This amounts to something of a news flash in the Sci-Fi-centric world of Savant. I braved the traffic and parking nightmare of Hollywood last night (a huge resurgence of nightclubs, I kid you not) to attend the America...展开n Cinematheque, there to catch a screening of 1935's Kosmitcheskiy reys (Cosmic Voyage), a.k.a. in the IMDB as Kosmicheskiy reys: Fantasticheskaya novella, a space voyage movie from Stalin's Soviet Union. It's a major missing link between Fritz Lang's 1929 Woman in the Moon and George Pal's 1950 Destination Moon. It's much more technically advanced than Lang's film, especially when the Cosmonauts (an old professor, his young female assistant and a friendly 'boy scout' type) reach the moon. Two colossal two-stage space ships are prepared for launch on a gigantic inclined ramp, an enormous miniature set reminiscent of the next year's Things to Come. One rocket is named Joseph Stalin, and the other Marshal Kliment Voroshilov -- after a major Stalinist general who figured heavily in purges to come. To buffer the acceleration of takeoff and the impact of the hard moon landing, the Cosmonauts enter chambers filled with liquid, a weird precursor to the various tube-transformations of This Island Earth, Forbidden Planet and by extension Star Trek. They explore the moon and rescue the cargo -- a housecat -- from the wreck of a previous unmanned probe rocket. The old professor is trapped under a fallen boulder but saves himself by using the boy's homemade pellet gun to signal for help. While all Earth telescopes focus on the moon, the Cosmonauts spread out reflective patches (or flares? We never see them ignite) that spell out "CCCP." We don't get a good look at the flag that the old professor plants, but this Soviet expedition does not claim the moon for all mankind.
Although it premiered in 1936, Kosmicheskiy reys: Fantasticheskaya novella is a silent movie with inter-titles and a synchronized classical music score. The print is slightly cropped on the left and the top, indicating that it was filmed with a silent aperture and then reprinted with a soundtrack covering the left extreme of the frame. The special effects by Fodor Krasne are done on a colossal scale, with wide views of the Cosmodrome and long trucking shots around the giant rockets lying horizontally on their cradles. All of these scenes appear to have been done with stop-motion animation, as both the camera and tiny animated vehicles do not always move smoothly. The full-sized sets are also vast, with the entrance to the rocket establishment looking like a giant hotel lobby. The only plot involves a stuffy bureaucrat's attempt to keep the old genius Pavel Ivanovich Sedikh (Sergei Komarov) from taking the first moon flight. Pavel ends up going (his old wife is upset because he leaves a useless pair of boots behind) and taking his secretary Marina (K. Moskalenko), a beauty who gives forth with a lot of healthy-looking collectivist smiles. The kid (Vassili Gaponenko) stows away but proves to be a crackerjack Cosmonaut and saves the day.
The ship interior is much like the one for Woman in the Moon, except that it is so roomy, it resembles one of the fancy interiors in a Toho spaceship from the late 1950s. Small details like Pavel's spacesuit radio appear to have been made from carved wood.
The moon landing is accomplished in a crater scored with deep crevasses. In excellent stop-motion animation (with Harryhausen-like aerial bracing), the Cosmonauts leap between giant rock formations and do flips in the air, like the adventurers in H.G. Wells' novel First Men In The Moon. Their suits look like diving gear, but with more flexible tubes coming from the helmets. Many details are present -- air locks, strap-holds on the ship interior, the low gravity on the moon -- that are not fully explained to the audience. The main technical problem is the loss of the Joseph Stalin's oxygen supply, but Pavel finds frozen oxygen (it's -270° out there) left over from the moon's ancient atmosphere, so the Cosmonauts are saved after all.
Just as the MIIT (Moscow Institute for Interplanetary Travel) prepares to send the second rocket on a rescue mission, the Joseph Stalin returns by parachute, landing right in front of the Academy's main entrance. Congratulations, speeches and general merry-making follow.
It turns out that Kosmicheskiy reys is from a novel by, and was technically supervised by the Russian space visionary Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857 - 1935), who died before the film was finished. Tsiolkovsky is credited with the idea for the Space Elevator featured in Arthur C. Clarke's book The Fountains of Paradise, and even now being studied as a practical possibility. Tsiolkovsky contributed to the earlier space film Aelita; in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Naked Now, a starship is named after him! He is considered the teacher of and inspiration for the generation that made the Russian space program into a reality twenty years after his death.
As it took this long for Kosmicheskiy reys to be shown here, I have no idea if it could possibly have inspired other science fiction films or influenced the genre outside of the Soviet Union. The only reference to it I have seen before Phil Hardy's Science Fiction Film Encyclopedia is a title mention in a Japanese book ... that I couldn't read. But less than one month ago a stunning French website about the film by Claude Mettavant showed up on the internet, with plenty of original research and pictures and even some frame grabs from a previously unheard-of 1958 Russian movie called Doroga k zvezdam (Russian Rocket to the Moon). There are no doubt even more amazing Soviet-Bloc productions to be found. Savant directs all curious readers to the rewarding site and offers thanks to Mr. Mettavant for his research. Some web info indicates that a Japanese DVD of Kosmicheskiy reys exists under the title The Space Voyage ... perhaps an expert like Stuart Galbraith IV knows about it. -- Glenn Erickson