First Men in the Moon (1964 film)

First Men in the Moon is a 1964 British Technicolor science fiction film, produced by Charles H. Schneer, directed by Nathan Juran, and starring Edward Judd, Martha Hyer and Lionel Jeffries. The film, distributed by Columbia Pictures, is an adaptation by screenwriter Nigel Kneale of H. G. Wells' 1901 novel The First Men in the Moon.

The First Men in the Moon
FirstMenontheMoon.jpg
Directed byNathan Juran
Produced byCharles H. Schneer
Screenplay byNigel Kneale
Jan Read
Based onThe First Men in the Moon
1901 (novel)
by H. G. Wells
StarringEdward Judd
Martha Hyer
Lionel Jeffries
Music byLaurie Johnson
CinematographyWilkie Cooper
Edited byMaurice Rootes
Production
company
Ameran Films
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
6 August 1964[1] (UK)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
Box office$1,650,000 (US/Canada)[2]

Ray Harryhausen provided the stop-motion animation effects, which include the Selenites, giant caterpillar-like "Moon Cows" and the large-brained Prime Lunar.[3][4]

The film was made five years prior to man first landing on the moon.

PlotEdit

In 1964, the United Nations has launched a rocket flight to the Moon. A multi-national group of astronauts in the UN spacecraft land, believing themselves to be the first lunar explorers. However, they discover a Union Jack flag on the surface and a note mentioning Katherine Callender, which claims the Moon for Queen Victoria.

Attempting to trace Callender in the records office in Dymchurch in Kent, south-east England, the UN authorities discover that she has died, but that her husband Arnold Bedford is still living in a nursing home known as "The Limes". The home's staff do not let him watch television reports of the Moon expedition because, according to the matron, it "excites him". Bedford's repeated lunar claims are dismissed as senile delusion. The UN representatives question him about the Moon, and he tells them his story, which is then shown in flashback.

In 1899, Arnold Bedford lives in a romantic spot, Cherry Cottage, next to a canal lock in Dymchurch. His fiancée, Katherine Callender, known as Kate, arrives by car (driving herself) visiting the house for the first time. It is implied that Bedford is in financial difficulties as he has a letter for rent arrears. They meet a nearby neighbour, inventor Joseph Cavor, who wants to buy the cottage, in case his experiments damage the cottage. Kate agrees this on Bedfords behalf. Bedford starts spending much time at Cavor's house, where he has a large laboratory. There he has invented Cavorite, a substance that will let anything it is applied to or made of deflect the force of gravity. He plans to use it to travel to the Moon. Bedford gets deeds signed up in Kath's name selling the cottage to Cavor in exchange for £5000.... it must be remembered that he is selling something he does not own!

Cavor tempts Bedford into his scheme by telling him there are nuggets of gold on the moon. He has already built a spherical spaceship in the greenhouse next to the cottage. The sphere is lined inside in green velvet and has electric lights. There is an explosion at Cavor's house just as Kate arrives at the cottage. This is caused by Cavors assistant, Gibbs, going to the pub instead of watching the boiler. He shows her deep sea diving suits intended to keep them alive on the moon. The production of Cavorite is increased. Kate brings things for the trip: gin and bitters, chickens and an elephant gun. But she gives Bedford an ultimatum: Cavorite or me. Back at the cottage Kate is served with a summons by a bailiff accompanied by a silent policeman, charged with selling a property she does not own. Bedford and Cavor are just about to leave when Kate angrily hammers on the outside wanting to know what he has done. They pull her inside as the sphere launches.

On the long journey they eat only sardines. It is not explained how they steer, but opening a blind causes the sphere to instead head for the sun. They crash land on the moon. The men don the diving suits and Kate is put in the air-tight compartment.

While exploring the lunar surface, Bedford and Cavor fall down a vertical shaft, where there is breathable air and discover an insectoid population, the Selenites, living beneath the surface. (Cavor coins this name for the creatures after the Greek goddess of the Moon, Selene). Bedford attacks a group of Selenites out of fear, killing several, despite Cavor's horrified protests. After escaping from them, the two men discover that their sphere, still containing Kate, has been dragged into the underground city.

They are then attacked by a giant caterpillar-like "Moon Bull" which pursues them until the Selenites are able to dispatch it with their rayguns. Cavor and Bedford see the city's power station, a perpetual motion machine powered by sunlight. The Selenites quickly learn English and interrogate Cavor, who believes they wish to exchange scientific knowledge. Cavor has a discussion with the "Grand Lunar", the ruling entity of the Selenites. Bedford makes the assumption that Cavor, and presumably all humanity, is actually on trial, and attempts to kill the Grand Lunar with an elephant gun but fails due to Cavor's interference. Running for their lives, Bedford manages to find their sphere, and he and Kate escape; Cavor voluntarily stays on the Moon.

