthy examples of cut-rate horror which include the following:

King Dinosaur (1955)
Produced for the notorious Lippert organization, this filmic blunder is glutted with laughable gaffs. Seasoned female scientists squeal at the site of snakes, and T-Rex is portrayed by an abused lizard with paste-on fins. Wholly inferior and immensely enjoyable.

Acting: C-
Atmosphere: C
Fun: A

Monster From Green Hell (1957)
Gigantic cardboard wasps menace the African veldt in this threadbare outing, stitched together with safari stock footage. Dallas' Jim Davis stalks the giant stingers, accompanied by Jennifer Jason Leigh's mom, playwright Barbara Turner as a scientist.

Acting: C
Atmosphere: C-
Fun: B-

"Something is happening. Send your men of science, quick!"
Invasion of the Body Snatchers

"Warning: Strait-Jacket vividly depicts ax murders!"

"Raging up from the bottom of time!"
Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

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