Friday, August 14, 2009

12 TO THE MOON (1960)

The International Space Order sends twelve people on a moon landing mission on a rocketship called the Lunar Eagle. The passengers are a multicultural lot, including a Frenchman, a Turk, a Russian, and two women, one from Japan and one from Sweden. And a lazy little cocker spaniel, cats, monkeys, and birds. Of course, the leader is an all-American, blond, GI-Joe type (Ken Clark). Mostly, they get along, though there is some predictable tension between the older German and the young Polish-born Israeli. While exploring the surface of the moon, the British guy is caught in quicksand and dies; the Turkish guy and the Swedish woman (who as far as I could tell, shot each other exactly one ambiguous glance before takeoff) head off to a moon cave for some canoodling and wind up more or less kidnapped by aliens--whom we never see. The aliens do, however, manage to communicate with the spaceship through some strange Chinese-looking pictographs which, of course, the Japanese woman can translate (!). When our survivors head back to Earth, they find that North America is being flash-frozen by the aliens, and the German and Israeli sacrifice themselves to fly an atomic bomb down a volcano to reverse the effects of the big freeze.

This forgotten flick was part of TCM's moon movie marathon in July. The problem with these B-movies from the 50's and 60's about space exploration is that, now that we know how space missions really work, these fanciful flicks are too easy to make fun of, and the low budgets don’t help. This one is about as laughable as any, but it feels a notch above some of the others, if not in production than in script and intent. For its time, the sheer sweep of nationalities seems almost utopian, and for the most part offensive stereotypes are avoided. The sets and effects are terrible, of course, but they provide the most fun for the viewer. The space helmets have "invisible" face shields (clear plastic must have been too much for the budget), the moon sets are shoddy, and when they first land on the moon, we can clearly see a stagehand creeping about in the darkness--I tried to give the director the benefit of the doubt and assumed briefly that the figure was an alien, but no, it’s just a glaring mistake.

Clark is handsome and hunky and does an acceptable job as the central figure, though somewhat surprisingly he doesn't really have much to do except look like he knows what’s going on. There’s a brief scene of Clark heading to his ultrasound shower on the ship, dressed only in a towel, and his chest practically made the whole movie worth watching (for me). The lovely Norwegian starlet Anna-Lisa is, well, lovely as the Swedish astronaut—I don’t remember her having a single line of dialogue. Silent film star Francis X. Bushman has a small role as the elderly spokesman for the space agency. The navigator (Cory Devlin) bears a remarkable resemblance to current-day astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has become this generation's Carl Sagan. Also in the cast: Robert Montgomery Jr. (Elizabeth Montgomery's brother) and Tom Conway (George Sanders' brother). The write-ups on IMDb for this movie are overwhelmingly negative, but B-movie buffs will enjoy it. [TCM]

1 comment:

Ralph R. said...

Spot on about the resemblance of Corey Devlin to Neil Degrasse Tyson. I thought it was just me.