Sunday, August 16, 2009


When a chimpanzee returns from moon orbit safe and sound, the Air Force decides to send up a human astronaut only days later (!) with no planning (!) and no training (!). During a celebratory dinner, the general (Brian Keith) asks for a volunteer (!) and no one steps forward (?!) until the chimp pokes Tom Tryon in the ass and his reaction is taken for volunteering. The chimp winds up going nutty and is confined to a hospital room, but the mission is still on. Tryon is allowed to take a quick trip home to see his mom and is sworn to secrecy, but a beatnik girl decked out in purple (Dany Savel, pictured with Tryon) hooks up with him on an airplane and seems to know all about his mission. Despite the fact that a federal security agent (Edmond O'Brien) has been assigned to follow Tryon, the girl keeps popping up out of nowhere. It turns out that she’s an alien who has a formula which can be painted on the space capsule that will keep dangerous radiation from making Tryon go crazy like the chimp did. A wild goose chase follows with O'Brien certain that Savel is a spy.

I watched this lukewarm Disney comedy because it was on TCM as part of their tribute to the 40th anniversary of the moon landing; despite its title and premise, however, only a couple minutes of the film actually occur in space, and the moon is only barely glimpsed. It’s notable for containing one of the few starring roles by Tryon, an actor who was being groomed as another Rock Hudson, but who retired at the end of the decade and became a successful writer of good horror novels (The Other, Harvest Home). The movie follows the formula of the vanilla family comedies of the era: romance but no sex or sex appeal, a lot of screaming by clueless characters (in this case, mostly from Keith, who actually does a nice job screaming, almost like he was doing an audition for the George C. Scott role in DR. STRANGELOVE), dumb authority figures, slapstick chases. Tryon is handsome in a weirdly angular way (and gets a quick shirtless scene), but bland, and Savel is totally wooden and not particularly attractive. From today's standpoint, the way the moon orbit mission is put together (suddenly, with volunteers) is ludicrously unbelievable, and most likely was even back then. There is some mild fun made of government (a buffonish Congressman is chided for not reading his copy of "Simple Science for Senators"), and the best scene involves a police line-up of beatnik girls spouting poetry, banging on bongos, and generally acting like they're high. Disney juvenile Tommy Kirk is billed as a "guest star," but only has two small, totally forgettable scenes. Nancy Kulp (Miss Hathaway on The Beverly Hillbillies) has an equally small part. [TCM]

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