"MY CHILDHOOD HERO"
A brief overview of the Commando Cody a.k.a. Rocketman Character.
"The Nostalgic Fifties"
Saturday morning television has certainly changed from the time that I was a young kid back in the mid to late 50's. Back then the 3 channels that were available on our black and white TV sets provided us with plenty of thrills, chills & most of all "heroes" who were characters played by "real actors", not bizarre, outlandish or weirdo cartoon characters suffering from some psychological disorder. We knew who the "good guys" were & they were courageous, quick-witted & committed to justice & a code of honor. These shows provided us youngsters with characters who were good role models. Saturday Morning TV brought us the likes of "Sky King", "Jet Jackson", "Roy Rogers" & "Fury". Other favorite shows of the time were "The Lone Ranger", "Captain Gallant", "Ramar of the Jungle", "The Adventures of Superman" & "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger".
One Saturday morning in the late 50's I stumbled on to a show quite by accident that caught my attention & imagination. It was "Commando Cody, Sky Marshall of the Universe". Commando Cody was a hero designated by the interplanetary council to thwart the plans of aliens from outer space in taking over the earth. To me, Cody was exciting & special. He possessed equipment that provided the means for him to do things that other heroes could not do, with the exception of Superman. He had an aero-dynamic metallic bullet-shaped helmet & a flight suit with a jet-pack strapped to his back that enabled him to fly & swoop down on villains or escape from deadly close calls in the nick of time. He also had a bullet-shaped rocketship that could travel to other planets in the solar system to foil the aliens' fiendish plots. In some episodes he even had a ray gun. He also wore a uniform with a black mask much like that of the Lone Ranger's. However, I do recall seeing some episodes where he didn't wear this mask which confused me to some degree. Being so young at the time I can not recollect how many of the 12 episodes that I actually saw, but it was one of my main objectives every Saturday morning not to miss this show. I drew numerous pictures of Cody & his deeds. When we kids played outside some kids played Sky King, some were Jet Jackson but I was Commando Cody. Never-the-less, Cody & his flight suit were only on television for a brief time & when he no longer appeared on Saturday mornings I would wait patiently for more of his adventures but Commando Cody never returned. As I grew older Commando Cody became a blurred memory to me.
"The Sky Marshall of the Universe"
Some 30 or so odd years passed from the time that I was a young child when one night with my older son in a "BlockBusters Video" rental store I stumbled across the 12-chapter serial "King of the Rocketmen". On the front cover of this video box was a picture of none other than Commando Cody. Needless to say, all that excitement 30 years ago that I had forgotten about came rushing back to me. But wait a minute- the character in this video was called Rocketman, not Commando Cody. As I read the information on the back of the video box I was thrilled to find out that there were not only 3 separate films made with a character who used this flight suit but also the TV show "Commando Cody, Sky Marshall of the Universe". Within a year I obtained all 4 of these videos. They are:
"30 Years Later: The Return of Commando Cody"
- King of the Rocketmen (Republic Pictures) starring Tristram Coffin. (1949)
In this first of the three 12-chapter cliffhanger serials our hero is Jeff King, the mysterious rocketman who along with a fellow scientist develop the atomic-powered flying suit to prevent an evil scientist named Dr. Vulcan from gaining world dominance with his powerful weapon, the Sonic Decimator. Jeff King has the rocketsuit & the ray gun but never leaves the stratosphere. In a thrilling conclusion Rocketman triumphs over the evil Dr. Vulcan. This serial was made in response to Columbia Pictures' smash hit serial of 1948 "Superman" & was Republics' most popular original character to appear on the serial screen. Although at the end of the final chapter the story eludes to a return of Rocketman, his character never returns to the silverscreen. Considered by many serial fans as the last of the great Republic Pictures' cliffhanger serials.
- Radar Men from the Moon (Republic Pictures) starring George Wallace. (1952)
3 years later Republic returns the rocket suit to the screen in another 12-chapter cliffhanger serial with a new rocketman character- Commando Cody. Cody, who is employed as a scientist with a top-level government agency doesn't wear a uniform or a mask but somehow has obtained the flying suit. Cody & his colleagues become aware of some suspicious atomic activity taking place on the moon as well as several mysterious incidents of sabotage on earth that appear to be related. Cody & his assistants develop an atomic powered rocketship to explore the moon where he quickly finds out about the existence of a race of moonmen & their evil scheme. Cody takes 12 chapters to defeat Retik, the Ruler of the Moon & his radarmen ultimately preventing them from launching a wide-scale invasion of the earth. Stock footage from "King of the Rocketmen" is used for most of the flying scenes. Clayton Moore, TV's Lone Ranger, appears as a henchmen working for the alien force.
