|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Index||16 reviews in total|
"Rocket to the Moon" is a film that boasts some great actors and a
fantastically whimsical central concept - yes, it's another of those
"Victorians try to reach the Moon" stories, though this one's based on
something by Jules Verne anyway, so hurrah for that. I've never read
the original, so I haven't a clue which bits of the film are faithful
to the book, though I'm sure comedy pratfalling wasn't high on Verne's
list of priorities for narrative-inclusion. I've always loved
Victoriana, and films set in the period always look sumptuous. The
entire concept of the Victorian scientists trying to expand the
horizons of humanity has always fascinated me. The 60's version of "The
Time Machine" remains my favourite film after what must be over fifteen
viewings, and even the dismal Ray Harryhausen venture "First Men in the
Moon" dregs up some respectability for its early Victorian scenes with
a rather excitable Lionel Jeffries (who's in this film too).
"Rocket to the Moon" sometimes contains the same levels of charm and enjoyment of similar "epics", but to use a whoary old clichéd reviewer's line, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The whole inventors bit is still terribly entertaining, and an early scene where a bridge is held together only by the initiation ceremony ribbon, which then gets cut by Queen Victoria, is good for a giggle. However, though every so often there are such delights as debating how a rocket could be propelled to the Moon ("You would need a big cannon!"), and what to do should they meet any alien life ("Chloroform!"), in between there are some long stretches of not very much happening at all, and there are one too many misfired gags. The plot goes for a complete Burton during the last twenty five minutes or so, which descends into a drawn out and utterly pointless chase scene between a vintage car and a penny-farthing. The inclusion of what is suggested to be some kind of brothel to which Deliah Lavi's character is forcibly sent also seems terribly out of place with the playful innocence of the action surrounding it ("Why are there bars on the windows?" "Oh, that's not to keep you girls in. It's to keep the gentlemen out.") There is some top-notch comedy talent on display to keep the viewer periodically entertained. Terry-Thomas, as always, gives it his best shot, playing one of his most caddish characters - in fact, at times he actually does seem quite dangerous, which can make for one or two rather disturbing scenes. Lionel Jeffries is always good value for money, and even Graham Stark succeeds at being amusing here. For me, however, a quiet and understated performance from Dennis Price steals the picture, even if he doesn't actually have any jokes per se. The scene in which he slowly discovers that Terry-Thomas has a rigged pool table is probably the best of the film, and there's a rather electric bit soon after where he attacks T-T at a club, complete with shouting and copious stick waving.
However, the young leading man, Troy Donahue, is utterly wooden, and kills quite a few potentially funny lines. Comedy German eccentric Gert Frobe veers alarmingly between being hilarious ("What do we do now?" "I don't know, we've never got this far before,") and being tremendously irritating. And the less said about Deliah Lavi, the better. No, in fact, let's talk about her anyway. Maybe it's just the character she's forced to play, a bimbo who leaps into the arms of whatever young man may be nearest to her at the time. But Deliah doesn't try to give her much of a personality, and so just resembles a walking personality vacuum. The writer doesn't even seem to have bothered in giving her character any logical sense, as she appears to teleport from place to place for no reason at all except plot expediency (why the hell is she in the rocket at night for any reason other than to be discovered by T-T and Lionel Jeffries?) In the chase scene at the end she seems to acquire a penny-farthing from nowhere, and frankly just looks ridiculous - and it's painfully obvious when a double has been used in the long shots.
The plot groans with the attempts to include a bit of jeopardy, and so T-T, starting off as a harmless cad, embezzling the project money, suddenly turns into a bit of a leering psycho, determined to make sure the rocket never leaves the Earth, even if to do so means killing off Troy Donahue (then again, maybe that's not such a bad idea). There's also a running gag about a Russian spy that doesn't appear to really lead anywhere, and after the first use of it (which is actually funny) should really have been dropped.
I really wanted to like this film more than I did, and, indeed, on first viewing I found it a great, if a touch gentle, little feature. However, on subsequent viewings, the meandering nature of the story becomes more and more obvious, as do the number of jokes that just plain don't work. Fantastic actors appear wasted in roles that require them to change their character's personality practically every other scene - Lionel Jeffries' Sir Charles Dillworthy seems to harbour a loathing of T-T's Washington-Smythe at the beginning, then appears terrified of him, then angry, and then just willingly teams up with him by the end anyway.
