August 4, 2022 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Cinema Gems From The Vault of Dr. Film

My friend Eric Grayson wrote this week’s article about a long-lost “trailer” and his new release, but first, a small Thunderbean update:

The Stop Motion Marvels, Volume 1 Blu-ray is mastered now! It’s off for a few days of testing and then to replication. Since I’m finishing off Flip the Frog masters in coming week. In pre-order news, Rainbow Parades Volume 2, Lou Bunin’s Magic Puppet Animation featuring “Alice in Wonderland” and Ub Iwerks’ Comi-Color Volume 1 are now all available at the Thunderbean shop for pre-order. If you ordered them a while back, you’ll get the special discs with them as well of course.

Eric Grayson just finished a new Blu-ray set that has the trailer on it he’s chatting about this week- the set is called Cinema Gems from the Vault of Dr. Film. I was involved in cleaning up and coordinating material for the set, and it’s a great collection that includes things you really won’t find anywhere else. Besides Monsters of the Moon, my favorite thing on the set is an amazing film from Old King Cole display company with ‘animated’ Disney Christmas displays from 1934. It’s seriously one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched in over and over with my mouth wide open. It appears on the set courtesy of Dennis Atkinson, Jr, from the collection of his father, Dennis Atkinson. It also features an otherwise lost “Jerky Journey” cartoon, courtesy of Leonard Maltin.

The collection is finished and soon to be released. You can pre-order the collection here at Dr. Film’s Website.

Found at Last: the Lost Ackerman “Monsters of the Moon” Film, and “Cinema Gems from the Vault of Dr. Film”

Do you recognize these guys?

OK, that’s a little rough. Maybe this is easier:

The guy on the left is Ray Harryhausen. If you don’t know who he is, then you shouldn’t be reading the Cartoon Research page. Harryhausen was one of the great stop-motion animators of the 20th century, with great stuff like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1957) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963). The guy in the center is best known to “monster kids” as the legendary editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, the monster magazine aimed at kids who loved, well, monsters. The guy on the right is Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man and a lot of other great stuff.

Back in the 1930s, these guys hung around is southern California and were at the very cutting edge of science fiction fandom. They were good buddies for years. They were at the ground floor of the earliest conventions.

Here are two of them at a time closer to our interest today:

Ackerman is at bottom left and Bradbury is at the bottom right.

The history from this point is a little dicey, since we have to rely heavily on Ackerman’s recollections, and he was always more interested in telling a good story than in getting the facts right.

Somewhere around 1939, Ackerman was working at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). He picked up, literally from the floor, clips of an unfinished science fiction film called Monsters of the Moon.

Monsters of the Moon was a pet project of two guys named Frisby and Heinz, and they were working to sell the concept to a big studio. Universal passed on it, being more interested in Flash Gordon, and they eventually interested indie producer William Pizor in the project. Pizor was at the bottom of the barrel of independent producers. In fact, most of his films are lost today, unusual for sound pictures. His greatest success was probably the Bela Lugosi picture Murder By Television (1935), a film which is among the very worst of Lugosi’s output, certainly on the same level as the Ed Wood epics. So Heinz and Frisby selling their film to Pizor was only a hollow triumph.

It was made even worse by the fact that Pizor wasn’t in the position to do anything with it. Beset by bills that he couldn’t pay, William Pizor was in the throes of being sued by one of his western stars for non-payment of salary. Pizor lost, and had no cash to continue Monsters of the Moon.

This is unfortunate, because Monsters of the Moon was an interesting hodgepodge of ideas that were floating around in movies at the time. Alien invasion, colonies on the moon, space suits that sort of resemble things from Mysterious Island (1929). It was done with a deft combination of stop-motion and live action that was pretty innovative for its time.

And pieces of it, apparently pieces that were considered rejects, were what Ackerman found at AMPAS. Working with some editors, Ackerman reconstructed the bits into a longish trailer.

At this point, I have to step in and discuss some bad history: Harryhausen did NOT animate any of the Monsters of the Moon footage (at least that we know of). He would have been in high school at the time. It is nearly certain that Harryhausen and Bradbury knew about this project, and saw the film, but they did not participate in it.

Ackerman took the finished trailer to the Chicago Worldcon in 1940. It has been reported that it was the 1939 convention, which Bradbury also attended, but it was in fact the 1940 convention, which Bradbury did NOT attend.

Ackerman pieced together a brochure for Monsters of the Moon in his typical grandiose style, using some stills and some rather awkwardly mimeographed yellow paper. He charged the outrageous sum of 25 cents for this (extremely high for 1940), but several copies of the brochure survive. It is full of Ackerman-style prose that proves that only he could have written it. Lots of colorful abbreviations and deliberate misspellings. Those of us who loved Famous Monsters will recognize it immediately.

