Filmmakers have been going to the moon since Georges Méliès’ 1902’s A Trip to the Moon. Fritz Lang’s 1929 silent classic Woman in the Moon was the first to show series space travel and a multi-stage rocket. While Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers filled the screen with their space adventures in the 1930s and 40s, serious scientific travel wouldn’t return until 1950.
Producer George Pal had Robert A. Heinlein contribute to the screenplay and Pal made the movie into a big production, lots of publicity and a big budget for the effects. The publicity for the film prompted producer/director Kurt Neumann to quickly rush out and make the quick and cheap Rocketship X-M to cash in on Destination Moon.
The plot is pretty simple. Rocket scientist Dr. Charles Cargraves (Warner Anderson) wants to create a rocket to fly into space. His latest blows up after take off causing Cargraves to believe sabotage. General Thayer (Tom Powers) believes in Cargraves work and decides to get industrialist Jim Barnes (John Archer) to help fiance the project. They talking to several industrialists to get them to invest. Cargraves builds his ship but then receives word that the government doesn’t want him to test the rocket (this one is atomic and fears of radiation are the cause of concern). Cargraves, Barnes, Thayer decide to launch early. A last minute emergency forces Joe Sweeney (Dick Wesson) to join the crew.
The rocket launches beautifully. Once in space the crew put on space suits with magnetic shoes so they can walk and repair the ship. Cargraves starts to drift off into space but Barnes manages to use an oxygen tank as propellant to save Cargraves. After a couple of attempts they land on the moon.
While not entirely scientifically accurate to today’s standards this is still a fun film that at least tries to show what space and the moon would be like via 1950. There’s no evil villain, no terrifying alien life form, no underground civilizations just four people trying to problem solve the difficulties of traveling in space. George Pal’s next couple sci-fi films would begin to get more fantastic with When Worlds Collide and War of the Worlds but this was the movie that helped kick start the 1950s sci-fi space craze.