Destination Moon (film)

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Destination Moon
Destination Moon DVD.jpg
DVD cover
Directed byIrving Pichel
Produced byGeorge Pal
Screenplay by
Based onthe novel Rocket Ship Galileo
by Robert A. Heinlein
Music byLeith Stevens
Edited byDuke Goldstone
George Pal Productions
Distributed byEagle-Lion Classics Inc.
Release date
  • June 27, 1950 (1950-06-27) (United States)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$5 million[2] or $1.3 (US)[3]

Destination Moon (a.k.a. Operation Moon) is a 1950 American Technicolor space exploration science fiction film drama, independently made by George Pal, directed by Irving Pichel, and starring John Archer, Warner Anderson, Tom Powers and Dick Wesson. The film was distributed in the United States and the United Kingdom by Eagle-Lion Classics.

Destination Moon was the first major U.S. science fiction film to deal with the dangers inherent in human space travel and the possible difficulties landing on and safely returning from our only natural satellite.

The film's premise is that private industry will mobilize, finance, and manufacture the first spacecraft to the Moon, and that the U.S. government will be forced to purchase or lease the technology to remain the dominant power in space. Different industrialists cooperate to support the private venture. In the final scene, as the crew approaches the Earth, the traditional "The End" title card heralds the dawn of the coming Space Age: "This is THE END...of the Beginning".[4]


When their latest rocket test fails and government funding collapses, rocket scientist Dr. Charles Cargraves (Warner Anderson) and space enthusiast General Thayer (Tom Powers) enlist the aid of aircraft magnate Jim Barnes (John Archer). With the necessary millions raised privately from a group of patriotic U.S. industrialists, Cargraves, Warner and Barnes build an advanced single-stage-to-orbit atomic powered spaceship, named Luna, at their desert manufacturing and launch facility. The project is soon threatened by a ginned-up public uproar over "radiation safety", but the three idealists circumvent legal efforts to stop their expedition by launching the world's first Moon mission ahead of schedule. As a result, they must quickly substitute Joe Sweeney (Dick Wesson) as their expedition's radar and radio operator.

Enroute to the Moon they are forced to spacewalk outside Luna to free a frozen piloting radar antenna that the inexperienced Sweeney innocently greased before launch. In the process, one of the crew, untethered in free fall, is nearly lost. He is retrieved by another crewman who uses an oxygen cylinder as an improvised propulsion unit.

After achieving lunar orbit the crew begins the complex landing procedure, but uses too much fuel during the descent. Safely on the Moon, they explore the surface and describe by radio their view of the Earth contrasted against the black lunar sky. The story takes a serious turn when the crew realize that with their limited fuel they must lighten the spaceship in order to achieve escape velocity. No matter how much non-critical equipment they discard on the lunar surface, the hard numbers radioed from Earth continue to point to one conclusion: one of the crew will have to remain behind if the others are to safely return to Earth. With time running out for their return launch window, the crew jettison the ship's radio, losing contact with Earth, and their sole remaining space suit. Their critical take-off weight finally achieved, and with all her crew safely aboard, Luna blasts off from the Moon for home.




Pal commissioned an initial screenplay from screenwriters James O'Hanlon and Rip Van Ronkel, but science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein contributed significantly to Destination Moon's final screenplay, also serving as the film's technical adviser. Certain story elements from his 1947 juvenile novel Rocket Ship Galileo were adapted for use in the film's final screenplay. Heinlein also published a tie-in novella, Destination Moon, based on the screenplay. The film's storyline also resembles portions of Heinlein's novel The Man Who Sold the Moon, which he wrote in 1949 but did not publish until 1951, a year after the Pal film opened.[4]

Destination Moon uses matte paintings by noted astronomical artist Chesley Bonestell. These were used for the departure of the Luna from Earth; its approach to the Moon; the spaceship's landing on its surface; and a panorama of the Lunar landscape.[5]


