Professor Georg Manfeldt (Klaus Pohl) has been preparing his thesis on the benefits of going to the Moon for years, but has also seen his quality of life suffer since the first time he announced his findings and beliefs that there were vast reserves of gold up there on our satellite, he was laughed out of the university hall he was delivering his lecture to by a hundred of his peers and fellow experts. He has never recovered from this humiliation, so ekes out his living in a tiny attic, adding to his manuscript with his only friend and companion a tiny mouse. Well, not quite his only friend, as Wolf Helius (Willy Fritsch) still believes in him, and he has the power to put the Professor's plans into action...
For director Fritz Lang's final silent film, he truly went for broke with this lavish, some would say bloated, science fiction epic. When you knew it took over an hour and a half for the space rocket to even blast off for the Moon (after a then-innovative countdown), and that was only the halfway mark or thereabouts, then you might find Frau im Mond something of a slog, and it certainly wasn't as sprightly a three hours as Lang's undoubted classic of a few years before, Metropolis. However, for its ahead of their time imaginings of what space travel would be like, no matter how much it got wrong, it did get a lot that was correct, and its attention to detail was what made it fascinating for its cultists. Rocket technology in Germany was big news, and Lang sought to capitalise on that.
Though that did mean a lot of this was taken up with the sort of business that would not be out of place with the director's previous espionage yarn Spione, or Spies as it was known in English, albeit with a more comedic flavour to some scenes rather than the desperate race against time or operatic tension you would have found in the previous effort. The fact the mouse - Josephine - was listed in the credits as an actor indicated Lang was showing off a lighter side to his personality than he often allowed, though his cast and crew might have been forgiven for not noticing such a thing on the set, but he did reunite his glamorous couple from Spies in Fritsch and leading lady Gerda Maurus, who played Friede Velten, the woman in the Moon the film was named after.
That too was a punning variation on the more usual Man in the Moon, but if this was sounding more of a lighthearted romp than its reputation would have it, there were sincere concerns mixed in with the deliberate foolishness, worries about rampant capitalism for one, as the businessmen in charge of the world's gold reserves are concerned about the possibility of the Professor and Helius actually making it to the Moon and seeing to it that they get their hands on the precious metal they believe to be present there. This was not a science fiction effort featuring space aliens, so Frau im Mond was less 2001: A Space Odyssey in tone than it was a predecessor to the likes of the fifties sci-fi boom of Destination Moon or the Tintin comic books that captured the imaginations of the world.
At least leading up to the point where we really did reach the Moon, and if you thought the Apollo 11 landings would have been immeasurably improved if Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had been wearing platforms, a smart tie or chunky cardigan for their excursion, then this film would have filled a hole in your life. Watching certain aspects of the lunar scenes, no matter how impressive the art design (and it was impressive, from huge sets to real life rocket scientists consulting on the trappings of space travel as depicted here), there remained sticking points, for example the way the cast who achieve their goal marching around the Moon in sensible clothes and no spacesuit, since they have no trouble breathing there, artistic licence that doesn't play too well today. Something else that doesn't quite come off was the love triangle between Helius, Friede and the alarmingly named Windegger (Gustav von Wagenheim) which doesn't see any of them emerge particularly well, but does leave us with a sad denouement of presumably doomed romance. Interesting, then, but daft.
Tyrannical, monocle-sporting, Austrian-born director who first became established in Germany, significantly due to his second wife Thea von Harbou who wrote many of his scripts for him including famous silents Dr Mabuse the Gambler, the two-part Die Niebelungen, revolutionary sci-fi Metropolis, Spione and Lang's first sound effort, the celebrated M (which catapulted Peter Lorre to fame).
He had caught the interest of the Nazis by this time, so after another couple of Dr Mabuse films he decided to flee the country rather than work for them (von Harbou stayed behind), and arrived in America. There he was quickly snapped up by Hollywood producers to create a string of memorable thrillers, such as Fury, You Only Live Once, Man Hunt, and the World War II-themed Hangmen Also Die, which fed into a talent for film noir he took advantage of in the forties. Some of these were Ministry of Fear, Scarlet Street, The Woman in the Window and Secret Behind the Door, noirish Western Rancho Notorious and The Big Heat. After the fifties and one final Mabuse film, Lang had difficulty getting work due to his bad-tempered reputation and increasing blindness, but stayed a personality in the movie world right up to his death.