Thursday, July 29, 2010

“When you get into trouble, you really jump off the top board, don’t you?”

So, 1969 was a pretty cool year. It had the Moon Landing, The Italian Job, the Cuyahoga River catching fire again, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Sesame Street began airing, Led Zeppelin releasing their first studio album and Judy Garland…oh. Well, it wasn’t a perfect year. But speaking of Moon Landings, 1969 also had Hammer Studios, famous for their cult classic B-grade horror films like the Christopher Lee Dracula movies, release Moon Zero Two, a B-grade sci-fi movie with no horror elements whatsoever.

So, after a rather likable animated credits sequence (and the shockingly catchy theme song) that effectively tells us the Moon was colonized sometime in the late 20th Century, we find our hero, formerly the first astronaut on Mars and now the pilot of an old salvage craft called Moon 02 (DUN DUN DUN!) making a living on the Moon. Then we also find a a young woman arriving on the moon to find her prospector brother and shady rich guy with henchmen that is plotting to crash an asteroid laden with sapphire into the Moon and claim it. You better believe these plots intersect and our hero ends up caught in the middle.

Captain William H. Kemp: James Olson plays our receding-hairlined hero (and would later star in The Andromeda Strain). He’s cranky for the entire film, which I guess is understandable since he went from being the first man on Mars to a junk salvager on the Moon.

Clementine Taplin: Catherina von Schell (or Catherine Schell) plays an Earth girl who arrives on the Moon to find her brother and find a job. Unfortunately, she hasn’t heard from her bro in a while and nobody on the Moon seems to have seen him in a while either. She hires Kemp to go look for her him. Obviously the love interest. She also gets stuck wearing some pretty terrible headgear at times too.

Korminski: Ori Levy plays Kemp’s Russian engineer and sidekick. Quick with some deadpan delivery and a reasonably impressive moustache. He’s much less cranky and comes through in a pinch several times, which makes him the badass of the film.

Sheriff Elizabeth Murphy: Adrienne Corri (who was in A Clockwork Orange as the woman in the infamous “Singin’ In The Rain” scene.) plays a Moon cop who’s got a history with Kemp but doesn’t trust him when he starts taking jobs for a bad guy. She also gets saddled with a silly hat.

J.J. Hubbard: Warren Mitchell is our Villain, a goatee and monocle wearing crime boss who intends to crash an asteroid filed with valuable sapphire into a specific area on the Moon and claim the salvage rights on it and make a fortune. Wears a red spacesuit, since everybody who isn’t Kemp or Korminsky are color-coded for your convenience.

Harry: Bernard Bresslaw plays J.J.’s dimwitted henchman. Little more than dumb muscle, he’s a big guy who keeps getting yelled at to not fire his gun in pressurized domes. While he’s a bit slow on the take, he’s actually reasonably quick on the draw. Wears a green spacesuit.

Whitsun: Dudley Foster plays J.J.’s other, smaller henchman who ends up explaining a lot of stuff to Kemp about how they’re going to do stuff. Wears a yellow spacesuit.

Frequent Monty Python collaborator Carol Cleveland was also in the movie in a small role.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the movie is very clearly low budget, but does still manage to look presentable…in a Swingin’ Sixties sort of way. Spacesuits look like spacesuits, The Moon 02 craft is similar to the Apollo landers and while the effects are low budget there’s nothing like a critical effects failure though the moon bug rovers come close since they look like the Oscar Meyer Weeniemobile.

Michael Carreras as writer and Martin Davidson, Frank Hardman and Gavin Lyall on story. The script is essentially a Western with British actors with a Sixties aesthetic, only set…IN SPACE! Which really is as weird as it sounds. However, the story stays committed to that conceit and carries that frontier attitude throughout.

Original music by Don Ellis and the bulk of the soundtrack is taken up by a swingin’ jazz sound with some elements of bebop. The Main Theme, however, which plays over the main credits and crops up throughout the film, is a big, brassy number that will forcibly lodge itself in your ears and Never. Ever. Leave.

Here, listen for yourself.

Moon Zero Two is not a good movie. However, for reasons that continue to baffle me, I kinda…liked…it. Quite a bit. Sure, my exposure to it was through MST3K, but I still kind of liked its goofy charm. Well played, Hammer Films; you’ve just convinced me to check out your B Horror films.

Can't find a trailer, but this is a decent taste of the film.

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