Missile to the Moon, 1958, dir. Richard Cunha. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.
Before we press play: I happen to know this one features a giant spider, web fans, so pucker up. I’m a big fan of big spiders. I loved the spider in The Incredible Shrinking Man. Devastated when it died – spoiler alert – which isn’t actually a spoiler alert, come to think of it – you can’t give a plot twist away and then say ‘spoiler alert’. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Arachnophobia. I love a spider in a movie as much as I love a complicated equation on a blackboard that someone rubs out and writes the answer. But that’s another story.
- The film opens with a rocket taking off, then blaring trumpets and twirling violins, the gloopy title Missile to the Moon. So I’m guessing this isn’t a documentary.
- The cast list is so anonymous they may as well have printed the ingredients from a packet of cereal – but then the next list is of ‘international beauty contest winners’, so… erm…
- After the glaring opening the soundtrack settles down into the usual, vibraphone / theremin spacey-spooky shit that’s the aural equivalent of taking a glass elevator to the stars. At least it gives me a chance to finish my sandwich.
- A police car pulls up in the desert and a look-a-like Bob Hope Sheriff gets out and grumpily scans the horizon with his binoculars. He calls Control, with an expression on his face like he’d rather be anything than a Sheriff (which I totally sympathise with). ‘No sign of them’, he says. Shifts uncomfortably, which is either the script or IBS. Gets back in the car. We’re off!
- Cut to: An army guy with his left hand in his pocket, some other guy with his right hand in his pocket, both of them interrogating Dirk, a scientist who’s angry about something (rockets, not pockets).
- The Sheriff comes in (they take their hands out of their pockets). He’s carrying a torch, for some reason. He says ‘This isn’t exactly a social call’ (which explains the torch). He’s looking for some escaped criminals. He says he ‘didn’t expect them to get prast the prison fence’ – which they maybe didn’t reshoot because it showed how human the Sheriff was, scuffing his lines like that. He’s just a man with a torch, standing in front of other men with their hands back in their pockets).
- The guy in the suit, Steve – another scientist it turns out – pulls back the curtains and we see either a huge rocket far off or an MDF rocket close up. The general thinks it’s fantastic. Honestly? It looks like a lava lamp.
- Steve says he met Dirk when Dirk wrote to him inviting him to help out on his moon rocket, so I suppose it’s kinda of a fifties science version of Gaydar. The Colonel is scornful but sharpens up when Steve pokes him in the nipple.
- Steve’ fiance June Saxton hears her cue, knocks and comes in. The need for introductions allows Steve and The Colonel to describe to the audience who does what in the missile world. June says she saw the Sheriff’s car outside. Steve says he’s looking for two escaped convicts. June seems pretty neutral about it – but I suppose apart from the Colonel now and again they don’t get many visitors to the rocket pad.
- Cut to: Dirk and the Sheriff at the electric fence. ‘Don’t touch it till I turn off the current,’ says Dirk. I’m guessing he knows what the Sheriff’s like.
- Cut to: the two convicts in the rocket pad locker room. One’s Gary who’s small and punchy looking with the arms of his denim shirt rolled up to display his guns; the other is Lon – tall and thoughtful looking, the arms of his shirt rolled down (because he doesn’t have any guns, presumably).
- Turns out, the locker room is ACTUALLY ON THE ROCKET! Who knew rockets had locker rooms? Still – this is the fifties. There was more space back then. The convicts can’t jump out because the Sheriff and Dirk are sneaking about – although, if they knew the Sheriff, they wouldn’t be that worried.
- Dirk goes into the ship, sees the convicts, tells the Sheriff there’s no one there. Why? I don’t know. He’s got some plan or other. The convicts look uneasy – especially when they find out he’s locked them in. They don’t want to go to the moon. They were brought up in New Jersey. They know what it’s like.
- Dirk goes back to the office. Steve and June are having cocktails. They offer Dirk one but he declines and takes a pistol instead. June says she’s sorry if she said the wrong thing.
- Dirk goes to the convicts on the rocket and wins them over with some 7up, fruit, cold chicken and cake. Gary really likes the apple. Dirk says he wants them to come to the moon with him. They’re not sure at first, but when he says they’ll definitely make it back, they say he’s got a deal.
- The first thing Dirk wants them to do is ‘change into some clothes from the locker over there’. Gary looks wary. Hey – what kind of moon rocket IS this?
- Steve is about to drive June home when the rocket console lights up like a washing machine on spin cycle. Steve wants to investigate the rocket. He gets a gun out of the desk (how many guns do they HAVE?) June goes with him.
