Woman In The Moon

Woman In The Moon (1929) was the third movie on NASA’s best sci-fi movie list that I hadn’t seen. The other two were Metropolis (1927 ) and The Thing from Another World (1951).

“The Thing from Another World” was a basic “being who is intelligent enough to fly an interstellar space craft crashes in a remote location and acts like a monster” movie.  I *think* it may have been the first of the genre. It was more intelligent than similar movies, but since so many movies have been similar and have built on that theme I found the movie flat. I did find it interesting that the girlfriend of the pilot in the movie had a drinking game where she tied his hands up as part of the game.  I didn’t think people in the 50’s were into “that sort of thing”. Ahem!

“Woman In The Moon”, like “Metropolis” was also a Fritz Lang silent film.  Despite being nearly 3 hours long I found it to be much more interesting than “Metropolis”. The story had more going on.  It was about more than just a ride to the moon. First there is the elderly professor whose career was ruined in his youth ( the 19th century ) by advocating his theory that the moon has large amounts of gold in it. Living in abject poverty, he is visited by a wealthy young friend who comes to tell him that he is going to pilot the almost complete space ship his company is making. A secret consortium of 5 people who control the world’s gold reserves don’t like the idea of this mission.  They like controlling all of the gold reserves in the world.   Interestingly, one of these 5 powerful conspirators is a woman. How progressive for 1929!

What follows is a cloak and dagger story of intrigue eventually ending in blackmail. Helius, the owner of the space ship company, is forced to take a representative of the gold consortium with him on his mission. This story also intersects with the conflict of a love triangle between Helius, his business partner and his best friend’s fiancée. All of these people, plus a stowaway end up on the first mission to the moon.

“Woman In The Moon”, like many science fiction stories has the idea of fantastic technology *just* beyond the grasp of the present day. Over time this sort of device horribly dates a science fiction story with less forgiving sci-fi fans and gives it a campy charm to the forgiving ones.   In Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” creating life was just around the corner for 19th century chemistry. In H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Doctor Moreau” 19th century surgical skills, hypnosis and behavioral conditioning were only waiting for a talented scientist to find a way to use them to turn animals into intelligent proto-people. The first moon landing was only 38 years after “Woman In The Moon”, but watching the movie the gulf felt longer. It was another era. World War II hadn’t even happened yet. The characters drove to the rocket in 1930’s style cars. They wore neckties and bulky sweaters as their uniforms.   Yet, these things do not make “Woman In The Moon” feel amusingly dated.

Special effects were not a problem. As the producers of Star Trek and Dr. Who have proved, good stories, good scripts and good acting more than make up for special effects.  In the case of “Woman In The Moon”, these things also make up for a mismatch between the technology required of the story and the of the state of the art technology of the era the story was set in.

“Woman In The Moon” ends up having an extra appeal for being an ancient movie,  a transmission from another time and another world.  The background music also  really helps give the viewer a sense of drama.  The styles of the time were interesting too.   All of the actors wore huge amounts of makeup.  I had trouble deciding if the gauchos that both the villain and the heroine wore were stylish rather than goofy looking.  The same with the men’s haircuts.   There was something  oddly interesting about the villain’s short hair cut with very long, wet-look, slicked backed bangs.   I wouldn’t want to try it myself though :).




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