Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon

Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon is a 1967 Eastman color British science fiction comedy film directed by Don Sharp and starring Burl Ives, Troy Donahue, Gert Fröbe and Terry-Thomas.

Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon
UK cinema poster
Directed byDon Sharp
Produced byHarry Alan Towers
Written byDave Freeman
Based onoriginal story by Harry Alan Towers (as "Peter Welbeck")
"inspired by the writings of Jules Verne
StarringBurl Ives
Troy Donahue
Gert Fröbe
Hermione Gingold
Lionel Jeffries
Dennis Price
Narrated byMaurice Denham
Music byJohn Scott
CinematographyReginald H. Wyer
Edited byAnn Chegwidden
Jules Verne Films
Distributed byAIP (US)
Warner-Pathé (UK)
Release date
  • 13 July 1967 (1967-07-13) (UK[1])
Running time
117 min
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$3 million[2]

It was released in the US as Those Fantastic Flying Fools, in order to capitalise on the success of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines two years earlier.[3]

Plot summary

In Victorian England, everyone is trying to make new scientific discoveries, including monumental failures such as The Duke of Barset whose attempt to make the first house in England illuminated by electricity lead to it going up in flames, Sir Charles Dillworthy's suspension bridge that falls apart after Queen Victoria cuts the ribbon and in Germany, Siegfried Von Bulow's powerful new explosive needing only minute quantities leads to disastrous problems with the weapon's recoil. In the USA, Phineas T. Barnum's "Greatest Show on Earth" burns to the ground, so he heads for England with his star, Tom Thumb.

Barnum and Thumb are invited to a scientific lecture by Von Bulow who proposes the idea of sending a projectile to the Moon using his powerful new explosive. Von Bulow is ridiculed but Barnum thinks the idea has the potential to make him money. He sets about finding the financial backing in order to build a giant cannon to fire the projectile, carrying a reluctant Tom Thumb.

The project attracts investment from all over the world. However the spaceship designed by Sir Charles Dillworthy proves useless since it does not provide a means for returning to Earth.

Barnum then meets an American aeronaut, Gaylord Sullivan, who has run off with his girlfriend, Madelaine, on her wedding day to another man, the wealthy Frenchman Henri. Upon arriving in Wales and meeting Barnum, Gaylord claims that he has designed a projectile equipped with round-trip rockets. Henri offers to finance Gaylord's missile if he agrees to take Tom Thumb's place. Meanwhile, Dillworthy and his shady brother-in-law, Harry Washington-Smythe, who have already embezzled most of Barnum's funds, immediately plot to sabotage Gaylord's flight in order to win large wagers on the failure of the moonship expedition.

When Madelaine discovers their plan, she is kidnapped and taken off to Angelica's Home for Wayward Girls. She escapes, however, and arrives back at the launching pad, located on a mountain in Wales, just as Gaylord is being removed from the sabotaged moonship.

Dillworthy, Washington-Smythe, and a Russian spy, Bulgeroff, sneak into the spaceship to continue their sabotage. Bulgeroff pulls the takeoff lever, and the three men are sent soaring on a one-way trip.

They land in what is presumably barren wasteland to find inhabitants singing in Russian. The befuddled Washington-Smythe can only conclude that the Russians are already on the moon; Washington-Smythe and Dillworthy find themselves as part of the Volga boatmen work brigade under the knout of the foreman [Bulgeroff].

Main cast


Towers (as "Peter Welbeck") devised the story, very loosely based on From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne, whilst the script was by Dave Freeman, a comedy writer for The Benny Hill Show.

