First Men In The Moon (1964)

Rating: **
Review Date: 11/7/20
Special Effects: Ray Harryhausen
Cast: Edward Judd, Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries

"Madam, the chances of bagging an elephant on the Moon are remote."

A joint United Nations moon landing discovers evidence that visitors from Earth came to the Moon in 1899. Back on Earth, they track down the remaining survivor of that expedition, and he tells his incredible tale. Arthur Bedford (Edward Judd) is a lying, cheating con-man who has somehow tricked the beautiful Kate Callender (Martha Hyer) into being his fiancée. While hatching his latest harebrained get-rich-quick scheme, he discovers that his eccentric neighbor, Professor Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries), has created a material that nullifies the effect of gravity. Bedford immediately recognizes the commercial and military potential of such a discovery, while Cavor simply finds delight in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. He intends to use his new invention to fly to the Moon, and somehow convinces Bedford to join him on his preposterous and incredibly dangerous adventure. Kate assumes the role of the "troublesome female" and bungles her way into Cavor's expedition as well. Once they reach the Moon, they discover a subterranean oxygen atmosphere and a race of sentient insect-like creatures. Cavor desperately wants to communicate with them and share knowledge, while Bedford is keen to destroy them. Arthur and Kate manage to escape and make their way back to Earth, thus ending the extended flashback.

It's a loose adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel, but the modern day framing device is awkward, and the ending shamelessly and needlessly rips off "The War Of The Worlds" (1953). Kate's character wasn't in the original, but the filmmakers must have felt she was necessary for both sex appeal and comic relief. Unfortunately, the film mostly plays out as a comedy, focusing on Cavor's goofy eccentricity as a mad scientist who seems completely out of touch with the human race. It's as if he wants to leave Earth simply because he doesn't fit in there. Lionel Jeffries gives an excellent performance as the maniacally unhinged professor and nearly steals the show. Edward Judd and Martha Hyer give adequate performances, although their characters are uninteresting and not particularly likable.

It's one of Ray Harryhausen's lesser films, and the only stop-motion animation is a giant caterpillar and a handful of skeletal moon creatures. The other visual effects are mostly composite shots of the actors in the Lunar environment. The pacing is challenging, and literally nothing happens in the first hour of the film. When Cavor's spaceship finally reaches the Moon, you start to get a little taste of science fiction and the social satire that H.G. Wells was known for. Cavor represents peace, love, knowledge, and freedom, while Bedford embraces greed, violence, selfishness, and death. It's a disappointing and dated effort, even considering when it came out.