Friday, September 27, 2019


Before Leonard Nimoy ever put on "Spock's" ears he was a "Zombie". In 1949 Republic Pictures created a character for their 51st "Cliff Hanger" Chapter Serial and in 1991 Walt Disney Productions would film a homage to it. This is the story of the character the fans knew as ROCKET MAN!

I first became aware of "Rocket Man" at a Saturday "Kid's Matinee", at the "La Brea Theater", in Los Angeles. back in 1952 with his third appearance. I was five years old at the time. For those not of my generation and unfamiliar with what a 1950's "Kid's Matinee" was like. It consisted of several cartoons, a suitable feature film such as Danny Kaye's 1952 musical biography "Hans Christian Andersen", a prize drawing and the latest episode of the current "Cliff Hanger Chapter Serial". Such as "G-Men Never Forget", "Dangers of the Canadian  Mounties", or "Flying Disc Man from Mars".


The Republic movie studio was located in the "San Fernando Valley", not "Hollywood", near the Cahuenga pass. The area around Republic Pictures would become known as "Studio City' and become incorporated in to "North Hollywood". Which is not located next to "Hollywood, as "West Hollywood" is, but on the complete opposite side of  the "Hollywood Hills" NORTH of "Tinsel Town".

In fact the majority of the major studios, of what the World calls "Hollywood", were only in that city temporarily, or not even at all. The story of the creation of the segregated city of "Hollywood", the studios and the movie palaces may be read on my blog at:

Republic Pictures did location filming at either the "Iverson Movie Ranch" in Chatsworth, located in the San Fernando Valley, or "Vasquez Rocks", located in the Santa Clarita Valley.

KING OF THE ROCKET MEN Chapter One originally released June 8, 1949

Although the title uses the name  "Rocket Men" and the character is referred too as "Rocket Man" during the serial's chapters. It wasn't until the release of the third serial. That the newly created fan base started referring to the character by that name. That name, even today, brings up a certain image to Classic Science Fiction fans.

"King of the Rocket Men" would become the most expensive Republic Pictures serial of 1949. The others were "Federal Agents vs Underworld Inc", "Ghost of Zorro", "The James Brothers of Missouri" and "Radar Patrol vs Spy King".
The reason for the high cost is obvious. As two of the other serials were nothing more than "B" Cowboy films and the other two, "B" detective thrillers. None of which involved special effects, or elaborate sets. The final cost of "King of the Rocket Men" was 165, 592, 1949 dollars, equivalent to 1,691,988 at the time of this writing.

The "Cliff Hanger" was written by three writers. Royal Cole was a "Cliff Hanger" writer and in 1943 wrote the original screenplay for Marvel's "Captain America", Some of his other work includes the Martian Science Fiction 1945's "The Purple Monster Strikes", 1948's "Superman" and 1949's "Batman and Robin".
William Lively wrote several of the "East Side Kid's" films, "B" Westerns and three of his serials were 1941's "Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc", 1943's "G-Men vs the Black Dragon" and 1943's "Daredevils of the West".

The third writer was Sol Shorr and his "Cliff Hangers" included 1939's "The Lone Ranger Rides Again", the same years "Zorro's Fighting Legend", 1941's "The Adventures of Captain Marvel" and 1946's "The Crimson Ghost".

The serial was directed by Fred C. Brannon. Among Bannon's work were "B" Westerns and in serials 1946's "The Phantom Rider", 1947's "Jesse James" starring pre-televisions "Lone Ranger" Clayton Moore in the title role.

The special effects were by Howard and Theodore Lydecker. The brothers had bee; responsible for all of Republic Pictures special effects since 1931. The brother's work included  1936's "The Undersea Kingdom", 1940's "Mysterious Doctor Satan", 1946's "The Crimson Ghost" and the Mickey Rooney comedy, about a man surviving an Atom Bomb test by eating a peanut butter sandwich, 1954's "The Atomic Kid", The Lydecker's also provided the special effects for Republic's big budget version of the battle of the "Alamo" 1955's "The Last Command".

Tristram Coffin, I always loved his last name, was "Jeff King". Hence, the double meaning word "King" in the serials title. Coffin portrayed good and bad guys in several genres in non screen credited roles.  Many of his films were either "B" Westerns, or Detective and Criminal Underworld stories. Among his work were the 1941 serial "Holt of the Secret Service, the 1942 serial "Spy Smasher", the same years Bela Lugosi vehicle  "The Corpse Vanishes", the 1946 Gilbert Roland "Cisco Kid" movie "The Gay Cavalier", 1947's "Jessie James Ride Again", 
After "King of the Rocket Men" Coffin was in the 1951 serial "Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere" based upon the popular radio program. He appeared in episodes of television programs into the 1970's. Between 1952 and 1953 Tristram Coffin was seen on televisions "Boston Blackie", "Terry and the Pirates", "The Cisco Kid", "Gang Busters", "Cowboy G-Men" and starred in the forgotten "The Files of Jeffrey Jones". However, besides his  extensive television work there was one Cult "B" Horror  movie, as the "District Attorney",  1955's "Creature with the Atom Brain" starring Richard Denning

