Project Moon Base

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(3/10) In a nutshell: This rather inventive and surprisingly scientifically ambitious film was a TV pilot halfway through filming. Unfortunately the TV budget shows. A Communist saboteur infiltrates a 1970 reccie flight for the first American moon base, and the two pilots are more interested in settling the fifties war of the sexes than actually doing their jobs. A thin and silly script with a mixed but ultimately stuffy gender message. Crude but fun special effects save the film.

Project Moon Base (1953). Directed by Richard Talmadge. Written by Robert A. Heinlein and Jack Seaman. Starring: Donna Martell, Ross Ford, Hayden Rorke, Larry Johns, Herb Jacobs. Produced by Jack Seaman for Galaxy Pictures. IMDb score: 2.8

Modelwork by Jacques Fresco on Project Moon Base.

Modelwork by Jacques Fresco on Project Moon Base.

I have just finished my review of Cat-Women of the Moon (1953), in which I bemoaned the turgid sexism of that particular fifties turkey, only to be thrown into a film that is, if possible, even worse in that department, although it tackles it from a slightly different perspective. Continue reading

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Cat-Women of the Moon

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2/10 In a nutshell: Surely one of the most inept productions ever to get a theatrical release, this Poverty Row film from bad movie giants Al Zimbalist and Jack Rabin steals its sets and props from other movies and throws science and logic out the window as it presents the first Amazons-in-space film. If you can forgive its ineptitude and fifties sexism, it’s a highly enjoyable so-bad-it’s-good movie. And there’s giant moon spiders.

Cat-Women of the Moon (1953, USA). Directed by Arthur Hilton. Written by Roy Hamilton, Al Zimbalist & Jack Rabin. Starring: Sonny Tufts, Marie Windsor, Victor Jory, William Phipps, Douglas Fowley, Carol Brewster, Susan Morrow. Prodcuced by Al Zimbalist and Jack Rabin for Z-M Productions. IMDb score: 3.6/10

The Cat-Women of the Moon.

The Cat-Women of the Moon.

In the fifties American manhood was threatened. When the men were off fighting WWII, women were called in to factories, retailers and institutions to take their place, and thus keep the wheels of society turning. In the process, many of them found that having a salary of their own greatly improved their freedom and made them independent of a male provider, which had been the norm up until then. As the men returned home, many women refused to let things slip back to the way it was before the war, and were backed up by a growing feminist movement. Suddenly women’s’ liberation was thing again, and companies that could hire women for a lesser salary than men, didn’t necessarily protest. But a lot of men felt threatened by the loosening of their control over women, and a lot of men dominated the media, the entertainment and the advertising industry, and this created a backlash, resulting in what we today loosely refer to as ”fifties values”, where great emphasis was laid on ”traditional” family values, Christianity, which stated that the man was the head of the family, chastity and female obedience. This was one of the driving forces in Hollywood behind an onslaught of ”Amazon Women” films, of which Cat-Women of the Moon is one of the best known examples. Continue reading

Destination Moon

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(6/10) In a nutshell: The first real serious big-budget science fiction film made in the United States by the father of the fifties’ sci-fi craze, George Pal, was released in 1950. Not only sci-fi fans, but NASA, can thank this movie for boosting a national interest in outer space and for convincing many that a moon flight might actually be possible. Audiences were wowed by the vivid Technicolor photography of the moon and outer space and, disregarding blunders like the nuclear powered rocket, the science is solid. Unfortunately as a drama this is just about as exciting as reading the phone book.

Destination Moon (1950). Directed by Irving Pichel. Written by Alford Van Ronkel, Robert A. Heinlein, James O’Hanlon. Starring: John Archer, Warner Anderson, Tom Powers, Dick Wesson. Produced by George Pal for George Pal Productions. Tomatometer: 60 %. IMDb score: 6.4

Taking a space walk on Destination Moon.

Taking a space walk on Destination Moon.

This is one of those films where you sort of have to tread a bit carefully when reviewing: it is considered by many to be one of the most important films in science fiction, however it influenced the industry and the audience more than it did the actual films that followed in its wake. Key players in the foundation of NASA cite the film as an inspiration, and it opened the door for science fiction, which had up until then been assigned to cheap kiddie serials and B horror movies, into the big league in Hollywood. But although it is admired by many, it is loved by few. Continue reading

Things to Come

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(6/10) In a nutshell: Screenwriter H.G. Wells, producer Alexander Korda and director William Cameron Menzies take us on an epic journey through the future in this pompous 1936 social prophesy. The most expensive film ever made in Britain in 1936, Things to Come boasts incredible sets and miniatures, great effects, high quality filming and a team of great actors. But ultimately the movie trips on its clay feet, which is the impossibly stiff script, lacking in emotion and real dialogue. Wells is using his biggest sledgehammer to pound in his message, and prevents the audience from doing any thinking for themselves.

Things to Come. 1936, UK. Directed by William Cameron Menzies. Written H.G. Wells, based on his own novel The Shape of Things to Come. Starring: Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Cedric Hardwicke. Music: Arthur Bliss. Produced by Alexander Korda for London Film Productions. Tomatometer: 92 %. IMDb score: 6.8

In the future the world will be ruled by stiff philosophers decked out in gowns and big shoulder pads.

In the future the world will be ruled by stiff philosophers decked out in gowns and big shoulder pads.

