First Men in the Moon (1964 film)

First Men in the Moon is a 1964 British Technicolor science fiction film, produced by Charles H. Schneer, directed by Nathan Juran, and starring Edward Judd, Martha Hyer and Lionel Jeffries. The film, distributed by Columbia Pictures, is an adaptation by science fiction scriptwriter Nigel Kneale of H. G. Wells' 1901 novel The First Men in the Moon. Ray Harryhausen provided the stop-motion animation effects, which include the Selenites, giant caterpillar-like "Moon Cows" and the large-brained Prime Lunar.[3][4]

The First Men in the Moon
Directed byNathan Juran
Produced byCharles H. Schneer
Screenplay byNigel Kneale
Jan Read
Based onThe First Men in the Moon
1901 (novel)
by H. G. Wells
StarringEdward Judd
Martha Hyer
Lionel Jeffries
Music byLaurie Johnson
CinematographyWilkie Cooper
Edited byMaurice Rootes
Ameran Films
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
6 August 1964[1] (UK)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$1,650,000 (US/Canada)[2]


In 1964, the United Nations has launched a rocket flight to the Moon. A multi-national group of astronauts in the UN spacecraft land, believing themselves to be the first lunar explorers. However, they discover a Union Jack flag on the surface and a note mentioning Katherine Callender, which claims the Moon for Queen Victoria.

Attempting to trace Callender, UN authorities find she has died but that her husband Arnold Bedford is still living in a nursing home. The home's staff do not let him watch television reports of the Moon expedition because, according to the matron, it "excites him". Bedford's repeated lunar claims are dismissed as senile delusion. The UN representatives question him about the Moon, and in flashback he tells them his story.

In 1899, Arnold Bedford and his fiancée, Katherine Callender, known as Kate, meet inventor Joseph Cavor. Cavor has invented Cavorite, a substance that will let anything it is applied to or made of deflect the force of gravity. He plans to use it to travel to the Moon, and for that purpose, Cavor has already built a spherical spaceship. He takes Arnold and Kate with him.

While exploring the lunar surface, Bedford and Cavor fall down a vertical shaft and discover an insectoid population, the Selenites, living beneath the surface. (Cavor coins this name for the creatures after the Greek goddess of the Moon, Selene). Bedford attacks a group of Selenites out of fear, killing several, despite Cavor's horrified protests. After escaping from them, the two men discover that their sphere, still containing Kate (because Cavor had brought only two spacesuits), has been dragged into the underground city.

They find that the city holds a breathable atmosphere, so they remove their space helmets. They are attacked by a giant caterpillar-like "Moon Bull" which pursues them until the Selenites are able to dispatch it with their rayguns. Cavor and Bedford see the city's power station, a perpetual motion machine powered by sunlight. The Selenites quickly learn English and interrogate Cavor, who believes they wish to exchange scientific knowledge. Cavor has a discussion with the "Grand Lunar", the ruling entity of the Selenites. Bedford makes the assumption that Cavor, and presumably all humanity, is actually on trial, and attempts to kill the Grand Lunar with an elephant gun but fails due to Cavor's interference. Running for their lives, Bedford manages to find their sphere, and he and Kate escape; Cavor voluntarily stays on the Moon.

Bedford flies the sphere up a vertical light shaft, shattering the window-like covering at the top, and returns to Earth. He concludes his story by mentioning that they came down in the sea off Zanzibar, and their sphere sank without trace, while he and Kate managed to swim ashore. Cavor's ultimate fate remained unknown to them.

In the present, Bedford, the UN party and newspaper reporters watch on television the latest events on the Moon, where the UN astronauts have broken into the Selenite city and find it deserted and decaying. The ruined city starts to crumble and collapse, forcing the astronauts to retreat hastily. Seconds later the city is completely destroyed. Bedford realizes that the Selenites must have succumbed to Cavor's common cold virus to which they had no immunity.


* Not credited on-screen.


