Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Project Moon Base


This incredible piece of crap is usually billed as the “sequel” to Destination Moon (1950), commonly agreed to be the first SF movie that tried to get the science right … but it doesn’t make sense. Both were co-scripted by Robert A Heinlein, but there the resemblance ends. In DM they land on the moon and return. In PMB, which takes place in the far future of 1970, there is a space station, but nobody has landed on the moon yet. This is a sequel?

I saw DM years ago, and my recollection is not very kind. I know that I appreciated it as a piece of film history, and I am very glad that the people behind it did their best to make it as accurate as the science of the day could deliver. Those people included Heinlein, producer George Pál, German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth, and painter Chesley Bonestell. It had a big budget for its day, and it was very popular, sold a lot of tickets. I also recall it as deadly dull, for the most part. (I’m going to see it again soon to see if my memory is accurate.)

No need to mince words here. This movie is just plain awful, from any standpoint you want to look at it. The script was originally to be a 30-minute pilot for a TV show, but the piece-of-shit producer, Jack Seaman, re-wrote it without Heinlein’s knowledge, expanding it into one of the worst movies ever made. As you might imagine, Heinlein was pissed. Still, I’m afraid Heinlein’s fingerprints are still all over it. I feel quite sure the basic story was his. There are just too many elements that appear in his other work of this time. There is the vast network of communist agents in the US, to the point that they are able to find doubles for 300 scientists and be ready to replace any one of them with agents either indoctrinated or held hostage by threats to family members. Heinlein, along with so many others in the McCarthy era, had a major bug up his ass about communist agents in America, when in reality the CPUSA was always a pitiful thing, with more FBI agents in its ranks than actual Party members. There are turns of phrase that Heinlein used frequently. (“Don’t get shirty.” I was never quite sure what that means.)

And most of all, there is his attitude toward women, which has bedeviled me for years. On the one hand, Heinlein has gotten a bad rap when people say he was sexist. Believe me, most writers of that era were much worse than anything he wrote. He frequently featured women in roles of power, as here, when the president of the United States is revealed to be a woman. (This was obviously meant to be a surprise, a shock, and it probably was.) On the other hand, almost every Heinlein female I can think of is pathetically eager to give up everything she has accomplished and become a baby-making machine. I can’t count the times a male character in an RAH story has threatened to put a female character over his knee and spank her, as he does here.

All of the characters come ready-made to plug into their roles. There is the evil commie saboteur and several of his sidekicks. There are a couple of generals, indistinguishable from each other. There is Major Bill Moore, who was to command a trip around the moon … until political pressure from the president replaces him with … a woman! Who outranks him!

Aside from the president, who appears only at the end, there are two female characters here. The first is a standard-issue Heinlein stupid society dame, posing here as a reporter. Her silliness must be seen to be disbelieved. The other female is Colonel Briteis (pronounced “Bright-eyes”), a real snooty bitch. She was chosen for the first orbital flight because she weighs 90 pounds, and thus doesn’t deserve her public heroine status any more than Enos the Chimp did, but her ego swells to feel she’s entitled to it anyway. She is insubordinate in a female-entitlement way, talking back to the general in a way no real military person would dare. Only slightly less annoying is Major Bill. In fact, everybody in this movie is annoying.

The ending is so far beyond ludicrous … okay, I know that the idea of a single man and a single women together, unchaperoned, was very disturbing in 1953. A girl has her reputation to think of. I get that. So when the saboteur dies and Bill and Bright-eyes are left alone on the moon, what is the logical thing, the only thing to do? Why, the president pretty much insists that they get married. This in spite of the fact that they’ve been sniping at each other for 60 minutes. (The only good thing about this movie is that it’s short, only 63 minutes of agony.) Of course it turns out they were sweeties before her flight and subsequent swelled head … Marriage is another frequent Heinlein trope. Okay, that’s the social milieu he grew up in, but it clunks badly, even in a 1953 movie.

Just about everything else in the movie is almost as silly as Nude on the Moon, which I actually enjoyed more because it aspired to nothing but showing tits and ass and I didn’t feel bad laughing at it. Colonel Bright-Eyes has those alarming 1950s’ breasts, held in place by an industrial-strength bra and looking like they ought to be chrome-plated and put on the bumper of a 1955 Buick. The model work is awful. One plot point is that a radio relay has to be put in place eleven miles from the ship sitting on the moon, and they have four hours of air in their suits. So Bill and Commie Rat-Bastard set off … at a pace so plodding that they’d be dead before they moved 100 yards. But I’ve saved the worst for last. Their spaceman uniforms … god help us, they wear felt hats that make them look like Peter Pan pixies, and short shorts. You just have to laugh every time you see them.

Everything here is done so cheaply and shoddily that I know Heinlein must have cringed to see it … but he really was at least partly to blame. I can say this, because I accept full responsibility for another piece of crap 36 years later: Millennium.