|Dany Saval and Tom Tyron in Disney's Moon Pilot (1962)|
Students of the UFO subject – and of UFO cinema in particular – will find much to enjoy in a little-known Disney movie from the early years of America’s space age. A live-action romantic comedy released in 1962 and based on the novel Starfire by Robert Buckner, Moon Pilot follows astronaut Capt. Richmond Talbot (Tom Tryon) as he prepares to make the first manned flight around the moon. The mission is classified Top Secret, requiring Talbot to be kept under close and constant observation by NASA, the CIA, and the FBI.
When Talbot is approached by a mysterious and attractive “foreign” woman (played by the French actress Dany Saval), the government immediately suspects her to be a spy. Calling herself ‘Lyrae,’ the woman has a disquieting amount of knowledge about the US space program and warns Talbot about possible technical faults in his spacecraft, offering to remedy them with a special formula. We soon learn that Lyrae is a friendly extraterrestrial from the planet Beta Lyrae (Beta Lyrae, not incidentally, is a real binary star system in the constellation of Lyra, approximately 960 light-years from Earth).
Inevitably, Talbot falls for the cosmic beauty and decides to give his government tails the slip in order to spend some quality time with her. The movie ends with Talbot and his rocket launching successfully into lunar orbit with Lyrae onboard as a stowaway, the two lovebirds singing a kitsch ballad about Beta Lyrae as the credits roll.
Moon Pilot is notable for its depiction of an attractive human-looking alien who wouldn’t seem out of place in any classic contactee story; but it also boasts a few other points of interest. Lyrae can read minds – an ability commonly attributed to aliens in experiencer testimonies. At one point in the movie, she even manifests a psychic projection of a little boy who we are told is actually her and Talbot’s future offspring – a very early allusion to alien-human interbreeding and hybrid children.
Curiously, the movie received limited co-operation from the US Air Force, despite the USAF’s almost unbroken track record up to this point of denying assistance to UFO-themed productions (although, technically, no ‘UFOs’ are featured in the film). The FBI, on the other hand was less sympathetic. Upon seeing the movie’s portrayal of FBI agents as buffoons, J. Edgar Hoover himself reportedly put in an angry phone call to Walt Disney. But Hoover’s concerns about the film likely went deeper than its comical depiction of FBI field agents. Documents released through the Freedom of Information Act show that the flying saucer fever that swept America during the late-1940s reached as far as FBI headquarters and had Hoover himself in a sweat. The FBI Director was particularly frustrated at his inability to get straight answers on the subject from the USAF, which he was convinced was withholding crucial UFO-related information from the FBI.
Today, Moon Pilot stands as an almost forgotten oddity of space-age cinema – sweet silliness meets national security paranoia. UFOlogically fascinating, it depicts a human-looking extraterrestrial quietly assisting the US space program and features ideas now common in UFO literature relating to alien-human hybridization and communication through means of psychic projection. It was partially supported by the US Air Force but provoked criticism from the FBI. It’s a curiosity, for sure. Check it out if you can.