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|Index||13 reviews in total|
This was a fantastic serial with great special effects for it's time.
Unfortunately, many who review such fare today do so from feature length
versions. One must always remember that these serials were meant to be
viewed, chapter by chapter, on a weekly basis. It was the draw that got
back to the theater and a five cent bag of fresh popcorn with real butter,
not butter substitute. This cherished specialized cinema of the 1940's
early 50's, produced mainly for kids, was known widely as "Saturday
At the Movies".
To understand and appreciate such cinema, one really needs to have the inventive mind of a child, growing up during such exciting times of pioneering new technology. There was no 24 hour television in color or black and white, VCR's, or anything to get in the way of a child's greatest attribute, their imagination. This was the generation that would grow up to make all of these modern day wonders come true.
It is also fair to mention that stars like Tristram Coffin, deserved to be remembered for the fine actors they were; despite the limited range of the roles they played. After all, it takes a fine actor to make even a child believe that a man can strap two powerful flaming rockets to his back, attached to a flimsy leather jacket with four simple control knobs in front, and fly convincingly - without being killed. How many of our high paid, so-called actors of today can effectively accomplish such a feat?
1949's "King of the Rocket Men" was the first of three serials from
Republic Pictures featuring a man wearing essentially the same rocket
suit and helmet. The other two, both released in 1952, were "Radar Men
From the Moon" and "Zombies of the Stratosphere." All three have things
going for them though, each time, Republic tried to reinvent the
character ... Jeff King in "King," Commando Cody in "Radar," and Larry
Martin in "Zombies." The first and second serials were later revised
for different purposes. "King of the Rocket Men" was edited to remove
the cliffhanger sequences and the "remember when" episode (the one
which is primarily flashbacks of prior chapters) and re-released it as
a feature film titled "Lost Planet Airmen" in 1951. And "Radar Men From
the Moon" was released as a 12-episode TV series under the new title,
"Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe" in 1953. The third
serial, "Zombies," while not remade, is probably the best remembered
since it marked the science-fiction feature film acting debut of
Leonard Nimoy (later, Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame) playing Narab, a
But, "King of the Rocket Men" was the best of the three. Especially during 1949 and subsequent years, it was far more believable to envision a potential traitor, blackmailing government entities and possibly selling secrets to a foreign power than to believe in invaders from the Moon or Mars (in "Radar" and "Zombies," respectively). Also, and this is just my opinion, the two later serials seemed a bit contrived ... like they were merely attempting to cash in on the success of "King" ... a very well-acted serial for the time with an iron-clad plot line.
So, why the 8 of 10 rating? Back in 1949, money was tight in the studios. And sometimes, it was cheaper to "buy" special effects than it was to make them. That's exactly what Republic Pictures did. Since they wanted cataclysmic special effects in the last chapter but didn't want to spend the money, they simply bought rights to the 1933 film, "Deluge," for the sole purpose of borrowing the special effects footage for use in "King." And while there's nothing inherently wrong in such a practice (it has been done many times by Hollywood), it almost forced "Deluge" into obscurity. There were very few copies of "Deluge" available and, after Republic borrowed the scenes, they trashed the rest of the footage. Fortunately, one copy (not the Italian one with English subtitles) was discovered in France and it has since been preserved (though not openly released by any studio). In English? Don't know.
"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.
King of the Rocket Men is one of the most original movie serials ever produced post-WWII. This is the stuff that dreams are still made of. What kid wouldn't give anything to be able to fly in a sonically propelled rocket pack and kick some bad guys butt? More than 50 years after it was made, this serial still has the pulse-quickening action adventure and really great acting that made it the classic that it is. The acting was serious, which made you believe this could actually happen. These actors were highly under-appreciated, yet were better than many of the celebrity "actors" that demand to be the center of attention today. The Rocketeer was based on this serial, and even though it had great production, it just barely induced the kind of excitement Jeff King gave us for 12 exciting episodes. It's a shame the sequels to this were silly and unbelievable. Allen Duffis hit the nail on the head. This is the standard that ALL of the Saturday morning and prime time adventure shows that came after wished they could be. The only thing that was as good was the first Indiana Jones movie, and that got it's inspiration from show's like this. I still marvel at the flying scenes through the canyons and across the Culver City skyline, which still look so real it's breath-taking. The Liedecker Brothers were geniuses. I wish they could make new serials just as good as this one today. I wish a really good sharp copy of these serials could be professionally put on DVD to preserve these serials forever. This one deserves to be protected for the future.
While I don't want to date myself, this is the first film I actually saw made. It's a 13 part chapter play, aka serial, that fifties kids enjoyed on Saturdays at the movies. All serials had a formula. They ended with a cliffhanger, they began with the "take out" of the previous week's episode, and featured lots of action and lame dialog. This one also offered the best human flying effects to that time. In fact, nobody surpassed them until Superman: The Movie. You can thank the Lydecker Brothers who not only created the effect, but nearly sunk NY City with a tidal wave. 4.5 hours of film on a budget of $175,000. You can only shake your head in amazement. I've seen the series a dozen times. I can recall seeing a screening of it in a local theater where they played all 13 episodes back to back. It got so that one section of the audience would cheer the producer and another the director. Everybody booed the actors. When did you last have a movie going experience like that?
