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Prof. Millard pretends to be dead and helps Jeff King ferret out Vulcan, the evil traitor at the science academy. Donning his Rocket Man costume King goes from one hair raising rescue to the next in order to keep the newly invented Decimator out of the clutches of Vulcan and his minions. Written by
Randy Spencer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"King of the Rocket Men" was the first appearance of the man in the flying suit. In later years it would become associated with the Commando Cody character both in film and on TV.
The "king" of the title is Jeff King (Tristram Coffin) who is trying to unmask the evil Dr. Vulcan who is secretly trying to undermine a desert research project being conducted by Science Associates. Overseeing the project is a board of directors of whom a Dr. Vulcan, his identity unknown, is a member. It seems that one of their number, Professor Millard (James Craven) has developed a powerful machine called "the Decimater" which is capable of mass destruction. The rest of the serial is spent with Dr. Vulcan and his chief henchman Dirken (Don Haggerty) attempting to steal the discovery and Rocket Man's thwarting them at every turn. Mae Clarke as a reporter and House Peters Jr. as Chief of Security assist King.
This serial is one of the better of Republic's post war serials. There is plenty of action throughout, including chases, fights, cliffhangers and an appearance by Rocket Man in every chapter. The stunt work performed mainly by Tom Steele, Dale Van Sickel and David Sharpe (doubling Coffin in the Rocket Man sequences), is up to Republic's usual high standards. You'll spot each of the aforementioned stuntmen appearing in several minor roles as henchmen.
But the real star of the serial are its magnificent special effects created by Theodore and Howard Lydecker. Rocket Man seems to have borrowed his flying ability from Republic's earlier serial "The Adventures of Captain Marvel" (1941). The Lydeckers employed the use of an oversized dummy running up and down an almost invisible cable and photographing it from different angles to make it appear life-size. It's quite realistic for its time.
The best sequence is saved for the end when Dr. Vulcan attempts to destroy New York City. There are earthquakes, tidal waves and scenes of mass destruction achieved through the skillful use of miniatures.
The acting is better than most serials. Coffin, who usually played oily villains, gives a creditable performance in the lead. Mae Clarke, who had achieved notoriety in "Public Enemy" by having James Cagney push a grapefruit in her face, does her best with limited material as the heroine. Don Haggerty as Dirken makes a formidable villain in what I believe was his only serial. Haggerty can usually be seen in featured roles as a cop or thug. He never got the credit or the roles he deserved.
So who was Dr. Vulcan? To find out, tune into the next chapter of "King of the Rocket Men" at this theatre next week.
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