The First Men in the Moon, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and Journey to the Far Side of the Sun are three 1960s space movies. They all involve aliens. They space journeys are inside the inner solar system. They represent 3 different approaches to space science fiction. This article contains spoilers for these movies.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars
This 1964 movie is the story of Robinson Crusoe in a space age setting, Mars. Commander Christopher ‘Kit’ Draper (Paul Mantee) and Colonel Dan McReady (Adam West) are on an orbital mission to Mars. They also have a monkey with them for animal experiments. They maneuver to avoid a meteor but put their ship in a descending orbit. Unable to put their ship in a stable orbit they abandon their space ship in two separate capsules. Draper crash lands on Mars and can’t contact McReady or Earth. He learns he can survive on the Mars air for a short time before he needs to breathe from his oxygen tank. When he finds the other space capsule he finds McReady dead. The monkey survived. When he runs out of oxygen he learns some rocks he was burning for heat also give off oxygen when they burn. When the water supply is almost exhausted he finds the water and food supply the monkey was using. While exploring the planet he finds humanoid bones. He concludes the being was murdered. As a precaution he sends a destruct signal to the mother ship and hides all trace of his being there. Soon alien space ships appear and bombard the area with ray guns. During the bombardment an alien appears. He is human. Draper named him Friday (Victor Lundin), after the character in the book Robinson Crusoe. Draper concluded, correctly, Friday was an escaped slave. The aliens who held him captive were also human. Friday appeared on Draper’s 147th day on Mars, and about 1 hour into the movie. Friday is from, Alnilam, the center star in the belt of Orion and 1,340 light years from Earth[i]. Friday had been a slave since he was 16 years old. He appeared to be in his mid-30s but was 78 years old. The aliens killed their slaves after they finished using them to extract ore. The aliens persisted in their attempts to kill Friday by space bombardment. They could track Friday by his bracelets. Draper eventually cut the bracelets off by using a wire for a wire saw. Draper and Friday, and the monkey, made their way to the Martian polar ice caps. Then a space ship showed up on Draper’s portable radar set. This space ship was a rescue ship for Draper.
The movie cost about $1.2 million to make. The movie wasn’t a box office success. The original plan was to make Friday look like an alien. The producers decided against the idea to keep the budget down.[ii] It may have been to the movie’s advantage since the movie would have spent time highlighting Friday’s non-human characteristics. As with many space movies of the era much of the movie was a travelogue of space travel and Mars. Unlike most such movies there was never any direct confrontation with the bad aliens.
[i] Constellation Guide, Orion’s Belt (http://www.constellation-guide.com/orions-belt/) last accessed April 16, 2016.
[ii] U.S. Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058530/?ref_=nv_sr_3 ) last accessed April 3, 2016.
Journey to the Far Side of the Sun
Originally titled Doppelgänger, this 1969 movie is about a planet in synchronous orbit with the Earth. The sun obscures the planet from earthbound observers. The movie is set in the 21st century. The European Space Agency discovered this planet on the far side of the sun. Jason Webb (Patrick Wymark) wants to send a space ship to explore the planet. He is also aware of an agency security leak. The prime suspect is Doctor Hassler (Herbert Lom). Jason Webb gives Doctor Hassler access to the information about the new planet. He instructs Mark Neuman (George Sewell) if their suspicions about Doctor Hassler are correct he didn’t want a trial. Mark Neuman catches Doctor Hassler red handed and summarily executes him.
Jason Webb needs 1 billion dollars for the mission. There is a reluctance to spend that much money on the mission. Jason Webb manages to get the project funded. The space ship has a crew of 2. Colonel Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes) is an experienced astronaut. His marriage is in its final stages. His wife Sharon (Lynn Loring) blames him for their not having any children. She challenges his manhood by telling him; “You went up there (into space) a man, you came back half a man.” Glenn showed her the birth control pills she has been using and retorts; “Maybe this is why we’re not having any kids!” When Sharon leaves him Lisa Hartmann (Loni von Friedl) is waiting in the wings. Scientist John Kane (Ian Hendry) wants to go on the mission. Despite the reluctance of Jason Webb and Colonel Ross’s objections Kane goes on the mission. It will take 3 weeks to get to the other planet. Ross and Kane are put in suspended animation for the trip and should go into suspended animation for the trip back. When they arrive at the other planet they descend in a landing module.
