“I am now switching over to my helmet microphone. Now I am tuning on my invisible electromatic ray screen, which forms a protective shield our faces, and I will continue my commentary through my mirco-tape recorder.”
— Dr. David Ruskin, with some expositional technobabble
Okay, so the good doctor Ruskin explained away the lack of face shields on the ISO crews’ helmets. But how to explain away the astronauts strapping themselves down onto vinyl cushion tube-webbed folding-chaise lounge lawn chairs C-clamped to the walls? Or a world where they can invent visorless helmets (did Glen Larson see this for BSG’s Egyptian-helmets) and, as the plot unfolds, magnetic-deflecting meteor technology, but uses backyard lawn chairs for G-Force space flight?
It’s true: the crew cockpit is dressed with a lawn chairs. And the rocket’s flames are a piece of cellophane fluttering against a fan. But what did you expect from David Bradley, the writer/director who gave us the Mill Creek public domain ditty that is The Madmen of Mandoras (1963), aka They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968)? And to think Bradley started his career with adaptions of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt (1941) and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1950), both starring his high school chum, Charlton Heston (later of Planet of the Apes!).
Yep. From Heston to spaceship lawn chairs: only in the B&S-verse.
Now, you’re probably wondering: A major studio project from Columbia Pictures propped-out with lawn chairs and visorless helmets? And hey . . . why are some of the sets and props familiar?
Well, that’s because 12 to the Moon was an independent production by Bradley at California Studios, later known as Producers Studios, Inc., on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles — the same studio where another forgotten sci-fi cheapy, Mutiny in Outer Space (1965; look for our review, this week), was filmed. (The studio has since reincorporated as Raleigh Studios; learn more about the studio and other backlots and ranches at Retroweb.tv.) In need of a B-flick to double-bill with their recently-acquired Ishiro Honda-directed (1954’s Godzilla and 1965’s Rodan) Battle in Outer Space (1959) for Toho Studios, Columbia slapped their title card on Bradley’s film. After coming and going relatively quickly from Drive-Ins, Bradley’s lone star-romp received its widest exposure as result of Columbia, via its TV-arm, Screen Gems, distributing the film as part of their “X” syndication horror/sci-fi package that ran until the mid-‘70s on U.S. UHF stations.
Yeah, there’s nothing quite like the Soviets launching Sputnik in October 1957 to inspire quickie-junk sci-fi features—fully equipped with lawn chairs and faux-future plastic-swivel chairs at the control panels.
However, even with the lawn chairs and added-after-the-fact exposition to explain away the helmet snafu, the special effects—once the film hits the moon—with its “heat vents” peppering the weird lunarscape, is pretty good. And the production had the sense to rent (or could afford) official air force pressure suits and helmets (the visors removed because the actors couldn’t breathe and it distorted their photographic images). Sadly, there wasn’t enough money to shoot in color, which succeeds in making 12 to the Moon look ten years older than it is, when screened alongside Toho’s shot-in-color space flick (which is a loose sequel to 1957’s The Mysterians). In addition, we’re given an intelligent script from the scribe behind Val Lewton’s classics Cat People (1942) and (okay, a lesser not-so-classic) The Seventh Victim (1943): DeWitt Bodeen, who’s backed by producer Fred Gebhardt; he’s responsible for The Phantom Planet (which starred Delores Faith from Mutiny in Outer Space) (and there’s your déjà vu sets, thanks, Fred).
The ISO, the International Space Order, is formed for the purpose of the internationalization of the moon and comes to send its first manned mission (commanded by Ken Clark of Attack of the Giant Leeches fame and manned by Francis X. Bushman and Anthony Dexter from Gebhardt’s The Phantom Planet). The international crew of Lunar Eagle 1 comprises of 12 scientific specialists from around the world: 10 men and two women (and we’re introduced to the entire crew through a lengthy expositional voiceover as they board the rocket). Are the woman (Norwegian and Japanese) matriarchal-strong? Eh, a little. Could you imagine Ripley sitting in front of a mirror brushing her hair? Or Lambert, during a course correction, losing her balance and falling into—and to the pleasure of—Kane’s arms? Or Parker walking in on a showering-undressed Ripley or Lambert—and making a “This ain’t the Waldorf” joke? Well, that all happens here. It has to: for this isn’t Space: 1999, this is Space: 1950.
Those Bechdel test fails aside, we get a bit of insightful, sociopolitical tensions among a crew that still feels the sting of the Holocaust and Earth’s racist and warring past, with the good Dr. Oroloff bragging about mother Russia’s scientific wonders getting them into space in the first place, and the Polish Dr. Ruskin coming to the defense of Israel and the rights of Jews. Meanwhile, the German Dr. Heinrich hides his own dark past: his father was a Nazi death camp commander. Oh, and the French dude is an underground communist sympathizer out to sabotage the trip. (See? Pretty heavy, cold war plot fodder for a cheapy.)
Once on the Moon, it’s time to disengage the ol’ magnetic ray screens on the helmets and partake of the conveniently “air-filled caves.” Hey, Norway’s Dr. Ingrid Bomark and Turkey’s Dr. Hamid need to have that deep, passionate kiss, right? Why? Again: Space: 1950. Of course, the Moon, according to the hopeful—and greedy “science” of the day—is encrusted with diamonds, gold, and other sparkly minerals. But they also discover the moon is filled with flesh-eating, lava-like liquids that discourage excavations. And there are pockets of “lunar quicksand” at every turn!
Then the dastardly “Great Coordinator of the Moon” taps into the ship’s computers and prints out a message warning the crew to leave the moon at once. But first, the Moonites must study the Bomark-Hamid hook up to learn what love is . . . and please leave the two cats from the lab behind, because they’ve grown fascinated with Earth felines. Do the Moonites have cans of Sheba and bags of Meow Mix with Vitaburst Tender Centers? Don’t know: for this is a plot-holed world of invisible face shields, Zero-G lawnchairs, and feline-loving, invisible Moon people.
So, do the Earthlings head the warnings by leaving the Moonites in peace and all is moon lava under the ice cave bridge?
The Moonies send a giant, freezing cloud to encase the North American continent in ice. So a plan is devised—that the French Communist dude tries to thwart—to drop atomic matter into a Mexican volcano, so as to trigger a massive, atmospheric heat surge that will thaw the U.S. (See? Sots of plot-twists for a cheapy.)
Alas! Impressed by the crew’s valiant efforts to save the human race (it was all a test, after all), the Moonites will spare Earth and will allow them to return with open arms (or whatever appendages disembodied, cat-loving moon aliens have). (I feel bad for the cats. How will the Moonites pet the cats? Cats need human—or humanoid—contact, after all.)
See? And you thought the plots of The Asylum’s recent Earth-faces-extinction flicks Astreroid-a-Geddon, Collision Moon, and Meteor Moon were far-fetched. For the more flights we make to the Moon or Mars, the more those trips stay the same. And you can take the trip with the 12 to the Moon on You Tube.