The film was originally announced as going to star Bing Crosby as Phineas T. Barnum and Senta Berger, along with Terry-Thomas, Gert Fröbe and Wilfred Hyde-White.[4] AIP said it would be a "wild adventure laced with comedy."[5] In the end Lionel Jeffries replaced Hyde-White and Burl Ives and Daliah Lavi stood in for Crosby and Berger.[6]

The film was almost entirely shot in Ireland starting 6 August 1966. The rocket launch was shot at the site of a disused copper mine in Avoca in Co.Wicklow, other exterior scenes were shot in the sand dunes of Brittas Bay,[7] and the interior scenes were shot at Ardmore Studios, just south of Dublin.[8][9]

Director Don Sharp who had made several films for the producer Harry Alan Towers recalled that the film was Towers' most expensive. Attempting to obtain more funds for the projected US$3 million budget, Towers approached several international film studios who planned to release the films in their home countries; Constantin Film in West Germany, Anglo-Amalgamated in Great Britain and American International Pictures in the United States of America. In exchange, each of the film studios provided funds with the provisos that their national stars of Gert Fröbe, Terry-Thomas and Troy Donohue received more screen time expanding the originally much tighter screenplay[10].


British Release

During production, the film was known as Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon,[7] but when it was screened by the British censors on 21 February 1967, it was registered as Rocket to the Moon (unusually, it was presented to the BBFC by the producer, Harry Towers, instead of the distribution company, which indicates that no distribution deal had been struck at the time).[11] However, by the time it was released, on 13 July 1967, it was once again known as Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon.[1]

The Times' reviewer, Michael Billington, was not impressed:

Inspired by Jules Verne", the credits for this film rather cryptically announce. One can't argue with the credits, of course; but a more instantly recognizable inspiration is that brand of screen comedy that assumes that a large gathering of well-known names plus some vintage piece of machinery (a car for preference, but a plane or rocket will do) adds up to irresistible mirth. But, as this film takes nearly two hours to demonstrate, it's no use cramming the cast with comedy actors if you're not going to give them anything very funny to do.[1]

US Release

In the United States, the film was first released by American International Pictures in Los Angeles on 26 July 1967 as Those Fantastic Flying Fools,[12] in order to capitalise on the success of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), which also starred Terry-Thomas and Gert Fröbe, and where the director Don Sharp was responsible for the aerial sequences.[7] However, it wasn't the hit that the distributors expected, so it was cut down to 95 minutes and released as Blast-Off elsewhere in the US - but that version was no success either.[3][12]

The Los Angeles Times said the film had a "leisurely, not to say soporific pace... it takes its time which is risky in a slapstick enterprise. Still it does retain an easy sauntering tone of amiable nonsense, with enough pratfalls and explosions to keep the small fry happy."[13] The New York Times said "it's all been done before, and better, but there are still some smiles."[14]


  1. The Times, 13 July 1967, page 8: Film that stays on launching pad - found in The Times Digital Archive 2014-03-01
  2. Tide Running Out for Beach Films, In for Protest Movies Thomas, Bob. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 Feb 1966: b7
  3. Gary A. Smith, The American International Pictures Video Guide, McFarland 2009 p 27
  4. Crosby Signs for 'Moon' Trip Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 May 1966: d8.
  5. On Bing Barnum's 'Moon' Weiler, A H. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 26 June 1966: D11.
  6. Disney Signs Robinson Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 Aug 1966: c10.
  7. The Times, 26 September 1966, page 12: Putting Tom Thumb into space - found in The Times Digital Archive 2014-03-01
  8. IMDb: Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon, Filming Locations Linked 2014-03-01
  9. Films Come to the Emerald Isle: Emerald Isle Welcomes Films Joseph, Robert. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 17 Mar 1968: q26.
  10. p. 130 Taves, Brian Hollywood Presents Jules Verne: The Father of Science Fiction on Screen University Press of Kentucky, 16 Apr. 2015
  11. BBFC: Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon (1967) Linked 2014-03-01
  12. AMPAS Index to Motion Picture Credits: Those Fantastic Flying Fools Linked 2014-03-02
  13. Victorian Era Recaptured in 'Fantastic Flying Fools' Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 31 July 1967: d18.
  14. Screen: 'Far From the Madding Crowd' at Capitol: Hardy Story Presented by John Schlesinger 'Fantastic Flying Fools' in Neighborhoods By BOSLEY CROWTHER New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 19 Oct 1967: 59.
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