This was the third collaboration between producer Charles Schneer and director Nathan Juran.[3]

Edward Judd was under contract to Columbia Pictures. "I had never done anything like that at the time, so I thought it would be fun", Judd said. "Since Lionel was already a great chum of mine I knew we would have laughs on the set".[5]

Ray Harryhausen used blueprints from NASA for the UN's lunar lander while designing sets.[3]

Spacesuits used

Two types of space suits are featured in the film. During the story's main events, which take place in the 1890s, the film's Victorian-era astronauts are outfitted in space suits adapted from deep sea diving suits. Each is fitted with a 1960s-type aqualung cylinder worn as a backpack. Their space suits are neither pressurized nor heated or cooled, and they do not wear protective gloves in the vacuum of space and extreme cold and heat found on the lunar surface. There is an important technical issue with the heating and cooling provided: Using rubber-lined diving suits on the Moon is impractical due to the brittleness of natural rubber once it is exposed to a vacuum.

Cavor and Bedford have no radio communication and must make their space helmets touch in order to be able to talk with one another in the Moon's vacuum (the filmmakers violate this rule several times). It is not made clear whether the Selenites have radio. On Earth, the history of radio was only just beginning when the film's 1890s-set events were unfolding. Wireless communication from the stranded Cavor within the Moon appears later in Wells' novel.

The spacesuit type worn by the UN Astronauts in the film is actually the Windak high-altitude pressure suit,[6] developed for the Royal Air Force, each fitted with a 1960s-type aqualung cylinder worn as a backpack. These pressure suits would also be used in two Doctor Who stories: William Hartnell's final story "The Tenth Planet" and the Patrick Troughton-era "The Wheel in Space". They also appear in the original Star Wars trilogy as the costumes for Bossk and Bo Shek.


Filming started 1 October 1963.[7]

"After you got past the first couple of reels, it was a funny film", said Juran. "Lionel was a swell actor. I liked him very much. His performance added immeasurably to the picture's entertainment value. He played it tongue-in-cheek but being such a good comic actor he controlled himself and never went too far. He made a great team with Edward Judd. Their personalities, one against the other, were just perfect".[3]

"It was fun to do but it was bloody hard work," said Judd. "Lionel called it 'acting with chalk marks' because we were pointing at things that weren't there and dealing with blue backing and traveling mattes".[5]

Harryhausen would explain to the actors what the creatures would eventually look like just before they shot scenes involving them.[5]

"Lionel and I didn't like Jerry's working methods too much," said Judd. "He was more of a technician than an actor's director. We always thought of him as an art director, which of course he had been".[5]

Critical reception

Among contemporary reviews, Variety wrote, "Ray Harryhausen and his special effects men have another high old time in this piece of science-fiction hokum filmed in Dynamation", adding that "Wells' novel and has been neatly updated", and concluding that "The three principals play second fiddle to the special effects and art work, which are impressive in color, construction and animation".[8]

However, The New York Times wrote, "Only the most indulgent youngsters should derive much stimulation - let alone fun - from the tedious, heavyhanded science-fiction vehicle that arrived yesterday from England";[9].

The Guardian called it "good of its type".[10]

TV Guide called it "An enjoyable science fiction film".[11] and highly recommended the film as "a fun and exciting viewing experience".[12]

Comic book adaptation


  1. "Image (3)". Photobucket.
  2. "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  3. Swires, Steve (May 1989). "Nathan Juran: The Fantasy Voyages of Jerry the Giant Killer Part Two". Starlog Magazine. No. 142. p. 58.
  4. FIRST MEN IN THE MOON Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 31, Iss. 360, (Jan 1, 1964): 134.
  5. Swires, Steve. "First Man on the Moon". Starlog. No. 160. p. 18.
  6. "Say; Hello Spaceman".
  7. 'TOM JONES' FILM OPENS HERE OCT. 7: British Adaptation of Novel Stars Albert Finney Johnston Award Established Miss Hyer Plans 'Moon Trip' 3 Return to Movies 'The Suitor' Opens Today New York Times 17 Sep 1963: 31.
  8. Staff, Variety (1 January 1964). "First Men in the Moon".
  9. "The Screen: Moondust; New Space Trip Film Opens at the Capitol".
  10. Cynical, but impressive The Guardian 21 Sep 1964: 4.
  11. "First Men In The Moon".
  12. "First Men in the Moon Blu-ray".
  13. "Gold Key: First Men in the Moon". Grand Comics Database.
  14. Gold Key: First Men in the Moon at the Comic Book DB

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