Bedford flies the sphere up a vertical light shaft, shattering the window-like covering at the top, and returns to Earth. He concludes his story by mentioning that they came down in the sea off Zanzibar, and their sphere sank without trace, while he and Kate managed to swim ashore. Cavor's ultimate fate remained unknown to them.

In the present, Bedford, the UN party and newspaper reporters watch on television the latest events on the Moon, where the UN astronauts have broken into the Selenite city and find it deserted and decaying. The ruined city starts to crumble and collapse, forcing the astronauts to retreat hastily. Seconds later the city is completely destroyed. Bedford realizes that the Selenites must have succumbed to Cavor's common cold virus to which they had no immunity.

CastEdit

 
The 1890s expedition claim the Moon for Queen Victoria
 
The 1960s astronauts find Cavor's party's flag

* Not credited on-screen.

ProductionEdit

DevelopmentEdit

Harryhausen was planning on following Jason and the Argonauts(1963) with a version of H.G. Wells' 1904 novel The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth when he met with writer Nigel Kneale. Harryhausen had long wanted to film Wells' First Men in the Moon but producer Charles Schneer was not enthusiastic, in part due to worries about the film's period setting. Kneale thought it was an excellent idea however and he and Harryhausen managed to persuade Schneer to make it.[5]

Schneer said Kneale "is a very dour, straightforward, serious classicist. He was recognized in England as being the contemporary science-fiction screenwriter. I hired him because we needed his technical expertise. Then, we superimposed on that what we thought audiences would appreciate."[6]

Another writer was brought on to rework Kneale's script. According to Kneale: "They wanted to jazz it up, make it funnier than I had imagined." He says this inspired the casting of Lionel Jeffries.[7]

Kneale said in the book, Judd's character "was a blundering creature and it seemed important to keep that".[8] The writer says he knew that a country would get to the Moon relatively soon and discover there were no Selenites. This is why he added to the script that the Selenites were wiped out by a cold from the professor, an idea Kneale says he took from The War of the Worlds.[8]

DirectorEdit

This was the third collaboration between producer Charles Schneer and director Nathan Juran.[3] Schneer said Juran "was an excellent man for what he did, but he wasn't an actor's director. Many of our actors were used to more help from a director than he gave them. They felt a little adrift when they were expected to get on with their work without any great directorial assist. Jerry wasn't very patient with actors. He couldn't tolerate actors who wanted to know what their character's motivation was. He wanted to get on with the job he was hired to do."[6]

CastingEdit

Schneer cast Judd off the back of his performance in The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961).[6] Edward Judd was under contract to Columbia Pictures. "I had never done anything like that at the time, so I thought it would be fun", Judd said. "Since Lionel was already a great chum of mine I knew we would have laughs on the set".[9]

Martha Hyer's character was not in original drafts of scripts but introduced later.[10]

DesignsEdit

Ray Harryhausen used blueprints from NASA for the UN's lunar lander while designing sets.[3]

The sculptor Bryan Kneale constructed the Selenites from Harryhausen's designs.

Spacesuits usedEdit

Two types of space suits are featured in the film. During the story's main events, which take place in the 1890s, the film's Victorian-era astronauts are outfitted in space suits adapted from deep sea diving suits. Each is fitted with a 1960s-type aqualung cylinder worn as a backpack. Their space suits are neither pressurized nor heated or cooled, and they do not wear protective gloves in the vacuum of space and extreme cold and heat found on the lunar surface. There is an important technical issue with the heating and cooling provided: Using rubber-lined diving suits on the Moon is impractical due to the brittleness of natural rubber once it is exposed to a vacuum.

Cavor and Bedford have no radio communication and must make their space helmets touch in order to be able to talk with one another in the Moon's vacuum (the filmmakers violate this rule several times). It is not made clear whether the Selenites have radio. On Earth, the history of radio was only just beginning when the film's 1890s-set events were unfolding. Wireless communication from the stranded Cavor within the Moon appears later in Wells' novel.

The spacesuit type worn by the UN Astronauts in the film is actually the Windak high-altitude pressure suit,[11] developed for the Royal Air Force, each fitted with a 1960s-type aqualung cylinder worn as a backpack. These pressure suits would also be used in two Doctor Who stories: William Hartnell's final story "The Tenth Planet" and the Patrick Troughton-era "The Wheel in Space". They also appear in the original Star Wars trilogy as the costumes for Bossk and Bo Shek.