- Back on the rocket, Gary and Lon have changed into the new clothes which turn out not to be latex but everyday guy clothes and not significantly different to their convict clothes. Dirk may be a rocket scientist, but he seems unconcerned that the two people operating the flight deck are two criminals who get excited by apples and 7up.
- Steve and June go up the ladder into the rocket moments before it takes off. They have to put on oxygen masks in the locker room because it doesn’t have its own supply. ‘Will we be killed?’ she says. She’s nothing if direct.
- Lon flips the levers in order as Dirk tells him to. They blast off, making orgasm faces, especially Dirk, who seems to enjoy it more than anyone.
- When they leave the Earth’s orbit they unbuckle their seatbelts and slump in the chairs post-coital. Gary complains he’s got an achy back. Lon says he’s afraid to move. Where were they incarcerated – play school?
- Steve takes a while to recover, but June’s okay. She’s already got a clipboard to help Dirk go through all the rocket checks. Gary watches her whilst she settles down in front of a screen to watch for meteorites. The screen just has a black dot in the centre, which is either the moon or a fault. Dirk and Lon leave to check the deck below. Gary assaults June, then Dirk comes back. Dirk and Gary fight. Meanwhile, the screen flashes and beeps: meteorites! Everyone gets shaken up. A loose battery lands on Dirk’s head. Before he dies he gives Steve a medallion and says ‘you’ll need this’ then says ‘Lido! Forgive me, my Lido!’ Then dies. ‘He’s dead’ says Steve. All in all, a shocking scene. Especially the battery.
- June hasn’t told anyone about Gary assaulting her, which is odd and quite depressing. It’s like she expected it, being around the Colonel and the Sheriff and whatnot. In outer space as on planet earth, we seemed doomed to suffer this shit. I hope the spider gets him.
- The moon comes up on the scanner. ‘Break out the spacesuits’ says Steve.
- Lon operates the brakes with some more levers. He seems good with levers. No further comment at this point.
- They land. ‘This is the end of the line,’ says Steve. ‘Everybody out.’ Which must have inspired Neil Armstrong, to some extent.
- They stand around the ladder of the rocket on the moon, bitching about their spacesuits and making sure you know who’s in what (although a name tag wouldn’t have hurt). ‘These gravity boots work like a charm’ says Gary, marching up and down like the director said.
- They go off to explore. Some weird pointy shrubbery, but otherwise a bit like Utah. With theremins.
- In fact, I’m sure I recognise that boulder from the last film, Track of the Moon Beast. They must have a permanent editing suite, probably a canteen.
- Unbeknownst to them (unbeknownst? is that a word? sounds more like a recipe for cabbage) – unbeknownst to them, a boulder detaches itself from the other boulders, sprouts arms and takes a few steps, looking about as menacing as me in a dressing gown staggering around in the middle of the night. I think you could probably outrun it, gravity boots or no gravity boots. But we’ll see.
- Another one comes alive. And another. June screams (of course). The rock creatures waggle their arms, like me when I hear someone say does anyone want a cup of tea. June screams and falls over (like me, when I hear someone in the kitchen say does anyone want a cup of tea).
- They try shooting the rock creature, which doesn’t sound like a good idea, and turns out not to be. ‘There’s a cave. Let’s head for it’ says Steve. The rock creatures are too scared to follow them in. ‘Maybe they should try being a little more bolder’ I wish Steve said.
- Uh oh. Spider web. But better news, in that there’s a flaming torch. ‘No flame without oxygen’ says Steve, ever the scientist. They take off their mask and suits. Gary can feel eyes watching them. He wants to go back to the ship, but Steve says they’ve got guns, so not to worry (although as Gary points out, they didn’t work so good against the rock monsters). I really hope the spider gets him.
- Well – something gets him. He runs on ahead and you hear him say ‘No – keep away from me – what are you doing…. etc, and then screams. I hope it’s the spider. Although you wouldn’t talk to a spider like that unless you were a professional arachnologist, and feeling a bit snippy.
- A caped figure in the foreground appears, gasses them all unconscious. I don’t know – rock creatures, caped figures – the moon doesn’t seem all that friendly.
- They all wake up on a very cheap set that looks like it was borrowed from a local high school production of Cleopatra. A woman with a chandelier on her head appears, looking like Gloria Swanson fresh out of benzos. ‘I welcome you to Orlanda’ she says. ‘I am Lido’ she says. She says they must rest, and partake of their hospitality (which I’m afraid may well relate to the International Beauty Contest Winners listed in the credits). She pulls an embroidered bell cord. Who’d have thought the moon would’ve been so fancy?
