First of the Fifties

destinationmoon Movie producer George Pal with Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis
Movie producer George Pal with Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis


Destination Moon produced by George Pal, is widely considered the first science fiction film to attempt a high level of accurate technical detail. Filmed in Technicolor, based on a book by Robert Heinlein, adapted for the screen by Alford Van Ronkel and James O’Hanlon, the film was released on June 27, 1950 in New York and on August 1, 1950 all over the United States. Background scenery and outer space scenes were created by Chesley Bonestell. Actually, the movie Rocketship X-M was released 25 days before Destination Moon. Because of the publicity buzz surrounding Destination Moon, with its budget of half a million dollars, Lippert Pictures saw an opportunity and rushed their relatively low budget ($94,000) Rocketship X-M into production, completing the entire film in only 18 days. These two movies were the start of something big. 

I enjoyed this review of the film by Scott Ashlin on his web site 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting:

“This is another one of those big, important movies that dorks like me are always going on about at the slightest excuse. Destination Moon’s importance stems from its being the first of the vast numbers of science fiction films that were produced during the 1950’s. Those were years of unprecedented visibility for science and technology, and the time was surely ripe for an equally unprecedented spike in the popularity of science fiction, provided the writers and filmmakers could find the right approach to tap into the zeitgeist.”

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And here is Scott Ashlin’s review of Rocketship X-M.


3 responses to “First of the Fifties”

  1. These films were are seminal. But 2001 takes the crown and raises the bar, imho.

    And: Hi, man! Haven’t seen your since LitKicks had a forum!


  2. You have a good point, Joachim. Today I looked up a list of all the science fiction movies from 1950 through 1970. The fifties were almost all schlock (but lots of fun schlock) and the early 60s weren’t much better. To me, it was 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) that really raised the bar for realism. I noticed that all my favorite sci-fi films of the 50s were set on Earth (The Thing From Another World, The Day the Earth Stood Still Still, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Invaders From Mars), which makes sense, of course, as they didn’t have to sustain believable outer space scenes. Not that Earth vs. the Flying Saucers was necessarily realistic, but it sure thrilled me when I was a kid. Having said all that, I should point out that I wasn’t saying Destination Moon set the stage for realism, just that it ushered in the classic era of 1950s science fiction. Some might say I’m drawing an artificial line between ’49 and ’50. I read somewhere that Son of Frankenstein was forward looking. Anyway, thanks for the comment. You really got me thinking and reading about tall these movies.

  3. “It was the start of something big”? Really? Very few SF films actually try to be “realistic.” I think the influence of the film is rather overrated… Few departed from the monster of the week mentality, even as of late.

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