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

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