In case you've never heard of it, Moon Pilot was released into theaters on this day all the way back in 1962. It was produced by the Walt Disney Company -- seriously, they have a pretty interesting library of flicks for anyone who has spent time culling through them for some past gems -- and was directed by James Neilson. A quick glance at Neilson's IMDB.com shows that he clearly got his star in episodic television before transitioning to motion pictures (with this very film, I believe), helming hours and half-hours in some memorable shows of the past. Still, his genre credentials are fairly light: the only other items I notice in there include a few episodes of the late 1960's Batman TV series (sorry, kids, I wasn't a fan) along with a Fantasy-lite movie titled Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow (1963).
Having brushed over a few online reviews for Moon Pilot, I get the impression that it kinda/sorta wasn't such a typical Disney story as originally intended but -- somewheres along the way -- it was properly Disneyfied.
From what I've read, Moon Pilot actually began life as the novel "Starfire" by novelist Robert Buckner. (Truth be told, Buckner was a fairly well-established Hollywood phenomenon himself, both writing and producing efforts. He even has an Oscar nomination to his credit.) Apparently, the work appeared in serialized format across several issues of The Saturday Evening Post, and its popularity was registered by the Mouse House. Wikipedia.org notes that Disney purchased the rights to it in 1961, and an adaptation was assigned to Maurice Tombragel. (I've seen Tombragel's name before, and I see online that it's associated with the genre series Korg: 70,000 B.C.)
Again, all I can do at this point is fall back on the impressions of what I've read. Starfire appears to be a comic novel -- a picture of its cover online promises the reader "the hilarious exploits of a bashful scientist and a creature gorgeous enough to send any man into orbit" -- but reviews of the completed film imply that the humor as depicted is a bit uneven. There's the occasional mention of even slapstick (gasp!), a form of visual schtick a bit too common to Mouse House films of that era, and I can't help but wonder if the end product was underwhelming to Science Fiction and Fantasy's more discriminating viewership. We're all up for a good laugh ... but not at the expense of a good story, which it appears this one never quite delivered.
Here's the premie as provided by the good people at IMDB.com:
"Away on a short leave before an upcoming moon launch, a NASA astronaut disappears and is feared kidnapped when the security services learn about his friendship with a suspected foreign female spy."
As for the cast?
Moon Pilot gave Tom Tryon a big lead, and -- to the film's benefit -- that may have been one of its biggest inspirations. While his screen career may not have been as expansive and/or exhaustive as others, Tryon had the attention of fandom already established with a lead role in 1958's I Married A Monster From Outer Space for Paramount Pictures. Despite the crudity of that one's title, many reviews are reasonably complimentary, calling out the feature's good acting as well as a solid central premise (an alien species' pronounced desperation of avoiding extinction). And -- interestingly enough, especially given that I Married A Monster is quintessential 1950's Science Fiction -- it's a film that miraculously got included on a 2002 list (out of 400 titles) in American Film Institute's attempt to have its membership vote for the top 100 of America's Greatest Love Stories. For what it's worth, Tryon gave up his film career in the early 1970's but spent the better part of his remaining time on Earth as a successful novelist.
French actress Dany Saval was introduced to American audiences via her role as 'Lyrae,' the seminal alien temptress mentioned above. IMDB.com reports that a Disney talent scout saw the woman's picture on a magazine cover, and her beauty prompted the studio to inquire about her availability. Alas, Pilot's box office receipts weren't exactly to the moon (snicker snicker), and the actress ended up returning to his native country (France) not long thereafter. She retired from the movie business in the late 1980's.
Believe it or not, the flick also includes a young Sally Fields in an uncredited role as a 'Beatnik Girl' featured in a police lineup.
As always, thanks for reading ... and live long and prosper!