Woman in the Moon

Woman in the Moon (German Frau im Mond) is a science fiction silent film that premiered 15 October 1929 at the UFA-Palast am Zoo cinema in Berlin to an audience of 2,000.[1] It is often considered to be one of the first "serious" science fiction films.[2] It was written and directed by Fritz Lang, based on the novel The Rocket to the Moon by his collaborator Thea von Harbou, his wife at the time. It was released in the US 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.[2][3] The film was shot between October 1928 and June 1929 at the UFA studios in Neubabelsberg near Berlin[1]

Woman in the Moon
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFritz Lang
Screenplay byFritz Lang
Thea von Harbou
Based onThe Rocket to the Moon by Thea von Harbou
StarringWilly Fritsch
Gerda Maurus
Klaus Pohl
Fritz Rasp
Gustl Gstettenbaur
Gustav von Wangenheim
CinematographyCurt Courant
Distributed byUFA
Release date
  • 15 October 1929 (1929-10-15)
Running time
156 min. / 200 min. (2000 restoration) / Spain: 104 min. / Spain: 162 min. (DVD edition) / US: 95 min / West Germany: 91 min (edited version) (1970)
(Weimar Republic)
LanguageSilent film
German intertitles


Helius (Willy Fritsch) is an entrepreneur with an interest in space travel. He seeks out his friend Professor Mannfeldt (Klaus Pohl), a visionary who wrote a treatise claiming that there was probably much gold on the Moon, only to be ridiculed by his peers. Helius recognizes the value of Mannfeldt's work. However, a gang of evil businessmen have also taken an interest in Mannfeldt's theories, and send a spy (Fritz Rasp) (identified as "The man who calls himself Walter Turner" in the opening credits).

Meanwhile, Helius's assistant Windegger (Gustav von Wangenheim) has announced his engagement to Helius's other assistant, Friede (Gerda Maurus). Helius, who secretly loves Friede, avoids their engagement party.

On his way home from his meeting with Professor Mannfeldt, Helius is mugged by henchmen of the gang. They steal the research that Professor Mannfeldt had entrusted to Helius, and also burgle Helius's home, taking other valuable material. Turner then presents Helius with an ultimatum: the gang 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, which is named Friede. Reluctantly, Helius agrees to their terms.

The rocket team is assembled: Helius; Professor Mannfeldt and his pet mouse Josephine; Windegger; Friede; and Turner. After Friede blasts off, the team discovers that Gustav (Gustl Gstettenbaur), a young boy who has befriended Helius, has stowed away, along with his collection of science fiction pulp magazines.

During the journey, Windegger emerges as a coward, and Helius's feelings for Friede begin to 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 Windegger and Friede with a last drink together and take Windegger's place, letting Windegger return to Earth with Friede. Friede senses that something is in the wine. She pretends to drink and then retires to the compartment where her cot is located, closes and locks the door. Windegger drinks the wine, becoming sedated. Helius makes Gustav his confidant and the new pilot for the ship. Helius watches it depart, then starts out for the survival camp originally prepared for Windegger. He discovers that Friede has decided to stay with him on the Moon. They embrace, and Helius weeps into her shoulder while Friede strokes his hair and whispers words of comfort to him.


Lang, who also made Metropolis, had a personal interest in science fiction. When returning to Germany in the late 1950s he sold his extensive collection of Astounding Science Fiction, Weird Tales, and Galaxy magazines.[4] Several prescient technical/operational features are presented during the film's 1920s launch sequence, which subsequently came into common operational use during America's postwar space race:

  • The rocket ship Friede is fully built in a tall building and moved to the launch pad
  • As launch approaches, the launch team counts down the seconds from ten to zero ("now" was used for zero), and Woman in the Moon is often cited as the first occurrence of the "countdown to zero" before a rocket launch[2][5]
  • The rocket ship blasts off from a pool of water; water is commonly used today on launch pads to absorb and dissipate the extreme heat and to damp the noise generated by the rocket exhaust
  • In space, the rocket ejects its first stage and fires its second stage rocket, predicting the development of modern multistage orbital rockets
  • The crew recline on horizontal beds to cope with the G-forces experienced during lift-off and pre-orbital acceleration
  • Floor foot straps are used to restrain the crew during zero gravity (Velcro is used today).

These items and the overall design of the rocket led to the film being banned in Germany from 19331945[6] during World War II by the Nazis, due to similarities to their secret V-2 project.

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, but time and technology prevented this from happening. The film 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.[7] 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 the movie, along with several other classic German silent films.


See also


  1. Close-up on the photo album of Woman in the Moon by Fritz Lang
  2. Weide, Robert (Summer 2012). "The Outer Limits". DGA Quarterly: 64–71. OCLC 68905662. 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 launch of a rocket. Many of the basics of space travel were presented to a mass audience for the first time."
  3. Benson, Michael (20 July 2019). "Science Fiction Sent Man to the Moon - Neil Armstrong's first small step owed more than you'd think to the footsteps of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Fritz Lang". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
  4. Gold, H.L. (December 1959). "Of All Things". Galaxy. p. 6. Retrieved 15 June 2014.
  5. "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
  6. "Woman in the Moon (1929)". IMDb. Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  7. Hardesty, Von and Gene Eisman. Epic Rivalry: The Inside Story of the Soviet and American Space Race. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2007. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-4262-0119-6.

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.
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