Mystery Science Theater 3000: PROJECT MOONBASE, with RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON parts 7 and 8
November 9, 2014 10:10 PM - Season 1, Episode 9 - Subscribe

(1953, B&W, Sci-fi, Lippert, Heinlein, Misogyny, Short) Robert Heinlein wrote the script. A commie spy plots to sabotage a mission to orbit the Moon, causing the mission to instead land on the Moon, and thus resulting in the first US moonbase. Also, the male and female pilots of the mission get married. "UP! UP! UP! ...to a New World of Adventure! Thrills Come Rocketing to the Screen as Science Smashes a New Frontier!" Prepare yourself for casual chauvinism, dirty Commie spies, lots of shots of spinning dials and blinking lights, and loads and loads of Spacom! YouTube(1h36m)

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IMDB (2.7 stars)
"A saboteur posing as a scientist strives to destroy the world's first space station."
Directed by Richard Talmadge. Written by Robert A. Heinlein and Jack Seaman. Starring Donna Martell, Hayden Rorke and Ross Ford.
posted by JHarris (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've been trying not to do these kinds of huge writeups, but for this one I couldn't help myself! So....

Michael Weldon writes in the indispensable Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film:
Episodes of an unsold television series edited into a feature. In the future (1970) a spaceship leaves an orbiting station for the Moon. A Communist saboteur destroys its chances of returning, but a surviving couple are married and congratulated by the female President on a TV screen. The commanding officer is a woman, too. The best part is the spacesuits: shorts, T-shirts, boots, and skull caps!
Kevin Murphy, a deft hand with words when bile is needed, had this to say about the film in The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide:
It's way far in the future (1970) and the space race is on! The free world's space program, run by the embarrassingly named SPACOM, has built a Frisbee in high earth orbit. Hayden Rorke, the guy who played Dr. Bellows on I Dream of Jeannie, is in charge of the whole mess, and his first act is to belittle and cajole his best pilot, Colonel Briteis, for no other reason than that she is a woman. He even threatens to spank her. After humiliating her, Dr. Bellows puts her in charge of the "look but don't touch" moon mission. He appoints as her copilot a guy named Bill who hates her because she's a woman. Also on board is a counterfeit scientist who's actually a spy bent on sabotage. The spy's complete lack of scientific knowledge doesn't seem to raise any suspicions, so off they go to the moon. The spy has no idea that Brooklyn is the home of the Dodgers, basic information any spy since Stalag 17 ought to know. Well, he cocks up the whole mess, the crew accidentally lands on the moon, and the spy gets hisself killed. Cool, confident commander lady Briteis goes all rubbery and becomes instantly and completely codependent on the loathsome Bill, who becomes instantly attracted to the now-simpering personality and extremely pert breasts of Colonel Briteis. The world finds out that they are living on the moon together, and the head of SPACOM insists they get married to avoid scandal. In a last pathetic act of subjugation, Colonel Briteis insists that the macho shitheel Bill be promoted to general, so he'll outrank his new wife and be able to boss her around and make her do stuff she doesn't want to do.
Host Segments:
Invention Exchange: Joel juggle water with ping-pong paddles, the Insect-A-Sketch
1: Servo and Crow play Commando Cody, with Joel's help.
2: Joel and the bots demonstrate the future of neckties.
3: A commercial for Spacom (pronounced "Spack'em").
End: The guys read letters from viewers.

Radar Men From The Moon had 12 episodes in theaters, but only nine were shown on Mystery Science Theater. Seven and Eight were aired here, leaving one more for next week, the infamous one where the Mads claimed the "film broke" before the cliffhanger. One cool bit in the first short is Joel holding up giant letters reading POW and OOF during the episode's mandatory scientist-clobbering scene.

Joel: "My flying helmet's really hard on my head. Ted, how do you keep your head so smooth and young-looking, besides using shellac all the time?"

The second short is the long-awaited return to the Moon. I like how the crew of Cody's spaceship use drafting paper and a compass in charting their course to the freaking Moon. In a particularly laughable sequence, Cody incapacitates a moonman by squeezing the air hose on his spacesuit (never mind how moon men come to be on a world with no air), which causes him to faint in seconds. He then takes the evil footsoldier back to his spaceship where he comes to enjoy a good meal provided by our heroes! It's because we're so gosh darn nice and all dontcha know.

Joel, upon seeing a moon man vehicle: "You know, these moon men have uses for plywood we haven't even dreamed of yet." This short also contains the first use of early MST3K catchphrase: "By this time my lungs were aching for air!" It's used twice. The firs time it's not said by Crow, imitating Lloyd Bridges, but by the Josh Weinstein-voiced Tom Servo! But we get Crow saying it later, too. It still makes me chuckle.

The movie makes an interesting narrative choice to begin focusing on the bad guys, who you aren't even sure aren't actually the heroes for a couple of minutes at the start. We don't even meet our actual heroes for a good ten minutes.