Overall, though the concept of the film still remains a huge attraction, and actors like Dennis Price and Terry-Thomas still make it well worth watching on a Sunday afternoon, I can't help but feel a bit disappointed with "Rocket to the Moon", which would have been better having it's plot tightened up and getting rid of a few of the longer set pieces (Gert Frobe's cannon experiments, for example). Or maybe it just needed to be a bit funnier.
JULES VERNE'S ROCKET TO THE MOON is immediately misleading on two out
of three points. Firstly, as the opening credits swiftly admit, while
the plot is inspired by the general writings of Verne, it is not in
fact based on any particular story that he actually wrote, which makes
the attribution somewhat spurious. Secondly, while there is a rocket in
the film, it becomes increasingly apparent as the movie progresses that
it is in no actual danger of going anywhere near the moon.
Having cleared up the situation with the misleading title, one can sit back and enjoy an amusing romp that, despite its Victorian setting, is unique to the films produced in the swinging sixties. The typically contrived plot concerns a suddenly bankrupt Phineas T. Barnum (Burl Ives) making an escape from his creditors to England, where he becomes the prime mover in a plan to launch a rocket to the moon. On the side of the angels are a German explosives expert (Gert Fröbe), an idealistic young American (Troy Donahue) with a revolutionary rocket design and the well intentioned Duke of Barset (Dennis Price). Up to no good are an unscrupulous financier (Terry Thomas), an egotistical engineer (Lionel Jeffries) and a Russian spy (Joachim Teege). In characteristic fashion, it is around the central framework of the plot that all the amusing vignettes of the film are built. Terry Thomas' "economical" motor car, and Gert Fröbe's explosive experiments to find the right amount of lift to get the rocket into space are two humorous recurring bits.
The film boasts another trademark of films of this era: a large cast filled with familiar faces. Gert Fröbe is great fun in his role as the fireproof Professor Von Bulow. Burl Ives, Terry Thomas and Lionel Jeffries also deliver the goods with their performances, though to be fair, their roles really require them to do little more than play upon already well established screen personas. The gorgeous Daliah Lavi is, well, gorgeous, as the female lead, which is pretty much all her part really calls for. Hermione Gingold, who amazingly is billed fourth in the credits, barely has time to deliver a performance in her five minutes on screen.
Dennis Price is fine in a part that has a fair amount of screen time, but really doesn't require him to do much. Seeing Price in such undemanding roles is always a little sad when one remembers his brilliant turn in KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS. However Price's performance in ROCKET TO THE MOON is positively dynamic when compared to that of his American co-star, and supposedly the film's leading man, Troy Donahue. Donahue is one of the many handsome Hollywood hunks of the era, who looked great, but couldn't act their way out of a paper bag and he brings exactly that level of skill to his performance here. When surrounded by such a colourful cast it becomes painfully apparent just how out of his depth Donahue is.
JULES VERNE'S ROCKET TO THE MOON is occasionally laugh out loud funny, but mainly delivers grins, smirks and guffaws. Unlike such similar and overlong fare as THE GREAT RACE, THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES or AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, it keeps itself brief, does not wear out its welcome and makes for an ideal film to watch on a Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately, ROCKET TO THE MOON has been released in America on home video in only in pan and scan in a long out of print VHS release (under the ridiculous title THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS). It is available in the UK in a quite acceptable 2.35:1 widescreen DVD release.
In the 1960s there was a new phenomenon in movie comedies: the comedy
that included every known comic in the business, usually in some mad
plot. America gave us IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD,THE RUSSIANS ARE
COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!,and THE GREAT RACE. Britain gave us
THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES and MONTE CARLO OR BUST.
Both of those films dealt with speed contests (the 1910 London to Paris
air contest, and the first Monte Carlo rally). Both had several comic
actors in them (Terry-Thomas, Gert Frobe, Tony Hancock, Dudley Moore
and Peter Cooke, Tony Curtis, Alberto Sordi). Then, in 1967, came THOSE
FANTASTIC, FEARLESS, FLYING FOOLS (also known as ROCKET TO THE MOON).
