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DVD SAVANT

MISSILE TO THE MOON


"Look Out! It's the Rock Men!"

Missile to the Moon
Image Entertainment
1959 / B&W / 1:37 / Dolby Digital mono
Starring Richard Travis, Kathy Downs, K.T. Stevens, Tommy Cook, Nina Bara, Gary Clarke, Michael Whalen, Laurie Mitchell, Marjorie Hellen (Leslie Parrish)
Cinematography Meredith M. Nicholson
Set Decoration Harry Feif
Costume Design Marjorie Corso
Film Editor Everett Dodd
Original Music Nicholas Carras
Writing credits H.E. Barrie and Vincent Fotre
Produced by Marc Frederick
Directed by Richard E. Cunha

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

We come not to praise or to jeer, but just to tell the truth. Missile to the Moon is nobody's idea of a good movie. Savant expends a lot of energy to convey the felicities of so-so films with good ideas, like 4D Man, but finding hidden cinematic virtues in Missile to the Moon is a tall order. So why a DVD? Firstly, it's a hoot, a real knee-slapper, born MST3K material. Second, Image's new DVD from space-movie collector Wade Williams is such a good presentation that one is inspired to think about what it must have been like to be on the set of this woebegotten picture.


Synopsis:

Prison escapees Gary (Tommy Cook) and Lon (Gary Clarke) choose to hide out in the cockpit of Dirk Green (Michael Whalen) and Steve Dayton's (Richard Travis) solar-powered rocketship on the very evening that the U.S. Government shows up to confiscate the whole project. Dirk is so fanatical about using his rocket that he blackmails the convicts into volunteering as a no-experience-necessary crew for an impromptu trip to the moon. When Steve and his fiancee June Sexton (Kathy Downs) wander on board at the last minute, the trio becomes a quintet.

While the sweet-tempered Lon helps with space duties, the irrepressably delinquent Gary comes on to June, prompting a fight that ends only when interrupted by a meteor storm. Cap'n Dirk gets his head crushed by a falling battery, the kind of accident we'd expect in Auto Shop. Although nobody else particularly wanted to go to the moon, the expedition continues and lands as planned.

It's just before dawn and not yet hot enough to boil the spacemen alive. When they go for a stroll they're chased by some menacing Rock Men, ambling creatures of living stone, into a cobweb-strewn cave. Mysterious figures incapacitate them with some kind of gas, and when they wake up they find they've become the prisoners of 'Orlanda', a dying society that is now exclusively female. Served and fawned over, Gary and Lon meet cute nymphets with which to have conversations that begin with, "I've never met a man before." June is furious to discover that the aggressively Amazonian Alpha (Nina Bara) wants to marry Steve. The Big Cheese Orlandan, The Leto (K.T. Stevens) is blind and thinks Steve is the late Dirk, you know, the battery victim. It turns out that Dirk was actually an Orlandan who went to the Earth ten years before to reconnoiter for an invasion that didn't work out. Now The Leto simply wants to hijack the spaceship and get to Earth before the Orlandan oxygen supply gets used up by all the heavy-breathing Moon Girls. But The Leto's plan is foiled when she's assassinated by Alpha. Gary finds a horde of raw diamonds but lets his new chick Lambda (Laurie Mitchell) get chomped to death by a spider-like Dark Creature. Steve is hypnotized into submitting to marriage with Alpha and condemning June to death in the Dark Creature cave. Lon's new girlfriend Zema (Marjorie Hellen aka Leslie Parrish) turns traitor for love and helps the Earthlings escape ... only to face the dreaded Rock Men that await them outside. It's High Noon on the Moon, and anyone who strays into the direct sunlight will be immediately roasted to a crisp ...


Independent 50s Z-productions like Missile to the Moon reach for the depths of mediocrity and succeed beyond their wildest wishes. The script (by one of the writers of the later Baron Blood, no less) is a leadfooted recycling of Cat-Women of the Moon by way of Queen of Outer Space, except without 3D, Cinemascope or Zsa Zsa Gabor.  1 Don't think there are any intriguing concepts kicking around; America's first space captain turning out to be an Alien never develops into anything.

The production details really let down Missile to the Moon ... it's just not possible to do a movie trip to the Moon in a no-budget picture. Most of the actors are quite capable but there was clearly no time to give them any but the most rudimentary direction. They often have unconcerned looks on their faces in the middle of fatal calamities. Poor Kathy Downs (notable as Clementine Carter in the classic My Darling Clementine) reacts to her unannounced jaunt to the moon as if it were a fun idea, and lets the lecherous Gary climb all over her as if he might go away if she just ignored him. After being so passive with Gary, she later launches into a women's prison-style catfight with the first Moon Babe who makes eyes at her fiancé. And when she's clamped into restraints in a cave known to be inhabited by eight-foot slavering spiders, she merely looks inconvenienced.

