"Beyond the Moon" edits together the first three episodes of the 1954 space series, "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger," episodes that originally ran as a three-parter called "Beyond the Curtain of Space." It introduces the characters we'd see as series regulars in such later feature compilations from the series as "Menace from Outer Space" and "Crash of the Moons." The lovable old Professor Newton (Maurice Cass) is here and is branded a traitor for disavowing his loyalty to Earth in a famous "declaration" and staying on the renegade planet Ophesia with his young ward, Bobby (Robert Lyden). Vena Ray (Sally Mansfield) had worked as a translator for Professor Newton on Ophesia and is eager to clear his name. When Rocky Jones (Richard Crane) and his gangling, goofy young sidekick Winkie (Scotty Beckett) are assigned to travel from Earth to Ophesia, Vena insists on going along, despite Rocky's assertions that a space voyage is "no place for a girl." From a 21st century standpoint, Rocky's casual sexism in some future space age is pretty jarring but it gives Vena the chance to defend herself and assert her qualificationsshe is, after all, a navigator, and she knows the Ophesian language. Rocky does come off as a male chauvinist jerk at times, telling Vena to knit him a sweater and referring to her as "our glamor girl navigator." (Well, she IS gorgeous!) When told that she knows Ophesian, his response reflects, I suppose, the then-accepted Cold War approach to nation-building: "I'd rather have an extra pair of fists. Anybody understands that language."
On Ophesia, we find that Professor Newton and Bobby have been hypnotized into wanting to stay on the planet thanks to a machine used by the planet's authoritarian female ruler, Cleolanta, whose men-in-black keep a close eye on Rocky and his team while they land for the ostensible reason of making repairs. Meanwhile, we learn that there's an actual traitor in the Office of Space Affairs on Earth who is alerting Cleolanta and her men to Rocky's every intent. Rocky's immediate goal is to get Professor Newton and Bobby back to Earth, while the long-term goal, as seen in later episodes, is to get Cleolanta and Ophesia to join United Worlds, the space federation that Earth seems to lead, and open trade and formal relations with other planets. (Shades of "Star Trek!")
The whole thing is actually surprisingly well-scripted and acted. Despite its space sci-fi trappings, it really is focused on character and the way people and nation-planets relate to each other in this future age when space colonies are far-flung and travel between planets is a lot easier and less time-consuming than we know it to be. I'm particularly impressed with Sally Mansfield's Vena Ray. She's incredibly cute and perky (and must have raised the temperatures of a lot of 1950s adolescents during the series' first run), but is also self-confident, self-aware, assertive and proactive. At times, she seems like the smartest one on the spaceship. She would become an integral member of the cast and is quite memorable in the later episodes I've seen.
It's a very low-budget series, with special effects that are sometimes crude by today's standards, but there's a level of imagination at work that's quite impressive and a creative use of actual locations and matte shots when necessary. For instance, all scenes of the rocket base from which Rocky's craft is launched on Earth are done at a sprawling Los Angeles power plant and the actors are shot on location there. There's one well-executed matte shot of Rocky's ship blasting off from the middle of the power plant. The outdoor scenes on Ophesia are all shot using the exterior of the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park, a stone's throw from downtown Los Angeles. The interiors tend to be strictly functional and boast a few suggestions of high technology to augment the standard 1950s office furniture we see, even in the spaceships. One curious touch seen on both Earth and Ophesia is a 1950s convertible sports car that seems to fit only two people when seen in closeup, but fits three in a pinch in one scene. I'm sure it's the exact same car used in all of its scenes on both planets.
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