Like the other two films from England, it was a period piece, set in
the 1870s. But the story is basically a transposed version of Jules
Verne's FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON. The original novel was set in
Florida (oddly enough near modern day Cape Kennedy)after the American
Civil War. In ROCKET TO THE MOON P.T. Barnum plans to build a
"Columbiad" cannon inside a mountain in Wales, and have the moon
capsule piloted by General Tom Thumb. Instead it becomes a British
national issue, and a committee is formed headed by Dennis Price (the
Duke of Barset - another literary borrowing, only from Anthony
Trollope). Unfortunately Terry-Thomas and his business partner Lionel
Jeffries are also involved in the committee, and they both see a chance
to make money on this. Jeffries is the original capsule builder, but
Barnum points out that Jeffries design only enables the capsule to go
to the moon period. "Hold it laddy," intones Jeffries, "I was told to
design a capsule to get a traveller to the moon...nobody said a word
about getting him back." Jeffries is replaced. Subsequently Price
discovers that Terry-Thomas has been gambling away the committee's
money, and he is fired. Facing financial ruin, both men decide to
sabotage the project.
Gert Frobe, the inventor of the new explosive to use to send the vehicle to the moon, is a totally mad German scientist. His best moment in the film is a whimsical one. He has designed vocal semaphore devices that you speak through. This enables the two people who are communicating not to be heard and understood by anyone else, for the machines break down the words to syllables that are hard to understand. The other person, using the other semaphore (but winding it backwards)is supposed to reattach the syllables into an understandable set of words. Unfortunately, as Frobe discovers, the device does not quite work. "I can't understand a word he's saying.", a doubtful Frobe says.
Actually Burl Ives and Terry Thomas have choice moments too. Ives accidentally stumbles on the site where some of Frobe's explosive is being tested, and desperately tries to break the fuse with a rock and his cane. Terry Thomas has designed an early automobile that runs on "gas" - meaning "neon" from street-lamps. Jeffries says that the whole nature of the vehicle is immoral - it runs on stolen gas! "That's not the point!", says Terry-Thomas, "It's very economical!"
It is not a bad film, and can be a little enjoyable in its whimsy.
Here is a 1967 British movie that is unsure whether it wants to be a
straightforward 1890s Jules Verne fantasy, a 1960s farce or a romantic
comedy. It uses the Jules Verne story as a reflection of the 1960s
anxiety about the space race and the decline of Empire.
"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and "Time Machine" are great 1960s films that remain watchable classics today. This one doesn't fall into that category at all.
We see from the start that this is not just a send-up of Victorian science and engineering, but a parody of Victorian society in general. In the turbulent 1960s, the British Empire was in its death throes, and traditional British values and mannerisms were seen as fair game by movie makers.
Some of the great lines: "By Jove, what a corker", "You're a cad and a bounder", "It's because of the colonies!" "Oh Grundle, what beastly hard luck" and "By George, this is splendid" (said by Burl Ives, no less). These lines were all delivered with great relish.
However, the loving detail paid to these Victorian trappings adds a poignant air to it all. In the various elaborate scenes, they went to a lot of trouble to depict many different aspects of this British world in the 1890s. A British club, a Welsh village home, a picnic spread, local parades, and so on. The filmmakers seem to be saying, "Surely, it was a good thing while it lasted, even though we laugh at it now".
In addition to the British self-mockery, foreigners are treated with disdain. The Americans are hucksters and pretty-boy astronauts. The French are flighty and unfaithful (but look good). The Russian is an inept spy lurking in the bushes who tries to ruin everything. The German is a mad scientist. All this is pure 1960s.
Miscast Burl Ives isn't convincing as a fraudster; he plays himself: portly, amiable and handsome. Troy Donohue (at this point well into his personal and professional decline) delivers his lines with earnest woodenness. He wasn't gay, but it's hard not to snicker when Madeline cries out, "I love you, Gaylord I love you, Henri". At points like this, the film becomes a "Carry On" farce.
British comedians Terry-Thomas and Lionel Jeffries were an amusing pair. Jeffries in particular -- playing a bitter, eccentric engineer -- gets to sink his teeth into some juicy lines. By the second half they had become the villains, and played it to the hilt.
It is somewhat of a rambling, disjointed movie that revolves around set-piece scenes rather than a coherent plot. There are quite a few scenes that add nothing to plot development. We spend a full five minutes, for example, watching a nervous 19th century British artillery crew prepare to fire a dangerous cannon. (Explosions gone wrong are an important theme in the movie.) Another five minutes was devoted to a chase scene involving a Frenchwoman on a penny farthing bicycle. (The filmmakers had a genuine "gas carriage" as a prop, so they made full use of it.)
"Rocket to the Moon" is a silly movie that has not stood the test of time. However, it is witty and fun at times. If you like this sort of thing, you might enjoy this one.
