I Don't Know What To Make Of BEES IN PARADISE

In a lifetime of seeking out odd movies, few have come odder than this.  If you’re a fan of low brow bawdy English musical hall comedy, offbeat low budget films, and/or a sci-fi completist have we got a movie for you! bees in paradise 1944 - workers

Bees In Paradise is a 1944 quote quickie[1] produced while England was still in the thick of WWII (though eventual victory was in sight).  It mines the old trope of an idyllic society of females but does so with a decidedly contemporary twist:  Though World War Two is never mentioned directly, it’s clear from the dialog that the women in the story have in direct response to the conflict raging around them deliberately rejected the war-like patriarchy of the Western world and set up on a remote island a new civilization deliberately patterned after a beehive.  Males are kept (off camera) as workers and breeders; they have two months of mating time with a female in order to produce offspring and then they’re either executed or set adrift in a canoe!

bees in paradise 1944 - pockets

Into the middle of this crash lands a civilian bomber ferry crew.[2]  There is, of course, rivalry among the females for the four men, a lot of songs, silly vaudeville routines, musical numbers, and the obligatory English male comedian in drag.  What’s surprising is the straight forward discussion of gender politics, socio-economic systems, and women’s right to sexual self-determination.

Singin’ In The Rain this aint.

It also ain’t very entertaining.  Oh, you have no idea how much I wish I could like this movie, even a little, but it just never ever jells on screen.  Individual bits and routines bring an occasional smile (two comics try emulating a bit of Road To… movie business and when it fails moan that it always worked for Hope & Crosby!) but there’s just nobody in the movie to arouse any empathy with, the songs are clever and competent instead of actually entertaining, and the production itself looks rather threadbare (though they got excellent use out of sets left over from The Thief Of Baghdad).

bees in paradise 1944 - queen

I think it would be stretching things quite a bit to say that Bees In Paradise was an influence on Abbott & Costello Go To Mars or Queen Of Outer Space or even Invasion Of The Bee Girls, but it clearly got there first and did the most with the core idea.  To that we tip our sci-fi propeller beanies.

The movie was directed and co-written by Val Guest, who later went on to write and/or direct such B-movie classics as the first Quatermass films, The Day The Earth Caught Fire, and When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth; he was also part of the delirious, glorious mess that was the first film version of Casino Royale.  What interest Bees In Paradise has for film buffs is that it’s a decidedly offbeat take on English morale during the middle of WWII, using a sci-fi setting ala Twilight Zone to examine a more serious issue, in this case the rapid change in gender roles and expectations brought about by the war.[3]

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[1]  England restricted the number of foreign films that could be shown in the UK by requiring a certain percentage of home grown product for all films shown.  In order to get the more popular Hollywood features, UK distributors often booked cheap, inexpensive British made films to raise the number of allowable imports.  These were called “quota quickies” and were the equivalent of American B-movies (double features in the US would have an A feature and a B feature, so called because of their placement on the billing, but revenues for the double feature would be divided evenly between the two; US distributors would run low budget exploitation films along with higher priced major studio fare and receive a kickback from the low budget film maker).

[2]  Pilots and air crew unfit for military service due to disabilities or age often were hired to fly military aircraft from their point of construction to their theater of service, thus freeing military pilots for combat duty.

[3]  Meanwhile, as Guest was churning out this movie in merrie olde Englande, across the channel Marcel Carne was making his epic masterpiece Les Enfants Du Paradis right under the noses of the Nazis.

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