“Madam, the chances of bagging an elephant on the moon are remote.”
The Scoop: U 1964, directed by Nathan Juran and starring Lionel Jeffries, Edward Judd and Martha Hyer.
Tagline: H. G. Wells’ Astounding Adventure in Dynamation!
Summary Capsule: Men first landed on the moon in 1899, where they found insectoid civilisation. The ‘silly woman’ is the only one with the foresight to bring a gun and alcohol.
Louise’s Review: I haven’t actually got much to say about First Men In The Moon (I know, right? Praise the Lord and call the New York Times) apart from recommending it as a gentle and charming way of spending a few hours. If you wish, it won’t even take you away from your cooking, emailing, ironing, whatever it is you like to do around your house on a weekend afternoon. Because this really is a weekend afternoon sort of movie. People who remember the 60s will enjoy it, young children will genuinely enjoy the adventure and mild scares, sci-fi fans will want to comment on its place in the canon as a just pre-Neil Armstrong era take on a Victorian romance. It will bring the whole family together and its undemanding nature will help you (yawn!) relax.
The film begins in the modern day, i.e. 1960s, with the first moon landing. Unsurprisingly, fiction did one better than reality, and this early 60s landing is a UN mission, with American, British and Russian astronauts participating. When the scientists are exploring the moon, they come across a rather battered British flag and a piece of paper claiming the moon for Queen Victoria and the Empire. Everyone is naturally rather upset about this “taking the frosting off the UN cake.” The UN trace Arnold Bedford, a very old man in a nursing home who relates to the officials how, in 1899, he, his then fiancée Kate and their neighbour Cavor made a journey to the moon and what they found there. It turns out that Cavor was a nutty professor with a miraculous invention, Bedford a speculating businessman not averse to fraud and skipping town, and Kate a New Woman from Massachusetts who came along by accident after being patronized by the menfolk. On the moon, they discover a civilization of ‘Selenites’ and some really horrible huge man-eating caterpillars. Kate is studied by the Selenite scientists, Cavor has an audience with their ruler (he has a big head and he lives in a green bubble) and Bedford stalks around with an elephant gun and tries to rebuild the space sphere. Now, obviously, because it’s in the frame story, we know that Kate and Bedford got back to Earth. But what about Cavor? What about the Selenites? What do the modern UN astronauts face on the moon at that very moment?
You’ll have to watch to find out. And I think you’ll be a little disappointed. I know I was.
The character of Kate is rather frustrating in how she’s written and how she’s treated by the other characters. She’s not that great to start with, but then she’s lied to and tricked into breaking the law by her boyfriend, and insulted by Cavor for bringing a weapon, and a bottle of gin-and-bitters (apparently this is not appropriately scientific equipment). It’s not nice to see the ONLY FEMALE CHARACTER berated and humiliated in this way. But it was the 60s and we’ve got a lot better at writing female characters and treating them broadly the same as male characters since then… la la la can’t hear you!
But, apart from Kate and the ending, by which point I was kind of doing something else anyway, I enjoyed First Men In The Moon a great deal. Bedford is just so slimy and hateful, the Victorian scenes are so cozy, the science they got wrong is so adorable… The aliens are men in masks in a cave and their technology is based on prisms and crystals, in the grand tradition of classic Doctor Who and Superman. It’s just so old-fashioned! It is enjoyable for that reason! I also must mention Lionel Jeffries, who is simply fantastic as Cavor. He’s a great actor physically, facially, and in particular I like his voice. Definitely check the film out if you get an opportunity and you like sci-fi before it got too clever for its own good.
- Notice that Cavor and Bedford lark about on the moon with exposed hands.
- That caterpillar skeleton is pretty cool. The Selenites and moon caterpillars were designed by Ray Harryhausen.
- Cavor names the Selenites after Selene, Greek goddess of the moon.
- I have watched that scene in the Dymchurch registry office 4 times and I still can’t figure out how they get to Bedford from Kate’s name.
- Lionel Jeffries is the grandfather in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Cavor: It’s absolutely imperial!
Cavor: Tell you of war? Well, it usually starts with a whacking great explosion!
Cavor [thinking up colony names for the moon]: Cavorania! Bedfordshire!
Cavor: Geese, I adore. Chickens, I detest.
If you enjoyed this film, try:
- Any number of 60s sci-fi films, like Fantastic Voyage, The Lost World or Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
- Adaptations of other Wells stories, like The Time Machine, Food of the Gods or The War of the Worlds