After his stunning success with Metropolis, German studio Ufa gave director Fritz Lang free rein on his next project. Excited by the idea of rockets and spaceflight (hugely popular in Germany at the time) he decided to make a film about a rocket expedition to the Moon. Lang insisted on such technical accuracy that, even though it’s a silent film made in 1929, Frau im Mond has uncanny similarities to the Apollo program three decades later. Just witness the moment where a giant three-stage rocket is assembled in a cavernous building, then trundled to the launch pad by means of a huge transport platform down a dual-tracked road. Several cliches seen in the sci-fi movies of the 1950's and onwards also originated with this film, such as the portrayal of the crushing pressures of acceleration (close-ups of dials and straining facial expressions), the comedy of trying to eat and drink while weightless, and a crewmember making a Heroic Sacrifice so the others will have enough oxygen to survive. It was also largely responsible for changing the popular portrayal of a spacecraft from Jules Verne Steampunk to SciFi Golden Age Retro Rocket.
Frau im Mond had interesting historical consequences. In order to promote the film Lang persuaded his technical advisor, Hermann Oberth, to construct and launch an actual rocket as a publicity stunt! As far as they knew no-one had ever done this, as US scientist Robert Goddard had not publicized his experiments. Unfortunately Oberth, more suited to the quiet world of academia, broke down under the strain and failed to meet the deadline. The resulting publicity however provided the funding for amateur rocket enthusiasts to contine Oberth's project. This in turn attracted the attention of the German military, who offered the groups' most promising member -- a young Wernher von Braun -- a contract to work on ballistic missiles. The rest, as they say, is history.
The movie was released as Rocket to the Moon in the USA. The UK preferred the literal translation Woman in the Moon.
Frau im Mond contains the following tropes:
- Bittersweet Ending: Helius stays behind on the Moon, only to find that Friede has chosen to stay behind with him rather than return to Earth with her fiance and live.
- The Chick: Averted with Friede Venton, who is the title character and heroine of the tale; clearly inspired by real-life aviatrixes of the era. Impressive when you compare it to the later patronising view of women in science fiction (see Project Moonbase).
- Cold Equation
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Finance Group and their representative, Walt Turner, who want to mine the Moon for its gold so they can control the world market.
- Dirty Coward: Hans Windegger, Friede's fiance, breaks down in fear when he loses the Lottery of Doom. Helius then decides to stay behind instead, as he thinks Friede still loves Hans.
- Executive Meddling: Lang resisted pressure from Ufa to add a sound track, meaning the film did poorly at a time when the public was rapt over the new 'talkies'. As well as Those Wacky Nazis confiscating the release prints, the film was also chopped down from its original 156 minute length by distributors trying to make it more of an action-adventure film; therefore some scenes have not survived the years.
- In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: The Moon has a breathable atmosphere, so they don't need spacesuits! Silent film actors depended greatly on facial expressions and body language which would be obscured by bulky spacesuits and helmets, so Lang was forced to compromise on this point.
- Life Imitates Art: This film actually invented the countdown, in order to increase the drama of the launch.
- Little Stowaway: 12 year old Gustav hides on the rocket so he too can see the Moon.
- Lottery of Doom: After a struggle kills some of the crew and punctures an oxygen tank, the two remaining men draw straws to see who will stay behind.
- Love Triangle: Engineer Hans Windegger and scientist Wolf Helius are both attracted to the heroine.
- Shown Their Work: Along with Destination Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey, this was one of the few sci-fi movies where the creators paid serious attention to their technical advisors -- in this case science writer Willy Ley and Romanian rocket scientist Hermann Oberth. So accurate was the film the Gestapo later confiscated the release prints and a large cutaway model of the spacecraft, for fear it would compromise Germany's secret ballistic rocket program.