Moon Pilot (1961)


USA. 1961.


Director – James Neilson, Screenplay – Maurice Tombragel, Story – Robert Buckner, Photography – William Snyder, Music – Paul Smith, Songs – Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman, Special Effects – Eustace Lycett, Art Direction – Carroll Clark & Marvin Aubrey Davis. Production Company – Disney


Tom Tryon (Captain Richmond Talbot), Dany Saval (Lyrae), Edmond O’Brien (McClosky), Brian Keith (General John Vanneman)


When volunteers are called for the first manned space mission, nobody stands up until a lab chimpanzee jabs Captain Richmond Talbot in the butt with a fork. Accepted, Talbot is ordered to keep news of the Moon mission an absolute secret. He then meets the mysterious Lyrae, who claims to be from the planet Beta Lyrae, saying that she has come to warn him that the rocket must be coated with a special formula she gives him or else his mind will be turned to jelly by positrons once the rocket is launched. As the two of them are hunted and harassed by FBI agents and Talbot’s superiors, Talbot begins to realize he is falling for Lyrae.

This is one of Disney’s live-action fantasy comedies of the 1960s. It was made just after The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) when the formula of these comedies had not yet become a standardized. At the same time, Moon Pilot lacks the inspired invention of The Absent-Minded Professor. The entire production covers the same outer space as source of male sex fantasy territory as efforts like Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), Devil Girl from Mars (1954), Cat-Women of the Moon (1953), Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956) and Queen of Outer Space (1958) – only in this instance it is restricted by the Disney family sensibility.

Like its sex content, Moon Pilot is frustratingly slight in both conception and delivery. Any idea of a Moon shot or about alien contact is discarded in favour of comic chase shenanigans and banal romance. The so-called comedy only consists of a series of insipid bumblings and hapless facial double-takes. For all the alienness that Dany Saval displays, the film could be about a spy being seduced by a French coquette. Thomas Tryon displays the lugubrious haplessness that seems requisite for Disney heroes but the perpetual dumbness that is required of him – he never ever seems to find it odd that Dany Saval can read his mind, never questions how it is that she knows so much top secret information, how she continues to pop up and why he should accept the formula she gives him – goes beyond mere plot convenience into major irritation. To add insult to injury when, nearly three-quarters of the film in, she finally reveals what even the youngest kid in audience has guessed by now, that she is an alien, he proceeds to laugh at her.

Star Thomas Tryon later became a moderately popular Gothic horror novelist – the two films adapted from his work were The Other (1972) and the tv movie The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (1978).

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