P.T. Barnum Sends a Man to the Moon in this Victorian Comedy
The space race was on everyone’s mind in the 1960s as America and the Soviet Union pushed farther and farther into space orbit. This 1967 film from director Don Sharp (The Kiss of the Vampire) capitalized on that interest with a unique twist, setting it in the Victorian Age. Blast-Off has a fine ensemble of comedic talent, led by folk music superstar Burl Ives and a young Troy Donahue. Their characters will build a moon ship, using a giant cannon to blast it toward the moon.
Loosely inspired by the writings of Jules Verne, Blast-Off (aka Those Fantastic Flying Fools aka Rocket to the Moon) brings together a rousing assemblage of American and British actors. The satirical comedy pays homage to such films as The Great Race and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. It’s a quaint adventure film with humorous overtones that would inspire such comedic filmmakers as Mel Brooks. The broad array of characters and zany antics will be familiar to viewers that grew up on Sixties’ comedies. This is a British film in spirit, almost made for a British audience more than an American one with its winning combination of physical slapstick and dry wit.
Burl Ives (The Big Country, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) stars as P.T. Barnum, the blustering American showman known for his shameless promotion. Known today mostly for his iconic role as narrator in the Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer television special, Burl Ives was a huge folk star when he wasn’t appearing in films.
… the British humor shines
… the British humor shines
When Barnum comes across a professor at the British Royal Society discussing the idea of a projectile which could travel to the moon, he smells an opportunity to make money. He suggests his pint-sized companion, General Tom Thumb, will be the first man on the moon and begins raising funds for a moon ship. That sets off a nearly two-hour ride of scheming characters and silly sub-plots as Barnum and a young American scientist build their moon ship.
The eccentric cast of characters that populate Blast-Off include the dastardly Sir Harry Washington-Smythe (Terry-Thomas), his equally devious brother-in-law Sir Charles Dillworthy (Lionel Jeffries), the dashing young American engineer Gaylord Sullivan (Troy Donahue) and Madelaine (Daliah Lavi), Gaylord’s voluptuous love interest with a cute French accent. Supporting performances include Gert Frobe (Goldfinger), Hermione Gingold (Gigi), Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets), Stratford Johns (The Professionals) and Graham Stark (A Shot in the Dark).
Blast-Off is a period romp in the best sense of those words. Showcasing excellent production design and fun “cameos” by such characters as a bewildered Queen Victoria, the British humor shines. The adventure does run its course by the end, overstaying its welcome. This would be a near-perfect madcap comedy from the 1960s if thirty or so minutes had been cut. That partially did happen overseas in some countries, as some versions of Blast-Off were shorter in Europe.
Olive Films presents Blast-Off in pleasing Blu-ray video with strong clarity. They’ve licensed the 1967 AIP movie from MGM. All indications point to a recent HD transfer struck from the camera negative, given its sharp definition and unfiltered detail. Some speckling is evident in the unrestored film elements, though the 1080P video reveals negligible wear in them. Blast-Off has aesthetically pleasing cinematography that remains vivid and fresh today on Blu-ray.
The main feature runs 119 minutes on a BD-25. It is shown in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, capturing the outstanding location photography in all its glory. This is the completely uncut American theatrical release with no trimmed scenes. Olive Films encodes it in a transparent AVC presentation at 1080P resolution, accurately rendering the grain and original elements. It’s a film-like transfer with a whiff of unobtrusive halos in a few, select scenes.
The Panavision film shows nice depth and rich colors. Flesh-tones are perfect despite the mildly oversaturated magenta due to aging film elements. Its solid black levels and crisp contrast give off a fantastic-looking sense of vintage filmmaking.
The monaural soundtrack is heard in barely adequate 2.0 DTS-HD MA. The dialogue is quiet, almost buried in the mix. One could even call it muffled in some scenes. The mix lacks energy except when composer Patrick John Scott’s brassy orchestration comes through in the score. The flat audio often feels recessed and distant. The recording fidelity is fairly standard for movie productions of the late 1960s.
Optional English SDH subtitles appear in a white font.
Blast-Off Trailer (02:40 in HD) – The lone special feature is this trailer, which must come from a terrible SD source. A huge amount of aliasing is visible.
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A fun comedy adventure from the 1960s with British humor and Burl Ives as star.
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