FIRST MEN IN THE MOON(director: Nathan Juran; screenwriters: from a book by H.G. Welles/Nigel Kneale/Jan Read; cinematographer: Wilkie Cooper; editor: Maurice Rootes; music: Laurie Johnson; cast: Lionel Jeffries (Professor Joseph Cavor), Edward Judd (Arnold Bedford), Martha Hyer (Katherine Calender), Miles Malleson (Dymchurch Registrar), Norman Bird (Stuart, Moon Landing Crew), Gladys Henson (Nursing Home Matron); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles H. Schneer; Columbia; 1964-UK)
“A heavy slog.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A flat schoolboy sci-fi adventure film based on the 1901 book by H.G. Welles, that’s updated in the screenplay by Nigel Kneale and Jan Read. It relies on the Ray Harryhausen special effects to overcome the absurd plot and the only serviceable acting by the bland thesps. It’s directed at a slow clip and without any fire in its belly by Nathan Juran (“Jack the Giant Killer”/”20 Million Miles to Earth”/”The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”).
It opens in 1964 with the first manned United Nations moon flight, with a three-man crew from the USA, UK and USSR. They land on the moon only to find a faded Union Jack and a note on a scrap of paper dated 1899 that claims the moon for Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Back on the earth, U. N. experts track the note to the aged Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd), now residing in a Kent village nursing home, who claims to have made the trip to the moon 65 years earlier with his stowaway smart fiancée Kate (Martha Hyer) and their new neighbor, the eccentric scientist Professor Cavor (Lionel Jeffries), who invented an anti-gravity paint and has built on his own a rocket ship called the Sphere that has the ability to trek to the moon. Through flashback Bedford tells them his incredible adventure story that has the dynamic trio in conflict with the English-speaking moon natives called Selentites (played by children in rubber costumes), a civilization of insectoid creatures. Going against Cavor’s wishes for peaceful colonization, the flawed and bumbling Bedford goes into attack mode and soon the warlike humans are captured by the Selentites and put under their microscopes. Bedford and Kate escape but Cavor, despite having a cold, chooses to remain behind in appreciation of their advanced scientific knowledge as he has learned to communicate with the Selentites who live beneath the moon’s surface and survive by filtering the sun’s rays through huge crystals sticking up from the ground.
The tedious story at least looks good filmed in something called Dynamation, is filled with tongue-in-cheek humor, and its art work, animations and special effects are quite impressive. Otherwise, it’s a heavy slog.
REVIEWED ON 5/6/2008 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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