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Woman in the Moon (1929)


Parts of Woman in the Moon are familiar; we’ve seen them in countless science-fiction movies over the years. However, because it was made in 1929, we can hardly accuse it of borrowing from other films. I never realized how often other films borrowed from it and it’s never been on my radar like Fritz Lang’s other sci-fi masterpiece, Metropolis (1927.)

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Supposedly, the film was banned in Germany during World War II because of the similarities of its rocket ship, Friede, to an actual V-2 rocket project. Indeed, Woman in the Moon gets several things right about the future of space launches; for example, its countdown from ten to zero and its ejection of part of the rocket once it’s passed through Earth’s atmosphere.

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On the other hand, it gets several things wrong, which puts some fun in a movie that is at times like a documentary. For example, we now know that we can neither breathe fresh air on the moon, nor find gold in its caves. These were probably not among the elements that caused IMDb to categorize it as an Adventure-Comedy, though.

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I wouldn’t include the word “comedy” in its classification, but there is a humorous character, Professor Georg Manfeldt (Klaus Pohl), who’s become a bit of a mess after his original presentation about gold on the moon is ridiculed by his peers. If we find ourselves laughing at Woman in the Moon, we should heed his words at the end of the presentation, seen in flashback

Laughter is the argument of idiots.

Woman in the Moon is long. When I watched it on TCM, the running time showed three hours. I fully anticipated watching it in chunks; never mind that it actually runs only two-and-a-half hours. At any length, I would have been engaged and entertained. As I’ve said before, it helps when you must give your full attention when watching a silent film.

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It’s not all space adventure, though. The first third of the film is earthbound, with a consortium of men that want to steal the plans for the expedition from Wolf Helius’s (Willy Fritsch) safe because they believe gold on the moon belongs to businessmen, not idealists. In essence, they blackmail Wolf and his partner, Hans Windegger (Gustav von Wangenheim) into taking one of their men, Walter Turner (Fritz Rasp) with them.

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Adding some soap to the wash is Friede Velten (Gerda Maurus), to whom Hans is engaged, sparking jealousy from Wolf. Any good drama must have a love triangle, right? A fifth passenger is Gustav (Gustl Gstettenbaur), a young boy that stows away armed with knowledge he’s gathered from reading his Nick Carter pulp fiction magazines.

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In a strange way, Woman in the Moon evokes Lost in Space for me. We’ve got the “family” on board, as well as the movie’s own version of television’s Dr. Smith in Walter Turner. At one point, Wolf even explains that if they are unable to halt the ship’s velocity, they’ll be “lost in space.” Thankfully, that never happens (and there are no robots), but…

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…there is an accident (pre-The Martian) and there’s not enough fuel to get everyone home. One of them must remain on the moon. In situations like these, we learn people’s true character. As I re-read what I’ve written, I’m amazed at how much Woman in the Moon accomplishes for a 1929 silent film. I’ve got to stop being amazed by what silent films accomplish, though. I’ve seen enough of them to know better by now.


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