This movie serial has been on my mind for years. I finally found it via the internet. What a wonderful find! Not the greatest of acting, just a nice memory from days gone by, from when I was a kid and paying 3d (pennies) old stuff!!, in 1956-7 to go to Saturday morning movies with my brothers and be so excited at having to wait until the following week to see if Jeff King would escape! He always did, but it was never as was portrayed the previous week.... the mind forgets the small details when a week has gone by. Tristram Coffin made hundreds of film and television appearances, none of which were Oscar winners, but he was always presenting himself with a hero presence. As I say, not the greatest acting, but a brilliant step back in time to when all life was really rather innocent. Great stuff!!
Dr. Vulcan, a mysterious criminal, has been sabotaging the experiments of a group of scientists at Science Associates (SA), as well as murdering the ones who come close to discovering his identity. He murders Prof. Millard, a rocket expert, who has been suspecting the nature of Vulcan's attacks. Millard is saved from his death by his colleague, Jeff King, a sonic propulsion expert. In order to save the works and surviving members of SA (where Vulcan in his true identity, serves as a member of the board of directors), King assumes the identity of Rocket Man, using a jet rocket pack designed by Millard. For 12 chapters, King/Rocket Man battles the forces of Vulcan and tries to prevents Millard's latest invention, the Sonic Desemator, from falling into the hands of Vulcan. For 1948, KOTR comes off as a good serial, but really you think it could have a been a wee bit better coming out of Republic. Coffin turns in a decent performance as King, after playing mainly villains all his career. Haggerty is great though as Vulcan's henchman Dirken, and makes you wish Republic used him more as a villain in more serials and Bs. Brannon is no Witney, English, or Bennett when it comes to serial directing, but this is one of his better serials. Many errors of logic in the serial, but does it matter in a serial about a scientist fighting crime in a rocket suit? Rating, based on serials, 6.
It's one of Republic's last great serials, the inspiration for Disney's "The Rocketeer," and just great fun. Really standout special effects, the patented Republic furniture-smashing, body-slamming fights, a goofy plot, and just as much action and movement as you can stand. Any kid that didn't wish to be a "rocket man" sometime in their childhood had no red blood in them. Highly recommended. Star Tris Coffin should be rediscovered.
This is another one of Republic's great adventure serials, made in the
days before television when audiences would regularly attend the cinema
and would be shown one serial episode per week.
The plot is not bad, but is really just an excuse to string together an almost non-stop series of stunts. Getting bored with the dialog? Well, don't worry, because there's a fistfight coming up in thirty seconds, courtesy of Republic's group of first-class stunt men.
With a gunfight every four minutes, a car chase every three minutes, and a fistfight every two minutes, you won't have time to get bored! And I lost count of the number of times our hero dons his rocket suit and flies off in pursuit of the baddies.
"King Of The Rocket Men" starred B-movie actor Tristram Coffin as "Jeff King", alias "Rocketman". The 12-part serial was edited and condensed into a feature version, "Lost Planet Airmen" (1951).
The 17 flying sequences from "King Of The Rocket Men" were reused in three later serials. The first of these was "Radar Men From The Moon" (1952), which starred baritone-voiced George Wallace as "Commando Cody". The 12-part serial was edited and condensed into a feature version, "Retik, the Moon Menace" (1966).
The second follow-on to "King Of The Rocket Men" was "Zombies Of The Stratosphere" (1952), which again reused the 17 flying sequences from "King Of The Rocket Men". The previous serial's hero, "Commando Cody", was replaced by "Larry Martin", played by actor Judd Holdren. Leonard Nimoy, then 21 years old, played a minor role as Narab, a Martian henchman. The 12-part serial was edited and condensed into a feature version, "Satan's Satellites" (1958).
The final 'Rocketman' serial was "Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe" (1953), with Judd Holdren playing the lead role of "Commando Cody". This was both a movie serial and a TV serial. At the time that this serial was made, 1952, the era of "Saturday Morning Serials at the Cinema" was almost gone, replaced by television. So this serial was made so that it could be shown as either a movie serial or a TV serial.
In fact, "Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe" was shot at the same time as "Zombies Of The Stratosphere", with Judd Holdren playing the lead role in both. To avoid confusing the audience with *two* serials featuring "Commando Cody", Holdren's character was renamed as "Larry Martin" for "Zombies Of The Stratosphere".
"Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe" was shot as a 12-part serial, but with two major changes in format. Each episode did *not* end with a cliffhanger, and the length of each episode was increased to 25 minutes in order to fit the standard 30-minute television time slot. The longer episodes required a more intricate storyline, so significant new footage was shot, including some additional hanging-by-wires matte-shot flying sequences.
After the first three episodes of "Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe" (1953) had been filmed, production was put on hold while "Zombies Of The Stratosphere" (1952) was filmed. When filming of "Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe" finally resumed, actor William Schallert was unavailable to resume his role as Commando's sidekick "Ted Richards", so Richard Crane took over the sidekick role as "Dick Preston" for the remaining nine episodes. The 12-part serial was screened in cinemas in 1953, then appeared on television in 1955.
This has some of the most convincing flying sequences for its time. The
later Superman serial had him "fly" as a cartoon: here, King appears
really to fly. I have read that the flying sequences used a lightweight
dummy on wires. It looks pretty convincing.
Minor spoiler: There was only one "rocket man": the serial title suggests more. (The hero's name is Jeff King) For that matter, the flight controller is marked, "Slow," "Fast," "Up," and "Down." Not bad, but rough if one had to change direction in flight.
Naturally, the serial uses the standard formula of a colorful villain who's out to steal a secret, whom the hero has to contend with.
Worth viewing, but light entertainment.
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