Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, July 11, 2008

KING OF THE ROCKET MEN


KING OF THE ROCKET MEN (1949). 12 chapter Republic serial. Director: Fred C. Brannon.

Attention! New York City must be evacuated immediately!Proceed in an orderly fashion. [Yeah, right!]

Okay serial lovers, dig in: Jeff King (Tristram Coffin) is the director of security of Science Associates, whose members are being killed off one by one by a sinister fellow known only as "Dr. Vulcan." King eventually realizes that Vulcan has to be one of the remaining board members, but which one is it? Battling the henchmen of the evil doctor, King dons a helmet and jet pack, flies through the air with the greatest of ease, and is christened "Rocket Man" by the newspapers. (No one wonders how he manages to fly without burning off his derriere, but it's possible the jet pack is actually an anti-gravity device.). Glenda Thomas (Mae Clarke) is a reporter who gets involved in the action, which includes Vulcan turning a "decimator" upon New York City in an extortion attempt and causing a tidal wave to engulf most of Manhattan (apparently some striking footage from the 1933 Deluge. Our hero doesn't quite manage to save the city.) There is a good cliffhanger involving a cave and a river of molten lava, and the usual sloppiness, such as one character being able to drive a car under the remote control of Vulcan when nobody has ever been able to do it before. The colorfully named Tristram (with an "m" and extra "r," not an "n" as in Tristan and Isolde) Coffin makes a somewhat colorless lead, although he does play with the requisite authority and has always been a likable and attractive performer. 18 years earlier heroine Mae Clarke had a grapefruit thrust in her face by James Cagney in The Public Enemy; in this she's more than professional. Tom Steele of The Masked Marvel also plays a supporting role.

Verdict: More fun than it has any right to be! ***.

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