12 Episodes - One by one a group of atomic researchers are being decimated by remote control. The survivors suspect that the villain, calling himself "Dr. Vulcan is one of their own members who is bent on a monopoly of t... more »heir technological wonders. Jeff« less
William R. Hancock | Travelers Rest, S.C. United States | 11/12/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Rocketman , the hero of this 1949 Republic serial offering, was also known to movie (and later television) audiences as "Commando Cody" (in "Radar men from From the Moon" and the "Commando Cody" limited-run tele-serial), and as "Larry Martin" in the "Zombies of the Stratosphere" chapterplay, which featured a young Leonard Nimoy as a malevolent alien invader.
The "Commando Cody" moniker was the most utilized name for this character, but the original serial, "King of the Rocketmen", is universally recognized as the best presentation of this flying suited hero(whom many "boomers" fondly recall as "old bullethead". Back in the 1930's novelist Zane Grey created an action-adventure character , Sgt. Dave King of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and put him in a book titled "King of the Royal Mounted". Republic Pictures bought the rights to this and turned this "King" into an excellent serial feature starring Allen "Rocky" Lane. After this, Republic was off and running on a "King" binge that lasted for years. A hero who had the last name of King would pop up repeatedly in Republic serials. There was a "King of the Texas Rangers", a "King of the Forest Rangers", a "King of the Rocketmen", and so forth. In fact, Republic's very last serial was...what else?..."King of the Carnival".
This one is likely the best of the lot. It is a film that the old "Screen Thrills Illustrated" magazine, years ago, pronounced "The last great serial to be made in Hollywood". There were some GOOD ones after it, but most serial fans do think this was the last GREAT one.
The story concerns a scientific think-tank/research facility in California called "Science Associates" . This group does high level inventive research. One of the members, scientist Jeff King, has been working secretly on a flying suit,which consists of a metal helmet, a leather flight jacket, a rocket jet-pack for the back, and a control unit attached to the front of the jacket. With this suit on, Jeff can take off and fly through the air like Captain Marvel or Superman (the fact that he has no wings to give him aerodynamic lift is ignored, as is the fact that his unprotected lower back, buttocks, and legs would get burned off by the rocket flames....hey! Its a kid serial!!!).
Jeff has to create a "mystery persona"...Rocketman...when Science Associates comes under assault by a mystery man called "Doctor Vulcan", who seems to be someone among their own group. Vulan sends out his henchmen to do nefarious deeds throughout the serial, and Jeff King thwarts them time and again. But Dr. Vulcan DOES secure the particular device he has been looking for...something that may let him "rule the world"...it is a "death ray" device that breaks down the atomic structure of anything it is aimed at. It is called the "Decimater". Vulcan and his chief henchman, Tony Dirkin, take the Decimater to "Fisherman's Island", at the edge of the continental shelf, out from New York City. In a remote shack they train the Decimater beam on co-ordinates designed to cut through the water of the North Atlantic and disrupt the "Amsterdam Fault" on the sea floor. This will create a gigantic tsunami that will wipe out NYC unless an enormous ransome is paid.
The ransome is NOT paid and Vulcan goes to work with his death ray. New York is in the throes of cataclysmic doom. But Rocketman discovers the villains' hideout and leads a flight of Army A-20 attack bombers to "clean their clock" and save the day.
The flying effects are stunning. Stuntman David Sharpe is up suspended on a wire rig for some matte-work flying scenes, but most of the aerial footage is done with a life-size dummy pulled along through the air on parallel wires through some California hills and canyons; the same technique used when "Captain Marvel" flew a few years earlier. Some writers have claimed that this was an "oversized" dummy eight feet long. It wasn't. It was a LIFE size dummy (Republic wasn't going to build a special set of oversized clothes for an oversized dummy...that wasn't economical in the least...and if republic was anything, it was ECONOMICAL!!). The dummy represented a SIX-FOOT man. The eight-foot figure is arrived at when you realize the arms were extended out in front of the figure to represent horizontal "flight". Arms on a male six-foot adult are approximately two feet long when extended, ergo, a LIFE-size manikin, with arms extended upwards (when vertical), would tape out at approximately eight feet from fingertips to toe-tips.
Wired up and shot by effects wizards Howard and Theodore Lydecker, the flying dummy was a sight to behold. Extremely realistic for what it was. And the dummy shots, intercut with the take-off and landing stuntwork by David Sharpe, is truly awesome. The flying effects are much better than the CARTOON Superman flights of the movie serials, AND better than the pole-and-chest-plate matte shots of George Reeves "flying" in the Superman t.v. series.
One of the best action scenes in the film is a beautifully staged and edited sequence in the exciting last chapter. Ahead of the Army bomber flight, Rocketman dives on the hideout shack and takes on Dirkin and Vulcan in a furious fistfight. He wants the decimator shut down for sure.
