Based closely on the Robert Heinlein novel, "Rocketship Galileo," this film was one of the first sci-fi productions to accurately portray, through detailed technical data, the process of space travel.
Starring John Archer, Warner Anderson, Tom Powers, Dick Wesson, Erin O’Brien Moore, Grace Stafford, and Irving Pichel. Directed by Irving Pichel.
Destination Moon Full Feature
Producer George Pal assembled an impressive roster of behind-the-camera talent — including noted science fiction author Robert Heinlein and artist Chelsey Bonestell — for this pioneering sci-fi adventure. Scientist Dr. Charles Cargraves (Warner Anderson), former Air Force General Thayer (Tom Powers), and industrial tycoon Jim Barnes (John Archer) believe that it’s time that the U.S. blazed new trails and found new adventures. Convinced that exploration of space is the wave of the future (and that America’s dominance in space is vitally important if they are to continue to dominate the Earth), the three men begin planning and constructing a spaceship called "Luna" in the Mojave Desert that will take the men to the moon and back. However, anti-American forces begin flooding the press with propaganda against the moon mission, and finally the men make their way to moon without the aid of the federal government. While the men are thrilled to succeed in their mission, it turns out that they miscalculated the amount of fuel needed to return — and that the rocket needs to drop a lot of weight if it is to return to Earth. Destination Moon won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects of 1950; the film also features a brief appearance by cartoon favorite Woody Woodpecker, who helps explain how rockets work.
Destination Moon isn’t technically a B-movie. It was in color and it won an Oscar. But it’s a worthwhile starting point for a trek through 50s B movies because it was one of the first 50s science fiction flicks — a topic which the B-movie industry jumped into with gusto. Unlike a lot of later movies, Destination Moon has no monsters or alien civilizations. Instead, it presents a fairly serious story of a manned expedition to the moon.
A rocket into space was not new to movie screens — Flash Gordon had been rocketing around since the 1930s — but Destination Moon was the "Star Wars" wow-movie that really touched off a decade of space-themed science fiction movies. Sure, the pacing is slow by modern tastes, and the special effects are hardly special by today’s standards, but set all that modernist elitism aside. Destination Moon is fun to watch for knowing that it was the Star Wars of its day.
Private industry moguls decide that men must reach the moon as soon as possible. They build a rocket which does, indeed, make it to the moon. Due to landing trouble, the crew burn too much fuel to take off from the moon and return. After lightening the ship of all non-essentials, the ship is still 160 pounds overweight. One of the crew must stay behind. With some ingenuity and desperation, everyone does blast off for the return to earth.
Like a great many 50s sci-fi films, anxiety over the Soviets and nuclear war is woven into the plot. When several industrialists question the need to risk their millions on the outlandish moon project, the General Thayer character says: "We’re not the only ones planning to go there. The race is on! And we’d better win it, because there is absolutely no way to stop an attack from outer space. The first country that can use the moon for the launching of missiles will control the earth."
Even though those sinister "others" are never mentioned again during the movie, the urgency driving the whole plot is the space race to beat the Soviets for national security reasons! — ten years before that actual race really started.
Destination Moon is quite naive on what it really took to get men on the moon. (A dozen industrialists build a rocket within one year, and launch a crew to the moon on their first shot.) But in 1950, just five years after the end of WWII, audiences didn’t know all that. Destination Moon showcases American optimism about the future in space. Some industrialists’ deep pockets, a few clever engineers with slide rules and some talented aircraft workers can get the job done! You have to admire their spunk.