Science fiction movies released prior to 1969, and the actual moon landing, ranged from the somewhat series entries like George Pal’s Destination Moon (1950) to the more campier type of Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) variety, but regardless of the intent the “science” in those science fiction movies tended to lean towards the more laughable end of the spectrum. It was in 1960 that Columbia Pictures released a film that purported to show mankind setting aside its jingoistic leanings so as to explore the Moon through international cooperation; sadly the end result was the space opera 12 to the Moon which had about as much realism and political integrity as films like the Queen of Outer Space.
So that we the viewers can realize just how important this film is it opens with the Secretary General of the International Space Order (Francis X. Bushman) informing us, in very serious monotone voice, of a space mission that consists of an international team of astronauts that would be comprised of twelve members from twelve different countries; United States, Poland, Israel, Sweden, Germany, the Soviet Union, Japan, France, Brazil, Britain, Turkey, and even Nigeria. Now that may seem like a lot of people to cram into a spacecraft (the original Apollo mission had a crew of three) but that’s not all as the ship also sports a menagerie of animals including a dog, a pair of cats and a monkey. And just who could lead such a possible volatile collection of scientists? Well to no one’s surprise the captain of this mission is American John Anderson (Ken Clark), who during his introduction strikes poses as if he’s competing for the Mister Universe competition. Then in the category of “Something for the Ladies” we get a scene where a shirtless Captain Anderson walks in on the two lovely crewmembers while they are showering.
This international crew may have been assembled with idea to prevent any one country claiming the moon for their own but it doesn’t stop tensions from forming between the astronauts; Russian geologist Feodor Orloff (Tom Conway) boasts about his countries contributions to science and the space program, this quickly gets on everyone’s nerves and can almost be considered a precursor to the Chekov character from Star Trek. Then there is the soon to be revealed secret that Erich Heinrich (John Wengraf), who designed the spacecraft and is actually the son of a Nazi war criminal who was responsible for the death of fellow astronaut and Israeli born David Ruskin’s (Richard Weber) entire family during the Holocaust. Did the International Space Order not do background checks before picking this crew? Sure Heinrich isn’t responsible for the sins of his father but sticking him on a crew with a Holocaust survivor seems a little bit insensitive. Of course personal drama isn’t the only thing threatening the stability of this mission as mere hours into space Lunar Eagle 1 is found flying into a “meteor cluster” (Science Note: The movie keeps on calling these celestial bodies “meteors” when they are in fact asteroids as they only become meteors when they enter the atmosphere) but luckily their ship is outfitted with something called “penetration rockets” which can destroy oncoming threats, or at least any that they aren’t able to outmaneuver.
Note: I hope you like this shot of Lunar Eagle 1 rocketing through space because it gets used ad nauseam throughout the film, and which is also not helped by the fact that you can see the stars through the ship’s hull.
Eventually they do land on the Moon’s surface, where Captain Anderson quickly hands out assignments to the crew with one particular job I found quite hilarious, he instructs doctors Sigrid Bomark (Anna-Lisa) and Hamid (Muzaffer Tema) to “search for signs of air and life” as if oxygen is something you could possible find lying about the lunar surface. The two enter a cave and they just so happen to discover it contains breathable air, and any half-conscious viewer is most likely wondering, “Does the cave entrance have some kind of magical airlock that lets people in but not oxygen out?” What is even stranger than random pockets of air on the Moon is that once discovering this amazing phenomenon the two astronauts immediately take off their helmets and proceed to make-out, like teenagers at Inspiration Point.
The movie had not bothered to set up an kind of previous relationship between Bomark and Hamid, so their sudden passionate embrace comes completely out of left-field, and it’s almost as out of place as the idea of air on the Moon, but before we can question the morality of two professionals acting in such a manner the pair walk hand-in-hand deeper into the cave, when some strange alien presence then seals the cave entrance behind them with a wall of impenetrable ice. Well the old chestnut of “It’s aliens” is as good an explanation to the bizarre goings on in this movie as we are ever going to get, because at this point 12 to the Moon leaves behind an semblance of logic and sense.