Tristram Coffin in King of the Rocket Men (1949)
Mae Clarke was "Glenda Thomas". Clarke had portrayed "Elizabeth" in director James Whale's classic 1931 "Frankenstein" with Boris Karloff. She starred in the original 1931 version of "Waterloo Bridge" and co-starred with Edward G. Robinson and Mary Astor in 1934's "The Man With Two Faces". Mae Clarke was in John Wayne's 1942 "Flying Tigers" and in the same years "Lady from Chungking". However, most of her film work were low budgeted "B" films and in the 1950's character roles on television.

Don Haggerty was the main "Henchman" of the mysterious "Dr. Vulcan" "Tony Dirken". Haggerty was known for portraying "Henchmen" and "Deputy Sheriff's" in films and television Westerns.

Above Mae Clarke, Don Haggerty and Tristram Coffin.

House Peters, Jr. was "Burt Winslow". Peters was a solid "B" actor who never got above supporting and character roles. Look for him as a "Shark Man" in the 1931 serial "Flash Gordon" starring Buster Crabbe and in several "B" Westerns without on screen credit. Two of his other serials are 1948's "Adventures of Frank and Jesse James", as a town sheriff in five episodes, and back to a "Henchman" in the 1949 serial "Batman and Robin". Among House Peters other work were two non screen credited roles in Robert Wise's 1951 "The Day the Earth Stood Still", as a Military Police Captain, and a scientist's assistant in 1952's "Red Planet Mars". 

Mae Clarke, Tristram Coffin, and House Peters Jr. in King of the Rocket Men (1949)

Left to right are Mae Clarke, House Peters, Jr. and Tristram Coffin.

James Craven portrayed the creator of the "Rocket Man" suit "Professor Millard". Craven was a regular in "Cliff Hangers" and sometimes he was a good guy, as here, and sometimes the bad guy. Some of Craven's serials were 1940's "The Green Archer", 1942's "Captain Midnight", 1945's "The Purple Monster Strikes" and 1949's "Federal Agents vs Crime Inc.". The actors other films included the Tyrone Power and Betty Grable 1941 "A Yank in the R.A.F.", the Jon Hall, Peter Lorre and Sir Cedrick Hardwicke 1942 "The Invisible Agent". He was also in both Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce's  "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon" and 1945's "Pursuit to Algiers"

King of the Rocket Men--Craven and Coffin

Above James Craven presents Tristram Coffin with the "Rocket Man" suit.

The "Cliff Hanger" begins with CHAPTER ONE of course:

As with all "Cliff Hangers" Chapter One is the longest to set up the plot. In "King of the Rocket Men" that running time is 20 minutes. While the remaining eleven chapters are all 13 minutes and 20 seconds.

The plot is considered the best of all four  "Rocket Man" "Cliff Hangers" by many critics. It is also the only one that uses the term "Rocket Man". It has a well written story centering upon a group of scientists, called "Science Associates", who may contain the mysterious "Dr. Vulcan".

One by one the members of "Science Associates" are being killed by "Vulcan's" henchman "Tony Dirken".and his hired hoods. Most of the plot runs like a typical crime boss being pursued by a detective, but with minimal Science Fiction elements.

Above the unseen "Dr. Vulcan", who is only a voice and a shadow on the wall in most scenes, tells "Tony Dirken" his next assignment. The sinister voice of "Dr. Vulcan" was provided by actor John Holland. Holland is not part of the cast and is not seen in the serial, but using another actor's voice was a trick used in many "Cliff Hangers" to confuse the audience. Character actor Holland appeared in the 1940 serial "The Green Hornet Strikes Again", 1942's "The Invisible Agent", 1948's "The Three Musketeers", many 1950 into 1970's television programs and the 1964 musical "My Fair Lady" as "Henry Higgin's Butler". He was a farmer Jack Nicholson speaks too in 1974's "Chinatown".   

John  Holland is on the left of the above photo from another feature, but easily could have been one of the gangsters in "King of the Rocket Men" employed by "Dirken".

Above a meeting of "Science Associates" attended by special projects administrator "Jeff King". The question posed is which one of the group is that mysterious "Dr. Vulcan"?

One member of "Science Associates' is "Dr. Millard". In his secret cave laboratory "Millard"  reveals to "Jeff King" the rocket suit he invented. With the suit "Jeff King" now becomes the titled "King of the Rocket Men".

Above Stunt Man David Sharpe doubling for Tristram Coffin for the flying sequences.

