Written by Raquel at Out of the Past Blog
The exotic. The other. An adventure film set in a foreign locale offered filmmakers an opportunity to exploit subject matter that was too unconventional for civil society. In director Edward Finney’s "Queen of the Amazons" (1947), he does just that. The title suggests the tall and powerful Amazons of Greek mythology but the Queen in question is the pint-sized Vita (Amira Moustafa), the leader of an all-female tribe, or as they’re described in the film the “white she-devils." Vita and her women live in a remote part of Africa, are self-governed and not bound by the conventions of society. The film poses the question: can these women survive without men? If anything, the film revels in its imperialistic world view by dishing up a titillating story and wrapping it up with a conventional ending that restores the status gender quo.
Before we meet Vita, the film takes us on a wild adventure. Jean Preston (Patricia Morrison) is searching for her fiancee Greg Jones (Bruce Edwards) who disappeared under mysterious circumstances while going on a safari. She leads the expedition with the help of Greg’s father Colonel Jones (John Miljan), the Professor (Wilson Benge) and her friend Wayne Monroe (Keith Richards). They first travel to India where natives Tondra (Vida Aldana) and Moya (Hassan Khayyam) give Jean a clue about Greg’s whereabouts. A stranger lurking in the shadows murders the two natives before they can say too much. The group heads to Africa picking up Gabby (J. Edward Bromberg) a safari cook and guide who recites poetry and keeps a boisterous pet monkey. Jean teams up with safari tour guide Gary Lambert (Robert Lowery) who is vocal about his disdain for women proclaiming, “I haven’t met one yet that isn’t a blasted nuisance.” As Jean and Gary partner up to find Greg, we learn that Gary’s job is a cover. He’s investigating a gang of ivory poachers who might be connected to Greg’s disappearance. It’s Vita and her tribe, tucked away in the remotest part of the jungle, who can tell Jean and Gary just what they want to know.
Queen of the Amazons was a low-budget exploitation film produced by the director’s company Edward F. Finney Productions. Finney worked for a variety of Poverty Row studios including Monogram Pictures, Republic Pictures and Grand Nation producing mostly B-Westerns. Queen of the Amazons was one of five films he directed after going independent in 1941. The cast was primarily made up of freelance players who were working outside of the studio system in the late 1940s. Leading man Robert Lowery was under contract with 20th Century Fox until 1942 and then hopped from studio to studio appearing in numerous action films and Westerns. He also appeared as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the serial Batman and Robin (1949). Leading lady Patricia Morrison had been under contract with Paramount who billed her as a rival to Dorothy Lamour and Hedy Lamarr. The studio didn’t know quite what to do with her and her career never took off. After Morrison’s contract expired in 1943, she worked for a variety of studios, mostly on Poverty Row and by the time she made Queen of the Amazons her movie career was winding down. The Queen herself, Zita, was played by Amira Moustafa, an actress who only made three movies. Moustafa and Morrison play well off each other offering two sides of the same coin. Zita is as tough as she is sexy and proclaims to her lover that “somebody has to be the boss” and clearly that somebody is her. Jean leads her expedition with fierce determination and in many scenes is depicted as poised and confident. The potential strength of both Zita and Jean as characters is undermined by their need to be continually rescued by the men in their lives.
Queen of the Amazons offers a campy and exotic adventure story. It’s noticeably low-budget with its bare bones sets and spliced in documentary footage of African tribes and wildlife. It primarily relies on established cliches and stereotypes which haven’t aged well. If you can tolerate some outdated points of view, you might want to give this fascinating little curio a try.