Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon review – genial 60s British wacky-space-racers
There’s an serious outbreak of top hats and mutton chops in this amiable adaptation of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, originally released in 1967, when the real world was gearing up for the Apollo moonshot a couple of years later. Produced by the prolific Harry Towers, it adopted the rambling wacky-races format that had proved enduringly popular throughout the 1950s and 60s; most recently with the 1965 hit Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, which it shamelessly capitalised on with its US title (Those Fantastic Flying Fools) as well as redeplying the ubiquitous Terry-Thomas, who played yet another moustache-twirling cad.
Rocket to the Moon is watchable in a bored-Sunday-afternoon sort of way: it’s about whether an international consortium, led by Burl Ives (as Phineas T Barnum) and Dennis Price, can successfully build a giant cannon into the side of a mountain that can fire a human missile up to the moon, using a radical new form of gunpowder. Terry-Thomas is the chief meanie, with inventor brother-in-law Lionel Jeffries; Troy Donahue plays a dashing balloonist who lands in the middle of it all.
Conceived on a relatively large scale for a British film of the period, it’s hampered somewhat by the fact there is no actual race to speak of, as well as the necessity of expanding scenes for some of the actors to placate international financing. Some of the material, it’s safe to say, has not dated well: particularly the jokes at the expense of Tom Thumb (Jimmy Clitheroe), and the dumb-ditz scenes given to Israeli actor Daliah Lavi. There’s a certain steampunk energy on show but it’s otherwise pretty good-natured, offering the mostly undemanding spectacle of people falling off penny-farthing bicycles or crashing into haystacks. You couldn’t call any of this actually funny, but it’s pleasant enough.
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