STARRING: Warner Anderson, John Archer, Tom Powers, Dick Wesson, Erin O'Brien Moore, Ted Warde

1950, 91 Minutes, Directed by: Irving Pichel

Description: A private businessman arranges for an expedition to the moon before the Russians get there first. The American astronauts fly there, establish a base, but are not certain they have enough fuel to return to Earth. One of the first science fiction films to attempt a high level of accurate technical detail tells the story of the first trip to the moon.

More sci than fi, this fairly serious 1950’s vision of what a moon landing might like be one day has no astronauts being confronted by alien monsters on the moon or anything of the sort.

Scientifically accurate (for its day) to the 9nth degree, Destination Moon instead boasts astronauts who use too much rocket fuel in landing on the moon and then have to get rid of excess weight so as to be able to escape the moon’s gravitational pull again. You can see German rocket expert Hermann Oberth served as technical advisor on the film, but it’s not particularly exciting watching a bunch of guys in spacesuits dump some oxygen tanks on the surface of the moon to be honest.

Maybe the movie should have stuck more closely to the plot of Rocketship Galileo, the juvenile 1947 Robert Heinlein novel on which it is based. In Heinlein’s original novel three boys and their uncle build a spaceship in their backyard which they use to travel to the moon where they discover Nazis, all of which is ridiculous of course but sounds much more exciting than dullard astronauts sawing rungs off ladders. (Heinlein also contributed to the screenplay along with John O’Hanlon and Rip van Ronkel, which unbelievable as it sounds is not a complete nom de plume. The author’s real name was Alford van Ronkel.) 

"Heinlein's original novel had Nazis on the moon!"

According to this more serious-minded movie the first mission to the moon was to be sponsored by American big businesses because government can’t get its act together. Unknown enemies (commies obviously, but never mentioned by name) would conspire to stop the mission from ever happening, trying to sway American public opinion against it.

The trip itself would be made in an atomic-powered V2 rocket. The surface of the moon would have tall mountains and a surface like that of a dry lake bed. As predictive science fiction Destination Moon of course gets a lot wrong, and therein most of its interest lies: it is representative of what people in the 1950s thought a rocket trip to the moon would be like one day.

Big business falls in line by the way, because the American military tells them that “the race is on and we'd better win it, because there is absolutely no way to stop an attack from outer space. The first country that can use the Moon for the launching of missiles... will control the Earth. That, gentlemen, is the most important military fact of this century.”

In fairness the movie gets a lot right though. There is quite some “for beginners” focus on space travel issues such as weightlessness in space, the properties of vacuum, and the like all of which makes it about more scientifically accurate than 90% of most science fiction movies today. Besides, it was produced by George Pal of War of the Worlds and Time Machine fame back then for $586, 000 a tidy sum back then. Also, its idea of the surface of the moon isn’t that far off. The special effects are quite good for its time (it deservedly won an Academy award). One can easily imagine Stanley Kubrick having watched it whilst “researching” 2001: A Space Odyssey and saying, “I can do this better…”

The movie’s biggest problem though is its plodding pace and nondescript characters. Only one of the characters is notable from the others, namely the one played by Dick Wesson, and that is only for his heavy Brooklyn accent and annoying folkish demeanour. One almost pictures Vin Diesel having based his grinning buffoon performance in Find Me Guilty on him. Incidentally, in Destination Moon the first words to be spoken by the first man on the moon are: “By the grace of God, and the name of the United States of America, I take possession of this planet on behalf of, and for the benefit of, all mankind.” We kinda like Neil Armstrong’s better . . .


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