Directed By: Nathan Juran
Starring: Edward Judd, Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries
Tag line: "H.G. Wells' Astounding Adventure in Dynamation!"
Trivia: This is the only one of Ray Harryhausen's films to be shot in Anamorphic Widescreen
A modern-day lunar landing sees mankind walking on the moon for what most believe is the first time in its history. While out exploring, however, the astronauts make a startling discovery, one suggesting a previous landing had occurred in the latter part of the 19th century! After reviewing the evidence, a team of researchers back on earth tracks down Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd), who'd participated in this earliest of moonshots. Bedford proceeds to tell them the entire story, how scientist and inventor Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) had concocted a liquid-based formula that defied gravity, which he then used to shuttle the two of them, along with Bedford’s fiancée Kate Callender (Martha Hyer), to the moon. Even more amazing is Bedford’s assertion that, while there, they encountered a hostile alien civilization hidden deep beneath the lunar surface, a race of creatures that, if still alive, could spell danger for the astronauts currently there.
It’s easy to scoff at the 'science’ of First Men in the Moon, from the very discovery that inspires its expedition (a solution cutting off gravity’s pull) to finding ‘pockets of oxygen’ on the moon’s surface. Of course, it all seems silly now, but First Men in the Moon does offer something beyond what was found in the standard sci-fi fare of its day, and that “something” is H.G. Wells. As in the excellent 1960 film, The Time Machine, which was also based on a Wells work, First Men in the Moon injects a dose of Victorian England into its incredible story of interstellar travel and alien creatures. Think Flash Gordon crossed with Charles Dickens. For example, even though he's on a spaceship that's hurtling through space, Bedford still finds time to remain presentable by shaving. And then there are the modest picnic baskets, which have been stowed away in the hold, to ensure they have a nutritious meal while out exploring the moon. No matter how incredible the situation, its all presented within the confines of proper British society.
Our knowledge of space has advanced significantly since First Men in the Moon was produced in 1964, further still from 1901, when Wells first wrote this story. But I'm not convinced these advancements, even if they were known at the time, would've made the slightest difference to either Wells or the filmmakers. As I touched on in my review of 1962's Journey to the Seventh Planet, the magic of a story like First Men in the Moon lies in the fact that, at the time it was conceived, outer space was a vast, intimidating unknown, where the laws of physics were left to the creative minds who conceived them. Such a quality defines these tales as works of entertainment, not science, and should be praised for their vast, uninhibited imagination.