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DESTINATION MOON (director: Irving Pichel; screenwriter: based on the novel Rocketship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein/ Robert A. Heinlein /Alford Van Ronkel / James O’Hanlon; cinematographer: Lionel Lindon; editor: Duke Goldstone; music: Leith Stevens; cast: (John Archer (Jim Barnes), Warner Anderson (Dr. Charles Cargraves), Tom Powers (General Thayer), Dick Wesson (Joe Sweeney), Erin O’Brien-Moore (Emily Cargraves), Ted Ward (Brown); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: George Pal; Eagle-Lion; 1950)
“High on American patriotism of the let’s beat the Russians to the moon kind.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Producer George Pal’s Technicolor sci-fier has a slight plot, wooden acting, some innovative special effects, great color photography, and is high on American patriotism of the ‘let’s beat the Russians to the moon kind.’ The implication is, if we don’t then there is no way to prevent an attack from outer space. It is directed by the reliable but unimaginative in his directing former actor Irving Pichel (“She”/”The Miracle of the Bells”) and is based on the novel “Rocketship Galileo,” by famous cultish science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein. Artist Chesley Bonestell did a good job designing the lunar surface and other artwork for the project.

The story is about man’s first mission to the moon that came 19 years before it became reality. It is a precursor to Stars Wars, but follows Fritz Lang’s much lighter Woman in the Moon (1929) and the strictly escapist adventure tale of Flash Gordon (1936) that starred Buster Crabbe.

It tells of some high-minded American scientists getting privately-funded for a lunar expedition. They defiantly take off in their new atomic rocket, “Luna”, before an American court can order it to be stopped. The private citizens can’t wait for the government, as they are antsy to get there before the Russians. Scientist Dr. Charles Cargraves (Warner Anderson), former Air Force General Thayer (Tom Powers), and industrial tycoon Jim Barnes (John Archer) spearhead this adventurous challenge. Through Barnes’ efforts they get a group of private investors, but only when the astronauts agreed that the moon will have a missile platform erected. Those who oppose them (cowardly politicians and superstitious businessmen) are thought of as philistines. Things are successful even though the brave astronauts have to contend with the dangers of equipment failure. There are also the thrills of safely landing on the moon and the joys of moving around in zero gravity. But things seem dreary when the crew runs out of fuel for the return trip.

The dull stock types of characters and the overall heavy-handedness of the pic, makes it hard to appreciate this pioneering effort in sci-fi films and fully give it the credit it deserves for spawning a genre that captured the public’s imagination in later years. The film is actually closer to being a documentary, as it lacks tense drama but cagily anticipates the real moon landing in 1969. Destination Moon also features a brief appearance by cartoon notable Woody Woodpecker, who helps explain how rockets work.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”