I recently had the chance to finally see an SF classic, Frau Im Mond (The Girl in the Moon), via Amazon Prime Movies. Director Fritz Lang and writer Thea Von Harbou’s next SF movie after Metropolis, Frau im Mond is about an expedition to the Moon to find out if a scientist’s theory of gold on the Moon is true. It’s a melodrama with SF elements, and recent remastering has resulted in a nice-looking silent film.
Frau Im Mond is realistic in design, unlike the expressionist style used to such mastery in Metropolis, and more grounded in a present-day world (the city settings don’t seem to have any elements that stand out as futuristic-looking… but then, I wasn’t alive in 1929, so I can’t be sure here). That realistic look would effectively disappear in SF, not to re-emerge significantly until the 1960s or so. It also has a measurable amount of humor, something totally lacking in Metropolis, so it’s a lot less stuffy. It lacks the overall drama, showiness and gravity of Metropolis, but it makes up for it in its more realistic story.
Maybe the best thing about it is its assumption, in 1929, that there was no reason a woman couldn’t be included on a voyage to the Moon… and that Friede, the titular frau, volunteers for the trip. I loved the moment when one of the men committed to taking the trip to the Moon tell her to reconsider such a dangerous trip, and she urges him not to “shame all womanhood” by questioning her resolve. In 1929, some eighty years after the beginnings of the suffragette movement, and eight years before the ill-fated flight of Amelia Earhart, such a thing was still considered daring and brazen for a woman. Most importantly, Friede does not play the damsel-in-distress or flighty, panicky eye-candy so common to adventure and SF material, at least until the last two decades; she is as involved in the voyage as the rest of the crew, a refreshing reminder that women weren’t always treated as complete inferiors to men in early movies.
Frau Im Mond is renowned for its early depiction of a rocket launch, with a multi-stage rocket, a giant railway moving it from assembly building to its launch site, a course that takes speed and trajectory into account, the first depiction of a rocket countdown, strapping the crew into acceleration beds, and the lack of gravity experienced during the voyage. This was due to the involvement of actual German rocket scientists in the production, including Hermann Oberth, and seems to be a direct source of inspiration for modern rocket launches. (Think of how the original Star Trek series inspired youthful engineers and scientists to recreate its technology in cellphones, tablet computers and other modern marvels… then consider Frau Im Mond did the same years before.) Less renowned but equally prescient are elements like an advance robot “probe” that orbits the Moon, takes photos and sends them by radio back to Earth for the astronauts to pick out a landing spot.
The movie isn’t without its scientific flaws, mostly about the Moon itself: The astronauts discover there is a breathable atmosphere on the far side; and the crew does find huge chunks of gold, ready for the picking, in nearby caves. But considering the state of knowledge of the Moon at the time, most of this is forgivable. As I said, this is primarily a melodrama, and honestly, it ultimately could have taken place in a desert, jungle or deserted island for all the difference it makes to the story itself. And speaking of which, the story includes a chase scene… a fight scene… a boy stowaway… a spy who coerces the astronauts to take him on the trip (perhaps the original inspiration for Lost in Space‘s Dr. Smith?)… a scientist who brings his pet mouse along on the voyage… and the accidental murder of a plant (would that be considered herbicide?). And, of course, the love story that comes to a satisfying conclusion by the end.
So Frau Im Mond is realistic, sophisticated, funny, woman-empowering and prescient of real science and rocketry procedures… something most science fiction can’t say. In many ways, it’s a movie every SF fan should see, if only to remind us that smart, quality SF was indeed being made so early in the history of cinema.
Frau Im Mond is available in DVD and on Amazon Prime movies, and probably other sources.