Nude on the Moon is an unexpectedly graceful exploitation from a director who would get a lot rawer over time.
If we can put a man on the moon, you may ask, why can’t we find a cure for cancer? This common frustration has a parallel in the world of film archives: if we can find a perfectly preserved print of the 1961 sexploitation cheapie Nude on the Moon, with its bright colors intact (in the notorious fade-prone Eastmancolor process at that), why can’t we find a print of the complete Magnificent Ambersons? While Moon is no substitute for Orson Welles’ lost folly, it’s not without merit.
Credited to “Anthony Brooks,” the movie was co-directed by Raymond Phalen and Doris Wishman, and was the first of a handful of nudist exploitation movies that Wishman directed in the early ‘60s. Born in New York City in 1912, Wishman was a nearly 50-year old widow when she began her unlikely career as a creator of exploitation films, and her early featureNude on the Moon, which she co-produced and co-directed, proved she had an inventive flair for a subgenre that typically required little more than gratuitous cheesecake.
The movie opens with the seriously enchanting theme song “Moon Doll,” performed by Ralph Young, who later in the decade found success as part of the easy-listening duo Sandler and Young. The song was written and composed by Wishman’s niece Judith Kushner, who would collaborate with her aunt for decades, writing the screenplay for Wishman’s wild 1983 horror movie A Night to Dismember.
A basic plot unfolds after this moonlit intro. Dr. Jeff Huntley (Lester Brown, in his only film credit) is a Florida scientist who thinks he has solved the problem of space travel. Back at the office, Dr. Huntley, who seems unaware of the romantic overtures made by his secretary Cathy (an actress known only as Marietta) convinces his colleague Professor Nichols (William Mayer, whose brief filmography consists exclusively of nudist films) to join him on a space expedition.
Anyone who has traveled through Florida’s roadside attraction tourist destinations will recognize the site of the scientists’ moon landing: Coral Castle. The site was created by Latvian immigrant Ed Leedskalnin, a diminutive man who, as legend has it, solved the mystery of the pyramids and over the course of 28 years single-handedly moved massive limestone pieces weighing many tons to construct what was essentially an homage to an unrequited love.
Here the scientists discover a race of moon people … in the nude! These lunar creatures, who look surprisingly human, didn’t exactly play volleyball, but the camera innocently finds them at some kind of work and play, usually involving women jumping and men grunting as they move heavy objects.
If you’ve seen early nudist movies before, you know that they have little in the way of plot. These fairly asexual movies were made purely to lure paying customers with the promise of big-screen naked flesh—and that’s all you’d get from the typical nudist movie, with static shots of topless women and not much else.
Yet with decent production values for its limited budget, Nude on the Moon somehow rises above its homely origins, its standard issue nudes-in-the-field shots made with enough variety in their content and rhythm that this exploitation has a surprising charm, enhanced by the fact that the moon people communicate telepathically, though antenna.
The movie even has a sweet message: Dr. Huntley falls for the moon people’s queen – who happens to be played by the same actress who plays Cathy, his secretary back home. What this nude fantasia seems to suggest is that those looking at far off places for personal fulfillment would do well to look in their own back yard.
Having fallen for the Moon Queen, Dr. Huntley doesn’t want to return to Earth, but the Professor talks him back onto the ship, and on the way home they pass out. I’m not convinced they even got out of the Earth’s orbit, and that the whole Coral Castle escapade wasn’t just some dream sequence. At any rate, Dr. Huntley returns home with a newfound appreciation for Cathy, whom he suddenly imagines to be topless (Marietta showing off a new sunburn in the process, presumably from all that time outside at Coral Castle). Lascivious at the time but practically wholesome today, Nude on the Moon is an unexpectedly graceful exploitation from a director who would get a lot rawer over time.