Friday, 31 July 2015

The wild final frontier… Moon Two Zero (1969)

In the late sixties, space was the place and every film maker had to be there especially after Neil Armstrong took that one small step off the Apollo 11 landing module on 20th July 1969…

This film was released just over three months later and Mr Armstrong even gets name-checked in this rapid-response exploitation vehicle that finds a new angle amongst all the others: it aims to be the first “Space Western”. And why not you make well ask… after all isn’t the solar system just another frontier to roll out the wagons to? The pioneering spirit doesn’t have to be welded onto horse saddles and earthed by silver spurs.

The Moon in 2020
Moon Two Zero is rather badly served by this spin with “Moon Fargo” branded buggies, dancing girls in a lunar saloon and an opening sequence that seems to set it all up as a comedy. There’s Warren Mitchell as monocled baddy JJ Hubbard (see, L Ron, even in ’69 they had you sussed!), Bernard Bresslaw as his henchman and fellow Brit-comedy legend Sam Kydd as the barman serving rocket-fuelled cocktails.

The space ships are realistically unglamorous..
But, if you can get past the opening credits (a cartooned history of Moon exploration accompanied by raucous period space pop) you’ll find a story of a different texture for Moon Two Zero actually takes itself fairly seriously. Or maybe I’ve just watched way too much Space 1999 and UFO?

Space-age go-go
There’s an attempt to base things in science – or at least moderately thought out pseudo-science: clearly the writers had watched Tomorrow’s World – such as the race against time in the moon “waggons” as the hero and his darling Clementine (oh yes!) attempt to beat the murderously-hot sunrise to reach the safety of shade or the laborious space walks. The public were reasonably space-aware by this stage and every action had to have an equal and opposite reaction…

James Olsen and Ori Levy
The film is set in far off 2020 – a time when the public are a little jaded with space and routine has taken over the pioneering impulse. Bill Kemp (James Olsen) was the first man to set foot on Mars but is now reduced to flying an outmoded lunar vehicle around as a salvage and all-purpose, tug-boat for hire. He doesn’t want to be reduced to just a space pilot and with no grand adventures in sight, comforts himself with his freedom to be his own boss.

Warren Mitchell is JJ Hubbard!
His engineer Korminski (Ori Levy) keeps him company and out of trouble, having seemingly memorised every relevant law of the solar system… they lasso a damaged satellite and return it to moon base space cowboys living off the weightless range.

Bresslaw, Cleveland and Mitchell take in a Western en route...
The Earth shuttle has bought some interesting new arrivals, JJ Hubbard and his motley crew, scientist Whitsun (Dudley Forster) and henchman Harry (Mr Bresslaw) along with some glamorous space kittens. There is also a young woman in a brown conical hat Clementine Taplin (Catherine Schell later of Space 1999 fame and here entitled Catherine von Schell) who has come looking for her brother, a prospector who has gone missing.
Darling Clementine
Clementine is looking for a rocket-jockey to help her fly out to her brother’s claim and is sent to greet Bill in the classic western compromise of taking a shower – queue embarrassment for both and a necessary glimpse of Bill’s human side.

Moon pad: James Olsen and Adrienne Corri
But Bill is usually confident around women folk and heads off to renew his acquaintance with the station’s “sheriff”, police commander Elizabeth Murphy (Adrienne Corri) wearing a shocking pink wig a year or two before Gabrielle Drake in UFO. Liz wishes that Bill would settle down as a passenger shuttle pilot and knows she must shut down his rust-bucket operation sooner or later. But he’s not one to commit as a friendly encounter with the hostess (Carol Cleveland) on the commute to the main colony makes clear.

One day all bars will be like this...
As the passengers make their way across the surface an old western movie plays in the background – just to make the connection clear…

Things liven up at the stations bar as a dance troupe in liberating close-fit space jumpsuits dance an Indian routine (later they’ll be cowgirls…) whilst the boys drink what passes for liquor – queue rocket fuel jokes…

Ms Schell's wig was later dyed purple for Gabrielle...
Clementine – now in a beige wig not unlike Gabrielle Drake’s in UFO – briefs Bill on her lost brother and then he is “Invited” to an audience with JJ by Harry. Harry gets the jump on Bill but he easily tricks the gun from him but JJ has whiskey so he’ll stay to hear the plan.

JJ’s scientist has discovered a comet make of sapphire worth billions and they need Bill to bring it down to Moon for them. He can buy a new spaceship… what can possibly go wrong.

Securing the stone...
The crew fly out and attach rockets to the rock and Bill sets it on course for the Moon, all they have to do is wait a few days for it to enter orbit. In the meantime, he elects to take Clementine out to look for her brother.

The two set out in one of the Moon Fargo buggies and you know they’ll get close especially as events take a turn for the mysterious as they are attacked by three ray-gun men, not in black but in yellow, green and red spacesuits – so you can distinguish them.

Ready, set go!
The two stories now appear to be connected in the most sinister way but before he can do anything about it, Bill must somehow get back to safety as the fuel runs low, the temperature goes up and the clothes start falling off Clementine…

Dusty verdict: Moon Two Zero is undemanding fun and not as toe-curling as those cartoon titles suggest. The effects are well rendered and one imagines some of those working on the film had experience with Mr Gerry Anderson which can only be good.

James Olsen makes for a good world-weary space-hand whilst Catherine Schell is good too – and I have to say the Space 1999 make-up didn’t do her many favours as she is so good looking here especially with her natural long brown hair: just a lovely face!

