Commando Cody É Rocketman
Whats it all about?
In 1949 Republic released a 12 chapter serial called King of the Rocket Men. In it, Jeff King (as played by Tristram Coffin) featured as a flying hero named Rocket Man, wearing a helmet and leather jacket. Just like with Superman, King's alter-ego was a secret and the Rocketman's true identity was sought out in true Lois Lane fashion by reporter Glenda Thomas (Mae Clarke). This serial used the "standard Republic serial model" of 12 cliffhanging chapters whose first chapter was of length 20 mins with the rest 13 minutes. The unprecedented success of this serial led to a 60 minute "B" feature film "adaptation" (cliffhangers removed etc) of that serial titled Lost Planet Airmen in 1951.
The Commando Cody character which would forever be associated with the Rocketman guise had its first appeared in Republic's 12 chapter serial Radar Men from the Moon (1952) with George Wallace as Commando Cody.
By this stage Cody was a scientist of note who had developed rocketships capable of reaching to the Moon. His identity as a Rocketman was well known - his laboratory even sported a neat "Commando Cody" plaque. Cody was ably supported by Joan Gilbert (Aline Towne) & Laboratory Assistant Ted Richards (William "Hop Harrigan" Bakewell). Like King of the Rocketmen, Radar Men From the Moon again used the "standard Republic serial model" of 12 cliffhanging chapters whose first chapter was of length 20 mins with the rest 13 minutes.
This second serial was a major success and Republic decided revisit the Commando Cody character again and at the same time develop a new concept: a 12 episode pseudo-serial with each episode of length 30 minutes and without cliffhangers ie. Each half hour was like an episode of a TV series - it had a formal beginning (no cliffhanger resolution needed) and a "successful" conclusion (without cliffhanger) where the hero was successful in thwarting the nefarious plans of the baddie. Such a concept maintained a "thread" through the various episodes (same baddie with the same ambitions but in each episode trying a different tack) but it didn't require the movie patron to "be there in the theatre every week" - the concept could also be easily adapted to TV - a medium gaining increasing relevance in the early 1950s.
Republic filmed Commando Cody Sky Marshall of the Universe in this way commencing with an initial run of 3 episodes in 1952. Judd Holdren took over the role of Commando Cody but he was now disguised with a "Lone Ranger" type mask and wore a uniform (of sorts) with a beret. Ted Richards was now played by William Schallert and Aline Towne was back as Joan Gilbert. The baddie was "The Ruler" and he was played by Gregory Gaye.
Production of Commando Cody Sky Marshall of the Universe was halted after the initial 3 episodes, to allow for the filming of a further 12 chapter serial (with the usual cliffhangers) starring a hero "who wears a Rocketman suit": Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952). The hero in this serial is just plain Larry Martin (played by Judd Holdren) and the title of Commando Cody is never used and the hero doesn't have a secret identity, but he does zoom around in a Rocketman suit. Aline Towne fills the requisite female role as Sue Davis and Wilson Wood plays Bob Wilson, Larry's assistant. Zombies used the "standard Republic serial model" of 12 cliffhanging chapters whose first chapter was of length 20 mins with the rest 13 minutes.
After wrapping Zombies of the Stratosphere, production resumed on the remaining 9 episodes of Commando Cody Sky Marshall of the Universe. Aline Towne was back as Joan Gilbert but Ted Richards was gone with his place taken by Dick Preston (played by Richard "Rocky Jones" Crane), in a role more of comic side-kick than his predecessor. The Ruler (Gregory Gaye) was back and in all 12 episodes each of his "baddie initiatives" was successfully rebuffed by Cody, culminating in his capture at the end of Episode No. 12 (the last).
After a successful cinema run, in 1953, Commando Cody Sky Marshall of the Universe came to TV - but each half hour episode had to be pruned to 25 minutes to allow for commercials.
The Rocketman character next surfaced in 1958 when Republic edited Zombies of the Stratosphere in to 70 minute "B" feature film "adaptation" (cliffhangers removed etc) titled Satan's Satellites (similarly to Lost Planet Airmen above).
In 1966, Republic edited Radar Men From the Moon into a 100 minute TV Feature (cliffhangers removed etc) titled Retik, the Moon Menace as part of Republic's Century 66 release (of edited serials for TV)
The Rocketman character was also the subject of two sell-thru "video" releases. The first in 1989 was a PAL only release of King of the Rocket Men. It was edited to 140 minutes and was essentially the original serial with cliffhangers removed. The second was a 90 minute edited and computer colored rendition of Zombies of the Stratosphere. It retained all of the cliffhangers but edited out other parts of the serial - each chapter being reduced to about 7 to 8 minutes. Both of these "video" releases retained the original title.
Note: The 1991 film The Rocketeer mentions in the end-credits:
"Special Thanks to REPUBLIC PICTURES and their
ROCKETMAN and COMMANDO CODY characters"
Note that all of the above titles (except The Rocketeer) are available from Trev's website (www.downunderDVD.com) É but you won't find the 1989 PAL only video sell-thru release of King of the Rocket Men anywhere - its been converted to NTSC format (just like everything else on his website) and is free to anyone who agrees to not copy it (no bootleggers or traders, please) - disc only, no case - JUST ASK!