Another prominent early show meme, and a favorite of mine, is of course Spacom, the mysterious glowing does-everything product the guys hawk during the second host segment.

I've already ranted about the rather shocking misogyny on display in the movie, but I don't think, even yet, I've gotten across how bad it is. Robert Heinlein had both good and bad points as an author, but I don't think this one goes down as a credit to his legacy. After we drop the stuff with the spies at the beginning it doesn't take long for the movie's disdain for women to show up. An early subplot involves female Colonel Briteis escorting in a reporter named ugh Polly Prattles, who was told she could have an exclusive interview by the President. The President also commanded the commander of the space program to give Briteis the job of being the first human to orbit the moon, above the male commander's first choice, Bill. We're told that the commander would rather have Bill make the flight. Late in the movie we find out the President is a woman too, giving this movie about the colonization of the moon a surprisingly loud "war between the sexes" theme.

When the overweight reporter Polly Prattles shows up, the guys lay on a number of fat jokes at her expense, starting with "and the Beast!" It's just another example, I think, of how the show's tone wasn't settled yet, as it's hard to imagine the show going on with such a sequence later. The word is that, later at least, in the writing room for MST3K, it took just one writer's veto to kill a joke (which makes the show's amazing joke density in seasons two and later even more impressive). But also, even though Kevin Murphy rightly laid into the movie in the ACEG entry above, there is surprising little commentary about it in the riffing.

Another prop gimmick from Joel, when the commander is explaining to Polly how the space station works, he holds up giant cue cards at just the place where he's looking as he falters through the lengthy exposition.

The special effects in the space station scenes are hilarious, with people walking on the ceiling for no reason, and the conference done in a world where the briefing officers are on one wall and our heroes sitting on chairs on another. Signs, both upright and upside-down, plainly say in large letters PLEASE DO NOT WALK ON THE WALLS. As Joel says, "Boy, walking on the walls must be a big problem!"

The scene where the capsule detaches from the space station tries hard to impress the viewer with a bunch of transparently phony jargon, pointless instruments including read-out dials with no numbers on them (Joel: "You know, numbers are really meaningless on a Gravitometer.") and a heaping load of the ol' majestic grandeur music, probably because those things are a lot cheaper, when it comes to padding out the movie's short length, than having actual stuff happen on-screen.

Continuing on that theme... there is an awful lot of nothing in this movie, it is ruthlessly padded. Every minor point that could cause problems for our heroes is drawn out. About three minutes is wasted on the simple act of Briteis trying to contact the Earth, which of course Bill has to tell her which magic button to press to succeed in contacting them. (The miracle button, by the way, is THREE.) But yeah, besides the spy, nearly all the peril in the movie is contrived, or even self-inflicted. Bill goes out just a little too far for his oxygen supply and barely makes it back to the ship; Briteis doesn't know the magic button to contact Earth; the ship went out without enough supplies for an emergency landing; and so on. Of course all danger and conflict in movies is arbitrary, but this movie, in my opinion, does an exceptionally poor job of masking that fact. The movie barely has a three act structure because of it.

When Bill is guiding in the supply rocket, it just oscillates, going from right-to-left across the viewscreen, then from left-to-right. What is the purpose of this activity? Of this scene? It's just more padding.

One point in Heinlein's favor, however, is that the movie came out ten years before the Moon landing and yet gets the facts of the lunar surface largely right. There's no "moon men," no weird terrain other than rocks, reasonably low gravity, and no atmosphere at all, mostly things that the Commando Cody shorts get wrong. (The Moon in the serial has an atmosphere, it's just depleted by moon man carelessness.) Really, the Cody serials are so laughable that they show light skies and clouds over the lunar surface, not even bothering to film at night, and the Earth itself is shown, at a distance, to be suspended in a great cloudy blue void.

Check it out, when Briteis is calling the Earth on her snazzy videophone, when the transmission hasn't gone through, it shows a test pattern!

When Bill checks out the contents of the supply rocket, Crow rattles off the list of emergency supplies Major Kong read off in Dr. Strangelove.

Space pilots in this movie are lauded like superhuman entites, and Bill Moore and Col. Briteis are the two best pilots SPACOM has got, but whatever their laudable attributes are, we don't see it in the movie. "Piloting" here doesn't seem to be the domain of a Chuck Yeager as a Sulu-esqu helmsman, sitting at a board and punching buttons. No control yoke is visible, and the important instruments that they supposedly rely upon look far less imposing than those on an ordinary passenger jet. It looks like a trained monkey could do their job, which the movie's plot indirectly supports, making it clear that it doesn't really matter whether Briteis or Moore gets the coveted honor of flying the Magellian around the Moon. Either could do it, and so the matter of which one is at the helm is purely political.

The shock of Major Bellows when he hears that Briteis landed on the Moon is laughable. It's clear by this point in the movie that we could always have landed on it, I mean it's not even the first time ships have gone around it, they were just looking for a good spot! After all, the Magellan's mission was merely scouting. But if you want a really ludicrous plot development wait until show 201, when the intrepid crew of Rocketship X-M, on a flight to the Moon, end up accidentally making it to freaking Mars... and what do you know, it's all a woman's fault in that movie too! Stupid women!