- The IBCWs come in with platters of drumsticks. Steve goes straight to the drumsticks.
- One of the IBCWs approaches Steve with a pitcher. ‘At last – something to drink,’ he says. The IBCW backs away and goes to consult with Lido. ‘Maybe she didn’t like my face’ says Steve. (Or maybe she realised you’ve got a drink problem and she’s only going to make it worse).
- Actually, it’s because she saw the medallion. When it’s given to Lido she’s rapturous. ‘It IS Dirk!’ she says. ‘He has returned.’
- ‘Dirk! My Dirk!’ says another one of the IBCWs. She must really like Dirk. It’s suddenly apparent why Dirk took so much trouble building a rocket.
- Lido tells Steve why things have gone to shit since he left. They’re running out of food, oxygen, scatter cushions …. ‘Soon this satellite will be barren’ she says. ‘And you haven’t even commented on my blindness.’ Steve grimaces. ‘I was very sorry to see it,’ he says, ironically or otherwise, it’s hard to say. Lido thinks Steve is Dirk. She touches his face. She thinks he’s changed – for the better.
- Lido says she’s glad he’s back because he’s due to be married to her daughter Alpha tomorrow. Steve doesn’t look particularly concerned.
- Back in the main hall, Gary is sprawled in a fancy chair enjoying all the platters. ‘June – if there weren’t better material around I’d pinch you,’ he says. Jeez – I really hope that spider gets him.
- Gary goes off with one of the IBCWs, which is worrying. Mercifully he gets distracted by the diamonds she’s wearing. She says she’ll take him to a cave where you can pick them up.
- June thinks the IBCWs are a bit judgy. It’s true – when they’re not striding around with platters they’re sprawled around looking archer than the set.
- Steve comes back. He says the planet is doomed. It all started twenty years ago… but we’re spared the details.
- Cut to: Lon on an ottoman (which isn’t easy to say) with Zema, a sympathetic IBCW. Lon and Zema have an awkward romantic scene where they talk about oxygen and rock creatures and then kiss.
- Lido’s daughter Alpha arrives. She’s even more theatrical than her mum. ‘Come, Dirk!’ she says. He does. June looks cross.
- Alpha kisses Steve, who stands inertly (which he’s pretty good at), until June breaks them up. June and Alpha fight. Alpha storms off. ‘She will die’ she says. ‘I guess that did it,’ says Steve, inertly.
- Alpha confronts her mother. They have a battle of wills over who should rule Orlanda. Lido wins. Alpha storms off again. All in all you’d have to say she was pretty stormy. A couple of IBCWs stand in the background looking like they regretted ever signing the contract – catering wagon or no catering wagon.
- Gary is in the cave with the IBCW who’s bemused about his attraction to a load of old diamonds. Where the hell is the spider? We’re 55 minutes in. Never has a giant spider been more necessary.
- Alpha says she’s going to release the dark creatures. ‘Silence! There’s no time to waste!’ she says, and pulls another cord, this one more gothic, with something like a plasterer’s trowel on the end. A webby gate across a disreputable looking cave slides up. Spider time.
- Okay – so it’s a puppet spider with an expression of stupefying horror, a bit like Boris Johnson at the dispatch box – but a spider, goddamit, and I love it.
- Particularly the way it walks, those cute, hairy legs going up and down like pistons. Curiously – it only has two human eyes, which don’t blink, so I’m worried they might become irritated by the moon dust and whatnot. But having said that, it’s obviously taken many thousands of years of moon evolution – or moonvolution, if you will – to reach this state, so who am I to judge.
- The spider hurries off through the caves to find the earthlings. Before I go any further, I bet you fifty pounds June screams, and another fifty she trips and falls.
- Well – okay – it’s the IBCW who screams. And gets mauled by the spider. Which is actually less horrifying than getting mauled by Gary.
- Alpha gets up close with Steve and uses her mind skills to get him to do her bidding, which is basically to go with her to another planet and start a family. (By the way, her lipstick is interesting. It looks like she did it in the jeep on the way to the set).
- Alpha stabs her mum in the back with a letter opener and assumes the throne. She tells the others to make ready for a wedding after they use the extermination chamber, which sounds nice.
