This week I am going to concentrate on just one film made in Borehamwood, but probably the worst ever produced. It is so bad I urge you to watch it. The epic science fiction movie is called Fire Maidens of Outer Space and was shot at the great MGM Studios in 1956.
As to the plot: well, astronauts go to explore the 13th moon of Jupiter only to find it inhabited by an elderly man and 13 nubile young dancing girls longing for men to continue their race. It turns out they came from Earth when Atlantis sank into the sea, thus speak perfect English.
Luckily it only takes three weeks to get to Jupiter in a rather wobbly space ship that looks a bit like a V2 rocket. The astronauts do not have to wear space suits and can make cups of tea and smoke en route. Luckily, the ship works with just two levers and keeps in touch with Earth base via a GPO line and phone.
Some nice ‘location’ shots of Stirling Corner with about five cars in those days and interiors of the Mill Hill observatory, which I assume is still there? The exterior of the MGM Studio clock tower and admin block double as an airport and Earth base. Luckily the Jupiter moon has the same foliage as the MGM backlot.
The MGM props man who worked on the film told me it was full of product placements such as a cigarette brand that required the characters to smoke often, sponsored clocks and watches and the use of a Polaroid camera. The film was written and directed by an American who obviously persuaded somebody to finance it, but he never worked again and died in 1969.
Now let us look at the stellar cast. The must-have fading Hollywood star was Anthony Dexter, who had played Valentino in a biopic in 1951 because he looked so much like the silent star, but alas acted as if he was in a silent movie. The female lead was one time Rank Organisation starlet Susan Shaw. Sadly Susan died an alcoholic living in poverty in 1978, but the Rank Organisation as a kind gesture paid for her funeral.
The other actors included Paul Carpenter, who starred in a number of B movies in the 1950s but was reduced to uncredited bit parts by the 1960s, the last being in Goldfinger. He was found dead at the age of just 42 in 1964 in his dressing room at a West End theatre. For some odd reason his death was not investigated.
The other two actors I must mention who starred in this potential rival to Star Wars — assuming you have enjoyed a few drinks — are those lovely Eastenders of the 1950s and 1960s. I refer to the great Sydney Tafler, who was great as villains in B movies. The other was Harry Fowler, who made a career lasting over 60 years on film and television playing what were great character roles. He once told me: “The secret of a long career is to become a character actor. Stars come and go but you can make a good living by taking any part because it is tough business.”
I am glad they gave Harry an MBE before his death in 2012 and wish they had honoured other great character actors rather than some so called stars as the politicians love headlines when coming to awards rather than sometimes lesser names.
I appreciate you have probably never heard of the people I have mentioned or the film, but if you have a sense of humour, watch it. Until next time thank you for your company on another walk down memory lane.
- Paul Welsh MBE is a Borehamwood writer and historian of Elstree Studios