I was three-years old, when the originally titled, "Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon", premiered in New York City, on May 26, 1950. I would be around ten-years old, when I first saw the movie on Los Angeles television station, KHJ's, the "Million Dollar Movie", for five nights in a row, as "Rocketship X-M". It was also known as just, "Expedition Moon".
In this articles title I've used the word, "Anatomy", because I will be looking at many aspects of this cult classic.
"Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon", was one-part of America's "First Space Race". Fought between Producer Kurt Neumann's feature film and George Pal's "Destination Moon". This was a race to the box office to become the first motion picture to the tell story of a manned space flight to the moon, or so, "The Trade's", would claim.
The race was created by both "The Hollywood Reporter", and "Variety", and picked up by newspapers across the United States. The premise wasn't new, but the target was catchy. An unknown, low-budget, basically independent motion picture, was being made for the sole purpose of beating into movie theaters, the big budgeted, "Paramount Pictures" and George Pal production on the same topic. While, the smaller production was banking upon the public being confused that it was really the picture they kept reading about in the news and hearing about on television.
In this particular case, both motion pictures would benefit at that box office from the publicity of this "Space Race", not just the winner.
While, in several, secondary markets, the released dates of the two Science Fiction films would actually be reversed, based upon bookings.
Of course, both French film maker George Melies', 1902, short, "A Trip to the Moon", and German film maker Fritz Lang's, 1929, "Woman in the Moon", which created the rocket count-down, were from much earlier, but this was Hollywood, and at the time, most American's had never heard of either film.
"Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon" was "distributed" through "Lippert Pictures", and this gives the impression that Robert L. Lippert was completely behind the feature. That is partly true, but you will not find his name on the "Official Cast and Crew Listing" in any capacity, including "Producer".
Lippert was the "Presenter", giving him credit and name recognition for the distribution of the motion picture.
On the "Official Cast and Crew Listing", under the heading of "Producer", is the name Murray Lerner, with the misleading job title of "Executive Producer". Actually, Lerner was Robert L. Lippert's representative to the production, and his two primary functions were protecting any investment made by "Lippert Pictures", and making sure the film was completed on time. In conjunction with his second responsibility, Murray Lerner was to have the entire cast and crew on the set, daily, to start that day's filming on time, and back, on time, from lunch breaks. However, it was also the "Executive Producer's" direct responsibility for the marketing and initial bookings of "Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon", to beat "Paramount Picture's", "Destination Moon", into theaters.
Producer, Director, and Writer, Kurt Neumann
Robert L. Lippert, "Lippert Pictures", and Murray Lerner, aside, the real person behind "Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon", was Kurt Neumann.
Neumann was born in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany, on April 5, 1908. He left Germany with the rise of Adolph Hitler and came to the United States and went to work at "Universal Pictures".
His first picture, as a director, was the, 1931, Spanish language, "El Tenorio del harem (The Tenor of the Harem)". Eight-years later he directed actress Anna May Wong and J. Carrol Naish in the, 1939 mystery, "Island of Lost Men". Starting in 1945, Neumann directed Johnny Weissmuller and Brenda Joyce in three "Tarzan" adventures, in 1950, he directed Audie Murphy portraying "Billy the Kid", in "The Kid from Texas".
Although this feature film was released in 1950, it wasn't until 1957, that Kurt Neumann, truly, became associated with Horror and Science Fiction motion pictures. He began as the director of, 1957's, "She Devil", starring Mari Blanchard, and the same years, "KRONOS", starring Jeff Morrow. In 1958, Neumann directed the Science Fiction Horror classic, "The Fly".
Kurt Neumann was also a screenplay writer, and among his screenplays and treatments is his uncredited role on "Universal Picture's", 1936's, "Dracula's Daughter", starring Gloria Holden. In 1943, Neuman's story idea, became "Columbia Pictures", "The Return of the Vampire", starring Bela Lugosi. While in 1957, Kurt Neumann had written the screenplay for the "She Devil".
Neumann wore three hats and was also a producer. He produced four "Tarzan" films, "KRONOS", the "She Devil", and "The Fly".
Which brings me to Kurt Neumann wearing all three hats for this motion picture, but before I go into Neumann's story and screenplay. I turn to his role as the director and the casting of the main characters for the film, the musical score and the designing of the spacecraft itself.
The Crew of Rocketship X-M
Lloyd Bridges portrayed the "Pilot, Colonel Floyd Graham".
Lloyd Bridges was "Black Listed" by the "House Committee on Un-American Activities", because he admitted to once being a member of the "Actors' Laboratory Theatre", a group with links to the Communist Party. However, the "Black Listing" had to be very short, because, again it appears he never stopped his motion picture work. Later, Lloyd Bridges became televisions "Mike Nelson", for 155 episodes of "Sea Hunt", 1958-1961.