Above the rocket man soars above the San Fernando Valley. As with their "Adventures of Captain Marvel" in 1941, starring "B" Cowboy Tom Tyler, Republic Pictures used a dummy attached to a wire for the long shots of the flying sequences. The above was filmed looking from Mulholland Drive. While a rear projection screen was used for the close-ups of Coffin in flight.

Also involved in the search for "Dr. Vulcan" are magazine photographer and reporter "Glenda Thomas" and "Science Associates" Publicity Agent "Burt Winslow". Both seen below photographing the equally mysterious "Rocket Man".

At one point both ""Glenda Thomas" and "Burt Winslow" are captured by ""Tony Dirken" and his men.The following is a great scene, because  ofwho are in it. This is in "Dr. Millard's" secret laboratory in a cave. The same one used in the "Batman" serials as the original "Bat Cave".

Mae Clarke, James Craven, Don Haggerty, House Peters Jr., David Sharpe, and Tom Steele in King of the Rocket Men (1949)

Above left to right are House Peters, Jr., David Sharpe, Don Haggerty, James Craven, Tom Steele, who looks a little like Coffin, and Mae  Clarke.

All "Cliff Hangers" have an opening recap of the previous chapter's ending.

"Dirken" uses a parachute to escape and it's up to "Jeff" to save "Glenda" and then go after the criminal.

Like all good "Cliff Hangers" there are several fight scenes. Below "Driken" attempts to use "Dr. Vulcan's" missile launcher and is stopped by the "Jeff King" as "Rocket Man".

At another point to take suspicion away from "Jeff King" being "Rocket Man". "Jeff" reveals his secret to "Burt" and he uses the other in a ruse.

The climax is the destruction of Manhattan Island and New York City from a tidal wave caused by "Dr. Vulcan's" sonic ray device. The sequence used stock footage from the forgotten and thought lost 1933 Science Fiction picture "Deluge" from RKO. The motion picture was directed by Felix E. Fest with special effects by Ned Mason. Who would work on William Cameron  Menzies 1936 classic H.G. Wells' "Things to Come".

Stock: The disaster sequence had been re-used for the 1939 film S.O.S. Tidal Wave, 1941's Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc., and 1949's King of the Rocket Men

In the end "Dr. Vulcan" is revealed and the sonic  ray device destroyed.

With the Science Fiction boon started in 1950 with George Pal's Oscar Winning "Destination Moon", producer Robert L. Lippert's "Rocketship X-M" and Republic Pictures own serial "Flying Disc Man  from Mars". Republic decided to edit out the chapter recap openings and cliff hanger closings of "King of the Rocket Men". Then shorten the 167 minute long "Cliff Hanger" into a 65 minute motion picture version. The title chosen was "Lost  Planet Airmen" and don't ask the source of the name, or why the movie's poster looked like the following. Call it a publicity gimmick. The motion picture version of "King of the Rocket Men" was released July 25, 1951.

"Space Opera's" motion pictures, as they became to be known, became extremely big at the movie houses in the decade of the 1950's.  My article "Invaders from Mars, Except When They Came from Venus, or Planet X" can be read at:

RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON  Chapter One originally released January 8, 1952

If the young audience wasn't familiar with the serial from three years earlier. Then both the "Rocket Man" and "Commando Cody" were a "New Character".

The writer of "Radar Men  From the Moon" was Ronald Davidson. Davidson was both a screenplay writer and associate producer for many "Cliff Hangers". These included 1937's "Zorro Rides Again" and 1939's "Zorro's Fighting Legend", 1938's "The Lone Ranger" and 1939's "The Long Ranger Rides Again", 1940's "The Drums of Fu Manchu", 1943's "The Masked Marvel" and 1950's "The Invisible Monster".

Fred C. Brannon was back as the director on the second "Rocket Man" entry.

The special effects were by Howard and Theodore Lydecker.

George Wallace was "Commando Cody". Prior to this role Wallace had appeared in seven non screen credited films and would have several such roles afterwards. The majority of George Wallace's appearances would be on television. However, in 1956 he portrayed the "Bosun" in the classic Science Fiction picture "Forbidden Planet".

Aline Towne was "Joan Gilbert". Towne appeared in several "Cliff Hangers'" including 1950's "The Invisible Monster" co-starring with Richard Webb. Webb would became television's "Captain Midnight" from 1954 through 1956. In 1953 Ailene Towne started to appear primarily in television shows such as "Hopalong Cassidy", "The Adventures of Superman" and "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp". However, she has a non on screen credit role in Ivan Tors 1954 3-D Science Fiction motion picture "GOG".

Above George Wallace and Aline Towne.

Roy Barcroft was "Retik". Barcroft like most actors started out with non screen credit roles and one of his first was a "Martin Soldier" in 1938's "Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars" starring Buster Crabbe. Barcroft would appear in several Republic "B" Westerns and  serials. He was "The Purple Monster" in 1945's "The Purple Monster Strikes", the same year he was "Captain Jim Barrett" in a great overlooked vampire film "The Vampire's Ghost" by the "Queen of Space Opera" Leigh Brackett.
Like all character actors he drifted into the new medium of television.

