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12 TO THE MOON (1960)

"Every nation of the Earth, in a magnificent effort, is contributing of its people and resources, in an attempt to reach the moon and proclaim it international territory!"

Director: David Bradleyl

Starring: Ken Clark, Anthony Dexter, Tom Conway, Richard Weber, Robert Montgomery Jr, John Wengraf, Michi Kobi, Roger Til, Tema Bey, Anna-Lisa, Phillip Baird, Cery Devlin, Francis X. Bushman

Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen

Synopsis: A twelve-person crew is selected to attempt mankind’s first expedition to the moon, in order to claim it as international territory and prevent disputes over it between nations. As the Secretary-General of the International Space Order (Francis X. Bushman) broadcasts to the world, the historic liftoff is achieved. Things begin well, as the crew’s doctor, Selim Hamid (Tema Bey), and his assistant, Sigrid Bomark (Anna-Lisa), confirm the health of the crew. However, tensions soon arise between the Polish-born Israeli David Ruskin (Richard Weber) and the Russian Dr Feodor Orloff (Tom Conway) over whose nation has contributed the most to the mission. The crew faces its first test during a meteor shower. Brilliant young mathematician Rod Murdock (Robert Montgomery Jr) calculates a successful manoeuvre for the ship. Finally, the Lunar Eagle approaches the moon and makes a successful landing. Leaving engineer Etienne Martel (Roger Til) behind, the rest of the crew ventures out of the ship. After planting a flag to claim the moon for the whole world, the party disperses to its various duties. Hamid and Bomark separate from the rest to search for evidence of air, or any signs of life. The two find a cave, where their equipment indicates that air is present. Orloff begins collecting minerals, including gold and a strange new mineral. During further exploration, the crew blows up part of a rock wall with a small atomic device. A strange fluid runs from the crevice. Orloff puts his hands into it, and is badly burned. Hideko Murata (Michi Kobi) takes him back to the ship. The others, while worried about their oxygen supply, search for Hamid and Bomark, who have not come back. They track the two into the cave, but lose the trail at a wall of ice that has appeared. Returning to the ship, British geophysicist Sir William Rochester (Phillip Baird) is killed when he sinks into a strange dry quicksand. Back on board, the team leader, John Anderson (Ken Clark), tries to contact the Earth, but transmission is lost. A strange series of symbols suddenly appears on the ship’s computer screen. Hideko translates, and the crew is astonished to learn that the moon is inhabited – and that those inhabitants have a warning for the people of Earth….

Comments: Pee-yew!! What a stinker! But nevertheless, bursting at the seams as it is with idiotic dialogue, impossible science, frozen-in-time politics, tacky sets, bad special effects and innumerable uninvited boom mikes, quite an entertaining stinker. 12 To The Moon opens with guest star Francis X. Bushman addressing the world in "the first world-wide radio and telecast in history!" The first ever lunar expedition is underway, its object being to proclaim the moon "international territory" and thus prevent disputes over it (ho, ho!).

The crew is therefore a suitably eclectic bunch. The team leader is John Anderson, an American (naturally – we’re not far enough into the realm of speculative science fiction to expect anything else!) who is "dedicated to the conquest of space". German Erich Heinrich designed and oversaw the construction of the ship. Then there’s the Polish-born Israeli, David Ruskin, aeronautic engineer and flight recorder; Turkish Selim Hamid, expert in "space medicine"; British geophysicist Sir William Rochester; Russian Feodor Orloff, geologist and mapmaker; Brazilian Luis Vargas, pilot and communications expert; Nigerian Asmara Markonen, navigator and astronomer; and French Etienne Martel, engineer and technician ("technician"? – whoah, impressive!).

The youngest of the party is "brilliant mathematician" Rod Murdock – spiritual, if not physical, father to Charlton Heston’s Alan Murdock in Airport ’75, Robert Stack’s Roger Murdock in Flying High, and maybe even Lance Murdock of "The Simpsons". His nationality is undeclared, but this clean-cut, starry-eyed kid could belong to only one country. Then, of course, there are the women. The usual cinematic "space crew" ratio is about four or five to one, so naturally this mission has two of them. However, you get the feeling that by the end of the list the screenwriter was straining a bit.

The Swedish Sigrid Bomark, we are told, is a "physician and physicist" – a real likely combination – while the Japanese Hideko Murata is an "astrophotographer and pharmacist"! Now, as you would notice, only eleven nationalities are actually represented here – or twelve, if you count Ruskin as two. Since the Secretary-General of the ISO has assured us that "every nation of the world" contributed to the mission, I guess those of us who didn’t get a guernsey in the crew must have coughed up the dough – possibly via Pay-Per-View subscriptions. Each crewmember enters the Lunar Eagle by passing through a high-tech security system: one security guard shines a torch in his or her face, while a second one checks a clipboard – a process that conveniently takes just long enough for Francis X. Bushman to tell us who each of them is.