After the Second World War ended, in 1947, Hugh Charles Krampe, was accepted to the "Yale Law School", but before the start of the fall term. He was in Hollywood watching his girlfriend rehearse a stage production of playwright, William Somerset Maugham's, "Home and Beauty". The lead actor didn't show up and the director, actress Ida Lupino, asked Hugh to read the lines for her in rehearsal. He was asked to take the role, the play received major reviews, and his law career ended before it started, with a contract from a agent.
Hugh Krampe changed his name, when the play's printed program showed him as "Huge Krape". According to his obituary in the "Los Angeles Times", the actor was quoted as saying:
I decided right then I didn't want to go through life being known as Huge Krape, so I decided to take my mother's family name, O'Brien, but they misspelled it as 'O'Brian' and I just decided to stay with that
"Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon" was O'Brian's fifth on-screen appearance since portraying an uncredited sailor in the Roddy McDowall and Dan O'Herlihy, 1948, version of Robert Louis Stevenson's, "Kidnapped". Among his films is 1951's, "Little Big Horn", starring Lloyd Bridges, John Ireland, and Marie Windsor, 1952's, "Son of Ali Baba", starring Tony Curtis, Piper Laurie, and Susan Cabot, and the 1954 musical, "There's No Business Like Show Business", starring Ethel Merman, Donald O'Connor, Marilyn Monroe, Dan Dailey, Johnnie Ray, and Mitzi Gaynor. O'Brian was seventh billed as "Charles Gibbs". Basically, Hugh O'Brian was appearing on different television dramas until 1955. When he starred in "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" for 226 episodes through 1961.
The Project Director
Morris Ankrum portrayed "Dr Ralph Fleming".
Among Ankrum's other Science Fiction films is 1951's, "Flight to Mars", 1953's, "Invaders from Mars", Stop Motion Animator Ray Harryhausen's, 1956, "Earth vs the Flying Saucers", and Kurt Neumann's, 1957, "KRONOS", to name just a few.
At the end of Morris Ankrum's career in 1964, he had portrayed 331 different roles, not counting the 22 times he played a "Judge" on televisions "Perry Mason".
Between 1929 and 1931, Grofe composed "Five Pictures of the Grand Canyon", using music to describe each of the areas, but over time the composition became known as "The Grand Canyon Suite".
Shortly, after 1944, Ferde Grofe became a faculty member and the conductor of the orchestra for the "Julliard School of Music".
1: Main Title (1:21)
2: Good Luck (1:53)
3: Stand by to Turn (:50)
4: The Motors Conk Out (2:55)
5: Palomar Observatory (1:11)
6: Floyd Whispers (1:57)
7: Floyd and Lisa at Window (2:56)
8: We See Mars (2:06)
9: The Landing on Mars (3:17)
10: The Ruins (3:10)
11: I Saw the Martians (1:02)
12: The Atomic Age to Stone Age/The Chase (4:59)
13: The Tanks Are Empty (3:37)
14: The Crash (3:22)
15: End Title (:59)
16: Noodling on the Theremin (1:35)
Designing a Space Ship
Because of the budget restraints on the production, Theobold Holsopple, was both the Production Designer, overseeing the entire "Art Department", and Art Director, the head of the "Art Department", on "Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon".
I could not locate a photo of Holsopple, but this was his first feature film as a Production Designer and his fourth motion picture as the Art Director. Later, he would be Kurt Neumann's Production Designer on both 1957's, "She Devil", and "KRONOS", and Art Director on his 1958, "The Fly". By the end of his career in 1968, Theobold Holsopple would have ten motion pictures as Production Designer to his credit, and eighty-one as an Art Director.
For this picture, Theobold Holsopple assembled a main team of four men:
The Property Manager was Lou Asher, who started out in 1929, took a break in this job in 1939, and returned in 1950 for this motion picture. What happened during the break I could not locate, Asher would have been too old for the Military Draft in 1941, and there is no other information on line.
The original Special Effects on the picture was created by one man, Don Stewart, and this seems to be his only motion picture credit.
The Special Photographic Effects Creator was Canadian born, Jack Rabin. This was Rabin's fourth film in this category and his next was 1951's, "The Man from Planet X". While, Jack Rabin had also been working on regular Special Effects since 1947, but he didn't work in that area for this production. Rabin would be the Production Designer on 1951's, "Unknown World", Co-Producer for Kurt Neumann's 1957's, "KRONOS", and Co-Producer with Roger Corman, on 1958's, "War of the Satellites".