Roy Barcroft in Radar Men from the Moon (1952)

William Bakewell was "Ted Richards". Bakewell was a "B" actor who appeared in Lewis Milestone's 1930 anti-war motion picture "All Quiet on the Western Front" and was in 1939's "Gone With the Wind".

Clayton Moore was "Graber". Moore had been in the Bela Lugosi 1942 "Black  Dragons", He had third billing in the classic "Cliff Hanger" 1946's "The Crimson Ghost", was "Jessie  James" in the 1947 serial "Jessie James Rides Again" and repeated the role in the 1948 serial "The Adventures of Frank and Jessie Jame". 1949 found Moore as "The Ghost of Zorro" was also in the Gene Autry 1949 "Son of New Mexico" with television's future "Annie Qakley" Gail Davis.

Bob Stevenson, actually Robert R. Stephenson, was  "Daly". Stevenson had 129 roles prior to this film, but 127 of them are without on screen credit. After "Radar Men from the Moon", only his third on screen credited role, Stephenson would continue to act mostly, without on screen credit, in television for a total career of 190 roles.

Peter Bocco was "Krog".

Above Clayton Moore with Peter Bocco. Bocco started acting in 1931 and his almost skeleton looks made him the perfect villain in many a film and television role.

"Commando Cody" is an inventor, researcher and has a number of employees. One of his inventions  was a "Sonic powered rocket backpack" he had attached to a leather jacket with controls in the front. Another was a rocket ship capable of reaching the surface of the Moon.

Radar Men from the Moon (1952)

To five year old Lloyd and other boys and girls at those 1950's Saturday Kid's shows. That rocket ship was really something.

The United States has come under attack from a mysterious source that is destroying our military bases. "Commando  Cody" believes the attack is coming from the moon and plans to go there and  discover who is behind the attacks.

Arriving on the moon "Cody" is met by a "Moon Tank" he must battle. Afterwards he finds the "Ruler of the Moon" a person called "Retik".

Actually Republic's prop  department created the above "Moon Tank" from the Atlantean Tank they found in disuse since 1936. The original vehicle was in the serial "Undersea Kingdom" and looked like the following at the time.

"Cody" is taken prisoner and "Retik" reveals his plans to conqueror the Earth and then move the Moon's population there.

Our hero escapes and in his rocket ship returns to Earth and the battle begins in earnest for the next Eleven Chapters.

Meanwhile, the Moon agent "Krog" arrives and sets up operations. The above still of "Retik" shows him making contact to "Krog". Who has a similar receiving and sending set. "Krog" employees "Graber" and "Daly" to  help "Retik" conqueror the Earth.

Later in the serial "Commando Cody" discovers "Krog's" base of operations and meets the "Famous Republic Pictures Robot". The robot was also from 1936's "Undersea Kingdom" and had been used in several of the studio's "Cliff Hangers" prior to this one.

In 1974's, originally released as an "X" Rated Porno Film, "Flesh Gordon". Costume designer Ruth Gaunt parodied the "Republic Robot". The entire film, as the title  implies, was a parody of the 1930's and  1940's "Flash Gordon" serials. The special effects were by several people including two USC students named Rick Baker and Jim Dansforth. The screenplay named the great god  "Porno" "Nesuahyrrah". Which as any true Science Fiction fan knows is "Harryhausen" spelled backwards.

Meanwhile, "Gruber" and "Daly" use a "Lunarium-powered Ray Cannon" to destroy military bases and fight "Commando Cody's" rocket ship and the flying hero  himself.

"Cody" and his crew return to the Moon. Where they encounter the "Radar Men" in their  rocket ship. The "Radar Men" seem to be wearing either the space suits seen in 1950's "Destination Moon", or 1951's "Flight to Mars". Depending upon whose blog article you read.

Above "Destination Moon" and Below "Flight to Mars".

Correct answer:
Both  "Flight to Mars" and "Radar Men from the Moon" used the space suits from George Pal's "Destination  Moon" with slight changes. The suits would also appear in 1953's "Abbott and Costello Go to Mars" and 1959's "Have Rocket Will Travel" with the Three Stooges.

Below "Cody" and "Ted" in their rocket ship after landing back on the moon. The mission is to get one of "Retik's" ray guns to duplicate.

"Commander Cody" is now prepared for all out war.

Below the entire crew heads in the rocket ship to attack "Krog's" base.

Below "Cody" confronts "Krog", "Gruber" and "Daly". "Krog" will be killed by one of  his own devices and the two other men escape.

"Gruber" and "Daly" believe themselves safe, but another car appears and starts pursuing. During the car chase the two criminals go off a cliff to their deaths. Next "Commando Cody" goes to the Moon to end "Reitk's" rule and plans.


