Frau Im Mond (Woman In The Moon) (Cert U)
2 Discs DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: Eureka) Running Time: 169 minutes approx.
Fritz Lang was a director of great ambition and an even greater vision for exploring and exploiting the possibilities for the medium of cinema to create immense visual spectacles. No genre or story was seemingly too big or to small for Lang to turn into a seminal epic, taking in historical fantasy, political espionage and sheer megalomaniac greed. Having tackled science fiction with his 1927 magnum opus Metropolis, Lang looked to science fact with Frau Im Mond.
Wolf Helius (Willy Fritsch) is an entrepreneur intrigued by the treatise of Professor Georg Manfeldt (Klaus Pohl) who believes it is possible to send a manned rocket to the moon where gold has recently been discovered. Manfeldt was ridiculed by his peers at a conference many years before and subsequently spent his time living as a recluse while working on the moon project.
Helius wants the chance to put Manfeldt’s theories to the test and build a rocket along with his closest friends and colleagues Hans Windegger (Gustav von Wangenheim) and his fiancée Friede Velten (Gerda Maurus). Their plans are jeopardised when a rich criminal known only as “Mr. Turner” (Fritz Rasp) uses underhanded tactics to blackmail Helius into including Turner on the moon trip.
Perhaps not Lang’s greatest work but certainly ranks as among his most important and influential. As much as his most acclaimed film Metropolis provided the template for futuristic sci-fi in both print and on screen, Frau Im Mond – based on the novel by Lang’s then wife Thea von Harbou – effectively wrote the rule book not just for space travels in movies but in real life too, being recognised as the first sci-fi film to be based on science fact.
To coincide with the film’s promotion a rocket scientist named Hermann Oberth agreed to build a working liquid fuelled rocket to launch at the film’s premiere. This never happened but a year later a working rocket was launched providing the foundation for future space travel plans which eventually led to the epoch making moon landing of 1969. Another point worth noting is that the now customary countdown procedure was actually created by Lang for this film and since has been adopted by official space programmes for all exploration launches. Who says cinema can’t change the world?
On a darker note, this, like Lang’s other works, was lost for many years only to appear in various edited forms before this recent reconstructed full length 169 minute version was made available. The reason for this film going AWOL was down to one Adolf Hitler. Under the influence of this film the Nazis developed their infamous V2 rockets but didn’t want everyone to know their secrets so he ordered every print of the film to be destroyed. Clearly he missed a few.
Back to the film’s content and unfortunately it is quite a bloated affair and some serious trimming of about an hour would have been mercifully prudent. For the sci-fi fans wanting to see some rocket action, this doesn’t take place until around the 85 minute mark; everything up until then is concerned with establishing the characters and the tedious nefarious actions of Mr. Turner and his cronies.
The lengths Turner goes to in order to force Helius to let him join the moon expedition are excessive and almost comical even for silent cinema and lacking in any real tension or inventiveness. Throw in a painfully protracted bread dinner with the impoverished Manfeldt and a soppy distraction in the engagement between Hans and Friede which becomes a love triangle later on as Helius is ion love with Friede, and you have a film in which the first half is largely redundant and could have been dealt with inside twenty five minutes.
Thankfully things get more interesting when the launch takes place although this also is the point where the science fact makes way for science fiction. Lang was keen to include as much credible information as possible for these scenes, with the effects of G-Force, the lack of gravity and the possibility of no oxygen on the moon.
The launch itself looks impressive in the build up but the actual event is somewhat risible, as the rocket simply shoots off like a firework and not in a slow rumble as we now know they do. The crew also wear regular clothing and not space suits, so they pass out once they leave orbit. Oh and a young lad named Gustav (Gustl Gstettenbaur) who is obsessed with sci-fi stows away on the rocket, being the inspiration for many a teen sidekick in 1930’s serials.
The gravity defying scenes are handled with wires but still fun, while the method Lang created to ensure they remain grounded was to fix straps to the ground for them to step into! The moon surface is as accurate as you may expect for the information at hand in 1929, with some well observed touches like bubbling pools of hot liquid and exotic shaped rock on what was a sound stage covered with imported sand!
The story eventually dissolves into a melodrama revolving around the aforementioned love triangle, greed and deception only set on the moon. To that end anyone thinking that they will be experiencing a quaint, predecessor of Flash Gordon and the like will be in for a huge disappointment. Others might find the near three hour running time a slog due to the material but there can be no doubt that Frau Im Mond is still an important landmark film from a man who is often imitated but never duplicated.
New 1080p presentation in original 1:33:1 aspect ratio
Original German intertitles with English Subtitles
The First Scientific Science Fiction Film – 15 minute documentary by Gabriele Jacobs
Rating – ****
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