Due to disappointing boxoffice returns, "Those Fantastic Flying Fools" was re-titled and remarketed as "Blast-Off". This was not an uncommon practice during the era. "Operation Crossbow" was retitled "The Great Spy Mission" and "Star!" was reissued under the title "Those Were the Happy Times".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Olive Films has released a Blu-ray edition of "Those Fantastic Flying Fools" although the packaging bears the film's alternate title, "Blast-Off". The 1967 production is largely forgotten by all but the most avid retro movie lovers. Clearly inspired by the success of director Ken Annakin's 1965 blockbuster "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines", "Blast-Off" is far more modest in its ambitions and the pleasures it delivers but it still offers a rare opportunity to see many great "second bananas" in leading roles. The movie apparently had a checkered history with Bing Crosby, Senta Berger and Wilfred Hyde-White having been associated with it in the early stages only to drop out for various reasons. As it is, the movie presents an impressive number of talented comic actors in a tale loosely inspired by the writings of Jules Verne. (The movie was released in the UK under yet another titles, "Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon"). The film presents Burl Ives, well cast as P.T. Barnum, making a trek to England where he encounters a the nutty Prof. von Bulow (Gert Frobe, ported over from "Magnificent Men" in an almost identical role), who is trying to convince skeptical colleagues that he can develop technology to send a manned rocket to the moon. Barnum, ever the opportunist, doesn't care whether the plan is feasible or not, but he smells a great way to attract paying crowds to see the rocket before its attempted launch. He partners with the Duke of Barset (Dennis Price), a true believer in von Bulow's ambitious plan, and before long even Queen Victoria is on board helping with the financing and providing logistical military support as von Bulow goes through an often disastrous series of experiments using high levels of gunpowder to find the perfect formula to act as propulsion for the rocket.
The story dovetails with individual side plots that present Daliah Lavi as Madelaine, a lovely but ditzy French girl, who is equally in love with two would-be husbands, Henri (Edward de Souza), a wealthy playboy and Gaylord, an American inventor who is also developing technology to bring a man to the moon. Through a convoluted set of circumstances, Gaylord and Madelaine end up arriving in England at the precise spot where Barnum and von Bulow are performing propulsion tests. Madelaine ends up getting lost and falls into the hands of the lecherous Harry Washington Smythe (Terry-Thomas), a notorious con man who has convinced Barnum and the Duke to hire him as an adviser and accountant. The rambling screenplay finds Gaylord and Henri both competing to find Madelaine, who is attempting to prevent the rocket launch from being thwarted by a Russian spy(!). The movie contains some fine cinematography (it was filmed entirely in Ireland) and director Don Sharp keeps the action moving at a frantic pace without making the plot seem too confusing. Ives is as commanding as ever, Donohue has a rare opportunity to show his skills in slapstick scenarios and Lavi shines in a rare leading role that reminds us that she coulda/shoulda been a much bigger star. The real fun comes from the British actors, including Lionel Jeffries as a competing scientist who joins ranks with Smythe to undermine the rocket launch that is to take Gaylord on what may be a one-way trip to the moon. Terry-Thomas predictably chews the scenery, playing yet again another charming rogue and Dennis Price does well as the foil for the zany characters surrounding him which includes ever-reliable Graham Stark. Even Hermione Gingold pops up briefly as the matron of a school for wayward girls who has turned the charity into a classy bordello. John Scott provides the lively score and the film boasts some impressive costumes and production design elements. The Olive Blu-ray has a superb transfer and includes a work print trailer that doesn't have titles. Recommended.