William Blood (Kenneth More) awakens in bed one morning and sleepily opens his eyes to see the fields all around and the mooing cows, just as he expected from a man who has spent the night in the great outdoors. But here's something he did not anticipate: a young woman (Shirley Anne Field) who is dressed in high heels, a cocktail dress and feather boa, tottering across the grass towards him. It's a pleasant enough sight, but he has no idea what she is doing there, and as it turns out she's not about to tell him, not interested in conversation, but at least Blood is aware of his purpose in the fresh air: it is to catch a cold, as requested by the specialist research institute which is paying him.
There really was a special body for investigating the cure for the common cold back in 1960, and there is indeed still one in Britain, at Cardiff University, though whether it is anything like the manner in which it was depicted in this lighthearted comedy was a more dubious proposition. The institute here has such features as a wind machine blowing a biting breeze through the corridors and a room dedicated to rain, where test subjects sit under the droplets and try to catch a chill, all the better to be "researched", which should give you some idea of the irreverence of the film. It was in effect a vehicle for More to strut his humorous stuff, nothing too taxing, just a bit of fun.
As that opening sequence with his character trying to develop a cold indicated, he could play the bluff Englishman in his sleep, so there was a sense he was coasting through projects such as Man in the Moon, but ever the professional he was simply delivering to his countless British fans the sort of entertainment they wished to enjoy, though as the nineteen-sixties dawned he was starting to give way to a new breed of film star, more gritty and earthy than his cheerily urbane persona. Nevertheless, as a movie to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon when you did not have much else to do, this was the very dab, easy to consume, a spot of escapism from the days before man had actually set foot on our moon.
This was often lumped in with the era's science fiction works, and though there was a space rocket in it, it wasn't interested in exploring the lunar surface: Blood didn't even enter his space capsule until the story was pretty much over, leading to a punchline that you may or may not have seen coming a mile off. The fantastical element was actually closer to Blood's physical condition, and even that was a joke of sorts, as he has never suffered a day's illness in his life, his constitution is remarkably robust, so he is picked to join up for the British space programme and set to training along with a selection of the finest specimens the scientists could find (including Charles Gray with dark hair).
What they do not do is mention to Blood the ultimate goal for putting him through the tests, fearing the danger will put him off, though holiday camp tycoon Billy Butlin (who did not appear) has put up a hundred thousand pounds as an incentive for the Brits beating their rivals to our largest satellite. This leads to a subplot about Gray trying to kill our oblivious hero (!) by sabotaging equipment, including a G-force simulator in a scene lifted by Moonraker almost twenty years later, which was apt because Nikki Van Der Zyl, famed Bond Girl voice artiste, dubbed Field here. Speaking of Field, she wasn't exactly stretched by her role here as the eye candy, a stripper who we never see strip (her Eskimo outfit, or lack of it, may raise eyebrows, however), but she did have an effect on Blood when he falls for her and finds himself sneezing when he feels romantic, an Achilles heel that is made surprisingly little of. With lots of daft lines and throwaway gags, it was apparent that everyone was simply diverting themselves with a bit of fluff, and on that level Man in the Moon sufficed. Music by Philip Green.
[Network offers a restored print from its The British Film selection, with the trailer and a vast gallery as extras.]