"Rocket to the Moon" is a film that boasts some great actors and a fantastically whimsical central concept - yes, it's another of those "Victorians try to reach the Moon" stories, though this one's based on something by Jules Verne anyway, so hurrah for that. I've never read the original, so I haven't a clue which bits of the film are faithful to the book, though I'm sure comedy pratfalling wasn't high on Verne's list of priorities for narrative-inclusion. I've always loved Victoriana, and films set in the period always look sumptuous. The entire concept of the Victorian scientists trying to expand the horizons of humanity has always fascinated me. The 60's version of "The Time Machine" remains my favourite film after what must be over fifteen viewings, and even the dismal Ray Harryhausen venture "First Men in the Moon" dregs up some respectability for its early Victorian scenes with a rather excitable Lionel Jeffries (who's in this film too).
"Rocket to the Moon" sometimes contains the same levels of charm and enjoyment of similar "epics", but to use a whoary old clichéd reviewer's line, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The whole inventors bit is still terribly entertaining, and an early scene where a bridge is held together only by the initiation ceremony ribbon, which then gets cut by Queen Victoria, is good for a giggle. However, though every so often there are such delights as debating how a rocket could be propelled to the Moon ("You would need a big cannon!"), and what to do should they meet any alien life ("Chloroform!"), in between there are some long stretches of not very much happening at all, and there are one too many misfired gags. The plot goes for a complete Burton during the last twenty five minutes or so, which descends into a drawn out and utterly pointless chase scene between a vintage car and a penny-farthing. The inclusion of what is suggested to be some kind of brothel to which Deliah Lavi's character is forcibly sent also seems terribly out of place with the playful innocence of the action surrounding it ("Why are there bars on the windows?" "Oh, that's not to keep you girls in. It's to keep the gentlemen out.") There is some top-notch comedy talent on display to keep the viewer periodically entertained. Terry-Thomas, as always, gives it his best shot, playing one of his most caddish characters - in fact, at times he actually does seem quite dangerous, which can make for one or two rather disturbing scenes. Lionel Jeffries is always good value for money, and even Graham Stark succeeds at being amusing here. For me, however, a quiet and understated performance from Dennis Price steals the picture, even if he doesn't actually have any jokes per se. The scene in which he slowly discovers that Terry-Thomas has a rigged pool table is probably the best of the film, and there's a rather electric bit soon after where he attacks T-T at a club, complete with shouting and copious stick waving.
However, the young leading man, Troy Donahue, is utterly wooden, and kills quite a few potentially funny lines. Comedy German eccentric Gert Frobe veers alarmingly between being hilarious ("What do we do now?" "I don't know, we've never got this far before,") and being tremendously irritating. And the less said about Deliah Lavi, the better. No, in fact, let's talk about her anyway. Maybe it's just the character she's forced to play, a bimbo who leaps into the arms of whatever young man may be nearest to her at the time. But Deliah doesn't try to give her much of a personality, and so just resembles a walking personality vacuum. The writer doesn't even seem to have bothered in giving her character any logical sense, as she appears to teleport from place to place for no reason at all except plot expediency (why the hell is she in the rocket at night for any reason other than to be discovered by T-T and Lionel Jeffries?) In the chase scene at the end she seems to acquire a penny-farthing from nowhere, and frankly just looks ridiculous - and it's painfully obvious when a double has been used in the long shots.
The plot groans with the attempts to include a bit of jeopardy, and so T-T, starting off as a harmless cad, embezzling the project money, suddenly turns into a bit of a leering psycho, determined to make sure the rocket never leaves the Earth, even if to do so means killing off Troy Donahue (then again, maybe that's not such a bad idea). There's also a running gag about a Russian spy that doesn't appear to really lead anywhere, and after the first use of it (which is actually funny) should really have been dropped.
I really wanted to like this film more than I did, and, indeed, on first viewing I found it a great, if a touch gentle, little feature. However, on subsequent viewings, the meandering nature of the story becomes more and more obvious, as do the number of jokes that just plain don't work. Fantastic actors appear wasted in roles that require them to change their character's personality practically every other scene - Lionel Jeffries' Sir Charles Dillworthy seems to harbour a loathing of T-T's Washington-Smythe at the beginning, then appears terrified of him, then angry, and then just willingly teams up with him by the end anyway.
Overall, though the concept of the film still remains a huge attraction, and actors like Dennis Price and Terry-Thomas still make it well worth watching on a Sunday afternoon, I can't help but feel a bit disappointed with "Rocket to the Moon", which would have been better having it's plot tightened up and getting rid of a few of the longer set pieces (Gert Frobe's cannon experiments, for example). Or maybe it just needed to be a bit funnier.
Review by The_Secretive_Bus from the Internet Movie Database.