Jul 3, 2019
Moon Zero Two (1969): a recap (part 2 of 10)
Previously on Moon Zero Two: We were exposed to a high-concept motion picture and low-concept opening credits. We got a movie that, so far, is so subtle that someone might have forgotten to tell the director to add the “Western” in “Moon Western”. Then again, it was just the first eight minutes, so maybe we’ll see some of those aluminum cowboy hats I joked about. I don’t know whether I’m looking forward to the prospect or dreading it.
When we last left our heroes, Bill and (sigh) Dan, they had managed to clear the only communications satellite linking the two sides of the Moon through customs so they could sell it off as scrap, and then Bill went off to get a shower while his epically mustached partner (seriously, not everybody can pull off the biker ‘stache; Dan wears it well) headed off, sans shower, to the scrap yard. Maybe it’s a negotiating tactic; the sooner the guy settles on Dan’s price, the sooner he can get Dan’s space-suited funk out of his yard.
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I have to admit, I am a little giddy as I watch this. Catherine Schell is in this movie, but in this film she’s credited as “Catherina von Schell”. Maybe she shortened her name later because her agent thought the “von” was too highbrow for Americans or something. I’m looking at her IMDb page and I’m thinking I really need to track down a copy of Lana – Queen of the Amazons.
This is the Sixties, the age of Jane Fonda and Barbarella, of Star Trek and female guest stars in revealing outfits, of seeing Nichelle Nichols in a miniskirt and Diana Rigg in The Avengers clad in a leather catsuit. I can’t wait to see what outrageous non-PC outfit Von Sexy is going to be—
What the hell, man?! Where’s the Sixties sexy time? Where’s the Barbarella-ish ensemble? If her outfit were black, I’d say she was a space nun or something. Dammit, Roy Ward Baker, you’ve got a Hungarian demi-goddess on the payroll! Waste not, want not.
Space Nun heads over to the immigration desk and asks if there are any messages for her, and she says her name is Taplin. She’s told to face the “immigration identification computer” and I’m imagining she’s being exposed to enough x-rays to fry her ovaries.
As she’s directed to the message desk, I notice all the women behind her are wearing really weird stuff on their heads. They’ve got Crayola-colored wigs on and what look like glittery shower caps. Wait a sec. Could Catherina and all the women be wearing that stupid headgear because they just got off a space plane with zero gravity, and had to wear something on their heads to keep their hair in place? And director Baker trusted the viewer to connect the dots so he didn’t have to throw in some sort of “Good thing I wore my space shower cap” dialogue to spell it out for me? Mind blown, man.
As I process this, a man strides through immigration like he owns the place. Judging by his entourage of honeys and hired muscle, he just might. You can tell he’s a douche by the way he’s Colonel Klinking it.
Has a good guy ever worn a monocle? Other than Mr. Peanut, I mean. This is JJ “Hundred Percent” Hubbard, and if you haven’t guessed he’s the bad guy, then we just don’t watch the same kinds of movies. And it seems the fashions of the future lean towards cheap plastic and baseball caps. I don’t know if the director was trying to say with wardrobe that Hubbard is fake and Schell is by contrast more “real”, or if I’m just trying to make the film sound deeper and more “artsy” than it really is.
Hubbard is the cattle baron of this Western, and the ranch owner who’s out to buy up everything in sight to crush the opposition under his heel. Kind of like the Cartwrights on Bonanza. Honestly, how were those guys ever portrayed as good guys? Evil land baron Ben Cartwright was married three times; don’t you tell me all his wives died of natural causes.
In the locker room, Bill’s friend explains that he’s had a talk with the people upstairs, and “the corporation” is interested in hiring Bill back again. Bill counters by asking if they’re going to be doing exploration flights again. Bill’s friend says no, and Bill immediately shuts him down, saying to call him when they outfit the first flight to Mercury.
We now descend into some clunky expository dialogue about how they’ve got flights to Mars and Venus going on, but because the rocket tubes can’t be lined with something to protect them from high temperatures, they can’t take the heat. Bill says about being a Pan Am pilot that he’s not a “mechanically minded wet nurse”. The man’s your friend, Bill; no need to be a dick.
We now see another Western trope, that of the aging cowboy, fenced in and fighting encroaching civilization. All we need now is for von Schell to be that school marm I joked about in part one, or the hooker with a heart of gold. Guess which one I’m hoping for?
Bill strips down and gets into the shower, and at first I think he’s being even more of a tool by pretending not to hear the Pan Am pilot.
C’mon, how can you not hear your good friend… hmm, he’s billed only as “Space Captain”. Why do I get the feeling we’re not going to see him again after this scene? Bill gives the universal signal to drink and “Space Captain” takes the hint; they’ll tie one on later at the bar.
A thought just occurred to me. These guys are talking about “the corporation”, so are they talking about Pan Am, or is Pan Am a subsidiary in this future? Are governments out of the picture in terms of space exploration/travel, making it solely the domain of private corporate entities? Hmm. What franchise does that remind me of?
It’ll come to… Okay, okay, that joke is going to get old if I do it too much. But really, Bill and Dan’s blue collar workers in space vibe feels every bit like Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton’s Parker and Brett. Look, I know I’m supposed to be hating all over this movie, and I’m trying really, really hard. All I need is something to latch onto, some—
Oh, thank god. That outfit is the gift that keeps on giving. Seriously, has anyone ever looked good in that color? Ms. Taplin asks where she can find a “Captain Kemp”. I don’t think we could have found a duller name for our hero than “Bill Kemp”. It just hangs there like wet pasta on a kitchen wall. Speaking of wet, Space Captain lets Taplin know Bill is in the other room “finishing up something”, but she can go right on in. Isn’t there a symbol on the wall outside the room showing it’s men only? Or is it co-ed?
