First Men in the Moon (1964)
First Men in the Moon (1964)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.

Release Date: November 20th, 1964 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Nathan Juran Actors: Edward Judd, Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries, Miles Malleson, Norman Bird, Betty McDowall

 


 

A

lthough the landing of the initial moon shuttle is drawn out, no time is wasted on governmental agents spouting mission jargon back on Earth. The film commences immediately with astronauts walking on the crater-filled satellite – before revealing that the real story actually begins long ago, not only taking place in earthbound England but also refraining from revisiting lunar locations until approximately one hour later. And it takes even longer before special visual effects mastermind Ray Harryhausen’s monsters show up … and the prevalent moon denizens, called Selenites, don’t count, since they’re just smallish actors in rubbery costumes and masks.

Mothership UN-1 sends its survey team, inside the tiny shuttle Only Child, to explore the surface of the moon. Sergeant Andrew Martin is the first man on the moon and the feat is celebrated all across the world. But when one of the crew members finds a tattered British flag and a bit of paper (a legal summons) with the year 1899 and the name Katherine Callendor (Martha Hyer), they’re stumped as to how such an artifact could have been placed on the previously unreachable rock.

The U.N. Space Agency sends several researchers to Dymchurch, England in the pursuit of Katherine’s information, which in turn leads them to Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd), an elderly, senile man in a nursing home. When the agents show him photos of the moon items, he retells his tale of space travel so many years ago (turning the meat of the story into an epic flashback). He was an aspiring playwright hoping to escape his numerous creditors by hiding out in the picturesque, isolated family property, Cherry Cottage. Agitated, bumbling, flighty scientist Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) was conducting rather dangerous experiments at the neighboring estate, involving the production of Cavorite, a metallic paste that can cut off the force of gravity from objects coated in the goop. While Arnold thought of the prosperousness of selling the invention to the army for use on boots, Cavor was preoccupied with journeying to the moon (where nuggets of gold dot the craggy orb like raisins in a fruitcake). In fact, he had already built a spherical spaceship over the course of several years, intent on the expedition even before Cavorite was functional. As he prepared for the trip with the enthusiastic Bedford, his Boston fiancée Katherine was accidentally taken along for the ride as well – a grand voyage that soon revealed that the moon was inhabited by insectoid denizens.

Jeffries exaggerates his kooky scientist role to the point of idiocy (not unlike the way Peter Cushing would do so in 1976’s “At the Earth’s Core”), barely able to cease twitching and muttering and stumbling over his words, while Judd’s character is portrayed as a weaselly conman quick to lie to his significant other and scam his landlord. Hyer is the only likeable persona, though her carelessness causes plenty of predicaments – and she rarely takes her situation seriously. Meanwhile, unnecessary comedy moments make their way into the picture, which is odd considering the tone remains consistently lighthearted, even when Harryhausen’s legendary stop-motion combatants finally appear. Especially in comparison to his other fantasy works, there are relatively few monsters present.

Other obvious visual deficiencies include the sphere’s landing, which is rather hilarious as it tumbles across the terrain like a ball of paper (there also doesn’t seem to be enough square footage in the armored globe to accommodate a bathroom, though the flight is only a few minutes long). And – definitely unusual for a sci-fi project – the moon walkers’ space suits don’t have gloves, leaving their hands exposed to the harsh atmosphere. To top it all off, Katherine manages to take a nap during their unsupervised captivity, reinforcing the lack of severity in their otherworldly plight. But in plot points, H.G. Wells’ novel is followed rather closely, with the implications of war, human hostility, specialization in Selenite breeding, and the return voyage without Cavor all preserved. The conclusion, however, steals blatantly from Wells’ other famous book, “The War of the Worlds.”

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10


The Complete Ray Harryhausen


The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960)

Mysterious Island (1961)

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

First Men in the Moon (1964)

One Million Years B.C. (1967)

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Clash of the Titans (1981)