Irving Pichel began his Hollywood career as an actor during the 1920s and early 1930s, in such films as Dracula's Daughter and The Story of Temple Drake.[6] He began directing in 1932; Destination Moon was his 30th film. Pichel was blacklisted after he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, despite having never been called to testify.[7] He directed five more films after Destination Moon before his death in 1954.[8]

Woody Woodpecker[edit]

George Pal and Walter Lantz, who created the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker, had been close friends ever since Pal left Europe and arrived in Hollywood. Out of friendship and for good luck, Pal always tried to include Woody in all his films. (On the commentary track of the Special Collector's DVD Edition of George Pal's science fiction film War of the Worlds (1953), actors Ann Robinson and Gene Barry point out that Woody can be seen in a tree top, center screen, near the beginning of the film.)

Pal incorporates Woody (voiced by Grace Stafford) in an engaging cartoon shown within the film that explains, in layman's terms, the scientific principles behind space travel and how a trip to the Moon might be accomplished.[9] The cartoon is shown to a gathering of U.S. industrialists who, it is hoped, will patriotically finance such a daring venture before an unnamed, non-western power can do so successfully.[10]


The soundtrack music, written by composer Leith Stevens, is noteworthy for its atmospheric themes and musical motifs, all of which add subtle but important detail and emotion to the various dramatic moments in the film. According to George Pal biographer Gail Morgan Hickman, "Stevens ... consulted with numerous scientists, including Wernher von Braun, to get an idea of what space was like in order to create it musically."[11][12][13] The Stevens Destination Moon film score had its first U.S. release in 1950 on a 10-inch 33 rpm Monaural LP by Columbia Records (#CL 6151):[14]

Side A
1."Earth: Prelude"Leith Stevens02:50
2."Earth: Planning and Building of the Great Rocket"Stevens05:03
3."In Outer Space"Stevens06:53
Total length:14:46
Side B
1."On the Surface of the Moon: The Crater Harpalus"Stevens04:10
2."On the Surface of the Moon: Exploring the Moon"Stevens01:58
3."On the Surface of the Moon: The Dilemma"Stevens02:40
4."On the Surface of the Moon: Escape from the Moon and Finale"Stevens03:11
Total length:11:59

Later in the 1950s, the score was re-released on a 12-inch high-fidelity mono LP by Omega Disk (#1003). Omega Disk re-released it in 1960 as a stereophonic 33 1/3 LP (#OLS-3). In 1980, the score was re-released on stereo LP by Varise Sarabande (#STV 81130) and again in 1995 on stereo LP by Citadel Records (#STC 77101). An expanded and complete 56.32 minute version of Steven's original film score, limited to 1,000 copies, was released on CD in 2012 by Monstrous Movie Music (#MMM-1967); also on the CD is Clarence Wheeler's incidental music used for the film's Woody Woodpecker cartoon. An illustrated 20-page booklet of liner notes is also included.[15]

Film rights[edit]

As of 2018, Destination Moon has yet to enter public domain. The copyright renewal is RE-6-506 assigned to Wade Williams (the Wade Williams Collection on DVD).[16]



Despite a budget of approximately $500,000 and a large national print media and radio publicity campaign preceding its delayed release, Destination Moon ultimately became the "second" space adventure film of the post-World War II era. Piggybacking on the growing publicity and expectation surrounding the Pal film, Lippert Pictures quickly shot Rocketship X-M in 18 days on a $94,000 budget. The film, about the first spaceship to land on Mars, opened theatrically 25 days before the Pal feature.[4]

Critical reaction[edit]

Bosley Crowther in his review of Destination Moon for The New York Times, opined, "... we've got to say this for Mr. Pal and his film: they make a lunar expedition a most intriguing and picturesque event. Even the solemn preparations for this unique exploratory trip, though the lesser phase of the adventure, are profoundly impressive to observe".[17]

In a later appraisal in a Time Out review, editor John Pym saw Destination Moon as having both good and bad aspects", ... characteristically thin on plot and characterization, high on patriotism, and impressive in its colour photography and special effects; a true precursor to Star Wars."[18] Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film two and a half out of four stars, calling it "modestly mounted but still effective". He also praised Bonestell's lunar paintings as being visually striking.[19]