Judging by Kemp’s reaction, the answer is a big fat no. Aw, what’s wrong, Bill? Is your Saturn V really a V-2? Do you tell the ladies it looks bigger in zero-G? Maybe you have a problem with premature ignition. I hope whatever brought Taplin to the Moon is worth all the metaphorical and literal dickery going on around her.
Kemp claims he’s not who she’s looking for and she leaves, humiliated. She passes Dan on the way in, and he bows either politely or ironically; choose your flavor. He’s about to track Bill down, when he notices a guy off in the corner working on a memorial to those who died to colonize the Moon.
The latest name being added to the memorial is Otto Von Bec. Now that’s a name, by gawd. It sounds like a super-villain name, but it’s got meat on its bones. Turns out the memorial is out of sight of the tourists, because seeing how many people died might upset them. That’s pretty… Well, yeah, I can totally see some bureaucratic tool sticking a memorial to the dead in a locker room.
Bill and Dan both know, er, knew Von Bec. He was the pilot of Moon Zero One and he went down a couple of days ago. And neither guy heard about it until now? I guess communications really do suck on the Moon. Bill and Dan split their earnings and head out, and we cut to… a black and white Western. Only, it’s a movie being shown inside a train.
Hah! It’s like Baker was throwing some complaining producer a bone. JJ Hubbard is here and he’s wondering when the thing is going to get moving, and the attendant offers him a magazine and a cocktail. When he declines, she offers the same to his wonderfully sideburned minion. Hubbard says the man doesn’t drink and can’t read. He must have one helluva benefits package to put up with this crap. Or a ton of emotional scar tissue. Not that anyone cares about the minion’s feelings. Seriously, the flight attendant just smiles at this and moves on.
Kemp comes onboard and he flirts with the attendant, whose name is Janey. Oh sure, she gets a name, but “Space Captain” gets shafted. Janey leads Kemp to a seat up front, and guess who’s sitting opposite him?
Oh no. First, we got the “meet cute” in the locker room. Now they meet again on the train in a wacky case of Bill having to admit he’s Captain Kemp. I swear, if the guy who talked me into buying this movie tricked me into watching a rom-com…
Janey introduces Bill, and Taplin’s about to lose her shit, when Bill explains he’s “always at a disadvantage” when he doesn’t have any clothes on. Janey says she never noticed. Okay, that was pretty funny; points to you, movie. Bill asks what she wanted, and to Taplin’s credit, she lets the whole thing earlier slide, maybe in part because it’s hard to storm off of a moving train. She wonders if Bill knows her brother Wally, a miner, because he sometimes takes his spaceship on trips over to the far side.
Bill says he doesn’t know Wally, and Taplin explains her brother was supposed to meet her at the space port. Bill tries to make her feel better and says he’s probably going to be meeting her at Moon City. “Moon City”? That’s the best they could come up with? They couldn’t have called it Lunarville or Copernicus Town or something? That name’s as dull as, well, Bill Kemp.
Ms. Taplin admits this is her first trip to the Moon, so Bill suggests she turn around and take a look at what’s coming. We get some seriously awkward blue screening of the lunar landscape as Bill describes what a harsh and alien place the Moon really is. He says that “we’re all foreigners here; perhaps we should never have come.” Okay, Bill, I need less well-delivered lines expressing the internal angst you hide behind a wall of casual indifference, and more funny ones. Maybe you should get back in the shower.
Eventually, the train pulls into (gawd) Moon City. Bill shows Ms. Taplin the monument to Neil Armstrong, and the solar power stations, and the ice mines, and the hydroponics lab. If this is supposed to be a Moon Western, then shouldn’t he be pointing out the brothel and saloon? A woman comes along and…
Okay, thank God. Catherina dumped the headgear. But as hard as it is to tear my eyes away from Eastern European perfection, the other woman’s wig is reminding me of yet another creative property, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s 1970s series UFO.
I’m not twenty minutes into this movie, and that’s four films or TV series I’m reminded of that came out years after this film was in theaters. At this rate, it’ll be 20 properties. The woman says there are no messages for a Clementine Taplin. Well, I was asking for more Western content, wasn’t I? Bill explains to “Clementine” that it’ll take Wally six days by convoy to get from where he is, near Farside Five, to Moon City, but a space ferry (i.e. Moon Zero Two) could do it in just twenty minutes. I wonder if that’ll be important later.
Clementine (okay, I admit it, the name’s growing on me) says she’s going to make a call, but Bill points out that the network is down due to the missing satellite, so she has to wait until the next convoy comes in to see if Wally is with them. Bill suggests Clementine do what always makes a girl feel better, and go shopping. Men’s-only locker room, casual misogyny when it comes to humor, assumptions that women are only interested in material goods. Glad to see the future hasn’t changed, 1969. Bill heads off on his own, and I’m sure these crazy kids will never cross paths again.
Next time: Will we see why Bill took a shower? Or whether he and Hubbard meet? Or where the elusive Wally Taplin has gotten to? Guess you’ll just have to read part three to find out!