Woman in the Moon
|Woman in the Moon|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Fritz Lang|
|Written by||Fritz Lang
Thea von Harbou, story
Gustav von Wangenheim
|Running time||156 min. / 200 min. (2000 restoration) / Spain:104 min. / Spain:162 min. (DVD edition) / USA:95 min / West Germany:91 min (edited version) (1970)|
Woman in the Moon (German Frau im Mond) is a science fiction silent film that premiered 15 October 1929. It is often considered to be one of the first "serious" science fiction films. It was written and directed by Fritz Lang, based on the novel Die Frau im Mond (1928, translated as The Woman to the Moon in 1930) by his then-wife and collaborator Thea von Harbou. It was released in the USA as By Rocket to the Moon and in the UK as Woman in the Moon. The basics of rocket travel were presented to a mass audience for the first time by this film, including the use of a multi-stage rocket.
The film is a melodrama with scientific speculation. Helius is an entrepreneur with an interest in space travel. He seeks out Professor Mannfeldt, a visionary who has written a treatise on the likelihood of finding gold on the moon, only to be ridiculed by his peers. Helius recognizes the value of Mannfeldt's work, but a gang of evil businessmen have also taken an interest in Mannfeldt's theories.
Meanwhile, Helius's assistant Windegger has announced his engagement to Helius's other assistant, Friede. This is disconcerting to Helius, who secretly loves Friede, so he avoids their engagement party. He is mugged on the way home from his meeting with Mannfeldt by henchmen of the evil businessmen, commanded by an American named Turner. They steal the research that Professor Mannfeldt had entrusted to him and also burgle Helius's home, taking other valuable material. They then present him with an ultimatum: they know he is planning a voyage to the moon; either he includes them in the project, or they will sabotage it and destroy his rocket. Reluctantly, Helius agrees to their terms.
The rocket team is assembled: Helius, Mannfeldt, Windegger, Friede and Turner, who represents the interests of the evil businessmen. After the rocket blasts off, they discover that Gustav, a young boy who has befriended Helius, is aboard as a stowaway with his collection of science fiction pulp magazines. During the journey, Windegger emerges as a coward, and the feelings of Helius toward Friede become known to her, creating a romantic triangle.
Once they get to the far side of the Moon, Mannfeldt and Turner prove Mannfeldt's theory that there is gold on the moon. They struggle in a cave, and Mannfeldt falls to his death in a crevasse. Turner attempts to hijack the rocket, and in the struggle, he is shot and killed. Gunfire damages the oxygen tanks, and they come to the grim realization that there is not enough oxygen for all to make the return trip. One person must remain on the moon. (In this film, the moon has a breathable atmosphere on its far side, per the theories of Peter Andreas Hansen, who is mentioned near the beginning of the film.)
Helius and Windegger draw straws to see who must stay, and Windegger loses. Seeing Windegger's anguish, Helius decides to drug him and take his place, letting Windegger return to Earth with Friede. He makes Gustav his confidant and the new pilot for the ship. After the ship takes off for home, Helius discovers that Friede has decided to stay with him on the moon, and they embrace passionately.
This film is often cited as the first occurrence of the "countdown to zero" before a rocket launch. The launch crew counts down the seconds from ten to zero, and the rocket ship then blasts off into space.
Since rocket scientist Hermann Oberth worked as an advisor on this movie (he had originally intended to build a working rocket for use in the film; time and technology kept this from happening), it was popular among the rocket scientists in Wernher von Braun's circle at the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR). The first successfully launched V-2 rocket at the rocket-development facility in Peenemünde had the Frau im Mond logo painted on its base. Noted post-war science writer Willy Ley also served as a consultant on the film. Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, which deals with the V-2 rockets, refers to this, along with several other classic German silent films.
Further reading 
- Kraszna-Krausz, A. (2004). "Frau in Mond (The Woman in the Moon)". In Rickman, Gregg. The Science Fiction Film Reader. Limelight Editions. pp. 20–21. ISBN 0879109947.
- Weide, Robert (Summer 2012). "The Outer limts". DGA Quarterly (Los Angeles, California: Director Guild of America, Inc.): 64–71. ISSN 1083-5323. A gallery of behind-the-scenes shots of movies featuring space travel or aliens. Page 68, photo caption: "Directed by Fritz Lang (third from right), the silent film "Woman in the Moon" (1929) is considered one of the first serious science fiction films and invented the countdown before the lauch of a rocket. Many of the basics of space travel were presented to a mass audience for the first time."
- "Spektrum der Wissenschaft" - DenkMal-Frage: "Was verdankt die Raumfahrt dem Stummfilm "Die Frau im Mond" (1929) von Fritz Lang?" http://www.wissenschaft-online.de/artikel/636420