• The crew are routinely bombarded by meteorites but their “Metal meteorite deflectors” keeps them safe.
• The astronauts discover that there is gold on the moon. So that’s nice.
• They uncover a massive glowing crystal that Dr. Asmara Markonen (Cory Devlin) intones, “It is beautiful but evil. Evil and sharp like the jewel of Medea.”
• A mortar detonation reveals a fountain of some strange liquid that Feodor stupidly sticks his hand in, resulting in severe chemical burns. Are we sure these guys are actual scientists?
• Geophysicist Dr. William Rochester (Phillip Baird) steps into lunar quicksand and cries out, “Don’t get yourselves caught. It’s no use. I’m finished.” This total drama queen is then sucked below the surface, and we are given no reason as to why his friends couldn’t just pull him out.
With two crewmembers missing behind an ice wall, another sucked to his death beneath the surface, and a third suffering from severe burns, you’d think it’d be best to get back to the ship – I myself would have been halfway back to Earth by now – but no sooner do they reach Lunar Eagle 1 than they discover that not only can they no longer contact Earth but they are receiving a typed message from the lunar inhabitants. The message scrolls across one of the ship’s monitors, and though it does not seem to be any Earthly language it also somewhat resembles Asian ideograms, so they ask Dr. Hideko Murata (Michi Kobi) to translate. This of course makes about as much sense as pockets of air on the Moon, so I guess we are supposed to go along with it, but I don’t care what an alien language “resembles” there is no way you are going to be able to translate it on the fly. Regardless of the stupidity of this scene we at least learn a bit about the Moon people as the message that is imparted to the crew of Lunar Eagle 1 reveals that they are an emotionless race who live below the Lunar surface and they do not want Earthlings to “contaminate our perfect form of harmony” and that they will be keeping the two doctors because they are unfamiliar with love, and if they discover that this emotion can turn to evil they will destroy them and your kind. So they understand the concept of evil but don’t know what love is? Unfortunately the two lovers are not the only item on the Moon People’s want list.
Seriously, for some reason the lunar people want the two cats from the Lunar 1’s menagerie, stating, “Cats have an unusual appeal for us, but unfortunately we have none here on the moon.” This movie could have been called “Mars Needs Cats” and it would have made more sense, but regardless of how bizarre this demand is our heroes hand over the cats and flee the Moon. Unfortunately things get even more tense, for while on route back to Earth the crew discover that North America has been flash frozen and if they don’t do something soon the whole Earth could become one giant frozen dinner.
This leads to the Holocaust survivor and the son of Nazi teaming up to fly this ship’s “space taxi” to drop “atomic bomblets” inside a volcano in the hopes it will trigger a massive thaw, but all plans in this movie run into snags and so this time out it’s French commie Etienne Martel (Roger Til) who tries to sabotage the bomblets – this is so that the United States of America can remain frozen, which will allow the advancement of international communism. In a nice turn of events the Russian dickhead Feodor is revealed to “not be down” with this plan, and he alerts Captain Anderson and the two are able to thwart the evil plan.
Will Erich and David survive an apparent suicide mission to save the Earth? Can America survive being turned into an alien frozen dinner? And what about those poor cats on the moon? Some if not all of those questions will be answered in the startling conclusion to 12 to the Moon, but this is also a movie that at just under 75 minutes does its best to bore the hell out of the audience while answering those questions, with a story that consists of nothing more than a collection of standard movie tropes, bad science and laughable acting. And with a surprising budget of $150,000 dollars there really isn’t much spectacle on hand here – we don’t even get to see the bloody aliens – and the script is simply a lazy collection of tropes that are not helped out by the over-packed cast that populates the screen. This may not be the worst science fiction film out there but it doesn’t offer much for fans of the genre to warrant investing their time in watching it.
12 to the Moon (1960)
Director David Bradley assembles a large cast of clichés in what can only be considered a bizarre if rather forgettable science fiction outing. This is a film for fans of bleak landscapes and even bleaker writing.