“In 1948, the Secretary of Defense proposed that the United States build a space station as a military guardian of the sky.”
— From the film, according to the words of James Forrestal, the First Secretary of Defense, under President Harry Truman
“Today, I’m thrilled to sign a new order taking the next step to create the United States Space Force.”
— President Donald J. Trump, February 2019
Robert A. Heinlein, the “dean of science fiction writers,” may have penned the short story and adapted-to-screenplay, and ex-Douglas Fairbanks stuntman-turned actor Richard Talmadge may have come to second-unit direct on the classics Casino Royale, How the West Was Won, and The Greatest Story Ever Told, but they’re either two of Hollywood’s most blatant sexists or producer (on his final film) Jack Seaman creatively-overruled the production. Or studio chief Robert Lippert — whose Lippert Pictures gave us the superior Rocketship X-M (1950) (that Hollywood has been trying to remake for years) — saw Heinlein’s future world of women running space stations and moon bases as poppycock. The Bechtel Test scene-failures of Generals threatening over-the-knee spankings to female officers, mansplaining spaceflight to a female gossip columnist (instead of Hedda Hopper, we get the offensive Polly Prattles . . . women “prattle,” ha-ha), and offhand commenting on Ms. Praddle’s wide girth, that “it costs the government $300-a-pound to send anything into space and everything must weigh under 150 pounds” must be heard to believed. And the insulted women just role their eyes and chuckle at the “jokes.”
Yeah, Dalton Trumbo didn’t write this . . . and Colonel Briteis is more Wilma Deering than Ripley. And when you see the Col. (called “a nice kid” as her last name is mispronounced as “bright eyes” by superiors) clad in those shorty-short camping cargos, tights, and ballet flats — and a space tee-shirt cut to accentuate the breasts — you’ll know what I mean by more “Deering than Ripley.” And dig those headpieces: is this where Alfonzo Brescia got his costuming ideas for his Italian “Pasta Wars” oeuvre? (Shameless plugging of our “Drive-In Friday: Pasta Wars with Alfonzo Brescia” featurette.)
So goes the future-history of 1970: a world where the era of #MeToo was not yet foretold; a future were the “Enemies of Freedom” plot their the moon base mission foil with an Ed Woodian oscillator, a short-wave radio, and an office intercom plopped on a wooden desk à la Plan Nine from Outer Space.
“You need any help?”
“Can I strap you in?”
— Maj. Bill Moore exhibiting more chauvinistic chivalry to the female Colonel “Bright Eyes” ready to climb aboard and strap into the rocket
While Heinlein’s pen changes up the space opera tomfoolery from the usual intelligent-but-weak female Bechtel Test boondoggles of The Angry Red Planet, Gog, and King Dinosaur — by giving us a female U.S. President and moon base commander — the “women are equal” subtext is lost in space against all of the condescending male-nationalism. Oh, did we mention the orders for Maj. Bill Moore to propose marriage to Colonel Briteis — and be the first marriage on the moon — are preformed by our Madame President of the United States? And while that flip of the script gives Project Moonbase the distinction as the first onscreen portrayal of a female president, Madame is also a female president complicit in matrimonial servitude.
Ad astra per aspera, my dear galactic concubine. May your hardships and adversity be light.
However, even with its sexist dialog faux pas and the MST3K ribbings, aside: Once we get into space, Project Moonbase is a fascinating watch, with those official U.S. Air Force models, along with split-screen photography of astronauts walking upside down in corridors and sitting in chairs on walls, and shuffling along in magnetic boots (more like Robin “The Boy Wonder” rejects) — all before Kubrick came up with the idea. And, if you’re a junk cinema fan, you’ll notice the set and costume similarities with the also-slagged Cat-Women of the Moon (also released in 1953; but a day apart from each other via different distributors). And bash that alien-women-rule-the-moon romp as you may, but, courtesy of decent against-the-budget set designs, its a not-as-bad-as your MST3K-led to believe.
You can watch Project Moonbase — unriffed — on You Tube.