Although this lobby card shows Chapter 12 as "Take-Off To Eternity". On screen the final Chapter was entitled 'Death of the Moon Man". "Retik" had arrived on Earth only to find his plans have failed. Being pursued, he returns to his rocket ship and takes off for the Moon. As "Retik" speeds upwards "Cody" takes the ray gun, used by "Gruber" and "Daly", and destroys the Moon ruler and his rocket ship.

The serial was cut into a 100 minute feature entitled "Retik, the Moon Menace", but was not released to movies theaters. Instead it was part of 26 Republic Pictures cut down and released in 1966 as part of a syndication package.

Then there is the Psychedelic Band from the Netherlands that watched the "Cliff Hanger" and picked the title for their name. This is a 2012 concert photo of the band "Radar Men from the Moon".


"Commando Cody" returned. No he didn't. Earth was attacked by Zombies. No it wasn't.

ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE Chapter One originally released July 16, 1952

The third "Rocket Man" serial was supposed to be a sequel to "Radar Men from the Moon", but just before shooting began the name "Commando Cody" was dropped and became "Larry Martin". The title mentioned "Zombies", but they were actually "Martians".

The serial was directed by Fred C. Bannon and it was written by Ronald Davidson.

Judd Holden was "Larry Martin". Holden started his career in a non on screen credit role in the Oscar Wining 1949 "All the King's Men" starring Broderick Crawford. In 1950 he was "The First Ambulance Man" in the very first "Francis" the Talking Mule movie, He was "Reporter #3" in 1950's "Rocketship X-M". Seven more minor roles and than Judd Holden was starring in his first serial. In 1951 Holden brought the popular radio show and television program to the movie theater as  "Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere". Then he was "Aramis" in the Louis Hayward and Patricia Medina 1952 movie "Lady in the Iron Mask". A reverse of the Alexander Dumas classic "The Man in the Iron Mask"  followed by this serial.

Notice anything different between the above and below photos of Judd Holden and George Wallace in their "Rocket Man" suit?

The obvious answer is Holden's "Larry Martin" is carrying a portable radio to talk to his base. While Wallace's "Commando Cody' does not. I point this out, because when stock footage from "Radar Men of the Moon" is used in flying footage in "Zombies of the Stratosphere". Suddenly, one moment the radio is there and one moment its gone.

Aline Towne was back, but as "Sue Davis".

Wilson Wood was "Bob  Wilson". Wood would be in 131 roles by the end of his career, but the majority are without on screen credit. For example he was in the 1948 Fred Astaire and Judy Garland "Easter Parade" as a "Piano Player", played a "Man" in John Huston's 1950 classic crime drama "The Asphalt Jungle", a "Government Man" in Robert Wise's 1951 "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and a "Sergeant Major" in 1951's "The Desert Fox: the Story of Rommel" starring James Mason. Wilson Wood's first on screen credit was as "Hank" with 11th billing in 1952's "Radar Men from the Moon".
Zombies of the Stratosphere--good guys

Seated Aline Towne, standing left right Judd Holden, Craig Kelly as "Mr. Steele, and Wilson Wood.

Lane Bradford was the Martian "Marex:. Bradford started in a 1940 "B" Western as a "Cowhand". He would be known for portraying the bad guy in "B" Westerns and a "Hoodlum" in Detective dramas. Both in feature films and on television for a total of 263 appearances.

Above Lane Bradford with Stanley Waxman as "Dr. Harding". Waxman only had 30 roles to his screen credits with the majority on television.

As to the cast of "Zombies of the Stratosphere". It is the NINTH BILLED actor that has become a trivia question. Only in his 5th on screen role was Leonard Nimoy as Martian "Narab", and to his dying day Nimoy claimed it was the only role he hated.

Above "Martian" Leonard Nimoy, on the left,  14 years before he became a "Vulcan" on televisions "Star Trek".

Some websites state this "Cliff Hanger" was tied to the production of a "Commando Cody" television show by Republic Pictures. That is incorrect as it was the last of the four serials that was the tie in.

The most popular Science Fiction show on television, at the time, was "Space Patrol" protecting the Solar System. So it was no surprise that "Larry Martin" was a leader in the "Inter-Planetary Patrol". In fact the "Commander in Chief of the Space Patrol" was "Buzz Corey" and many fans claim, without known evidence, that Republic's choice of the original name "Commando Cody" was a play on "Commander Corey".

The "Inter-Planetary Patrol" detects a strange rocket ship entering the Earth's atmosphere and landing. "Larry Martin" puts on his "Rocket Man" suit and goes to investigate.

"Martin" finds the rocket ship and discovers three Martians. One, "Elah", Robert Garabedian, is the pilot and will take their rocket back to Mars for additional supplies and equipment. The two remaining invaders are "Marex" and his helper "Narab". "Marex" goes to "Dr. Harding" a scientist he needs and reveals the Martian plan.

