Retrospective: The Woman in the Moon (Die Frau Im Mond) (1929).

In July TCM celebrated the 50th anniversary of humans first landing on the moon. They chose to run the rarely seen The Woman in the Moon (Die Frau Im Mond). This was the first science fiction film to try to be serious and accurate in depicting celestial travel. While it is not too hard to find, few science fans and science fiction fans have actually seen it. TCM ran it for the first time.

In 1927 Fritz Lang made what may be remembered as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, Metropolis, based on his wife’s novel of the same title. Certainly the image of the female robot is one of the more notable images of early science fiction cinema. Two years later Lang was back making another SF film for the screen, The Woman in the Moon (Die Frau Im Mond).

It is the story of a team of people who design and create a rocket ship to be the first people on the moon.

This is not the first film of a trip to the moon, but it was the first film that seriously treated the subject of space travel. The portrayals of conditions on the moon are a good deal wide of the mark. That was to be expected. There was very little real information about what the moon would really be like. On the other hand, German rocketry was the most advanced in the world, and there was not yet a military clampdown on rocket science.

Rocket scientists on the level of Willy Ley and Herrman Oberth gave their expertise to the project. The rocketry portrayed in the film was mostly either actual science or informed guesswork.

One piece of trivia was that Lang wanted the moment of the rocket firing to play as the most dramatic scene of the film. But when the rocket was fired there was not much to see until the moment of firing. Lang remembered that during the war when a big gun was to be fired people were alerted by the person firing the gun would count backwards from ten to zero, firing the gun at zero. It worked for the audience. This was the first verifiable time a rocket blast-off was associated with a countdown to zero.

The Woman in the Moon (Die Frau Im Mond)
The Woman in the Moon (Die Frau Im Mond)

Here is Wikipedia’s list of what were essentially lucky guesses, cases where the film made correct guesses about the first real rocket to the moon:

—The rocket ship Friede is fully built in a tall building and moved to the launch pad.

—As launch approaches, the launch team counts down the seconds from ten to zero (“now” was used for zero), and WOMAN IN THE MOON is often cited as the first occurrence of the “countdown to zero” before a rocket launch.

—The rocket ship blasts off from a pool of water; water is commonly used today on launch pads to absorb and dissipate the extreme heat and to damp the noise generated by the rocket exhaust.

—In space, the rocket ejects its first stage and fires its second stage rocket, predicting the development of modern multi-stage orbital rockets.

—The crew recline on horizontal beds to cope with the G-forces experienced during lift-off and pre-orbital acceleration.

—Floor foot straps are used to restrain the crew during zero gravity (Velcro is used today).

—These items and the overall design of the rocket led to the film being banned in Germany from 1933-1945 during World War II by the Nazis, due to similarities to their secret V-2 project.

Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10.

Mark R Leeper.

(c) Mark R Leeper 2019

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