If you are ever in need of a cinematic example of how the British have a tendency to not take themselves seriously, then ‘Man in the Moon’ is for you. This 1960 film stars Kenneth More and Michael Hordern, among several others whose faces may be more familiar than their names. The landscape too is one that you will recognise, much of it being filmed in the Buckinghamshire villages around Pinewood. It is gently humorous - all in all very comforting stuff. Well, to us British, at any rate. I suspect a native of any other country would be bemused and bewildered by the whole thing.
The premise is that Britain needs an astronaut to enable us to win the space race. The men from the ministry are on the look-out for a suitable victim to launch up to the moon. Kenneth More turns out to be their perfect man. He has been earning a living selling his body to medical research because he is seemingly incapable of developing a disease. They (and we) first discover him at the common cold research establishment, being all bouncy and chipper while all those around him wallow in mucus-induced misery. He boasts that he survived everything that the School of Tropical Medicine threw at him. He is lured to the space centre, where he barely notices being thrust into extremes of temperature and G-force.
More’s character is the epitome of the British hero, as viewed from the first half of the 20th Century. He all but stands with legs wide apart, pipe sticking out from his jutting chin and his thumbs in his tailored tweed suit. This in itself is probably a bit of gentle mockery of how we used to be. But then of course it all goes wrong. When they finally launch him off to the moon, he ends up landing within a short distance from the Australian launch pad. More goes back to the cold research establishment, where the scientists continue to be generally baffled. The British, this film yells out, are clever but rubbish at a lot of stuff.
Of course, we know that the main two contenders in the space race were the USA and the USSR. Two countries that take themselves and their space very seriously indeed. I suspect that if this film had been made and released in either of those countries, there would have been an enquiry. Let’s face it, if a Russian had so much as even thought up a storyline that mocked their comrades in this way, Siberia would have beckoned. Would there have been demonstrations outside the cinemas of small town America? Maybe. But not only did we make the film, we sat and chuckled at it over our Kia-Oras and bars of fruit and nut.
I’m glad. Who wants space hardware when you can have Kenneth More being thrown off an ejector seat at full tilt. Marvellous.