ShootingEdit

Filming started on 1 October 1963.[12]

Schneer convinced Harryhausen the movie's commercial prospects would be improved if it was shot in Panavision. "Ray was terrified of Panavision," said the producer. "All I had to do was suggest something different to him, and he would get nervous. "[6]

"After you got past the first couple of reels, it was a funny film", said Juran. "Lionel was a swell actor. I liked him very much. His performance added immeasurably to the picture's entertainment value. He played it tongue-in-cheek but being such a good comic actor he controlled himself and never went too far. He made a great team with Edward Judd. Their personalities, one against the other, were just perfect".[3]

"It was fun to do but it was bloody hard work," said Judd. "Lionel called it 'acting with chalk marks' because we were pointing at things that weren't there and dealing with blue backing and traveling mattes".[9]

Harryhausen would explain to the actors what the creatures would eventually look like just before they shot scenes involving them.[9]

"Lionel and I didn't like Jerry's working methods too much," said Judd. "He was more of a technician than an actor's director. We always thought of him as an art director, which of course he had been".[9]

ReceptionEdit

Critical receptionEdit

Among contemporary reviews, Variety wrote, "Ray Harryhausen and his special effects men have another high old time in this piece of science-fiction hokum filmed in Dynamation", adding that "Wells' novel and has been neatly updated", and concluding that "The three principals play second fiddle to the special effects and art work, which are impressive in color, construction and animation".[13]

However, The New York Times wrote, "Only the most indulgent youngsters should derive much stimulation - let alone fun - from the tedious, heavyhanded science-fiction vehicle that arrived yesterday from England".[14]

The Guardian called it "good of its type".[15]

TV Guide called it "An enjoyable science fiction film".[16] and Blu-ray.com highly recommended the film as "a fun and exciting viewing experience".[17]

Box-officeEdit

The film was a box-office disappointment. Harryhausen felt this was due to the inclusion of too much comedy.[10]

Schneer said he preferred the film to Jason and the Argonauts because "it was set in the Victorian era, whereas Jason took place in a much further removed period of history. Also, I thought the humor in it was delicious, whereas there wasn't much humor in Jason." The producer says Harryhausen felt "fantasy film fans are dead serious about these pictures and have no sense of humor. So, who am I to quarrel with him?" [6]

Kneale says the final movie was "all right. It could have been better if it had been a bit less farcical; that would have been more imaginative."[8]

LegacyEdit

Schneer says that when the real Moon landing happened, NASA "had no footage showing the space capsule separating from the 'mother ship' and landing on the Moon's surface. All they had were shots of Neil Armstrong walking around." NASA went to Columbia Pictures and used the opening sequence of First Men on the Moon. "They used those portions of it which were applicable to their needs," said the producer.[6]

Following the movie, Harryhausen and Schneer did not work together for five years.[6]

Comic book adaptationEdit

NotesEdit

  • Kinnard, Roy (September 1979). "First Men on the Moon". Fantastic Films. pp. 48–54.
  • Newsom, Ted (Spring 1995). "Dynamation Ray Harryhausen Part Two". Imagi Movies. Vol. 2 no. 3. pp. 14–28.
  • Walker, Kenneth (August 1980). "The A to Z of Creating First Men in the Moon". Starlog. pp. 38–41.
  • Warren, Bill (March 1989). "Nigel Kneale Part Two". Starlog. pp. 52–56, 62.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Image (3)". Photobucket.
  2. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  3. ^ a b c d Swires, Steve (May 1989). "Nathan Juran: The Fantasy Voyages of Jerry the Giant Killer Part Two". Starlog Magazine. No. 142. p. 58.
  4. ^ FIRST MEN IN THE MOON Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 31, Iss. 360, (Jan 1, 1964): 134.
  5. ^ Kinnard p. 49
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Swirde, Steve (February 1990). "Maestro of the Magic Tricks: Part Two of Interview with Charles Schneer". Starlog. p. 70.
  7. ^ Warren p. 56
  8. ^ a b c Warren p 62
  9. ^ a b c d Swires, Steve. "First Man on the Moon". Starlog. No. 160. p. 18.
  10. ^ a b Kinnard p 54
  11. ^ "Say; Hello Spaceman".
  12. ^ 'TOM JONES' FILM OPENS HERE OCT. 7: British Adaptation of Novel Stars Albert Finney Johnston Award Established Miss Hyer Plans 'Moon Trip' 3 Return to Movies 'The Suitor' Opens Today New York Times 17 Sep 1963: 31.
  13. ^ "First Men in the Moon". Variety. 1 January 1964.
  14. ^ Thompson, Howard (26 November 1964). "The Screen: Moondust; New Space Trip Film Opens at the Capitol". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  15. ^ "Cynical, but impressive". The Guardian. 21 September 1964: 4.
  16. ^ "First Men In The Moon". TVGuide.com.
  17. ^ "First Men in the Moon Blu-ray".
  18. ^ "Gold Key: First Men in the Moon". Grand Comics Database.
  19. ^ Gold Key: First Men in the Moon at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)

External linksEdit