- The crew get taken to the ceremony. Steve is dressed in a ceremonial kaftan made from milk bottle tops. ‘Steve! I love you! Tell me you love me!’ shouts June. ‘Take the woman to the extermination chamber’ he says, which isn’t like him at all. He’s normally more inert. Once she’s gone, the ceremonies begin, which is a cue for some dancing so dreadful I’d rather take my chances with June.
- Cut to: June wrestling with some IBCWs down in the dungeons. There are some skeletons in the background, which isn’t a great look for a dungeon, but I suppose kinda expected. They chain her to a post, which looks spider ready. ‘Don’t’ she says, but they carry on anyway. The IBCWs pull a cord – this one with a spider on the end, which is worrying. Another gate lifts up.
- Back at the ceremony, the two convicts sneak out while everyone’s distracted by the terrible dancing. Zema gives Lon the key to the room where they’ve stashed all their spacesuits, and some light bulbs to throw at the rock creatures.
- June screams when she sees the spider approaching (fifty quid in the bank). The convicts run over and shoot it dead. Bloody hell! I hope there are more spiders. It didn’t get much of a run. The convicts untie June, who’s fainted but still standing upright. Maybe it’s a gravity thing. Gary runs off to get some more diamonds.
- Back at the ceremony the dance is still going on. I can’t believe it and neither can the audience. It’s obviously not just a lack of oxygen that’s killing this particular satellite. The other IBCWs run off to search for the convicts; meanwhile Zema goes mind-to-mind against Lido – and wins! Steve is free to shrug off his appalling kaftan and join the others.
- Zema weakens (I sympathise at this point). Lido’s daughter tells Zema to release the gas in the caves. There’s a fancy lever in the wall, with tin foil at the business end. Lon would love it. Zema puts her hand on it. The theremins go wild. But suddenly Zema throws one of her lightbulbs which turns out to be a grenade. The set gets blown to polystyrene.
- All the oxygen escapes from the caves. Steve, June & Lon have got their suits on, but Gary is away stocking up on diamonds.
- Cut to: Gary loaded up with two shopping bags of diamonds. In his spacesuit at least, so the lack of oxygen won’t bother him (as much as the lack of a spider is bothering me, anyway).
- The rock creatures come alive again to stop the crew making it back to the rocket. Steve blows one to bits with a grenade light bulb. A lot more effective than shooting them. Lido’s daughter tries to mind control him at distance, but accidentally falls on her knife, so that works out.
- Gary tries to catch up with the others carrying his bags of diamonds. He can’t outrun the rock creatures, though, and ends up blundering into the sunlight, where he combusts down to his skelington. Can’t say I’m upset by that. Although I’d have preferred him to get eaten by the spider. I don’t know why. They were made for each other, I suppose.
- They make their way back to the rocket. Before they take off, there’s just one thing June wants to know. ‘Am I prettier than Alpha?’ ‘Honey, there’s only one thing I want to see more and that’s good ol’ mother earth!’ says Steve, then winks over her head at Lon, who winks back and caresses his levers. Then the rocket hurtles upwards in a shower of vomit.
So what’ve I learned?
- The moon landings were obviously faked, because I didn’t see one rock creature or one former international beauty contest winner. And flags don’t flutter on the moon.
- Boris Johnson is a species of spider.
- You can be the most advanced civilization in the world, but if your style is kitsch you’re doomed.
- Skeletons can be scary in a dungeon setting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end.
- Turn off the electricity before you touch an electrified fence.
4 thoughts on “Missile to the Moon”
This one made me LOL! I have a friend who really enjoys such movies (The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, Plan 9 From Outer Space, etc.) with his eldest daughter. I’m sure this is probably another favorite of theirs. I’ll have to remember to ask next time I see him.
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Thanks Patti! It’s such a lot of fun writing these. Glad you like ‘em. It’s always interesting to see something done badly – at the very least it makes you appreciate the good stuff. !
They’re often quite poignant too. In Missile, June was played by Cathy Downs who was quite successful for a while. She played alongside Henry Fonda in My Darling Clementine. But things tailed off, I think Missile was her penultimate film, and she died of cancer a few years after, broke. It’s sad to think of her ending up in such a trashy film – but then again – she got to scream at puppet spiders and run around the desert in a spacesuit, so … ❤️
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I have to comment again because I realized that my friend is not the only one with a fetish for such movies.
Another friend asked if I had seen and enjoyed Godzilla vs. Kong…yes and yes… I then said that while I did, my favorites are the old Japanese Godzilla movies with the guy in the rubber suit stomping miniatures. We all have our things 😜
It’s definitely a guilty pleasure. Watching bad movies can be so liberating – and it’s always good for material! 🙂