NUDE ON THE MOON (1961; directed by Doris Wishman; with William Mayer, Lester Brown, and Marietta)
IT’S TEMPTING to write-off this 1961 relic as a just plain awful waste of time. Poor production values, with sets that can’t quite surpass even Ed Wood’s cardboard cemetery in PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. It’s not only bad acting. It’s the lack of any acting whatsoever. And of course it goes without saying that there are much better lunar-themed films. Even a personal favorite of mine, the very much a product-of-its-time, DESTINATION MOON, would make for a more worthy tribute to the late Neil Armstrong.
But despite the film’s primary intent and its many flaws, NUDE ON THE MOON has a certain, honest-to-goodness, innocent charm. The effects, such as they are, are laughable at first. But after a while, I began to lament our present day, super-sophisticated dialog, rapid cutting, wall-to-wall soundtracks, CGI, and the overabundance of murderous, super-powered heroes and villains.
NUDE’s director, Doris Wishman, borrowed $10,000 from her sister in 1959 to make her first feature, HIDEOUT IN THE SUN, a nudist camp documentary. Her next film, in 1960, was NUDE ON THE MOON. Banned in New York, the censors said that showing nudes in a nudist colony setting was OK, but showing nudes on the moon in a sci-fi film was not. Wishman later worked with female stars like Chesty Morgan, and eventually moved on towards making more hardcore, “sexploitation” movies. She passed away in 2002.
There’s no cursing or bathroom humor here. In fact, you won’t find a mean word or unkind deed in the course of this wistful film. Sure, NUDE ON THE MOON was made–obviously–as a thin excuse to showcase topless women, of which there are several. But somehow there is nothing titillating or lecherous about the nudity. These characters look very well-adjusted, happy, and stable and content with their lives.
The movie’s point of view appears more like that of LOST HORIZON–the 1930s Frank Capra picture in which earthly travelers, each with their own problems, journey to a place where they discover what their lives have been missing. In the case of NUDE ON THE MOON, the traveler is a young rocketeer, so caught-up in his goal of getting to his imagined scientific paradise that he’s lost sight of the fact that he has a more human paradise right at home, on earth.
While the theme song (“Moon Doll”) is over-the-top corny, the “space ship” probably garnered from World War II salvage, and the attempts at any scientific accuracy almost nil, the movie left this over-60 viewer longing afterwards for far less-cynical days. Days when we spoke of the New Frontier, an exciting, optimistic time when President Kennedy boldly declared that “we will go to the moon!”. When none of us knew, but all of us wondered, dreamily, what we’d eventually encounter up there.