They crash land onto the planet. Kane is badly injured. Ross finds himself face to face with a bug eyed monster that is speaking in an alien language. It turns out it was a helmet wearing crewman in a Chinese rescue helicopter. Kane dies and Ross is sent back to Great Britain. He gets a hostile reception. He was only gone 3 weeks. It was obvious his space ship turned around. Jason Webb and the others accused Colonel Ross of turning the space ship around and sabotaging the mission. After he observes a couple of oddities he realizes he reached the planet on the far side of the sun. This world is a doppelganger of the earth. It is a mirror image of the earth. According to this movie’s premise in this doppelganger world your doppelganger is also reading this article only your doppelganger is reading the article from right to left. Ross reported his observations and conclusion. There was initial disbelief but Kane’s autopsy revealed Kane’s organs were on the reverse side. The space agency arranges for another mission. Jason Webb asks Colonel Ross about electrical polarity. It seemed logical to Colonel Ross electrical polarity should also be reversed. Colonel Ross was sent up in a take-off and landing module to link with the command module for the return to his Earth.
When Colonel Ross attempted to link up with the command module he learned electrical polarity wasn’t reversed. This mistake sent the landing module back to the space complex. The ensuing crash destroyed the complex. Jason Webb, the sole, and badly wounded, ends up in an insane asylum.
Roy Thinnes was ideal for the part of Colonel Ross. He had recently starred as David Vincent in the television series “The Invaders”. His character was also in the position of telling an unbelievable truth. Attack of the Monsters was another 1969 release. It also used the premise of a world in synchronous orbit with the Earth.
The First Men in the Moon
This 1964 movie is based on the H.G. Wells story. It begins in the near future, for 1964. The first lunar expedition is underway. The space ship has an international crew. The expedition’s lunar module departs from the command module, similar to the Apollo lunar missions. Sergeant Andrew Martin (Gordon Robinson) steps on the moon and there are news announcements and celebration of the first men on the moon. While the astronauts were exploring Soviet Cosmonaut Nevsky (John Murray Scott) found a small English flag with a piece of paper claiming the moon. The discovery sparked an investigation on earth.
The search led to Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd) who lived in a nursing home. When they informed him of the moon landing and what they found he warned the astronauts were in grave danger. Then the story flashes back to 1899.
At this point the movie switched from Science Fiction to a Science Fiction Comedy. Arnold Bedford takes Kate Callender (Martha Hyer) down a country road. They reach a cottage that is near a large house. They appear to be a newlywed or a soon to be wed couple. Arnold steps away from Kate for a short time. Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) rushes to Kate. He explains to her they can’t live there because of his experiments. He offers to buy the cottage for a generous sum. Kate agrees and Cavor rushes back to his house. When Arnold comes back she tells him someone wants to buy the cottage. When she point s out who wants to buy it he believes, correctly, the man is neurotic. Arnold goes over the house to explain he can’t sell the cottage. Cavor demonstrates his chemical compound he named “Cavorite.” Cavorite is an anti-gravity compound. Arnold immediately sees it as a possible money making venture and wants to team up with Cavor. Cavor wants to use his compound to travel to the moon. The theory is simple. A space craft with Cavorite painted shades would use the Cavorite to repel the Earth’s gravity and with proper manipulation the Moon’s gravity would pull the space craft to it. Arnold goes along with the plan and goes about getting money for the venture. He makes up a story for Kate so she signs her name to everything. Cavor has problems with the men he employed to help him with the project. The head of the workers, Gibbs (Erik Chitty), and the rest of the crew have no interest in the project or in doing their job. Cavor’s repeated calls of “Gibbs, Gibbs!” added to the movie’s comedy. When Kate learned of the plans she, understandably, considered the idea crazy. Knowing Arnold was going on the expedition anyway she tried to help by bringing some things for the journey. These included some chickens and an elephant gun. Cavor, who didn’t like chickens, explained what she brought had no use for the journey to the moon. Kate snuck the chickens and the items on board anyway.
Cavor and Arnold were making preparations for takeoff at the same time Kate learned the papers she signed made her legally liable for Arnold’s illegal transactions. Kate ran over to the space craft and pounded on the hatch demanding Arnold come out. Arnold opened the hatch and pulled Kate in just before the space craft blasted off.
