Did you know that the United States manned space program began at a diner party when a chimpanzee stabbed an Air Force captain in the ass with a fork? I always had my suspicions, but the important thing to remember about this bizarre event is that it is the last interesting thing that happens in Moon Pilot and it comes about fifteen minutes into what feels like a mission-to-Mars-length 98 minute running time.
This is a relatively early live action film from the Walt Disney Company and it’s notable for how little drama – real, imagined, or even forced, it contains. I’m still not sure how it managed to accomplish this since the movie involved a chimp, a reluctant astronaut (Tom Tryon), a sexy alien chick, and a gruff Brian Keith.
Much like the similarly boring First Men In The Moon, this movie seemingly starts out with a bang as we are in the midst of some space mission, where a capsule is orbiting the moon and everyone at mission control (three or four guys in front of about two banks of blinking lights) is really nervous about the mission as we were in a space race with the Soviets back then.
On the ground you’ve got General Vanneman (Keith) who we know is gruff because he is constantly barking out his lines and chomping a cigar. Also present is Senator McGuire who is there to provide failed attempts at comedy involving how clueless our elected officials are. Almost without exception, these bits fall flat and you’re just hoping that the General will start growling and snorting again to fill the silence that follow these bombs.
One almost wonders if there was some half-assed effort with this movie to poke fun at the space race and the obsession our government had with it, but it’s a one note joke that is played so broadly and unimaginatively that it’s an utter failure.
The space mission turns out okay and we meet Captain Talbot (Tryon from I Married a Monster from Outer Space) and he gets a little woozy when he’s in the airplane trying to recover the space capsule, making him the best candidate to go to the moon because of the hi-jinks involving barf in a zero-g environment.
Another wacky moment comes when Talbot fishes the astronaut out of the capsule and it turns out to be Charlie the chimp!
Later at a dinner party celebrating the mission’s success, the General tells all the pilots in the program that they are going to move on to the next phase of the project – sending a man up. He asks for volunteers, but it turns out that no one wants to go! These guys aren’t obviously from the Right Stuff school of kick ass test pilots, but are closer to college kids that sit in the back of the lecture hall.
This is where Charlie comes in. He’s been out of control the whole night, making farting noises, putting his bowl on his head, and smoking cigars. Heck, he’s been up there and back, so he’s the Man!
He stabs his buddy Talbot in the butt with a fork and this is mistaken by the General for a volunteer. Why the General thinks a guy jumping up, screaming, and holding his ass is someone volunteering for anything is probably best left to his therapist to figure out.
Talbot flies out to see his mom before his mission and on the plane a sexy chick named Lyrae starts talking to him and Talbot thinks she is some type of spy. He ditches her once he gets off the plane and gets a ride back to his mom’s house with his kid brother (Tommy Kirk in a pointless cameo).
Once home, Talbot discovers that Lyrae is still pursuing him and he does everything he can to avoid it. She says that she only needs to tell him something important, but Talbot is a spaz and has been conditioned to fear strangers by his superiors even if they are hotties with French accents!
For some reason, Lyrae is described by Talbot to the General as a Beatnik despite looking like a fashion model. This allowed them to parade a bunch of Beatnik chicks in a police line-up later on in the movie when the Feds were trying to find this girl. Heh. What happened to that chimp again?
Lyrae is not a spy, but is from an advanced race who already know all about space travel and she’s just trying to warn Talbot that he needs to put some different shielding on his space ship so he doesn’t go bananas like Charlie did when he returned from his mission. (You mean sticking that fork in Talbot’s butt wasn’t part of his training?)
Once Talbot finally gets around to getting launched, the shielding doesn’t matter since Lyrae teleports onto his ship and they decide to go to her planet thus ending the film in a rather abrupt fashion.
Edmond O’Brien shows up as an FBI-type guy who is kind of protecting Talbot from Lyrae, but his role is little more than crabbiness and befuddled incompetence. The French chick that plays Lyrae doesn’t bring much to the table beyond the expected girlish surprise all aliens have at how humans kiss each other.
A plodding, earthbound sci-fi flick that made you wish you had left with Tommy Kirk when he quickly exited things after doing nothing more than driving Talbot home.
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