“Inspired” by the writings of Jules Verne and filmed with all the atmosphere of the days when Britain ruled the world and Queen Victoria (Joan Sterndale-Bennett) was firmly in command, Rocket to the Moon has a cast headed by Burl Ives as American showman Phineas T Barnum, who comes to England in 1875 to escape his creditors, accompanied by his pint-sized companion, General Tom Thumb (Jimmy Clitheroe).
In England, he learns of a new explosive strong enough to propel a rocket to the moon – developed by dotty German scientist Professor von Bulow (Gert Frobe) – and sees this as a chance to recoup his depleted fortunes.
Barnum forms a syndicate to take Tom Thumb (a reluctant prospective spaceman) to the moon. The rocket is Gothic in design with high sharply pointed arches, doors and windows, and looks not unlike a flying church.
Dashing young American balloonist Gaylord Sullivan (Troy Donahue) becomes embroiled in the proceedings while villainous duo Captain Sir Harry Washington Smythe (Terry-Thomas) and Sir Charles Dillworthy (Lionel Jeffries) are out for revenge having been sacked from the committee organising the moon-shot – one for embezzling the funds and the other for designing a rocket that will get a man to the moon but has no facilities for bringing him back.
The large cast also includes Hermione Gingold (as a matron in charge of a home for wayward girls), Stratford Johns, Graham Stark and Israeli actress Daliah Lavi as Gaylord’s girlfriend.
Released in some markets as Those Fantastic Flying Fools and Blast Off, the photography, sets and costumes are excellent but the script is bad (and unfunny) and many of the scenes are overlong.
The film was shot almost entirely in Ireland. Burl Ives remained in the country after completing the film, buying a farm near Limerick and living there, on and off, until the early ’70s.
Phineas T Barnum
Captain Sir Harry Washington Smythe
Professor von Bulow
Sir Charles Dillworthy
Duke of Barset
General Tom Thumb
Edward de Souza
Renate von Holt