(aka, Blast Off, Rocket to the Moon)
It’s never clear where they came from, of course. They just sort of happen.
Look at the film industry in the Sixties. There were a lot of comedies out there like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World which had a cast jammed full of well known actors and comedians.
But a strange mutation happened with this trend — perhaps when Tony Curtis starred in The Great Race — and we got a string of period films where our crew of familiar faces are all caught up in a big race involving state of the (late-Nineteenth, early Twentieth Century) art machines: movies like The Great Race, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, and Those Daring Young Men in their Jaunty Jalopies.
Of course, Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon also touches on another strange cinematic trend which is still with us today: Jules Verne adaptations never ever have much to do with the novels which supposedly inspired them.
Although, to be fair, most Jules Verne adaptations have more to do with Verne than this film does.
Well…except perhaps that 1958 version of From the Earth to the Moon. It’s really hard to top that one. Even if it did borrow a few names from the original novel.
The Victorian age was littered with brilliant men attempting all sorts of remarkable new things, like wiring their houses for electric lights or building suspension bridges.
Mind you, not all of them worked.
But when P.T. Barnum (Burl Ives) runs into some…temporary embarrassments, shall we say, in the United States, he decides it would be a good time to visit England, where he gets invited to a major scientific conference and sells them on funding a mad German scientist’s proposed trip to the moon.
Barnum plans to send the midget Tom Thumb to the moon, although he hasn’t bothered to tell Tom about it, but, fortunately for Tom, a rocket expert from the United States demands that he pilot the craft instead.
Unfortunately, they don’t realize that a pair of scoundrels are trying to get rich off the project (even though one of them is played by Terry-Thomas. That should be a dead giveaway).
As always with these productions, the cast is a good part of the fun, which in this case includes Lionel Jeffries as Terry Thomas’ partner in crime, Dennis Price as the science-mad Duke of Barset, and Gert Frobe as the explosives expert blithely destroying everything in his path in his quest for the perfect explosive.
Oh, and the rather blank Troy Donahue (one of the two main inspirations for The Simpsons‘ Troy McClure) as the hero, who comes complete with a remarkable snarl of tangled romances.
But the movie is never quite as much fun as it wants to be. There is some genuinely funny material here — like Terry Thomas running his car on stolen street light gas — and the film is amusing and entertaining throughout — but it is more of a series of chuckles than non-stop belly laughs.
I suppose that’s why this one generally gets such a low rating from most critics. After all, we’re talking about a colorful and generally impressive production, with a solid cast, a series of witty and inventive steam punk machines, and a lush and well-realized version of Victorian England.
It’s just not as funny as it should be.
But to be honest, that was often true of these films, despite plenty of entertaining slapstick humor and a load of great comic actors.
As usual, the secret is low expectations. If you go in expecting an amusing, wacky — but not outrageously funny — ensemble comedy, you will probably find this one worth a watch.
After all, Terry-Thomas at his wicked scoundrel best is always worth watching.
Just don’t expect it to have much to do with Jules Verne.
After all, it is a Jules Verne movie…