Destination Moon

Destination Moon, written by Alford Von Ronkel, James O’Hanlon and Robert A. Heinlein, based on Rocketship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein, directed by Irving Pichel, starring John Archer (Barnes), Warner Anderson (Cargraves), Tom Powers (Thayer) and Dick Wesson (Joe) (1950): Ambitious in scope, limited in budget, and almost documentary-like in execution, Destination Moon won an Oscar for Visual Effects for the movie year of 1950.

Some things seem almost hilariously wrong now — in the world of the movie, we’re told that only American Big Business is capable of the rapid action and planning needed to put a man on the Moon. Indeed, the U.S. government tries to shut the project down. The government may have a point — the rocket uses an atomic motor, something the rocket’s creators are awfully cavalier and off-hand about, even though we’re told that a prototype of the engine ended its “successful” test by spontaneously exploding. Seriously?

The moon is also viewed as being a great place to rain nuclear missiles down on the Earth, necessitating that the U.S. beat the Soviets there. You may have noticed how well the lunar nuclear weapons platform idea went in real life over the last 42 years or so.

In the hopeful astronautical world of 1950, putting together a Moon expedition goes amazingly smoothly until the landing stage. Then, events somewhat mirror those of the actual Apollo 11 mission, with fuel usage becoming an issue (though a much bigger issue here than in real life). Like almost every science fiction movie ever made, a comic-relief sidekick caused me to want to shoot my TV. Visuals of the Moon and outer space, copied and extrapolated diligently from science-fiction-painting-great Chesley Bonestell, remain quite stunning.

Another sf great, Robert A. Heinlein, helped script the movie, loosely based on his Young Adult novel Rocketship Galileo, though he leaves a lunar gun battle with space Nazis out of the film. Science-fiction movie producing guru George Pal produced this one. Interesting and a bit boring, the movie actually could have used some space Nazis. What movie couldn’t? Lightly recommended.

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