Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The First Men in the Moon (1964)

The 1950s saw a rash of big-budget Victorian science fiction films, based on the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells (presumably the only early science fiction writers most movie producers had heard of), a genre kicked off by Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Most of these movies are excellent; all are at least watchable. The First Men in the Moon appeared in 1964 making it one of the last such movies. It’s one of the weakest as well, but it’s still well worth catching.

A framing story has been added, not that it’s really needed. In the 1960s when the first manned mission lands on the surface of the Moon they make an extraordinary discovery - a Union Jack. Even stranger, they find a proclamation, claiming the Moon in the name of Queen Victoria, and dated 1899! An investigation is launched and it is established that one of the people who reached the Moon in 1899 is still alive. He tells his amazing story.

Joseph Cavour (Lionel Jeffries) is an eccentric scientist who has made a potentially earth-shattering discovery. He has discovered a substance that has the same effect on gravity that lead sheeting has on x-rays - it blocks the force of gravity. He has named the substance cavourite, after himself.

Th only thing is, the production of cavourite is slightly hazardous (it tends to involve fairly regular explosions), and Cavour is concerned about his neighbours, the inhabitants of Cherry Cottage. So he makes an offer to buy the cottage. Thats’ how he makes the acquaintance of Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd) and Kate Callender (Martha Hyer). Arnold doesn’t actually own the cottage but he doesn’t allow a small detail like that to prevent him from selling it. But rather than keep the money he decides to invest it in Cavour’s experiments.

Arnold has various ideas as to what cavorite could be used for but Cavor knows what he wants to use it for - a trip to the Moon! Arnold is persuaded to join this expedition. The untimely arrival of the bailiffs means that a third passenger will be making the trip - Arnold can’t leave Kate behind to sort out his financial mess so she must accompany them.

The journey to the Moon is uneventful but some surprises await our adventurers upon arrival. They discover an underground world that has breathable air, and they also discover the insectoid inhabitants of the Moon, the Selenites.

As you’d expect in a movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen, there are monsters. Well, only one real monster, which is perhaps a little disappointing.

The major problem with this movie is that it’s played just a little too much for laughs, especially in the first half. A little bit of Lionel Jeffries goes a long way. The other cast members are adequate enough.

Nathan Juran directed many science fiction movies in the 50s, most of which are great fun.

The sets have the steampunk feel that makes these Victorian science fiction films so appealing.

The Region 2 DVD includes a couple of featurettes although they’re the same ones included in the other movies released as part of the Ray Harryhausen Signature Collection. The widescreen presentation is impressive though.

All in all The First Men in the Moon offers plenty of entertainment value, even if Lionel Jeffries’ performance is a bit excessive.

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