BLAST-OFF (1967, Dir. Don Was)

a/k/a Those Fantastic Flying Fools
a/k/a Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon
Olive Films BD $29.95, DVD $24.95
119 min. / Eastmancolor / 2.35:1 / English Subtitles

Victorian England, and the Brits are not very successfully attempting to master the scientific progress of the modern age, resulting in falling suspension bridges, weapons that fire backwards, and motor cars that run on gas street lamps (you have to SEE that one). All this is much to the annoyance of Her Majesty, cutting the ribbon at one failure after another. To the rescue comes a famous Yank: P.T. Barnum, who puts together a crack team of crackpots to attempt the first manned trip to the moon (although how they’re going to get the man back home is a matter of conjecture).

Surprisingly enjoyable, rather unheralded attempt to cash in on the recent hits The Great Race and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines and what it lacks in belly laughs it makes up for in sheer affability, with a fine cast of 1960s favorites, including Burl Ives as Barnum, who starts out as a chiseler but thinks there might be more money on getting the ship off the ground; Gert “Goldfinger” Fröbe as the German munitions expert; and best of all the always hilarious Terry-Thomas as the least trustworthy treasurer you can imagine, who bets the money they’ve raised that the rocket won’t blast off, and intends to see that he wins by hook or… well, you know. Troy Donahue is the dim-witted astronaut, the lovely Daliah Lavi is his fickle girlfriend, and Hermione Gingold wanders onto the set for a few minutes to help out.

Not a hit on release, so American-International chopped a half hour out of it and re-released it as Blast-Off for the drive-in crowds, and that’s the title that Olive Films gives the Blu-ray and DVD release. While the box lists the truncated 95 min. running time, the film itself carries the American title Those Fantastic Flying Fools and is the full running time, just short of two hours, so purchase with confidence.
Unsurprisingly, the great Terry-Thomas (who made one “epic comedy” after another in the 1960s, it seemed to be a given that if you were making a big, CinemaScope comedy in the decade, he had to be in it, and that’s a good thing) is the best part of the movie.
Million-dollar Dialog:
Rocket Scientist: “If you had an ounce of decency you would go straight down to the gun room, you’d lock the door, there’d be the sound of a shot. A housemaid would scream. And you, Harry, would’ve paid for your despicable actions in the only way left to a gentleman!”
Terry-Thomas: “I say, I like the part about the housemaid screaming.”
I suspect that hiring Don Sharp to direct wasn’t the best choice the producers could’ve made; his resume never included much in the way of comedy, and he’s best remembered today for low-budget horror films like Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and Witchcraft (1964). Still, Blast-Off (or whatever you’d like to call it) is a nice, splashy comedy with a good cast and some serious laughs courtesy of Terry-Thomas. The Blu-ray is gorgeous and includes the film’s trailer.