The sequence begins with the dummy in a near vertical dive on the cabin, sailing down towards an open window. The editor does a quick cut as the dummy reaches the window and then Dave Sharpe (in the "stunt version of the flying suit), sails into the actual set...coming DOWN...HEAD first...hits the floor, somersaults to his feet, and blasts into the baddies' stunt doubles with fists flying. A real RUSH of a sequence.
Everything in this serial works, from the flying effects to the tidal wave stock footage from RKO's "Deluge", to the great photograpy and film editing, and to the outstanding stunt work by masters like David Sharpe, Tom Steele,and all the rest of "The Cousins", as Republic's stunt team was known.
This is a really, really enjoyable serial from the "golden age". Now we need two more to enjoy on DVD : "Spy Smasher" (My own favorite for "greatest sound serial ever made"...sorry "Captain Marvel") and "The Masked Marvel", a superlative WWII counter-sabotage showcase for stunt ace Tom Steele. Let's hope we can see these soon!!! "
Look! Up in the Sky!
Laughing Gravy | Sacramento, CA United States | 10/05/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"KING OF THE ROCKET MEN is a very enjoyable serial and I'm overjoyed it's coming to DVD at last.
By this late in the serial game (1949), Republic Studios had a tendency to go through the motions, getting by on the reputation (and re-releases) of earlier, better serials and the studio's matchless stunt and special effects men. That changed in 1948, when Columbia released SUPERMAN, which - despite the fact that it was a disappointment on every level - became the biggest money-making serial ever made. Republic, which had perfected "flying human" special effects with their earlier serials DARKEST AFRICA (1936) and THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1941), concocted their own airborne super-hero, Rocket Man, and bested the Man of Steel handily.
Tris Coffin, nobody's idea of a handsome, two-fisted hero (he specialized in playing weaselly henchmen or slick con-artists) is Jeff King, the guy in the rocket suit. He surprises all of us by being a very effective hero, not least of all because he suddenly loses the moustache and turns into ace stuntman Tom Steele whenever a fight breaks out.
Speaking of ace stuntmen, not only is Steele doubling for the leading man, he plays one (or more) of Vulcan's henchmen, and the gang of thugs includes Dale Van Sickel and Dave Sharpe, two of the studio's other reliable stuntmen, who perform double (and sometimes triple) duty in the same scenes, doubling the heroes, themselves, and probably the cameramen and script girl. It's a delight to see.
The plot entails Rocket Man battling a mysterious archfiend named Dr. Vulcan, who's after a deathray that he plans to use to blackmail the civilized world. Along the way, New York City is destroyed by a tidal wave (via stock footage from the 1933 film DELUGE) but the mayor doesn't seem to mind very much. By the way, despite the serial's title, if you're expecting a scene in which hordes of flying rocketmen swoop down and proclaim Tris Coffin their leader, well, don't get your hopes up.
Rocket Man would return with a new identity in the serial sequels RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON and ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE, and the faux serial COMMANDO CODY, SKY MARSHAL OF THE UNIVERSE. For more information, please visit www.inthebalcony.com.
The DVD of KING OF THE ROCKET MEN is quite nice, with a good picture and great, hiss-free sound. (You'll have to supply your own hissing.) It includes bonus trailers from a wealth of vintage sci-fi and horror titles from the same company, including THE HEADLESS GHOST, ROBOT MONSTER, DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and several others, plus a number of drive-in movie snack bar ads."
Cheezy Flicks has produced an excellent DVD
Tom Conner | 12/05/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Cheezy Flicks has done an excellent job of producing this DVD. The transfer quality is very good. The picture is sharp and clear and the sound is even. The DVD contains nice special features, including 3 sci-fi trailers. There is no invasive logos poping up on screen. Both discs play perfectly in my "sensitive" old unit. That's a real plus."
Keep working til you get it right.
Movie Buff | Newark, CA, USofA | 03/15/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I am a trememdous fan of the Rocket Men serials, all 3 of them. King of the Rocket Men, Radar Men from the Moon and Zombies of the Stratosphere. Having them on vhs I was not looking forward to the daunting proposition of having to transfer them to dvd with a home dvd recorder. But that's just what the production people of this dvd did. When I got my copy it looks like a very amateurish job done on someone's home computer. When I tried to play the dvd I couldn't because these amateurs forgot to "finish" the dvd so my dvd player couldn't recognize it. When I tried to contact the company several times to arrange for an exchange I got no response at all. I gave it one star only because this system will not let me give it no stars."
Great serial, spoiled by poor transfer
sprocket | United Kingdom | 01/02/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Great serial, great transfer - well almost. Have tried 3 copies and Chapter 12 goes blank after 2 mins. It's a bit like having a good thriller with the last page torn out!