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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Radar Men from the Moon

This Republic serial was the second appearance of the flying rocket man character. The first was in 1949, King of the Rocket Men which had a Jeff King as the hero who wore the flying rocket-man suit. Radar Men from the Moon (RMM for short), which starred George Wallace as Commando Cody. However, all of the flying rocket man footage in Radar Men was recycled from King.... These rocket man serials were the inspiration for the 1991 movie The Rocketeer.

Quick Plot Synopsis
In RMM, key defense installations on earth (really just America) are being destroyed and no one can figure out why. Commando Cody's scientist associates figure out that it's an "atomic ray" coming from the moon. The dictator of the moon men, Redik, plans to weaken earth's defenses so he can invade, take over, and make earth home for his moon men. Mostly, he does this by having his moon agent (Krog) hire earth men thugs to do his dirty work. Cody and his crew foil one plot after another of the moon men. Frustrated by the failures, Redik comes to earth himself to take charge of the work, but is similarly thwarted. When he flees in his rocket ship, he is blasted by one of his own ray guns, captured by Cody. A light-hearted ending of the last chapter implies more adventures to come, as Cody is instructed to build a whole fleet of rocket ships.

Why is this movie fun?
If you know it's not a big budget blockbuster, but as low-budget as possible, you can appreciate how the set designers and director tried to suggest the world-of-the-future with whatever they could scrape up in 1952. As such, there's the usual consoles full of knobs, analogue gauges and blinking lights, Art Deco ray guns and psuedo-machines clutter the backgrounds. Oh sure, most of the action (fist fights) is indoors, or chase scenes shot in Red Rock Canyon -- like so many Republic serials were -- but it was enough gee-whiz to keep young audiences coming back each week.

Other fun little bits? In RMM, Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger) plays Graber, henchman #1 for the moon man Krog. (see trivia notes below)

Cold War Angle
As "lite" entertainment, there isn't much of a Cold War aspect, really.

Each iteration of these serials and TV series would feature a villain who wanted to conquer the Earth for some reason or other. They tended not to be especially Russian, but harkened to an older strain of cultural mythos: mongols, chinese emperors, mad scientists, etc. But the scale of the villains was small enough (a single dictator with a band of henchmen) that a lone hero with a half-dozen cohorts can defeat them. That's just not a global nuclear scenario.

Also of mild interest is the Moon Men costumes -- full body leotards, complete with tight hood, such that only the face is seen. Removing familiar fashion elements, such as hair style, cut of clothing, etc. was a quick and cheap way to make a not-like-us alien. Sometimes a few silvery elements are added: boots, a vest, a lightening bolt, etc. Watch for this full-leotard costume approach on later 50s B-films. It is interesting, too, that evil rulers seem to need to wear a cape. Perhaps a latent cultural image of royal attire.

Trivia Notes
It's a small world, Hollywood. George Wallace, who played Commando Cody in RMM had tried out, along with many other actors for the role of The Lone Ranger, in 1952. Clayton Moore had played the role for years, but he and the studios were at a financial impass, so the studio was seeking a replacement for Moore. Wallace tried out for the part, but didn't get it. He then tried out for the role of a "tough" in new Republic Serial -- Commando Cody. He didn't get that role, but instead got the lead role of Cody. Ironically, it was Clayton Moore who got the role as "tough #1" in RMM which Wallace was auditioning for. An actor named John Hart was the studio's new Lone Ranger, but the public didn't take to him. By 1954, Moore had his mask back.

Serials & TV: A bit of family history
There was a lot of cross-polination between early television series and movie serials. Columbia had a Captain Video TV series, so created a movie serial of the same name in 1951 (though the two looked completely different). Republic Pictures cobbled together a "feature film" version of it's 1949 movie serial King of the Rocket Men, also released in 1951. This and the Captain Video serial must have been something of a success, as Republic decided to do a sequel, of sorts to King -- Radar Men of the Moon. This, too, must have been something of a success, as Republic then started a bit later in 1952 shooting a TV series of Commando Cody adventures, starring Judd Holdren, the man who played Captain Video.

During the shooting of the Cody TV series, Republic interrupted production to shoot a their rocketman serial -- Zombies of the Stratosphere. In this iteration, the rocket man was also played by Judd Holdren and was planned to be Cody again, but was changed to a civilian named "Larry Martin". Perhaps this was to separate the serial from the TV series. For the TV series, Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe the Cody character gets a space-ranger like outfit, complete with a communicator chest badge which prefigures those used in the Start Trek TV series. It's a pretty small world, these serials.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Howdy Serial Fans,

This and the other "rocket man" serials/movies by Republic are just plain fun.

How can you not like a guy in a leather jacket, with a control box on the front and rocket pack on the back, wearing a bullet shaped helmet?

The city on the moon looked great when I was a kid.

The building the science laboratory was in must have been used in dozens of movies.

You walk out of your lab, spin the dial on your chest mounted control panel, run and jump off of a trampoline (outside of the frame) and fly around the canyons and hills of Los Angeles - How great is that?

As a kid, I loved these shows.

Another "Get me out of the real world" escape medium.

See you at the movies and please shut off your cell phone.