This is a fun, but improbable plot point from Ronald Davidson.

The ecological system of Mars in dying, because of the planet's distance from the sun. So instead of just conquering the Earth and colonizing the planet. The Martian plan is to use a hydrogen bomb to move the entire Earth into Mars' current orbit. While moving Mars into the orbit of Earth. Love it!

The treacherous "Dr. Harding" will be moved to the new Mars as a reward for his help. "Harding" hires two criminals "Roth", John  Crawford, and "Shane", Ray Boyle. By lying to them that they will also be saved.

The Martian base of operations is in a double cave. You can enter the outer one, but to get to the inner cave . A person must go down a ladder and make their way through a corridor of deep water and up a second  ladder.

"Larry Martin" has his own rocket ship, that looks awfully similar to  "Commando Cody's", to chase after the Martians. Two of the fun lines in the screenplay come when "Larry Martin", "Sue""Bob" call the operations base from the rocket ship calls in flight, or the operations base does the reverse. The two lines are:
Larry Martin's Rocket Ship calling
Calling Larry Martin's Rocket Ship
 I mean who else would be in the only other rocket ship in the entire Solar System than the one used by the Martians?

Above "Mr. Spock", oops, "Narab" climbs the underwater ladder to the inner cave were the hydrogen bomb is being made. However, the Martians still need more money to complete it. So "Shane" and "Roth" take one of the Martian Robots to rob a bank.

However the scene is stock footage from 1940's  "Mysterious Doctor Satan" above.

Eventually, "Larry Martin" and his associates start to get the upper hand. "Dr. Harding" attempts to surrender to him in the final Chapter:

"Marex" kills "Dr. Harding" for becoming a traitor. While "Larry Martin" has a confrontation with  "Roth" and  "Shane" and a remote controlled Martian robot. Which "Martin" turns on the two killing them.

"Marex" and "Narab" set the timer for the bomb. They next start to leave the Earth for Mars in their rocket ship piloted by "Elah", but "Larry Martin" takes off own rocket ship in pursuit.

A battle ensues and the Martian rocket ship is hit and crashes. The only survivor is "Narab" and when "Larry Martin" arrives. The dying Martian tells him how to enter the inner cave and stop the bomb.

"Larry" makes his way to the inner cave, but finds a robot guarding the hydrogen bomb. The Earth is saved, but not the serial from being turned into first a 70 minute version entitled  "Satan  Satellites" for 1958 release and secondly getting 1960's Colorization. Thank you Ted Turner.

Below  Leonard Nimoy's death scene and of  course he had to have green skin, because everyone in the 1950's knew Martian's were green.

I wonder what the colorization artist was on when he did the following scene?

Now to that television show I mentioned. Initially Republic Pictures wanted to get into that lucrative  early Science Fiction market. The studio decided to bring back "Commando Cody" as a television series, but after shooting began. The powers to be decided to make one last "Rocket Man Cliff Hanger".

COMMANDO CODY, SKY MARSHAL OF THE UNIVERSE Chapter One originally theatrically released February 17, 1953

Fred C. Bannon was back as one of the three directors on the production. Bannon directed the first three "Numbers", or "Episodes". Note that instead of the lobby card saying "Chapter One". It shows "Number 1" and this was because the serial started out as a television show and the "Number 1" refers to the first weekly show. This continued throughout the entire 12 episodes.

Harry Kellar directed the next six Numbers. Kellar had directed "B" Westerns and moved to television. The final three Numbers were directed by Franklin Adreon. Adreon was a director, actor and screenplay writer. As a writer he did several of Republic's "Cliff Hangers" such as 1939's "Dick Tracy's G-Men" and 1940's "King of the Royal Mounted". As an actor he appeared in 1935's "The Fighting Marines" and 1936's "The Leathernecks Have Landed".

The screenplay was by Ronald Davidson and Barry Shipman. Shipman was a Republic serial and "B" Western writer., Among his work are 1936's "Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island", 1940's "Hi Ho Silver" and 1942's "Code of the Outlaw" starring Bob Steele.

Each "Number" of "Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe'  ran between 25 and 30 minutes designed for the television concept.

Judd Holden was back not as "Larry Martin", but "Commando Cody".
Aline Towne was back not a "Sue Davis", but "Joan Gilbert".

William Schallert was "Ted Richards" in the first three Numbers. Character actor Schallert was known to 1963 to 1966 television viewers for his role of the father of the twin cousins on "The Patty Duke Show", but he was seen in 1949's "Mighty Joe Young", 1951's "The Man from Planet  X", 1952's "Invasion U.S.A.", 1954's "THEM!" and many television series.

Richard Crane replaced Schallert in nine Numbers as "Dick Preston". Crane, who had appeared in several "B" action pictures before this serial. Would become a major 1950's Science Fiction star as "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger", before becoming a familiar face in guest appearances on television programs.

