Murder By Moonlight (1989) poster

Murder By Moonlight (1989)


aka Murder in Space; Murder on the Moon

UK/USA. 1989.


Director – Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Teleplay – Carla Jean Wagner, Producer – Tamara Asseyev, Photography/Model Effects – David Watkin, Music – Trevor Jones, Special Effects Supervisor – Grahame Longhurst, Production Design – Austin Spriggs. Production Company – Tamara Asseyev, Productions Inc./London Weekend Television/Viacom.


Brigitte Nielsen (Lieutenant Maggie Bartok), Julian Sands (Major Stepan Kirilenko), Gerald McRaney (Dennis Huff), Jane Lapotaire (Louise Mackay), Brian Cox (Colonel Voronov), Alphonsia Emmanuel (Dr Isabel Klein), Michael J. Shannon (Vince Ivanov), Celia Imrie (Patsy Diehl), David Yip (Gary Chang), Steven Jenn (Kevin Faber), Georgina Hale (Allison Quinney), Berwick Kaler (Dr Trifonov), Tomek Bork (Captain Yevgeny Sorokin), Ricco Ross (Alvarado)


The year 2104. The dead body of Jake Elazar is found in a mine on the Cruz-McKinney 3 moonbase. Because Cruz-McKinney 3 is an American base located in Soviet territory, the Russians despatch KGB agent Major Stepan Kirilenko to conduct an investigation. NASA also sends an investigator in Lieutenant Maggie Bartok, although she has no official jurisdiction on the base. Cruz-McKinney commander Dennis Huff refuses to cooperate with the ice cold Kirilenko until he allows Bartok access to the investigation. The testy relationship between Kirilenko and the Amazonian Bartok starts to thaw as they realise that Elazar was murdered. In trying to determine who may have had cause to murder him, they uncover a web of corruption among the Soviets on the base – and then realise they have latched onto an even bigger secret than that.

Murder By Moonlight, known under a variety of names in video release, is a science-fiction tv movie from the 1980s. A British-American co-production, the film was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, a celebrated director from British television who had started out making music video clips for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. His most well-known work was one half of the episodes for the stunning tv adaptation of Brideshead Revisited (1981).

Amid the principally British cast, the leads were Julian Sands, whose name had just started to rise in the four years prior, and Brigitte Nielsen. Nielsen had come to fame as a model, was then cast as the lead in Red Sonja (1985) and went on to parts opposite Sylvester Stallone in Rocky V (1985) and Cobra (1986), briefly married Stallone and made a handful of other films like Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), about which time she had become a Hollywood joke for her phenomenal set of breast implants and near-total lack of acting ability. Murder By Moonlight was about Nielsen’s sixth acting role. By the early 1990s, she had virtually disappeared as any name of substance and most of the rest of her career has been spent in B movies. Michael Lindsay-Hogg vies between casting Brigitte Nielsen for her Amazonian appeal – the first sight we have of her is she getting out of her spacesuit where the camera closes in on her breasts resplendently swelling out of a red bustier.

Opposite her, Julian Sands does the cold, clipped and emotionally repressed Russian thing rather well. Indeed, while many of Julian Sands’ B movie performances of the coming decade slipped into bad overacting, he is fine here. Brigitte Nielsen, however, is characteristically wooden, which comes in contrast to her character who is meant to be sharp and intelligent. She however plays with a good-natured ease and at least it could be said that this is one of the better performances that Nielsen has ever given. There is a wonderfully well-developed sense of sexual tension between Sands and Nielsen, which forms one of the strongest elements of the film.

Murder By Moonlight falls into the type of Lunar hard science-fiction adventure that has been used by a number of British tv series such as Moonbase 3 (1973), Space: 1999 (1975-7) and StarCops (1987), an arena that one has always thought has far more potential than has been used on the cinema screen to date – the sole exception might be the underrated Moon Zero Two (1969). Murder By Moonlight does have an interesting story. It is one of the science-fiction films of the era – others included Quatermass (1979), 2010 (1984) and Robot Jox (1990) – that assumed (incorrectly) that tensions between the US and Soviet Union would extend well into the future. (In reality, the Soviet Union was dissolved a mere two years after Murder By Moonlight aired).

That aside, the tensions and grudging cooperation between the two sides forms the core of Murder By Moonlight. The great surprise about the film is just how respectful and cognisant it is of the Soviet side of things. The international conflict is played out into a plausible situation and with a high degree of tension. There is also much made in terms of the contrast between the two differing police styles employed by either side. Part of the reason for such a focus is that Murder By Moonlight looks like it has been produced by a Russian or certainly someone with a Russian name – Tamara Asseyev.

One of the more amusing aspects about Murder By Moonlight is the datedness of the supposedly futuristic technology looking back on the film two decades later. The surveillance cameras are big bulky things about the size of toasters, everything is recorded on videotapes, the computers all look like old 286s with black-and-white graphics, while a digital picture takes about two minutes to download. The other amusing thing is the great debate at the end that comes in trying to find the identity of the terrorist who may or may not have had a sex change. Of decided amusement is the fact that nobody ever bothers to consider fingerprints as a possibility in determining his/her identity, while the modern notion of DNA fingerprinting would have resolved the issue in a snap.

Trailer here

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