In his autobiography Isaac Asimov called it "the first intelligent science-fiction movie made".[20]

Awards and honors[edit]

Destination Moon won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects in the name of the effects director, Lee Zavitz. The film was also nominated for the Art Direction Academy Award, by Ernst Fegté and George Sawley.[21]

At the 1st Berlin International Film Festival it won the Bronze Berlin Bear Award, for "Thrillers and Adventure Films."[22]

Retro Hugo Awards: A special 1951 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation was retroactively awarded to Destination Moon by the 59th World Science Fiction Convention (2001) exactly 50 years later for being one of the science fiction films eligible in calendar year 1950.[23] (50 years, 75 years, or 100 years govern the time periods when a Retro Hugo can be awarded by a Worldcon for the years prior to 1953 when the Hugos were established and first awarded.)[24]


Comic book tie-in (Fawcett Comics, 1950).

Episode 12 of the Dimension X radio series was called Destination Moon and was based on Heinlein's final draft of the film's shooting script. During the broadcast on June 24, 1950, the program was interrupted by a news bulletin announcing that North Korea had declared war on South Korea, marking the beginning of the Korean War.[25]

Robert A. Heinlein published an adaptation in the September 1950 issue of Short Stories magazine.[citation needed]

A highly condensed version of the Dimension X Destination Moon radio play was adapted by Charles Palmer and was released by Capitol Records for children, who had become familiar with their recordings through a Bozo the Clown-approved record series. The series featured 7-inch, 78-rpm recordings and full-color booklets which children could follow as they listened to the stories. The Destination Moon record was narrated by Tom Reddy, and Billy May composed the incidental and background music. The record's storyline took considerable liberties with the film's plot and characters, although the general shape of the film story remained.[26]

In 1950, Fawcett Publications released a 10-cent Destination Moon film tie-in comic book.[27][28] DC Comics also published a comic book preview on the Pal film; it was the cover feature of DC's brand new science fiction anthology comic book Strange Adventures # 1 (September 1950).[4]

The same year, Tintin Magazine released an unrelated serialization from The Adventures of Tintin stories but titled Destination Moon. It was from Belgian cartoonist Herge and ran from 30 March 1950 to 7 September 1950.[29]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (8 June 1970). "Patience Key to Pal Success". Los Angeles Times. p. e19.
  2. ^ "Destination Moon (1950)". The Numbers. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  3. ^ "Top Grosses of 1950". Variety. January 3, 1951. p. 58.
  4. ^ a b c d Warren 1982[page needed]
  5. ^ Spudis, Paul D. "Chesley Bonestell and the Landscape of the Moon.", June 14, 2012. Retrieved: January 12, 2015.
  6. ^ Koszarski 1977, p. 68.
  7. ^ Buhle and Wagner 2002, p. 184.
  8. ^ McBride 2003, p. 462.
  9. ^ Lev 2003, p. 174.
  10. ^ Adamson 1985, p. 183.
  11. ^ Hickman, Gail Morgan. The Films of George Pal. New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1977. ISBN 0-498-01960-8.
  12. ^ The 1960 Destination Moon Omega Disk stereo soundtrack album (#OSL-3) liner notes include background by music-commentator Cy Schneider: "When Leith Stevens was called upon back in 1950 to compose a score for George Pal's motion picture Destination Moon, he had a peculiar creative problem on his hands. The picture dealt with man making a rocket to fly him to the moon and this science fiction fantasy itself was created to play upon unexperienced emotions by showing images never before seen. At that time, information on space, the moon's surface, rocket launchings and all the other scientific lingo that has become popular knowledge today, was considerably harder to come by. It took Stevens over three months to steep himself in enough scientific lore to prepare himself to write the first notes. He consulted with many scientists... In these conferences and by studying countless artist’s sketches of the moon’s surface, Stevens was able to discover what the space world was like. The result was a startling, particularly dramatic score which became immediately popular. The music evoked new feelings, new mental pictures ... it investigated a musical world never before probed or propounded so sharply." (Schneider, Cy. Destination Moon soundtrack liner notes, Omega Disk label stereophonic 33 1/3 LP [#OSL-3], 1960. ASIN: B002MK54BQ.)
  13. ^ Miller, Thomas Kent. Mars in the Movies: A History. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2016. ISBN 978-0-7864-9914-4.
  14. ^ Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies!: American Science Fiction Movies of the 50s (21st century ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2009. ISBN 978-0-78644-230-0.
  15. ^ Discogs[1]
  16. ^ "'Destination Moon'." Archived 2015-04-18 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved: April 17, 2015.
  17. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "Destination Moon (1950); The screen: Two new features arrive: 'Destination Moon,' George Pal version of 'Rocket Voyage'." The New York Times, June 28, 1950.
  18. ^ Pym 2004, p. 295.
  19. ^ Leonard Maltin; Spencer Green; Rob Edelman (January 2010). Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide. Plume. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-452-29577-3.
  20. ^ Asimov (1979) In Memory Yet Green, Avon Books, p. 601
  21. ^ "Destination-Moon - Cast, Crew, Director and Awards." The New York Times. Retrieved: January 12, 2015.
  22. ^ "1st Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners." Berlin International Film Festival (Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin), 2013. Retrieved: January 12, 2015.
  23. ^ The Hugo Awards[2]
  24. ^ The Hugo Awards, Retro-Hugos[3]
  25. ^ "'Destination Moon' Radio broadcast (22:48)." Dimension X, NBC, June 24, 1950.
  26. ^ "BOZO approved singles, Week 46." Archived 2007-06-29 at the Wayback Machine Kiddie Records Weekly, 2005. Retrieved: January 12, 2015.
  27. ^ "Fawcett: Destination Moon". Grand Comics Database.
  28. ^ Fawcett: Destination Moon at the Comic Book DB
  29. ^ Tintin Magazine; 'The Adventures of Tintin' books