- Zombies of the Stratosphere (Republic Pictures) starring Judd Holdren. (1952)
6 months later Republic releases the third in their pseudo-trilogy of rocketman serials. This time even though the character is essentially Commando Cody, with many of his same assistants, the character's name is changed at the last minute from Cody to Larry Martin to avoid confusion with another Republic "rocketman" endeavor soon to go into production. Again, it takes the Rocketman 12 chapters to thwart another alien attempt at destroying the earth. This time the threat is from Marex & his fellow aliens from Mars. Although Rocketman never leaves the stratosphere there are several aerial rocketship battle scenes. In the final chapter rocketman, Larry Martin shoots down the martians' rocketship & defuses a hydrogen bomb in the nick of time to save mankind. Again there is stock footage from both "King of the Rocketmen" & "Radar Men from the Moon". Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek's Mr. Spock, appears as one of the martians.
- Commando Cody, Sky Marshall of the Universe (Republic Pictures) starring Judd Holdren. (1953)
Originally developed for TV, Republic Pictures first released this film in the theaters in 1953 and later to television in 1955. This time there are no cliffhanger chapters but 12 complete 26-minute episodes. Here Rocketman returns as a masked & uniformed Commando Cody with the same assistants from the serials. Cody's character is now completely developed as he now tangles with an alien megalomaniac known to us only as the Ruler. The Ruler has conquered much of our solar system & the only hope for mankind is Commando Cody who naturally in the final episode captures the alien dictator & puts an end to his imperialistic plot. Although there is much stock footage from the 3 serials there is also plenty of new footage. This was the last of the rocketman films, however, in 1991 Disney made a film that took place during the early 1940's about a rocketsuited hero called the "The Rocketeer" which was based on the Dave Stevens' comic book of the same name. The ending credits of this movie pay tribute to both the Rocketman & Commando Cody characters.
Despite the many drawbacks to these Rocketman/Commando Cody films, in addition to the fact that they were made on a shoe-string budget, they were produced by Republic Pictures, the top producers of cliffhanger serials & "B" cowboy movies which included Gene Autry & Roy Rogers. Republic had earned the reputation for being the best at creating action scenes in their films even when compared to the big name studios of the time.
There are 2 reasons why the Rocketman/Commando Cody films are fascinating. One reason is because of the realistic special effects used to create the flying scenes. Republic's notable special effects technicians Howard & Theodore Lydecker strung a "life-size" dummie dressed in the rocket-suit on to invisible wires with pulleys. One end of the wire was connected to a high hilltop while the other end was connected far below to the bottom of a valley. When the dummy was released gravity would pull it downwards smoothly along the wires. The film was sped up & it appeared as if the rocketman dummy was actually flying on it's own accord. Take-off scenes were filmed with the dummy going backwards down the wires & then the film would be printed in reverse resulting in an authentic take-off effect. Because these scenes were shot outside in natural daylight there is no false lighting or tone mismatches as we often see today in movies that utilize many of the new computer-generated special effects. The rocketship scenes were filmed in a similar manner.
The second reason why these films still have followers today is because of the excellent stunt work provided by some of the top stuntmen of that time. David Sharpe, one of the top names in the history of movie stuntwork did the Rocketman take-off & landing scenes in the first serial, "King of the Rocketmen" and many of these scenes were used in the later films. Furthermore, Republic known for excelling in the creation of choreographed fight scenes had notable stuntmen Tom Steele & Dale Van Sickel staging the fight sequences for all of the 3 serials & the 12 episodes of "Commando Cody, Sky Marshall of the Universe".
Cast, credits & chapter titles for: "King of the Rocketmen", "Radar Men from the Moon",
"Zombies of the Stratosphere", "Commando Cody, Sky Marshall of the Universe",
-To comment on the "Commando Cody" webpages just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
"Rocketman/Commando Cody Image Gallery"
-For more information and links on the subjects of Commando Cody, Rocketman, Republic Pictures and cliffhanger serials in general checkout the "Serial Squadron" website, Gary Hughes' "The Rocketpage" & "SCI-FI STEVE's WEBSITE".
-For information & links on heroes of the silverscreen from the 1930's to the 1950's try "The Old Corral".
- "Days of Thrills and Adventure" by Alan G. Barbour / Published 1970
- "The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury" by Jim Harmon & Donald F. Glut / Published 1972
- "In the Nick of Time: Motion Picture Sound Serials" by William C. Cline / Published 1984
- "King of the Rocketmen" by Republic Pictures
- "Radar Men from the Moon" by Republic Pictures
- "Zombies of the Stratosphere" by Republic Pictures
- "Commando Cody, Sky Marshall of the Universe" by Republic Pictures
- "The Republic Pictures Story" by American Movie Classics
- "Cliffhangers: Adventures from the Thrill Factory" by Leonard Maltin
Last Update: April 2009 DZDeZigns TM