The interior of the Lunar Eagle is just a step or two up in quality from that seen in Cat Women Of The Moon (1953), while the crew wears suits weirdly decorated with huge raised seams (these look really uncomfortable, and probably explain why no-one ever seems to lean back in their chair). Furthermore, the men’s suits all have rather prominent, er, "cod-pieces". The helmets are pretty much standard issue, except for their "invisible electromagnetic ray screens" (see "Immortal Dialogue"). On board with the crew is a very strange set of experimental animals: a pair of cats, who will test whether "procreation on the moon is possible" (lucky them!); two monkeys, intended fate undisclosed, and a cocker spaniel – of whom, more anon. The cats and monkeys are confined to perspex boxes with no food, no water, and not even any shredded newspaper; the spaniel just gets his leash tied to a convenient railing.

The crew straps themselves in as they prepare to make, as the narrator puts it, "world-shattering history!" – rather an alarming choice of words considering that we are told immediately afterwards that the ship is partly atomically powered. However, the take-off goes without a hitch – no pressure problems for this crew! (the cats at least have the decency to look mildly distressed) – but it isn’t long before the peaceful, humanitarian intentions of the mission are under threat. The Lunar Eagle is barely into space before the boys are squabbling amongst themselves and insisting that mine’s bigger than yours (contribution to the mission, that is). In the midst of all this we get to listen to David Ruskin’s Tragic Story: his family was killed by "a Nazi beast!" called Bernauer who, as some of the others know, was the father of Erich Heinrich, Ruskin’s best buddy. (You following this? It’s what’s known as a Plot Point.)

Perhaps unable to cope with all the testosterone flying about, the female crewmembers retire to take a shower – which here consists of being "cleaned by ultrasound and massaged by airjets!" (It would be 2001, of course, before anyone dared tackle the problem of the "space-toilet".) In perhaps the film’s only genuine surprise, it is the Japanese woman, and not the Swede, who is in the shower when the towel-clad John Anderson barges into the bathroom. ("You might have knocked," objects Sigrid, not unreasonably. "This isn’t the Waldorf!" responds the Commander, that apparently being the only place this macho man ever knocks.)

After battling a meteor shower and a space-dust cloud, the Lunar Eagle is ready to land on the moon. The Commander puts the ship into its "reversal procedure", which seems to consist of slamming on the brakes and turning the steering wheel really hard. At any rate, the ship simply stops and spins around 180o. The crew defends itself against the Eagle’s violent spin by hanging onto a set of rails in the middle of the flightdeck’s floor. However, Hideko lets go a little too soon and ends up in the arms of the ship’s pilot, Luis Vargas (who, as you’ll notice, wasn’t piloting), thus kicking off one of the ship’s inevitable on-board romances.

The ship lands safely, and everyone gets ready to walk on the moon. In the first of two extremely strange command decisions, Anderson announces that he and Vargas will be the first to leave the ship. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were on the first expedition to the moon, I think I’d prefer that the ship’s pilot be left somewhere safe and sound, not sent out on dangerous missions. But what do I know? The door of the ship is finally thrown open, and the camera pans around the surface of the moon in what is doubtless meant to be an awe-inspiring shot, and might have been – except that someone is wandering around the back of the set! Now, I could be generous here, and suggest that this was intentional, meant to clue in the viewer to the fact that the crew is "not alone"; but the total lack of attention paid to the shot makes it pretty clear that it is simply a flub of the first order.

The team then descends to the moon’s surface, carrying a bunch of equipment that would have looked right at home in Robot Monster (1953), but which nevertheless is able to deflect the constant shower of meteors that somehow always lands right near the Earth party. A fairly ludicrous flag-raising ceremony follows (made even sillier by the sloppiness of the film’s direction at this point: while some of the actor’s "moon-walk" – big steps, slow pace – the others can’t be bothered and just stick to their normal gait) and then Anderson makes his second really weird decision: he sends Hamid and Bomark off to search for "air, and any signs of life". Yes, that’s right: both of the ship’s doctors sent off by themselves. Hamid and Bomark don’t put in any protest, however, for reasons that soon become apparent.

The two discover a cave, one filled with air! How do they know? They carry a charming little object called a "breathing device", which is a metal box with a handle, a couple of knobs, and a rubber bubble that, ah, "breathes" (well, expands and contracts, anyway) in the presence of air. (It’s unfortunately only onscreen for about ten seconds, or I might have elevated the breathing device to the status of Nut-O’-Fun.) At any rate, Hamid and Bomark are really glad there’s air in the cave. These two have been exchanging meaningful glances since the beginning of the film, and before you can say "daring onscreen inter-racial relationship!" they’ve taken off their helmets and put themselves into an airlock, if you catch my drift. Next, exchanging even more meaningful glances, the two of them wander off hand-in-hand into the back of the cave and out of camera shot – and are never seen again, thus earning themselves a place in the history of cinema by becoming perhaps the first of many couples to meet their fate while Doing It – even if "It" is "Done" discreetly offscreen. (However, they may not actually be dead. Again, more anon.)