But I can nearly feel the excitement in Heinlein's fingertips in writing the dialogue between Briteis and the commander about her landing on "Luna," no matter how insipid it is. After all, to him the stuff is momentous enough that it doesn't need varnishing with stuff like "excitement" or "interest." For what 50s science fiction author wouldn't jump at the chance of writing a scene of brave humans doing something wonderful and audacious? It's a kind of energy that I'm not sure still exists in the genre, and I'm quite sad about that.

But then in the final leg of the movie, the "classified" communication between the commander and Bill is just telling them that they (Bill and Briteis that is) gotta get married to prevent a big scandal with the public. Yes, that's a message worthy of high clearance scrambled communications. Oy. She agrees to marry Bill rather readily too, although, as Murphy told us above, she insists that Bill be promoted so he outranks her. That's the 50s for you.

Anyway, so that's Project Moonbase, a couple of young people crash on the moon and then get hitched, all so the President and a bunch of nosy Americans won't feel like they're boinking away in low gravity without God's approval, and all brought to you by the mind behind (the book) Starship Troopers. Sheesh.
posted by JHarris at 10:13 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sorry for the slight derail but I'd not thought to look up Heinlein in imdb. Green Hills of Earth amoung a few others were done on TV. I expect the most productions would be MSnK-able but it would be really interesting to see what was done with his stories. Stranger in a Strange Land must have been optioned at some point, perhaps one of the longest projects probably in continuous a state of turnaround.
posted by sammyo at 6:49 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


"These moonmen have uses for plywood that we haven't even dreamed of"
posted by hellojed at 11:59 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


And boy does it catch fish.
posted by grubi at 11:08 AM on November 11, 2014


The plan is to have the showing Thursday evening again at 6 PM Eastern. Hope you guys can make it, this is one of the best first season episodes, rivaled by Robot Monster and (next week's!) Robot Holocaust.
posted by JHarris at 2:16 PM on November 11, 2014


Project Moonbase is, like most of Heinlein's work, ultimately about ethics in game journalism...
posted by Naberius at 9:11 AM on November 12, 2014


The room is open, with less advance warning this time:
http://sync-video.com/r/rwyn1dR0

Main episode starts at 6 PM Eastern.
posted by JHarris at 2:27 PM on November 13, 2014


At the height of the chat we have seven people this week. (One less than reported, because I had a spare machine logged in for safety's sake.) Last week's numbers, BTW, were similar.

Community riffs:
I made a remark about how none of the pilots seem to actually have any real piloting ability or special genius or whatever, and what makes them so great anyway. I added that Bee from Bee & Puppycat should be hired for this as a temp job, as she obviously has enough skill for it. It was a perfect, beautiful idea that just won't leave my head, and a couple of attendees wondered if there was some way this could be done. But I don't think she deserves to be subjected to the questionable sexual politics of Heinlein Space.

Room 641-A revealed that her cat's name is Torgo! "She takes care of the place while I'm away." Now that's dedication to the cause. The whimsical, movie-mocking cause.

My favorite joke that I made personally, if I may share it with you, is that okay, it is?, thanks, it's when the commie spymaster was talking in a low monotone to his subordinates: "I'm sorry, your Henry Kissinger impression is about five octaves too high."

Next week on November 20 it's 110: ROBOT HOLOCAUST, it's a deeply weird movie, it's the most recent we've seen to date (it's from the 80s), it's in color, it was released direct to video, and it's baaaaad. See you then!
posted by JHarris at 7:32 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ack, sorry for the fadeaway halfway through. I got in the zone on some stats junk and looked up four hours later to find that I had completely lost awareness of everything except frantic, last-minute work.

I'm especially sorry I missed that Kissinger joke, good one JHarris! And Torgo is an delightful name for a cat, Room-641A. The first complementary MTS3k cat name that comes to my mind is Trumpy, which is just a little too disturbing to be OK. However, the advantage would be getting to say "Trumpy, you can do stupid things!" all the time, which I would quite enjoy. A cat named Rowsdower would also be pretty great.

Anyway, cheers to everyone, looking forward to next week.
posted by dialetheia at 2:35 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


If it's one of those cats who refuses to use the litterbox, I'd suggest Droppo.

Or, if the cat is very obese, how about (ugh) Old Man Crenshaw? When he walks by a doorway you can mystify friends by shouting "I SAW THE LITTLE CREATURE!"

Also, "cat" is a sharp one-syllable name, and so would fit in with the "Punch Bonemeal!" style David Ryder names.
posted by JHarris at 3:50 AM on November 15, 2014


I thought the bit about underfueling the lander was actually rather prescient, considering Apollo 10 did exactly that.
posted by ckape at 2:22 AM on January 23, 2017


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