  • Adamson. Joe The Walter Lantz Story: With Woody Woodpecker and Friends. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1985. ISBN 978-0-39913-096-0.
  • Buhle, Paul and Dave Wagner. A Very Dangerous Citizen: Abraham Lincoln Polonsky and the Hollywood Left. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-52023-672-1.
  • Heinlein, Robert A. "Shooting Destination Moon". Astounding Science Fiction. London: Atlas Pub. and Distributing Co., July 1950. ISSN 1059-2113.
  • Hickman, Gail Morgan. The Films of George Pal. New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1977. ISBN 0-498-01960-8.
  • Johnson, William. Focus on the Science Fiction Film (Illustrated ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1972. ISBN 978-0-13795-179-6.
  • Kondo, Yoji. Requiem: New Collected Works by Robert A. Heinlein and Tributes to the Grand Master. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1992. ISBN 978-0-81251-391-2.
  • Koszarski, Richard. Hollywood Directors, 1941–1976. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. ISBN 978-0-19502-218-6.
  • Lev, Peter. Transforming the Screen: 1950–1959. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-52024-966-0.
  • McBride, Joseph. Searching For John Ford: A Life. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-31231-011-0.
  • Miller, Thomas Kent. Mars in the Movies: A History. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2016. ISBN 978-0-7864-9914-4.
  • Parish, James Robert and Michael R. Pitts. The Great Science Fiction Pictures. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1977. ISBN 978-0-81081-029-7.
  • Pym, John, ed. "Destination Moon." Time Out Film Guide. London: Time Out Guides Limited, 2004. ISBN 978-0-14101-354-1.
  • Schneider, Cy. Destination Moon soundtrack liner notes, Omega Disk label stereophonic 33 1/3 LP (#OSL-3), 1960. ASIN: B002MK54BQ.
  • Strick, Philip. Science Fiction Movies (Illustrated ed.). London: Octopus Books 1976. ISBN 978-0-7064-0470-8.
  • Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies!: American Science Fiction Movies of the 50s (21st century ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2009. ISBN 978-0-78644-230-0.

External links[edit]