Richard Crane, Judd Holdren, and Aline Towne in Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953)

Above Judd Holden, Aline Towne and Richard Crane.

Gregory Gaye was "The Ruler". Gaye may have started his movie career in a very minor role in one of the last Silent films 1928's "The Tempest" starring John Barrymore and the forgotten Camilla Horn. Gaye had sixth billing in William Wyler's 1936 version of Sinclair Lewis' "Dodsworth". The fourth and fifth billed actors were Mary Astor and David Niven. He was in the musical comedy, yes musical comedy, 1939 version of Alexander Dumas' "The Three Musketeers" starring Don Ameche and the popular comedy team of "The Ritz Brothers". He was in the cast of the Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas classic "Ninotchka" featuring Bela Lugosi in a great comic role. Then he found himself in "B" movies in very minor, if not non screen credited roles.

Gregory Gaye and Gloria Pall in Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953)

Above Gregory Gaye as "The Ruler" with actress Gloria Pall as "The Moon Girl". Her 32 roles were not for Pall's acting, but looks. Below another picture of  Gaye.


Had the viewer of "Commander Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe" seen "Radar Men from the Moon", before this production. They would have recognized that Aline Towne was once again portraying "Joan Gilbert", but instead of William Blakewell. It is  William Schallert as "Ted Richards". That's because this "Cliff Hanger", or television show, is actually the prequel to the earlier adventure. In this production we first meet "Joan" and "Ted" applying for positions with "Commando Cody".

Strange weather is threatening the entire planet and the United States Government calls upon  "Super Scientist Commando Cody" to investigate. "Cody", with the aide of his associates, "Joan" and "Ted", determine that the weather is being caused by an alien from the planet "Venus" called "The Ruler".

The trio's next step is the testing of "Commando Cody's" new rocket ship and his flying suit.

The above shot, not used in any of the last three serials.shows the rocket ship mock-up on the "Iverson  Movie Ranch" property. Below the same rocket ship as seen in the serials from the proper  angle.

Inside "Cody's" rocket ship with William Schallert, standing Craig Kelly as "Mr. Henderson" the U.S. Government contact, Judd Holden and Aline Towne.

The building in the following still was actually an office on the Republic  Lot. It was used in all four "Cliff  Hangers" for exterior shots as will as in other films. In the case of "Commando  Cody" the door leads to his operations room and laboratory.

Note below that Judd Holden now has an even larger radio on his "sonic-powered one man flying suit".

Judd Holdren in Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953)

The rocket ship of the Venusian Ruler and his men is the same as the Martians used in the proceeding "Zombies of the Stratosphere". Another good way to use stock footage. Below two of "The Ruler's" men are in their space craft. The set is of course the same as in the proceeding serial, but at least their  costumes are different.

Below Lyle Talbot, seated, portrayed "Baylor an Earth Soldier of the Ruler" in Numbers 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10. Talbot has a special place for DC Comic fans in the "DC Cinematic Universe". He was the first actor to portray "Commission Gordon" in the 1949 "Cliff Hanger" "Batman and Robin" and "Lex Luthor" in the 1950 "Cliff Hanger" "Atom Man vs Superman".

Above Rick  Vallin as "Alien Captain Duron"  with Lyle Talbot.

Below Richard Crane is being brainwashed by Lyle Talbot as Sandy Sanders as the "Lead Henchmen: watches.

Another interesting bit player was character actor Denver Pyle as "Krug" in Numbers 8 and 12, but I could not locate any stills with him in it.

Returning to the plot. Besides dealing with "Baylor" and the other Earth Soldiers in the employ of "The Ruler". There are the required "Rocket Man" sequences and rocket ship battles.

Above having to repair the rocket ship in flight to the planet Mercury.

The final show down  with "The Ruler" is not on Earth or Venus, but the planet Mercury. Where the problem is first getting the "Mercurians" to help.

Above Richard Crane and Aline Towne are having a misunderstanding with some "Mercurians".

In the end "The Ruler" is killed  on Mercury and peace is restored to the Solar  System.

On July 16, 1955 Republic Pictures finally had the first, and only season, of their television series  "Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe" on NBC affiliates across the country. That first season was this the same as the "Cliff Hanger" serial. I don't know why NBC didn't do a second season as the shows stayed in syndication for years with only those 12 Numbers, or Chapters. It is possible that television Westerns had finally taken over and the idea of a Science Fiction series in 1955 wasn't that popular with sponsors anymore. But there had been some great one's prior to that year.

I've mentioned the television series "Space Patrol" the inspiration for "Star Trek".  "Flash Gordon" was an American and West German co-production filmed in West Berlin behind the "Iron Curtain and another was "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet". Which was an attempt at 3-D television. My article about the Science Fiction television of my youth may be read at:

THE ROCKETEER released June 21, 1991

"The Rocketeer" from Walt Disney Productions was, as I've said, a homage to the four "Rocket Man" "Cliff Hangers".

