Shitty Movie Sundays: Project Moonbase

Project Moonbase, the 1953 film from Lippert Pictures, is among the worst movies I’ve ever seen. That wouldn’t be surprising considering it’s from the Lippert stable, but this flick was written by Robert A. Heinlein, who used to hoover up Hugo Awards for his writing. Indeed, Heinlein threw in some smart stuff, but I’m not letting him off the hook for the rest of the garbage in this screenplay. Lest Heinlein take all the blame, Richard Talmadge was in the director’s chair, and he contributed much to this film’s failure.

It’s the future! 1970! Humankind is on its way to conquering the stars. But first, it must conquer the moon. An orbital mission of the moon is launched. Its objective is to survey the surface of the moon to locate suitable sites for a base. Leading the mission is Donna Martell as Colonel Briteis (pronounced ‘bright eyes’). Her second in command is Major Bill Moore (Ross Ford). Rounding out the crew is Dr. Wernher (Larry Johns), who is in charge of the actual surveying, as Briteis and Moore’s primary roles are as pilots.

Briteis may be commanding the mission, but this is a b-movie from the 1950s. While the filmmakers took the progressive step of making a woman the mission commander, they couldn’t quite escape the gender roles of the day. Briteis is whiny and emotional, and passes responsibility down to Major Moore with ease whenever it’s time for a man to make a decision. I’ve written many times in reviews about how it’s folly to impose changing social mores on the past, but this flick is outrageous. What a relic.

The mission would be going smoothly, but that would make for a more boring movie than viewers are already being subjected to, so there’s intrigue about. Dr. Wernher is an imposter. Early in the film, we see him being kidnapped and replaced by a shadowy Project Moonbasegroup of men who want to sabotage the moon mission. They are led by the evil Mr. Roundtree (Herb Jacobs). Jacobs’ performance was almost enough to make me quit this movie. This dog clocks in at 63 minutes, and Talmadge had trouble filling that out. One of his solutions seems to have been directing Jacobs to slow down his performance. He walks slow, he talks slow, and he drags the entire first act down with him. It’s quite a destructive performance.

After Briteis, Moore, and imitation Wernher make it to space, Wernher’s deadly scheme is uncovered, and Briteis and Moore must stop him to save the mission. I’m not going to spoil what happens, but the main plot of the film wraps up with a good fifteen minutes left in this flick. What comes next? A space romance, followed by space marriage, roll credits. No joke.

Project Moonbase is a pathetic movie. It’s about as cheap as cheap gets. The special effects are poor — about the same quality one would find in sci-fi serials of the day. The spaceship sets use corrugated fiber glass panels for walls. My great-grandmother had the same type of panels over her back porch. It’s not fit for space travel, but just right for a Lippert flick. Then there are the uniforms of the space service. T-shirts, cotton skull caps, and khaki shorts. Short khaki shorts, even on the men. Must be warm in space.

Despite the cheap trappings, there is some neat stuff going on. There’s a sequence aboard a space station where the film acknowledges the microgravity of orbital space. The characters use magnetic or sticky shoes of some sort to walk around the space station, so the cast shuffles along accordingly. Also, Talmadge used split screens to show one set of actors walking on ceiling or walls and one set on the floor. It’s pretty innovative for the time, presaging Kubrick’s later work in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I doubt there are many Lippert flicks out there that could lay any claim to innovation, but this film can.

Other than that little bit of film trickery, though, there is nothing else worth watching. Project Moonbase is a slog of a shitty movie, managing to make its short running time feel much longer. This one falls far down the Watchability Index, landing between Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and the 2002 remake of Rollberball. Stay away.

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