After his successful show at Worldcon, Ackerman shelved Monsters of the Moon until the 1950s, at which point he loaned it to the legendary film pirate Raymond Rohauer. I am loath to publicly “diss” a fellow film person, but I can think of nothing positive to say about Mr. Rohauer except perhaps that he helped resurrect the career of Buster Keaton. Rohauer did a few shows of the trailer, Ackerman rented it out a few times, and then Rohauer claimed that he lost it.

Of course Rohauer would claim that. Ackerman never saw it again, and he bemoaned the loss of this film. He wrote about it several times and featured it in his one-off magazine Wonderama. He never saw it again.

But we can.

For whatever reason, and that is an open question, a second print of Monsters of the Moon was made. It is identical to the trailer that Ackerman described in his work.

The trailer surfaced on eBay in 2013 and I was the buyer. I had thought it might be the work of quirky animator Charley Bowers, who frequently worked on underfunded projects that are ill-documented, but my friend Dustin Jablonski informed me that it was the legendary lost trailer for Monsters of the Moon.

So is it cool?

It is. It’s only about 3-4 minutes long. I had long considered putting it out as an extra on a DVD, but as I tried to do research on it, I was besieged with requests, from, of all people, the estates of Ackerman, Bradbury, and Harryhausen. And the Worldcon folks. They all wanted to help.

I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, because occasionally word leaks out that I have something rare and then I get requests from all over the world. There is a persistent rumor that I still have London After Midnight, which I DO NOT HAVE, and then word leaked that I had the “lost” pilot for The Haunted, which is finally on Blu-ray and DVD.

Don’t expect a world-breaker, but Monsters of the Moon is pretty interesting, and it would have been a really interesting feature if Universal had picked it up. Pizor, probably not!

Thanks to Steve Stanchfield for helping restore this rare film and to the folks at Worldcon and the Bradbury museum for helping me find rare material on it!


  • “Monsters of the Moon” was listed on the 1935-36 Imperial Distributing Corp. program in the 1935 Film Daily Production Guide and Director’s Annual. (Imperial was William Pizor’s company; it was sometimes also referred to as “Imperial-Cameo.”) The entire entry runs as follows:

    Feature and 12 episode serial to be produced by Ray Heinz and Raymond Friedgen.”

    Friedgen occasionally received credit as producer of poverty-row product; in 1937 he attracted some attention producing a documentary called “Killers of the Sea” for Grand National. His ad in the 1937-38 Motion Picture Almanac (p. 345) prominently bills him as “Producer of ‘Fish From Hell,'” as if it was a title those in the industry would recognize, but I can’t locate any other information about the film. My suspicion is “Forry” Ackerman or his source perhaps didn’t know (or remember) Friedgen’s name, and that “Frisby” was the best they could come up with.

    • That’s interesting, Richard. Makes a lot of sense. Pizor was always short of funds, though, so this doesn’t surprise me. We do know, however, that Ackerman found the film fragments in 1939 and did run them at the 1940 WorldCon. Does it make sense that the film was sitting around for 5 years? Sure.

    • Richard, I wonder if “Fish from Hell” might have been an alternative title for “Killers of the Sea”.

  • “People like Ackerman are peculiarly ridiculous — one can plainly see that this type of thing is merely egotism and a gesture to call attention to themselves. However, most people out-grow this stage.” — H. P. Lovecraft, “The Fantasy Fan”, November 1933

    But Ackerman never did. Lovecraft helped lay the groundwork for science fiction fandom through his work in amateur journalism and his vast network of correspondents, but it was Ackerman who made it his life’s work. In time he won over even Lovecraft, who despised wordplay and eccentric misspellings. “I’m sure he must be a bright and delightful kid underneath the surface!” Lovecraft wrote of Ackerman not long before his death in 1937. “I haven’t a thing in the world against him!”

    “Monsters of the Moon” sounds intriguing, and I’m glad those scraps of film that Ackerman salvaged have miraculously survived the vicissitudes of time. But… really, not even a tiny little clip for us on Thunderbean Thursday? Oh well….

    • Paul, I wish you know the time crunch I’m under for another restoration. It’s a miracle that this even got posted at all! It’s been on hiatus for literally years!

      • Thanks for taking the time to share the story of “Monsters of the Moon” with us!

  • As regards the possibility “Killers of the Sea” and “Fish From Hell” are two names for the same picture: Friedgen spends much of his ad promoting “Killers of the Sea,” then mentions “Fish From Hell” near the bottom as if it had been released and people knew what it was. He also says he has a film named “The Sea Terror” in production, but like “Fish From Hell,” there’s no evidence that was released, either. (“Killers of the Sea” actually came out.)

  • Is there a trailer for this Blu-Ray?

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