Monday, March 6, 2017

Nude on the Moon (Moon Productions, 1961)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night I ran us an odd little movie from 1961 called Nude on the Moon which I thought of because Gideon Marcus, proprietor of the Web site — a time-machine site in which he writes about political, social and especially cultural events from 55 years ago as if they were happening now — had mentioned it in his talk at the ConDor science-fiction convention Charles and I had attended all weekend. According to Marcus, it was one of quite a number of nudist films made in the early 1960’s (including the Steven Apostolof-Ed Wood Orgy of the Dead from 1965) that took advantage of a loophole in the movie industry’s Production Code: you weren’t allowed to show naked actors but you could go to a nudist colony, film the people there and exhibit it as basically an anthropological documentary of a subculture. Nude on the Moon was the product of Raymond Phelan and Doris Wishman, who both co-directed and co-wrote it, though they used pseudonyms — the credits list “Anthony Brooks” as the director and “O. O. Miller” as the screenwriter — and it was apparently their second production (their first, Hideout in the Sun, gets a “plug” when the two male leads pass a theatre where it’s being shown and one of them tells the other how great it is). The story, such as there is one, is about two male scientists, one young — Dr. Jeff Huntley (Lester Brown) — and one, uh, older but still relatively healthy and good-looking — Professor Nichols (William Mayer). They’ve designed and built a prototype of a multi-stage rocket to the moon but don’t have the money to fly the thing until Dr. Huntley’s uncle suddenly dies and leaves him an inheritance of $3 million. Nichols tells him he should find a woman to marry, settle down and live the rest of his life on the income from that, but instead Huntley insists on using the money to go the moon and, once they’ve proven it can be done, getting the government to fund future expeditions. They do so, and after about half an hour of boring exposition that eats up quite a good chunk of the film’s 70-minute running time (Mayer and Brown aren’t laughably incompetent actors but they’re hardly insightful even in roles that don’t require much characterization), they finally get to the moon — and much to the surprise of Nichols, who had bought into the mainstream scientific consensus that the moon was a barren, airless rock — they find it looks exactly like Earth … well, at least like the Coral Castle nudist colony in Homestead, Florida, where the film was shot. The title turns out to be a misnomer in that the women who inhabit the “moon,” though topless, aren’t actually nude — and neither, darnit, are the men (most of whom are muscular without being obstreperous about it à la Schwarzenegger — and there’s at least one male cast member who’s flashing a mightily impressive basket through his blue swim trunks!).

There are even a few moon kids in the dramatis personae, though they all appear to be male (they were already pushing the envelope showing topless adult women; showing pre-pubescent girls with their little mini-breasts and thereby exciting the pedophiles in their audience would have probably got Phelan and Wishman arrested!), and for several reels nothing much happens. Our Heroes walk around the moon with an old dual-lens reflex camera taking pictures to document that they’ve been there, and also worrying about the extent of their oxygen supply — even though the visors of their helmets are up (indicating that they’re not only on a part of the moon with atmosphere but it’s close enough to earth’s they can breathe it — Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou in their 1928 film Woman on the Moon posited that there might be a pocket of the moon that had earth-style air astronauts can breathe normally, and I suppose that’s what Phelan and Wishman intended is to assume in this film as well, though they never said so in their script), and the oxygen tanks they’re wearing fall farther and farther down their backs in each shot. Though the whole concept is inherently campy and was obviously just an excuse to show women’s breasts on the screen, Nude on the Moon isn’t that bad a movie: the photography is spectacular and colorful (and the print we were watching, an download, was in quite good condition, non-murky and non-scratchy), and there’s actually quite a bit of good music on the soundtrack, not only some accomplished guitar, violin and piano jazz they ripped off from somewhere (no one on this soundtrack is as famous as Gerry Mulligan or Stan Getz, both of whom were clearly recognizable on the soundtrack for Ed Wood’s The Violent Years, but I suspect the guitarist is Wrecking Crew member Tommy Tedesco) but a quite capable theme song called “Moon Doll,” written by Judith Kushner and sung by Ralph Young (a good baritone in the mold of Billy Eckstine, Arthur Prysock and Johnny Hartman) with backing by, of all people, Doc Severinsen and his band. Alas, by giving us all or part of this song no fewer than four times, Phelan and Wishman wear out its welcome and we’re pretty tired of it by the time the film ends with it!

In case you’re wondering, Nude on the Moon ends with Huntley undecided whether he wants to return to the earth at all because he’s formed a hopeless crush on the Moon Queen (played by someone billed as “Marietta”), who’s the only moon person we actually hear talk (though her lips don’t move and her dialogue is recorded with a heavy echo to indicate she’s communicating telepathically). In the end Our Astronauts beat a hasty retreat back to their spacecraft (which doesn’t look like the one they landed in — obviously Phelan and Wishman got a black-and-white stock shot of a short, squat rocket taking off and tinted it green to attempt to match it to a film in color) and Huntley realizes they forgot the camera, so they have no evidence that they ever made it to the moon. Huntley moons (pardon the pun) over the loss of his Moon Queen — until he realizes that his long-suffering lab assistant Cathy (also “Marietta”), who’s had a hitherto unrequited crush on him, looks just like her and they end up in a clinch at the end. Nude on the Moon is as silly as you’d expect but it’s fun in a dorky way, and as Charles just pointed out to me it’s a product of an earlier age in science fiction in which the heroes went to another world, walked around and left: no hostile aliens, no saboteur on their crew, none of the action gimmicks most 1960’s science-fiction screenwriters thought they needed to provide “drama” for their films.