Being forced to go into space is another big reason for Kate to be angry. When Cavor calls her Mrs. Bedford she angrily tells him to stop calling her that because they are not married. The surprised Cavor tells her to “kindly leave the room.” Cavor and Arnold are amazed at the view from the space craft. Kate opens a shade to take a look. The shade, coated with Cavorite, sends the craft towards the sun. Cavor makes the correct shade manipulation to steer the craft around the sun. While Cavor is sleeping Kate takes out the chickens from the supply hold. Arnold is pleased he can have fresh eggs. When Cavor wakes he isn’t happy. The space ship, which has a spherical shape, tumbles onto the moon. Cavor dictates while Kate writes down his statement. When Cavor came to the point of saying, “The year of Our Lord…” he had to ask what year it was. When Kate attempted to give Arnold the elephant gun Cavor told her, “The chances of bagging an elephant on the moon are extremely remote.” Cavor and Arnold put on their diving suits and stepped onto the moon. After they planted the note and flag they made a series of jumps on the moon. This was consistent with how many people in 1964 thought a moon walk would be. Bruce and Cavor fell through a crystal like formation. In the process Bruce lost his helmet. They found in the moon there was oxygen. They were inside a deep cavern. They managed to find the helmet but a creature, they would later learn call themselves Selenites, sees them. The Selenite is joined by a few other Selenites. The Selenites have some ant like features. The Selenites are armed with spears. The Selenites take Bruce and Cavor to the edge of a cliff that has a lava river at the bottom. A stone bridge lowers from the cave’s wall. Arnold attacks the Selenites. He knocks a couple of them into the lava and the rest run off. When they make their way back to the surface they find the space ship has been moved. They follow the tracks to a large metal door. They open the door and make their way through the caverns. A giant caterpillar sees them. The Selenites use what appears to be an electrical type weapon to kill the caterpillar. They capture Cavor and strip the caterpillar to its bones. The Selenites are also busy taking the space ship apart. Cavor and Kate are Selenite prisoners.
The Selenites take Cavor to their leader. While the Selenites are away Arnold and Kate put the space ship back together. When they finish putting the space ship together Arnold takes the elephant gun and goes for Cavor. The Selenite leader asks Cavor many questions about Earth. It is obvious the Selenite leader has no intention of letting them return to Earth. Arnold takes a reluctant Cavor away and to the space ship. The Selenites are in hot pursuit. Cavor refuses to go back to Earth because he wants to communicate with the Selenites. Arnold and Kate take off.
The flashback ends and Arnold explains they landed in the ocean and they had no way of proving their story. The television shows a live feed from the moon. The astronauts are going to the same place where he, Cavor, and Kate went. The area crumbles and the astronauts have to make a quick escape. The announcer explains there was a civilization there but it is now extinct. The announcer speculates on what could have wiped out the civilization. Could it have been disease? Arnold chuckles as he remarks “Poor Cavor! He did have such a terrible cold.” He looks at the moon through a telescope.
Most of the humor is the dry humor the British were famous for at the time. The film had Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation. This included a scene where the view of Kate went between a normal view and an X-Ray view of her. The sets were more elaborate than most outer space sets of the day. The abandonment of real science, such as the space sphere on a path to the moon almost crashing into the sun in a matter of seconds, would disappoint anyone who is looking for serious science fiction.
Robert Sacchi (author) on September 21, 2020:
Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, I am a big fan of science fiction from that era. I saw "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" and "The First Men in the Moon" when they were released in the theaters.
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 21, 2020:
Ah you're hit on one of my passions, early science fiction movies. I'm not sure how many I own but it's an awful lot of them. I'm glad that you like them too.
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 12, 2016:
Yes, of the three The First Men in The Moon is probably the best known. It was on TCM about 2 years ago. I haven't seen the others on TV in years.
C E Clark from North Texas on July 12, 2016:
Never saw any of these, but I used to love anything on this subject.
Robert Sacchi (author) on April 21, 2016:
Yes, I also love to watch the old science fiction movies. There is something about watching an old science fiction movie on a Friday or Saturday night.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 21, 2016:
It was fun reading about these 3 space movies. My youngest brother and I were the science fiction lovers in our home. The old ones look often look funny today.
Robert Sacchi (author) on April 17, 2016:
Thank you. I'll definitely keep that in mind.
Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on April 17, 2016:
Interesting, but this piece could use more opinion and a spoiler alert notice if you're going to tell so much.