This comedy features a delightful array of well-known British character
actors of the 1960's, including the lovely Terry-Thomas (well to the fore
this picture), the eccentric Lionel Jeffries, and the diminutive comic
Terry-Thomas is best remembered for his villainous roles in the films 'Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines' and 'Monte Carlo or Bust', two of the finest comedies of the period, in which his comic villain stole both pictures.
'Rocket to the Moon' is a film in a very similar vein. Terry-Thomas is once again playing a dastardly villain, who is frightfully English, don't-you-know? The plot is likewise a madcap costume romp, set decades earlier. And, like the other two pictures, it trades on the period charm of its historical setting - at one point the villainous Sir Harry (played by Terry-Thomas), refuels his gas-driven jalopy by stealing the gas from a Victorian street lamp.
The plan to send a rocket to the moon, in the name of Queen Victoria, manned by diminutive comic Jimmy Clitheroe, is entirely in keeping with the equally mad idea of flying an aeroplane from London to Paris in the earlier film, in which Terry-Thomas also played a dastardly, scheming and titled bounder.
'Rocket to the Moon' takes a step forward, as this time an American comedian is included in the cast, in the person of Burl Ives, as a scheming Yankee showman who wants only to make a fast buck out of the whole enterprise. This gives him rather an advantage over Tony Curtis, who had to play the role that he was given in 'Monte Carlo or Bust', as the sole American star, mostly straight, as romantic lead and chief fall-guy.
The first snag in the plan is that Lionel Jeffries' design for the moon rocket is an obvious damp squib. So Dennis Price kicks him off the project, and he teams up with the dastardly Sir Harry, in order to sabotage it. Sabotage is Terry-Thomas's main activity in both the other pictures, so he's well in character here.
As in both the other pictures, too, Gert Frobe appears in character, as the mad Prussian. This time he's invented a new explosive, one which he reckons will be capable of hurling the rocket up to the moon. But he and his assistants may perish in the attempt to test-fire it.
This is gentle comedy, with a whimsical edge. It's great fun, but it depends on an appreciation of the links between this picture and the other two - and on a liking for whimsical Sixties comedy.
A picture with the main aim of recruiting a tiny astronaut, because all that can be built is a tiny rocketship, is guaranteed to be fairly whimsical. Variety star Jimmy Clitheroe, best remembered today from his radio series 'The Clitheroe Kid', gives a splendidly comic performance as General Tom Thumb, an innocent who Burl Ives intends to "con" into the job of the astronaut.
This is a great film, drawing laughs equally from the slightly mad but lovable characters, the running gags with the two related pictures, and the snags that bedevil the moonship scheme itself. A picture featuring a character as eccentric as Jimmy Clitheroe the Kid Himself - how can it fail. Don't some mothers 'ave 'em?
Stephen Poppitt & Sandra Skuse
From exploitation writer-producer Harry Alan Towers comes this
curiously upmarket but essentially lowbrow comic adaptation of the
Jules Verne adventure "From The Earth To The Moon" already filmed
straight under that title in 1958, and which I also own recorded off
TCM U.K. For what it's worth, both versions managed to attract notable
actors to the fold: in this case, it's Burl Ives (as real-life showman
P.T. Barnum apparently, the role had first been offered to Bing
Crosby!), Gert Frobe (amusing as a German explosives expert), Dennis
Price, Lionel Jeffries (as a flustered engineer basically a variation
on his role in the superior FIRST MEN IN THE MOON ), Terry-Thomas
(as a vindictive financier and Jeffries' shady partner), not forgetting
Troy Donahue (unconvincing as an American scientist and made to don a
silly astro-nautical outfit more attuned to dystopian allegories!),
Daliah Lavi and Edward de Souza who supply the obligatory (and bland)
Whilst readily conceding that it doesn't have much of a reputation to begin with, the film itself proved a bit of a let-down for me especially since, unlike the earlier version, we never even get to go in outer-space!! Besides, the pace is inordinately slow for this type of film; director Sharp was clearly more adept at deploying atmosphere and suspense than at he was at comedy timing. That said, the first half is undeniably pleasant with the amusing trial-and-error experiments of the various people involved (often witnessed by a perpetually unperturbed Queen Victoria) and, later, Frobe's disastrous attempts to find the correct amount of Bulovite (his own invention) to fire the rocket (Donahue's design of which is favored over that of the more experienced, and consequently inflamed, Jeffries) all the way to the moon! Alas, the film's latter stages involving Jeffries and Terry-Thomas' attempts to sabotage the launching, Lavi's determination (after being abducted by them and escaping) to reach Donahue and alert him of their nefarious plan, and which also needlessly throw in a number of other characters (including even more romantic complications!) tend to fall flat; the finale, though, as the rocket actually does go off with Jeffries, Terry-Tomas and, unbeknownst to them, a Russian spy inside (and which rather than land on the moon as intended takes them all the way to Siberia!), is quite nicely done.