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew, after various travails, heads back to the ship. The screenwriter, having realised that he can’t possibly continue to find employment for so many minor characters, continues disposing of them by dropping Sir William Rochester down a hole in the sand. Back on the ship, the crew argues about what to do until some strange symbols show themselves on a computer screen. Deciding that it looks like "Chinese! No, oriental picture writing!" they ask Hideko to translate (well, "they" all look alike – maybe "their" writing does, too!) The message turns out to be from the Great Co-ordinator of the Moon, whose people live beneath the surface in a "great sealed city". Like most superior beings, the Moon People aren’t "enslaved by emotion"; they also aren’t too thrilled at having humans on their turf, not wanting to be "contaminated" by their nastier qualities. The Moon People, we learn, have captured Hamid and Bomark ("They say they’re in love!"). Not yet sure whether this "love" is a good thing, the Moon People deliver the usual ultimatum: leave, or else! Immediately, the paranoia levels start to rise.

Having spent the early part of the film sneering at Russian science, David Ruskin now decides that (i) some evil humans have beaten their party to the moon and are trying to scare them off; and (ii) who could it be but the Russkies? Ruskin’s attack on Orloff is interrupted when Erich Heinrich suffers a heart attack (well, that’s what the script says – it looks more like asthma). Heinrich immediately launches into one of those lucid cinematic deliriums, and announces very loudly that he had always been ashamed of being the son of Bernauer, "the Nazi beast". Ruskin is a little put out by this discovery, but when, a whole second later, Heinrich snaps out of his delirium, the two have a heart-warming moment and agree that they can still be friends.

A new message arrives from the Moon People: they want the cats! ("These animals hold an unusual appeal for us!") No objection is made to this, apart from a brief debate on the wisdom of opening the ship door (I bet if the Moon People had asked for the cutesy little spaniel, there would have been a hell of a stink!) and the cats (without any air!) are left to face a future which, given the horrified yowling we hear as an ominous shadow looms over their box, doesn’t look too rosy. Nor does it for Hamid and Bomark: a swift decision is made to depart without them (well, they shouldn’t have been Doing It on duty, should they?)

The Lunar Eagle has an uneventful flight until Dr Orloff’s new mineral spontaneously catches fire. The crew are alerted to the danger by the barking of the heroic spaniel (see?? – I told you you’d be hearing more about it!!) and the threat is dealt with by throwing the rock into the airlock where "it can’t burn – there’s no oxygen!" Now, this is quite true, and perhaps the only piece of accurate science in the whole film. Unfortunately, it is bookended by shots of the Lunar Eagle and its – obviously impossible - fiery tail. (Well, what the hell - that little detail never bothered George Lucas, after all!)

Things go smoothly until the ship approaches Earth. As the crew tries to make contact, the line drops out and a great sheet of ice is seen to move down from the North Pole to freeze Canada, the US and Mexico. Caught in space by this display of the Moon People’s power, the crew must think of a solution. And ninety seconds later (no cuts, either) they do. Dr Heinrich suggests that they make an atomic bomb out of "bomblets" they carry with them, pilot their "space-taxi" over a live volcano, and drop it in. If they are very lucky, the explosion will melt the ice and propel the "space-taxi" back up into space where the Lunar Eagle can pick it up. This plan sounds as feasible to the crew as it probably does to you, oh Gentle Reader, so two suckers---er, volunteers are selected by drawing lots. And Lordy, who should it be but the last of the Ruskins and the son of that "Nazi beast"! (Bet you didn’t see that coming!)

But wait! Before the mission can get underway, the inevitable discovery is made: there’s a dirty, stinking Commie traitor on board! And no, it isn’t poor old Orloff, who’s been copping all the abuse. It’s the French engineer, Martel (smallest role, worst acting – what were the odds?). Orloff sees him tamper with the atomic bomb he’s just whipped up, scorns his (not unreasonable, I have to say) plans to take advantage of the immobilisation of America, and the two fight. The spaniel, who barked so loudly at a little fire, seems unmoved by the hand-to-hand combat going on under its nose (I knew it! That damn spaniel’s a dirty, stinking Commie traitor too!!), but Commander Anderson intervenes to save the day. Ruskin and Heinrich then board the "space-taxi" and pilot it away. (Be polite, and pretend you don’t notice the black rod moving the plastic ship against its backdrop. At least, unlike in Robot Monster, you don’t see the arm of the guy moving it.)

The two succeed in dropping their bomb on target, but the explosion isn’t "big enough" to propel them to safety, and the two are soon plummeting to a tragic but dramatically valid death. This heroic self-sacrifice impresses the Moon People enormously, along with what they have learned of love from their captives (Hamid and Bomark that is, not the cats), and they decide human beings aren’t so bad after all. The sheet of ice is removed, we learn that humanity has merely been in suspended animation, and they all live happily ever after. Well, except for Ruskin and Heinrich. And Hamid and Bomark. And the cats.

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB

Immortal Dialogue