25 June 2006 | k_t_t2001
An entertaining meeting of the Victorian era and the swinging sixties
JULES VERNE'S ROCKET TO THE MOON is immediately misleading on two out of three points. Firstly, as the opening credits swiftly admit, while the plot is inspired by the general writings of Verne, it is not in fact based on any particular story that he actually wrote, which makes the attribution somewhat spurious. Secondly, while there is a rocket in the film, it becomes increasingly apparent as the movie progresses that it is in no actual danger of going anywhere near the moon.
Having cleared up the situation with the misleading title, one can sit back and enjoy an amusing romp that, despite its Victorian setting, is unique to the films produced in the swinging sixties. The typically contrived plot concerns a suddenly bankrupt Phineas T. Barnum (Burl Ives) making an escape from his creditors to England, where he becomes the prime mover in a plan to launch a rocket to the moon. On the side of the angels are a German explosives expert (Gert Fröbe), an idealistic young American (Troy Donahue) with a revolutionary rocket design and the well intentioned Duke of Barset (Dennis Price). Up to no good are an unscrupulous financier (Terry Thomas), an egotistical engineer (Lionel Jeffries) and a Russian spy (Joachim Teege). In characteristic fashion, it is around the central framework of the plot that all the amusing vignettes of the film are built. Terry Thomas' "economical" motor car, and Gert Fröbe's explosive experiments to find the right amount of lift to get the rocket into space are two humorous recurring bits.
The film boasts another trademark of films of this era: a large cast filled with familiar faces. Gert Fröbe is great fun in his role as the fireproof Professor Von Bulow. Burl Ives, Terry Thomas and Lionel Jeffries also deliver the goods with their performances, though to be fair, their roles really require them to do little more than play upon already well established screen personas. The gorgeous Daliah Lavi is, well, gorgeous, as the female lead, which is pretty much all her part really calls for. Hermione Gingold, who amazingly is billed fourth in the credits, barely has time to deliver a performance in her five minutes on screen.
Dennis Price is fine in a part that has a fair amount of screen time, but really doesn't require him to do much. Seeing Price in such undemanding roles is always a little sad when one remembers his brilliant turn in KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS. However Price's performance in ROCKET TO THE MOON is positively dynamic when compared to that of his American co-star, and supposedly the film's leading man, Troy Donahue. Donahue is one of the many handsome Hollywood hunks of the era, who looked great, but couldn't act their way out of a paper bag and he brings exactly that level of skill to his performance here. When surrounded by such a colourful cast it becomes painfully apparent just how out of his depth Donahue is.
JULES VERNE'S ROCKET TO THE MOON is occasionally laugh out loud funny, but mainly delivers grins, smirks and guffaws. Unlike such similar and overlong fare as THE GREAT RACE, THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES or AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, it keeps itself brief, does not wear out its welcome and makes for an ideal film to watch on a Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately, ROCKET TO THE MOON has been released in America on home video in only in pan and scan in a long out of print VHS release (under the ridiculous title THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS). It is available in the UK in a quite acceptable 2.35:1 widescreen DVD release.