Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964). Director: Nathan Juran.

20th century astronauts make it to the moon, only to discover a British flag draped over a rock along with a note. Apparently people from the 19th century somehow managed to get there first. The rest of the movie tells us how this happened, as scientist Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) invents a compound that blocks gravity and hurls him and two other passengers -- Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd) and his girlfriend, Kate (Martha Hyer) -- through outer space in 1899. This loose adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel begins with an excellent, highly dramatic theme by composer Laurie Johnson that pulls you in and excites you, then fumbles the ball with a moronic, unbearably silly screenplay that makes the first half of the movie an effort to sit through [it takes a long 47 minutes for the cast to finally start off for the moon]. Worse, the normally reliable Jeffries' over-the-top, excruciatingly awful performance is cringe-inducing [Hyer and Judd are much better]. Ironically, Jeffries' character is much more intelligent and thoughtful as he watches, appalled, as the xenophobic Bedford introduces earth violence to the moon's insectoid inhabitants. The movie's second half is much more watchable and entertaining, introducing giant moon calves animated by Ray Harryhausen, as well a huge pit and gigantic caverns inside the moon and their weird inhabitants; the special effects throughout are fine. The ironic ending is a nice touch.

Verdict: Once it finally gets going it's a lot of fun. ***.


Neil A Russell said...

I meant to comment on this one the other day but as often happens, your reviews will be much like looking through a dictionary or encyclopedia to me, I'll read about one thing and then start looking about at other things, and it takes me forever to get back to what I was doing in the first place.

In this instance I read what you said about the screenplay being silly and that clicked with me. I had never quite been able to put my finger on that kept this movie from being a real classic.

That led me to start looking for the movie online and then I discovered a BBC version of the story that was released last year.
Honestly I didn't think it would amount to much and almost dismissed it the way I would a "Syfy Original" but it was interesting from the first moments. As the story unfolded (and much more like the Wells novel) the action started at a brisk pace and never really downshifted throughout.

When the BBC gets it right, they hit it out of the park.

It's on YouTube and I highly recommend it.

That of course got me looking for the 64 version but before I started on it, I ran across another old movie I hadn't seen since I was a kid, and that was 1958's "From the Earth to the Moon".

I remembered it fondly, but watching it now was truly an endurance contest.
Even with actors like George Sanders and Joseph Cotten there was no making it an adventure, let alone interesting.

Such a shame too, with a great Verne story to drive it, the producers decided to make it an anti-atom bomb story instead, but falling far short of "Day the Earth Stood Still" (the 1951 version, not that new tripe).

There's so much exposition that the thing might as well have been a radio play, Sanders and Cotten could have just had a phone conversation throughout describing what was going on.

I couldn't believe just how utterly dull it was.

Some commenters on Imdb say it's understandably bad because the budget was slashed since RKO was about to go under, but a lot of clever stuff has been done on no budget before rather than just having closeups of pensive actors telling the entire story.

Being a huge flop could be what's prevented a remake or just a movie based on the actual story instead of all the nonsense about "Power X".

Personally I think the RKO bankruptcy stuff is just a cop out, they could easily have pulled a DuMont stunt and made props out of cardboard, or the classic Irwin Allen trick of making the movie out of stock footage with a few new scenes thrown in.

If they weren't any more creative than that it's no wonder they went broke.

I never did get back to watching the old "First Men in the Moon" but since I remember enjoying it years ago just like "From the Earth to the Moon" I think I may pass and just run on memories to avoid some tremendous disappointment.

William said...

I'll have to look into the BBC version; thanks for telling me about it.

As for "From the Earth to the Moon," I completely agree with you that it was atrocious, and there's absolutely no justification for it. Possibly the worst movie poor Sanders ever appeared in.

However, despite its annoying first half, "The First Men in the Moon" is much more entertaining than "From Earth to Moon." You may not like it as much as you did when it first came out, but it does have some memorable moments. I can't remember anything about "From Earth" except that it was truly awful.

Thanks for your comments -- and for reading!