Things to Come was Great Britain’s most impressively epic science fiction film to date – without even a close rival – when it came out in 1936. It had a budget of about 350 000 pounds, equal to about 21 millions today; an absolutely astounding amount of money to put on a film back in that day. And thus it would remain all the way to 1968 when Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey in London. Penned by the 70-year old sci-fi master H.G. Wells from his own 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come, it was however more an ideological treatise and a futuristic prophesy than a dramatic film. Although time has conjured up a good deal of latter-day apologetics who hail Wells’ vision and – rightly so – praise the production design, the simple truth of the matter stands: Wells was an awful screenwriter. Continue reading

Cosmic Voyage

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(7/10) In a nutshell: Kosmichesky Reys: Fantasticheskaya Novella is a stunning, costly Soviet moon landing adventure from 1935, inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1929 film Woman in the Moon. Thanks to the collaboration of a noted space and rocket scientist, it is impressively accurate. The film is aimed at a juvenile audience, and it’s a very enjoyable and exciting space adventure movie.

Cosmic Voyage. 1935, USSR. Silent. Directed by Vasili Zhuravlyov. Written by Alexandr Filimonov and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Based on the novel Beyond the Planet Earth by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Based on the novel Woman in the Moon by Thea von Harbou (uncredited). Starring: Sergei Komarov, Ksenya Moskalenko, Vassili Gaponenko, Nikolai Feoktistov, Vasili Kovrigin, Sergei Stolyarov. Produced by Boris Shumyatskiy for Mosfilm. IMDb score: 7.0

Cosmonaut Andryusha (Vassili Gaponenko) is a child actor who actually managed not to be annoying.

Cosmonaut Andryusha (Vassili Gaponenko) is a child actor who actually managed not to be annoying.

Kosmicheskiy Reys: Fantasticheskaya Novella, known internationally as Cosmic Voyage or The Space Voyage, is without a shadow of a doubt the best science fiction film to come out of the USSR in the thirties. More so, it is probably the best sci-fi movie to come out of Europe in the thirties, which is a pretty sad statement on the European science fiction scene in that decade (though we sort of did have other stuff than moviemaking to think about at the time …). Although aimed at a juvenile audience, the film is based on hard (albeit speculative) science, and depicts a journey to the moon as realistically as was possible in 1935. Fritz Lang came even closer to reality with his eerily accurate 1929 film Woman in the moon (review), but Cosmic Voyage isn’t far off the mark. Released in late December 1935, the film was the last all-out science fiction film to be released in the Soviet Union until Nebo Zovyot (The Heavens Call, released re-edited and with additional footage as Battle Beyond the Sun in the US), released in 1959.  Continue reading

Woman in the Moon

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(9/10) In a nutshell: This is one of film giant Fritz Lang’s sillier movies, about a party going to the moon in 1929 looking for gold. If you’re not sitting around just waiting for the moon stuff to happen, the spy-themed build-up is sheer cinematic delight, with Lang clearly having loads of fun. The impressively scientifically accurate moon trip served as a blueprint for every rocket launch film since.

Woman in the Moon (Frau im Mond, 1929). Directed by Fritz Lang. Written by Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou. Scientific material written by Hermann Oberth. Starring: Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus, Fritz Rasp, Gustav von Wangheim, Klaus Pohl, Gustl Gstettenbaur. Produced by Fritz Lang for UFA. Tomatometer: 71 %. IMDb score: 7.4

Gerda Maurus as the Woman in the Moon - properly dressed for lunar adventures.

Gerda Maurus as the Woman in the Moon – properly dressed for lunar adventures.

Frau im Mond (1929) has a bit of a patchy reputation – some regard it as one of Austrian cinema legend Fritz Lang’s masterpieces, others see it as a short bit of sci-fi excitement sandwiched between over-long schmaltzy melodrama. I am almost inclined to agree with the first assessment, but I can certainly understand the latter. However you look at it, no-one can deny the impact it had on latter moon launch films, nor the film’s astounding visionary scientific accuracy. Continue reading

An Interplanetary Marriage

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Move over Aelita! This 1910 short film about a scientist and the princess of Mars getting married on the moon is Italy’s first science fiction film. It is derivative of George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, but a fun little adventure.

An Interplanetary Marriage (Un matrimonio interplanetario). Silent short. 1910, Italy. Written, directed by Enrico Novelli (aka Yambo). Starring: Enrico Novelli. Produced for Latium Films. IMDb score: 4.8

The scientist and the princess of Mars meet on the moon.

The scientist and the princess of Mars meet on the moon.

A scientist watches the distant planet Mars. The image shows a mountainous landscape. It is a painting. The image pans. Slowly. Very slowly. The landscape isn’t very interesting. It has mountains and trees and some big mushrooms. But the director Yambo apparently wants us to see it very slowly. So not to miss it. Slowly. And finally he cuts! Only to replace it with yet another painting of the landscape. Slowly. Until we finally see a Martian house. And within the Martian house there is a princess of Mars looking back! And they fall in love. The scientist (Yambo) runs off to the telegraph office to send a telegram to Mars (yes indeed), and receives one back – apparently the king has agreed to marry his daughter to the scientist (it’s hard to tell, since some idiot has edited out all the intertitles from the copy that’s available online). Continue reading