From the mid-’50s well through to the ’60s there was a big craze for Jules Verne-themed films. The high water mark was undoubtably the Walt Disney production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and at a slightly less exalted point is the Best Picture winner of 1956, Around the World in 80 Days. If those are the pinnacles, the low point is this film, Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon. First, the film has next to nothing to do with Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon, second, they don’t actually go to the Moon.
The film is a really piss-poor farce written by Dave Freeman, who was best known for his work for The Benny Hill Show and a couple of the Carry On films. He also wrote an episode of The Avengers for the 6th season, a.k.a. the one after Diana Rigg left the series. Given the screenwriter, you would kind of known what you were likely to get some lame slapstick, although because it’s undeniably a kids’ films, Freeman’s trademark double entendres are toned down. The world of wondrous science fiction that Verne was known for is nowhere to be seen.
That absolute monster P.T. Barnum, here played by Burl Ives, is the main character. Barnum teams up with a wealthy Frenchman to send humans up to the Moon, but “hilarious hijinks,” spies, saboteurs, and so on make their plans go up in smoke. Tom Thumb, played by Jimmy Clitheroe, is also a part of the action. The film is nearly twohours long, and it drags like a motherfucker—I was bored senseless after about 30 minutes.
The most interesting aspect of the film is probably its producer, Harry Alan Towers. Towers was a P.T. Barnum type himself, an inveterate conman who would exploit any tax loophole or friendly dictator’s country to make his films. This was his biggest production, and like many of his projects it was based on pre-existing popular characters or books that just happened to have recently fallen into the public domain. Towers is best known for his Fu Manchu series with Christopher Lee. He also worked often with notorious sleaze maestro Jesús Franco, including the Christopher Lee Dracula film not released by Hammer. Rocket to the Moon‘s director Don Sharp is better known for his Hammer films, including Rasputin the Mad Monk, and the non-Hammer cult favourite Psychomania.
If you like farcical British comedies with anoverstuffed cast of multinational “stars,” including Troy Donahue, you might get some kicks out of it. I found it an unfunny snoozefest, and a disgrace to Jules Verne’s legacy… around the same time another Verne-themed film came out, Master of the World, which was an insanely flawed film but at least you got the impression that it was trying. The disc includes interviews with Kim Newman and Matthew Sweet, plus some archival silent footage from British Pathé, “On the set of Rocket to the Moon.”