WOMAN IN THE MOON (Frau im Mond)

(director/writer: Fritz Lang; screenwriter: Thea von Harbou/based on the novel by Thea Von Harbou; cinematographers: Curt Courant/Oskar Fischinger/Konstantin Irmen-Tschet/Otto Kanturek; music: Jon Mirsalis; cast: Willy Fritsch (Wolf Helius), Gerda Maurus (Student astronomer, Friede Velten), Klaus Pohl (Professor Georg Manfeldt), Fritz Rasp (Walt Turner), Gustl Gstettenbaur (Gustav), Gustav von Wangenheim (Ingenieur Hans Windegger), Claus Pohl (Professor Georg Manfeldt); Runtime: 169 MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fritz Lang; Kino Video; 1929-silent-Germany-in German with English subtitles)

“The last silent film by Fritz Lang.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The last silent film by Fritz Lang (“Spies”/”Dr Mabuse, The Gambler”/”Metropolis”) dramatizes the first lunar expedition. It’s great on its artistic sets (having a child-like comic-book look), okay but not anything special on special effects, but it’s overlong (more than half of this film can be removed without missing a beat), ponderous, unimaginative, saddled with a trite romantic and espionage story and it’s never able do much in developing its characters. It’s scripted by Thea Von Harbou and it’s based on her schmaltzy novel; she was Lang’s wife at the time who later left him to remain a Nazi in Germany while he fled to Hollywood to make his mark in film noir and as a tyrant on the set who sported a monocle. The surprise twist ending, noted in this review later on, yields for Lang a rare film that has what can be considered a happy ending.

In this minor Lang film, wealthy rocketship designer Wolf Helius (Willy Fritsch), the head of an aeronautics firm preparing a launch to the moon, discovers that criminals have stolen from him a valuable manuscript (telling of gold on the moon) given him to hold for safekeeping by rejected destitute philosophy Professor Georg Manfeldt (Klaus Pohl), who mentored the young designer. Helius also discovers they pilfered his rocket plans from his safe. The criminals are led by Chicago thug, con artist and master of disguises Walt Turner (Fritz Rasp), who works for five wealthy industrialist investors who want to colonize the moon to corner the gold market. The evil Turner, sporting a slicked-down Hitler doo, threatens to destroy all Helius’s work, including his rocket, unless he’s allowed to take over the rocket launch to the moon. Along for the ride are these six: Helius; Turner; Hans Windegger (Gustav von Wangenheim), the engineer for Helius; Hans’ stunning altruistic student astronomer fiancĂ©e Friede Velten (Gerda Maurus), whom Helius secretly loves; Professor Georg Manfeldt; and the fanboy science-fiction magazine reader Gustav (Gustl Gstettenbaur) who was a stowaway.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

When reaching the moon, the professor discovers gold in one of the caverns and goes bonkers by the discovery. For the professor, that tells the world he was right all along and his colleagues who jeered him were ignoramuses. Hans also goes haywire, as he becomes fearful of dying and starts acting irrational. Meanwhile Turner for some inexplicable reason starts shooting and killing off some of the crew until shot by one of them, but not before putting a bullet through the invaluable oxygen tank. This means that either Helius or Hans must stay behind for the return flight, since otherwise there won’t be enough air to breathe. Lots are drawn, but even though Helius loses he maneuvers to stay behind and thereby allows the cowardly engineer to go instead. Friede shows her true love by remaining to die with him on this dark wasteland of gold caves. It plays out as a glorious death of heroic Aryan love, showing the noble nature of the German even in such sterile surroundings.

Willy Ley, soon to be a prominent force in the U.S. space program, served as technical adviser–advising correctly on the pre-launch countdown and the effects of centrifugal force upon the space travelers. Also offering mostly accurate technical advice was Professor Hermann Oberth, Hungarian pioneer in space-rocket flight experiments. He was mentor to Dr. Werner von Braun. Adolf Hitler was a big fan of the film and used the rocket depicted as the prototype for his V1 and V2 assault missiles.

Woman in the Moon Poster