The whole effort is worth your while and if you like Gerry Anderson I dare say you’ll like this. As I wrote in an earlier post, the future’s not what it used to be but wouldn’t we all like to like in a time when space travel is so routine and in which frontier men and women still strove to advance Man’s position in space.

Moon Two Zero is available on DVD from Amazon.

Catherine von Schell

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Devil’s disciples… Eye of the Devil (1966)

Or Tales of the Expected (Part Two)… This film has atmosphere aplenty but not so much tension or indeed mystery; the premise reveals itself quite early on and as you wait for supernatural twists and turns or a resolving hero it still carries on its course.

There is a top notch cast – legends in fact: Niven and Kerr – along with eye-catching new-comers such as David Hemmings and the simply-stunning Sharon Tate and all perform well. J. Lee Thompson directs with assurance and the cinematography from Erwin Hillier makes the most of some lovely locations, most notably the Château de Hautefort. But the whole is slightly less than the sum of these fascinating parts.
Sharon and some friends...
There’s a moment when a frog is seemingly turned into a dove and another when mesmeric powers seem to be deployed but the magic only leads down dead-ends and isn’t really a feature of the resolution. It’s a bit like The Wicker Man… without the suspense: the magic ingredient in fact.

This might be the result of numerous changes in personnel during production: Kim Novak either injured herself in a riding accident or fell out with the producers and was replaced by Deborah Kerr whilst a number of directors came and went and Terry Southern was brought in (uncredited) to add zip to the screenplay. The result is not so much uneven as just a bit flat. But… if you like black and white forebodings, a touch of the pagan, beautiful blondes and Donald Pleasence… then you won’t be wasting your time.

David Niven and Deborah Kerr
All begins in the reassuring sophistication of urban Paris as the demi monde joins millionaire wine producer Philippe de Montfaucon (David Niven) hosts a soiree with his wife Catherine (Deborah Kerr). The guests listen to a harp player – such a strange instrument for an evening gathering – and the host’s son, Jacques (Robert Duncan) comes down from his bedroom to wander over and stare at the musician as he works the strings… the World moves in mysterious ways and the music we might take for granted is worked in a way the boy was not expecting.

Where Phillipe a Lancastrian cotton merchant there might be trouble at mill but right now he has malady du vin as poor crops have led to a collapse in his yield and the community based around his family seat is struggling. A man arrives asking him to return immediately: he is the only one who can save the situation.

His wife is confused wondering how much he can do – one man balanced against the combined forces of the weather and the soil. But you wonder how well she knows her man as his home isn’t exactly “normal”…

The de Caray's watch and take aim...
The family chateau sits atop a hill overlooking its vineyards and overshadowing the small town below… there are some lovely shots as Philippe’s E-Type Jaguar arrives (always a sucker for sixties sports classics!) and the local flavours are gradually introduced. The weird priest Pere Dominic (Donald Pleasence), the traumatised old aunt, Countess Estel (Flora Robson) and the enigmatic blonde de Caray twins…

David Hemmings swings
Christian de Caray (David Hemmings) carries a bow and arrow and shoots a dove out of the sky as Catherine and the children arrive: youthful high spirits of course but you have to admit it’s a bit odd.

His sister Odile (Sharon Tate) has other, more sinister weapons at her disposal and charms the children with her frog to dove conversion whilst encouraging them to walk on the edge of the roof. Christine sees this and rushes to intervene but is overcome with what can only be seen as Odile appears to freeze her in her tracks and then, through auto-suggestion, move her closer to the edge.

It's a long way down isn't it?
 Before things go too far, Phillipe intervenes but it’s quite clear that Christine isn’t wanted…

At night Christine sees men arriving on horseback and following them encounters her husband who says he’s heard and seen nothing. Later she spies a ritual in the Chateau’s chapel; it’s clearly not Christian…

From now it’s only a question of the mysteries building up and Catherine being frightened into frenzy. Countess Estel knows but isn’t really telling whilst there’s the mystery of her disappeared brother. Researching the family reveals that the male line has always died a violent death – mere bad luck says Phil – whilst there’s a rather specific painting showing one man surrounded by cloaked figures who seem almost to be hunting him…

Watching and waiting
All the while Christina pops up with his bow and arrow whilst Odile turns up and just looks… and, let’s be honest; Sharon Tate is a very good looker indeed. Here she doesn’t have to do much but look beautiful (big tick!) and detached (another tick, not as emphatic as the first. But, to be honest, even Mr Hemmings struggles to make much meat out of his role: there’s simply not enough there to develop.

The people understand...
Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the Wicker Man or just that the ending seems nailed on quite early on especially as the entire village is gradually revealed to be in on the deal. It’s a pre-Christian society with pagan beliefs that pre-date the bible and which yet use it to reinforce their belief in sacrifice. If the crop is failing then it must be that the gods are angry and the balance needs to be redressed in the time-honoured way.

The ritual begins...
The main difference with the later film is that whereas Lord Summerisle knows he is controlling his islanders through ritual – it’s a deliberate act of crowd-pleasing mumbo-jumbo – here it looks like all involved actually believe in the paganism which, when you think about it, adds a different dimension it’s an evil they all accept.

Under pressure
So, who, if anyone will come forward to rescue the family or is the cycle of noble-nobility sacrifice continue?

Dusty verdict: Eye of the Devil is a well-made film and looks superb even in black and white. It’s worth a watch with top-notch performances from Kerr, Niven, Pleasence and Robson but don’t expect to be haunted… except by the stunning Sharon.

The film is available on DVD from Amazons.