A measure of the film's overall failure can be gleaned from the fact that it was released in several quarters under a multitude of different titles, including THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS in the U.S. where it was marketed as a would-be follow-up to the highly successful epic spoof THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES (1965) which had also starred Terry-Thomas and Gert Frobe. Unfortunately, my viewing of the film was somewhat compromised by the faulty copy I acquired, with the audio being ever so slightly off, while the picture froze though not the soundtrack! for about 10 seconds half-way through!!
There is nothing wrong with 'Blast Off", if you are willing to travel back to Victorian England, and enjoy the era. The era of scientific wonder and adventure, is depicted quite nicely. What is not depicted quite nicely is any kind of cohesive story. Vascillating between science fiction, farce, and romance, gradually scrambles the story to the point of bewilderment. While things start off with master showman P.T. Barnum and his miniature sidekick Tom Thumb trying to stage one of their spectacular "events", the movie eventually deteriorates into slapstick. "Blast Off" does have a few moments of dark comedy intertwined with all the nonsense. "Don't they usually give medals after the return trip?" - MERK
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The transition of these movies is an odd mix to observe. Let's begin
with Around The World In 80 Days, decently done. Then Journey to the
Center of the Earth, also decently done, and the comedy relief goose is
From here, there are other movies, based on H.G. Wells or Jules Verne, and maybe even ERB.
Yes, Lionel Jeffries in the '64 Earth To the Moon is very good (rewatched it just this past weekend, after Chicken Run).
So where did the glitch emerge? Let's say Mad World ('63), said to be a spoof of the silent movie escapades, triggered it, but it wasn't in the Victorian era.
From here, we get efforts like The Great Race, Daring Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies, all which kind of miss and reflect more an idea of the '60s, namely parodying half a century earlier (for some odd reason).
What I can best say about this effort is Verne's book actually did not have the characters reach the moon and engage in adventures, so clearly someone thought this allowed space to fill.
Unfortunately, we receive these incredibly dull love interests.
The movie begins with some idea of Tom Thumb going up, and that is dropped very early on. Why include it then?
There will be plot changes throughout the entire film like this.
Many figures and characters are astonishingly unnecessary, such as the Hermione Gingold bit.
What makes this scornful dismissal so difficult was the intriguing bit of refueling a car by siphoning gas from a street lamp and a family's chandelier, and the automatic bullhorn that didn't work at all.
In the end, the movie doesn't stand as novel recreation, or a colorful depiction of a past era and is instead a head-scratcher about what was going on in the '60s in regards to the turn of the 19th century.
If you watch the dreadful FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON with Joseph Cotten, George Sanders and some dreadful special effects, this little film looks so much better. On it's own, it has it's own set of virtues and faults. Too silly and trite for some of the jokes (the climactic chase the with always delightful Deliah Levi and the villains) is clumsy, some of the jokes stupid. And like so many American International films, it wants to be better than it actually is. MASTER OF THE WORLD comes to mind. The virtues is that the British films of this period emulating Victorian England were very beautifully done. THE WRONG BOX and THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU come to mind. The music is a highlight and it is almost impossible to find, at times, a happier little film than this one is in spots. The ending is a perfect ending to a tale long known by Jules Verne fans. Compared to THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN and THE GREAT RACE, it comes of a poor second but still worth a viewing on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Pleasant.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A lot of people in Victorian dress fanny about while proposing to build
and send a rocket to the moon.
This film should be sued under the Trades Descriptions Act for several reasons.
One, the title sells it as Vernian science fiction: it isn't. Sending a rocket to the moon is the furthest thing from its tiny little mind.
Two, it is presented as a comedy: it isn't. That would require the script to be funny, an area in which it fails woefully.
I award it points for good period detail, and a great cast who do the best the can with the poor material they have been given, with the exceptions of Troy Donahue and Daliah (not Deliah) Lavi, who both manage to be worse than the script. No mean feat.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Plot summary||Ratings||External reviews|
|Plot keywords||Main details||Your user reviews|
|Your vote history|