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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.
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