Rocketman Is Still King
History counts out the chapter-play after mid-fifties stoppage of production, but parts of the country kept getting them well into a following decade. NC theatres used serials for kiddie mornings until TV's Batman rendered them laughable. The last I found in close-by ad morgues was a 1966
King Of The Rocketmen had distinction of once playing Channel 12 and a downtown
|Mid-Sixties Catalog from NTA Offers Republic Serials For Televised Syndication Use|
How flight was managed seems childishly simple, so why was just Republic able to achieve effects so well? Part of explanation was brothers named Lydecker who oversaw FX and could make rigged dummies on a wire look like sky-staged ballet. Why couldn't TV's Superman give us as much? Budget crunch diminished all things airborne by a late-40's (and certainly 50's) serial decline, and I'd like knowing just what it did cost to make Rocketman fly. Somewhere I read the whole serial finished at a mere $165K. Block-and-tackle assist got down Jack Mathis'
Republic's rocket suit is stripped down to barest essential ... just a flight jacket, back-strapped propulsion cones, and a bullet-shaped helmet (or, as Ann refers to it, a galvanized bucket). Operation is simplicity itself. There's up, down, slow, and fast, a concept youngest watchers understood and imagined they could master. Therein lies much of Rocketman's eternal appeal. His fans grew up to recreate the costume (in minute detail) and build models for display at sci-fi and serial cons. I wonder how many amateur Rocket remakes were done on 8mm. Tristram Coffin played Jeff King. He also did single line character work, often uncredited, for the majors when not soaring off at Republic (Tris is glimpsed in The Fountainhead, released within months of starring as Rocketman). A 1976 cowboy clutch in
Like many previous chapter-thrillers, King Of The Rocketmen dabbled in kooky science. There are explanations, given in haste, of what power varied death rays possess and how one might level a major city. The "decimator" is KOTR's locus of conflict. Rocketman Jeff has it and Doctor Vulcan wants it. Momentum flows thus for twelve installments at thirteen minutes apiece, Republic serials having shrunk appreciably since a war's end and a peacetime curb on spending. This decimator is a device powered by double-talk, or more specifically, "high-frequency thromium waves radiating through the coil resister." I Google'ed thromium to see if there is such a thing. Apparently, it does have something to do with atomic power. One of the links was in Chinese, so it's possible I've stumbled onto top secrets and now they'll have to liquidate me.
There's no better fortification for serial heroes (or villains) than autos they drive. All look like tanks. Tris pops the trunk and suits up, then stunt magician Dave Sharpe bounces off the trampoline and away Rocketman goes. Most fisticuffing is between Tris/Jeff and revolving henchmen, his alter-ego helmet making it near impossible for heavies to get a decent lick at Rocketman. The latter's great in flight, but slugging aground tends toward the awkward, one of myriad reasons far-out costuming could hobble a hero. Doctor Vulcan, unmasked during the next to final chapter (itself an anomaly), scores total victory in #12 by flooding New York City with the stolen decimator, perhaps the only cliffhanger occasion where a criminal mastermind not only achieves his nefarious goal, but surpasses it. NY's destruction is conveyed by way of knockout footage borrowed from 1933's independently produced Deluge. Republic had used the segment before and knew it would make a stunner pay-off for King Of The Rocketmen, but what of their title character's failure to stop the calamity in time ... did youngsters circa '49 figure Gotham had it coming?