Matte Painter Irving Block, also would work on the Special and Visual Effects for this film. For 1956's, "Forbidden Planet", Block came up with the story and was the uncredited Production Designer. He was another Co-Producer, for Neumann's 1957, "KRONOS", and Designed the Special Effects. Irving Block's work in Visual Effects includes 1953's, "Invaders from Mars", Roger Corman's great titled, 1957, The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent", and Kurt Neumann's, 1959, "Atomic Submarine".
The screenplay for George Pal's, "Destination Moon", was based upon "Rocket Ship Galileo", a 1947, teenage aimed novel by author Robert A. Heinlein. Pal's screenplay was highly influenced by Heinlein's belief, at the time, that such a space craft could only be built by the American Industrial Complex, because such a project was beyond the government's vision and capability.
However, Kurt Neumann wanted something to catch his audience and make "Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon" standout from George Pal's "Destination Moon". That would come from an uncredited third screenplay writer in a very unusual situation.
I mention those Trumbo films, because in October, 1947, screenplay writer Dalton Trumbo, and nine others, were brought before the "House Committee on Un-American Activities", and became known as "The Hollywood Ten". The "Ten" refused to speak to their "Alleged" involvement in planting Communist views in motion picture screenplays, and refused to give the committee the names of other Communist sympathizers each knew.
It was Trumbo who made the rewrites to Kurt Neumann's Martian scenes and turned that portion of the screenplay into something designed to catch an audience. Trumbo turned the planet Mars into a wasteland after a "Nuclear War".
In 1960, producer and star Kirk Douglas, had Dalton Trumbo write the screenplay for "Spartacus". Douglas, then, put his name in large letters on the motion picture screen. Immediately after, producer Otto Preminger followed with Trumbo getting full writing credit for 1960's "Exodus". "The Hollywood Ten's" "Black Listing" had ended and the writer could return to the United States.
The only movie about the atomic bomb, to that date, was "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's", 1947, "The Beginning, or the End". That film starred Brian Donlevy as "Major General Leslie R. Groves", the head of "The Manhattan Project", and Hume Cronyn as "J. Robert Oppenheimer". This was the Hollywood flag waving version of creating the first atomic bomb, the dropping of the two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thereby forcing the Japanese surrender ending the Second World War.
Note the tag line on the above poster:
The Long-Awaited Dramatic Story of the Atomic Bomb
The next motion picture to address nuclear war anywhere in the world, came from a screenplay by radio's "Lights-Out" writer and creator, Arch Obler. "FIVE" was released in October, 1951, and told the story of the five people left on Earth after a nuclear disaster.
It would be another year, before another atomic war motion picture, 1952's, "Invasion U.S.A.", was released and actually envisioned the Soviet Union dropping atomic bombs on the United States.
The motion picture opens with a press conference called by project director "Dr. Ralph Fleming", (In hindsight, the location is a clue to what will happen later), at the "Government Proving Grounds, White Sands, New Mexico.
The count-down begins, the engine’s rockets are fired, and the “RX-M” lifts off. (This is not an image from the original motion picture production and I will explain that later.)
The moment the new fuel mixture enters the space craft's engine system, the "RX-M" accelerates at a rate of speed far beyond "Eckstrom's" calculations, sending the space craft off course, and into deep space. When the "RX-M" finely slows down, the crew discovers that they had passed out from a lower oxygen level in the cabin created by the acceleration, have traveled 50-million miles, and are approaching the planet Mars.
("RX-M's" Fuel situation: At this point in the story, it is made clear that the "RX-M" is carrying twice the amount of fuel necessary for a journey to the moon and back. Add-in, the change in the fuel's ratio by "Dr. Eckstrom", and the audience now knows the space craft should have been able to reach Mars and return to Earth.
By comparison, in "Destination Moon", the "Expedition Leader Jim Barnes", portrayed by John Archer, miscalculates, and uses too much fuel on the space craft's descent onto the moon. That one miscalculation, creates the need to strip the entire space ship of all non-essential equipment to reduce its weight, to be able to lift off the moon and return safely to Earth. Demonstrating the opposite fuel situation from "Rocketship X-M: Expedition Moon", of not having, apparently, any reserve fuel at al1!)
The "RX-M" safely passes through the Martian atmosphere, lands, and the crew goes out to explore.
(The scenes on Mars are tinted using an old technique going back to the silent film era. The area of Mars the crew first exit is actually California's, Zabriskie Point, in Death Valley.)
