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  Destination Moon Fly Me To The Moon
Year: 1950
Director: Irving Pichel
Stars: John Archer, Warner Anderson, Tom Powers, Dick Wesson, Erin O'Brien-Moore, Grace Stafford
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: After an attempt at building a rocket into space fails, crashing and exploding shortly after takeoff, industrialist Jim Barnes (John Archer) is approached to help get the project off the ground for a lot longer. There has been talk of sabotage, nothing the authorities will admit to in public, but everyone involved with the project is all too aware that they have rivals. So there is now a race to reach the Moon, and Archer is seen as just the man to drum up support amongst his fellow businessmen to fund this next great push to put America at the forefront of the pioneer spirit.

Destination Moon might not look it nowadays, but it's one of the most important science fiction films ever made. From these stilted and frankly rather boring beginnings, the genre was taken out of the realms of Flash Gordon-style space opera and proved itself a serious moneymaker, kickstarting not only the wave of sci-fi movies, mostly lower budget, granted, that arrived in the fifties, but also their blockbusting descendants where it wouldn't be a proper summer without a big, splashy science fiction epic to go and see.

Of course, all this is far more exciting than actually watching the film, but it remains interesting for a variety of reasons, mainly because the paranoia that informed much of this strain of movies started right here. The characters are not worried about space aliens invading or ruining their plans, no, they're quite upfront about their concerns over foreign powers besting them and beating the U.S.A. to the Moon. The Soviet Union is never named, but we can take it as read that this is who they are referred to, neatly summing up the political troubles of the world stage of the next decade, and beyond.

One of the giants of science fiction writing, Robert A. Heinlein, was the man who had his work adapted for the big screen, here assisted by Rip Van Ronkel and James O'Hanlon. This, coupled with the fact that it was an early George Pal production, has tended to make Destination Moon regarded as something better than it was, but it starts out as it means to go on: dry. To brighten the story up for five minutes, we are treated to a cartoon starring Woody Woodpecker who guides us through the ins and outs of space travel, but after that dash of colour, it's back to the earnest machinations of the plot.

It's interesting that not only are Barnes and his team up against the Soviets, but the naysayers in American society as well, and they are practically chased up into space to avoid calling the mission off for being too profligate, telling off those in the audience who think space travel is a waste of time. Once heading to the Moon, there are various obstacles to overcome, including a spacewalk that almost results in a man overboard, one of many statically handled sequences designed to ramp up the tension. Also notable is the Brooklynese comic relief, Joe Sweeney (Dick Wesson), who makes you wonder why they didn't bring along someone who knew what he was doing and had some idea of what the requirements of spacefaring actually were. Yeah, I know they had to have someone to explain it all to. It all ends in a contrived "we're too heavy to take off - who's going to be left behind?" scenario, but you're meant to see the whole production as urging America to head for the stars - before anyone else does. Music by Leith Stevens.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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