That spider, by the way, is a feeble marionette and yet the high point of the production. At least we can't see any wires. The Rock Men are simply hilarious. They look like giant foam-rubber Gumbys and provoke instant laughter. One pulls (landslides?) itself out of hiding rather well, but they walk so slowly, our heroes should be able to escape from them by merely strolling away. They instead let themselves be forced into the killer sunlight, the kind that reduces its victims to lab skeletons complete with wires to hold the ribs in place.

You'll be glad to know that crabgrass is growing quite nicely out there on the Lunar surface. There's lots of sound to be heard, and a stiff breeze to make the fins of the spaceship jiggle.


This actually looks pretty good for a second on DVD ... Dr. Green's Solar-Powered space ship.

The whole ship is apparently made of cardboard, you see; even on earth it's a two- dimensional cutout, complete with stripes made of gaffer's tape. There are only four or five shots of the spaceship in flight. One angle is a stock shot cribbed from Rocketship X-M. The landing views are supplied by V-2 footage used straight and printed in reverse. Yep, that's a control tower and launching pad visible, even when the ship is supposed to be landing on the moon. The ship's interior is one of the most feeble ever seen, mostly made of the perforated masonite used to hang tools on in home workshops.


The Leto, played like Joan Crawford with a bad attitude.

How about the rest of the cast? The Image DVD comes with a short but telling selection of stills that concentrate on the Moon Girls. The Leto is seen in color, which doesn't make her grab-bag costume look any better.


Producer Frederic is seen posing with most of the Moon Girls, all of whom are billed as beauty contest winners. These women look like career showgirls, the workhorse kind that wanted to be Vanna White but ended up at car shows and supermarket openings. A couple are retreads from Queen of Outer Space; one was even in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars six years before. Stuffed into unflattering leotards and whatever garnish costumer Marjorie Corso could whip up for free, they just look pathetic, with wild painted-on Cat-Woman eyelashes that eradicate any hope of coming off as attractive. The Leto is made to wear an elaborate headdress that must have been cobbled from a Chinese Empress costume; the poor woman looks like a walking flyswatter.

The IMDB identifies the pixie-like Zema as Marjorie Hellen, aka Leslie Parrish, well-known as Daisy Mae in 1959's Li'l Abner and as Laurence Harvey's ill-fated bride in The Manchurian Candidate. She's a thespic standout among losers and professional stumblers, like Richard Travis of Mesa of Lost Women. Young Lisa Simone can be seen in the same year's Giant Gila Monster.


Leslie Parrish as Zema, hiding behind the name Marjorie Hellen.

Nina Bara's resume highlight was playing Tonga on TV's Space Patrol, which is how she must have gotten the role of Alpha. Her death scene agonizing among toppling pillars and collapsing curtains, is just awful. Do the surviving cast members pull out copies of Missile to the Moon to entertain their friends with the silly movie they were once in? Or do they pray that nobody they meet will associate them with it?

You get the feeling from the photo session that these were pros who knew the movie was awful all along and were just hoping, as do all actors, for some miracle - showing up, going through the lame blocking of director Cunha, who must have gotten each shot in the can just before his cast figured out what they were supposed to be doing. The direction is so rushed and the puny sets so restrictive that most of the scenes are flat-blocked. Players march onscreen single file, go through the dialog, and exit again stage right or left. Just like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

So you get the idea, but take Savant's word for it, you can't get the full impact of Missile to the Moon until you witness the Orlandan marriage dance performed with a bongo and tambourine accompaniment. Or see our heroes throw doorknobs at the Rock Men, exploding one to bits (a more successful effect, actually, than a similar one in Barbarella). Don't see it alone, it's funnier with friends.


Image Entertainment's DVD of Missile to the Moon is nicely transfered from a source that has some damaged moments and looks to have lost part of a Leto dialogue line, but is otherwise snappy and sharp. The mono sound is just dandy. There's the nice still section but nothing more. Because there's an outrageous unintentional laugh, maladroit acting moment or inept special effect every 20 seconds or so, Missile to the Moon never becomes boring, like say Fire Maidens of Outer Space. And how can the worst space movie ever made, be the worst space movie ever made, if it's such a delight?


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Missile to the Moon rates:
Movie: Poor, but endearing
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: Photo section
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed July 22, 2000


Footnotes:

1. Savant saw Missile to the Moon at a matinee in 1959 at age seven and loved it. Savant doubts that today's 7-year olds are going to have the same unsophisticated accepting attitude when you say, "Nah, you don't need to see Titan AE, check this out instead." For that matter, anyone old enough to watch Sesame Street probably isn't going to be fooled by Missile to the Moon. We 50s tots were desperate to see anything with a rocket or a dinosaur in it.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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