Whichever is the correct answer, or perhaps neither. The look in "Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon", is in stark contrast to the bulky, and colorful space suits in "Destination Moon", that restricted the actors movement. Those suits, with some others, would be reused by the Martians in 1951's, "Flight to Mars".
Above, 1950's, "Destination Moon", below, 1951's, "Flight to Mars". Note in the second still, the Earth explorers don't even have breathing apparatus, to walk in the Martian atmosphere, as seen in "Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon".)
The first is "Art Deco", a style of art that first appeared in France during the First World War. In the 1930's "Art Deco" was the form of architecture used for New York City's "Empire State Building", the "Chrysler Building", and "30 Rockefeller Plaza". It was also used extensively in Merian C. Cooper's 1935, "SHE", below:
The second is "Tiki Culture", which is an American-orientated form of art, music, and entertainment, inspired by Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian cultures. Which themselves are inspired by Oceanian Art, such as the "Easter Island Heads".
(The fact that the crew's clothing would not protect them from the radiation is a valid point for my reader to make. However, this was 1950, and most American's hadn't the faintest idea what the affects of fallout and lingering radiation could do. The only place on the planet, that year, that knew something of the answer, was Japan.
Further, exploring the nuclear wasteland, the crew finds a rocky area with a cave and make a camp for the night.
From Atomic Age to Stone Age!
(A one sentence warning from Kurt Neumann and Dalton Trumbo, of what could happen on Earth. Should the United States and the Soviet Union actually engage in nuclear war, but this is only the lead-up to how the two men viewed the Earth after such an event!)"Eckstrom" and "Corrigan" exit the cave and go out exploring, leaving the others at the cave.
As, "Karl" and "Bill" explore the area around the cave, they see figures on the rocks above, and one, a Martian woman, played by Sherry Moreland, loses her balance and slides down to the two explorers. The woman stops in front of the two, sitting on the ground, and reacts in fear to the voices she hears through the oxygen masks. The most noticeable facial change is to her eyes, she is blind and has large milky white cataracts on her eyes.
(Above, note the realistic looking radiation burns on the backs of the Martian men created by Don L. Cash. By 1950, five-years after the end of the Second World War, the average American hadn't seen the photos from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They didn't even know what the effect of the nuclear bombs had really been on the Japanese citizens of the two cities bombed, but Cash used actual photos, such as the following two, to create his Martian survivors.)
The thankfully, unconscious, "Harry Chamberlain", is unaware of what is about to take place. While, looking through a porthole, "Lisa" and "Floyd" embrace, in a showing of their unstated love for each other.
THAT A DIRE WARNING FROM THE CREW HAS BEEN RECEIVED THAT COULD VERY WELL MEAN THE SALVATION OF HUMANITY.
Next "Project Director Ralph Fleming" informs the press that:
A new spaceship, the RX-M-2, begins construction tomorrow
The End to the First Space Race
"Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon" was shot in eighteen-days, with a total budget of $94,000 (As of this writing, equal to $1,140,075.98). George Pal's "Destination Moon" was shot in approximately forty-four-days, with a total budget of $592,000 (As of this writing, equal to $7,180,051.12).
Because of an unexpected delay on Pal's production, Neumann beat Pal, by THIRTY-THREE DAYS, winning American's first space race.
I base my thirty-three days on a count of the number of days between "The Known", May 26, 1950, New York City premier, of "Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon", and "The Known", June 27, 1950, New York City premier, of "Destination Moon".
However, Film historians state Kurt Neumann beat George Pal by ONLY twenty-five days. That accepted time period is totally incorrect, but I can understand how somebody made that error and everyone else copied them.
The math used appears to have been to incorrectly take June 2, 1950, the "General Audience" release date of "Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon", instead of the premier date, May 26, 1950.
Then, use June 27, 1950, the New York City premier date of "Destination Moon", causing a miscount of the actual days between the release of the two Science Fiction pictures, resulting in the twenty-five days figure.
I can also understand why the "Destination Moon" date was chosen, because other than the month of August. There is no specific date within August given for the "General Audience Release", in the United States. The only known date that could be used was the New York City premier. Which is several days earlier than when the motion picture was released to the general public.
However, why the original creator of the twenty-five days didn't use "Rocketship X-M, Expedition Moon's" premier date in their calculation, remains unknown, or why anyone since hasn't used it?
One last comment, author Thomas Kent Miller, in his 2016 work, "Mars in the Movies: A History", refers to the "Theatrical Release" of the two motion pictures as occurring between twenty-five days of each other.
Are You Sure You're Seeing the Original Motion Picture?
Below is one of those reworked sequences as part of a group of 1979 Trading Cards about the movie.
That's easy, the following are of the model kit still available on line.
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