The feature was directed by Joe Johnston. Johnston had started as a visual effects designer with George Lucas' original 1977 "Star Wars". He continued with 1980's "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" and 1983's "Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi". In short the original trilogy I love, before it was tampered with. He also worked on the 1978 television show "Battlestar Galactica". 
In 1989 Joe Johnston switched to directing with "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" and "The Rocketeer" was his second as a director.

The story was by three men. They had planned to originally shoot their homage to "Commando  Cody" as a black and white picture with known Hollywood character actors, but it went beyond that idea. The first of the three was Danny Bilson. Bilson co-wrote the excellent "Trancers" movie series and co-wrote the original 1990 into 1991 "The Flash" for television. The second person involved was Danny Bilson's co-writer Paul De Meo. The third was William Dear. Who just before this movie wrote the screenplay for "Harry and the Henderson" and must have seen all four original serials. As he was born three years earlier than myself.

The actual screenplay was by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo. Someone may have read the biography "Errol Flynn: The Untold Story" by Charles Highman. or knew the rumors. I will get to that with the fourth actor in "The Rocketeer".

Billy Campbell was "Cliff Secord". Campbell had been on televisions original "Dynasty". followed that with the series "Crime Story" and a couple more television appearances. This was his first Hollywood film. In 1992 he portrayed "Quincy P. Morris" in Francis Ford Coppola's motion picture "Bram Stoker's Dracula".

Jennifer Connelly was "Jenny Blake". She had been in Sergio Leone's answer to Hollywood's Italian gangster movies. That was 1984's "Once Upon a Time in America" about Jewish gangsters. In 1986 Connelly co-starred with David  Bowie  in Jim Henson's "Labyrinth".

Alan Arkin was "A. 'Peevy' Peabody". Old pro Arkin had been in Norman Jewison's 1966 comedy "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming". Terence Young's 1967 thriller "Wait Until Dark" starring Audrey Hepburn and Mike Nichols 1970 "Catch 22". Arkin portrayed Sigmund Freud in the "Sherlock Holmes" 1976 adventure "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution" and had appearances on  "Sesame Street" and "Captain Kangaroo".
Alan Arkin in The Rocketeer (1991)

Which brings me to actor number four.

Timothy Dalton was "Neville Sinclair". British actor Dalton was "Phillip II" in 1968's "The Lion in Winter" starring Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn, was "Prince Barin" in 1980's "Flash Gordon" with music  by Queen, became the fourth James Bond and co-starred with Brooke Shields in 1989's "Brenda Starr".

"Neville Sinclair" is an actor, the villain of the piece, and a spy for the Nazi's in this movie set in  1938 Los Angeles. According to Highman's biography of  Errol Flynn so was that actor. The counter story is that Flynn was really working for the Office of Strategic Service the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was spying on  Hollywood types who might be Nazi sympathizers or worse.

There's a sequence of "Nevile" shooting a scene for his latest swashbuckler. The set and the action is almost an exact match to the sword fight between Errol Flynn as "Robin Hood" and Basil Rathbone as "Guy of Gisbourne" in Michael Curtiz's 1938, note the year, "The Adventures of Robin Hood".

Above Flynn and Rathbone. I could not find a still of the scene in "The Rocketeer", but my reader should get my point with what I shot of Timothy Dalton,  below, off of YouTube.

The plot is simple. Gangster "Eddie Valentine", Paul Sorvino, has two of his gang steal a rocket pack from "Howard Hughes", Terry O'Quinn. During their escape the get-a-way-car hits and destroys the airplane of stunt pilot "Cliff Secord". Then the get-a-way car is shot up by the police and FBI and the driver hides the rocket pack. Later "Secord" and "Peevy' find the rocket pack and "Cliff" prepares to use it in a local airshow.

"Neville Sinclair" overhears "Cliff' telling his girlfriend aspiring actress "Jenny" about the rocket pack. The Nazi's have not been able to get their design to work and "Neville" decides to use the aspiring actress in a scheme to get his hands on the Hughes invention.

The film becomes a typical damsel in distress "Cliff Hanger" style film. The FBI is after the "Rocket Pack", Howard Hughes wants it back, "Jenny" discovers her idol "Neville Sinclair" is a Nazi, he uses her to get the "Rocket Pack" from "Jeff".  All of this comes together at the Griffith Park Observatory with a Nazi  Dirigible.

Above Paul Sorvino and Timothy Dalton think they have Bill Campbell. The dirigible arrives and "Neville" takes "Jenny" on board with him. It is up to "The Rocketeer" to save the day for America and "Jenny" of course.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Gordon Douglas: The Little Rascals (Our Gang) - Giant Ants - and Francis Albert Sinatra

When asked to name a "Classic Film Director", depending upon how much you're into motion pictures, what's your favorite ge...