Star Trek turned 50 this week and while Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future has created a massive franchise, there was also an influential sci-fi movie serial series in the 1950s. Sure maybe it it influenced more laughs and mocking from today’s audiences and maybe it wasn’t as influential as say Flash Gordon or Buck Rodgers but Commando Cody still has his place in the history of sci-fi entertainment.
To start things off is the 1949 King of the Rocket Men. Now this serial wasn’t a Commando Cody serial but it first introduced the costume that Commando Cody wore in his adventures. King of the Rocket Men was about a couple of scientists fighting a mysterious evil genius named Dr. Vulcan. One of the scientists has invented a rocket pack with jacket and a bullet shaped helmet for the other scientist, Jeff King (Tristram Coffin) who also invented a ray gun to wear and go fight Dr. Vulcan. The serial was a hit for Republic Studios. Republic loved keeping costs low and so they recycled the costume and footage for their next serial.
Radar Men From The Moon from 1952 stars George Wallace as Commando Cody, an inventor who has created his own rocket pack suit which looks exactly like the suit from King of the Rocket Men. Cody also has a rocket ship which comes in handy when the Earth is attacked by mysterious forces. Forces that Cody surmises are from the moon. Cody flies to moon and discovers that Retik (Roy Barcroft), evil ruler of the moon plans on invading Earth. It’s up to Commando Cody to stop the invasion.
Radar Men From The Moon was a success for Republic (and cannon fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000). Republic then decided to turn Commando Cody into a TV series in 1953, Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe. Judd Holdren took over as Commando Cody and Aline Towne returns as love interest Joan Gilbert from Radar Men From The Moon. For whatever reason (there seems to be several) Republic released Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe in theatres as a serial even though the show lacked the classic cliffhanger endings each episode.
At the same time Republic started shooting a sequel to Radar Men From The Moon called Zombies of the Stratosphere but early into production, possible because of the TV show, Republic changed the main character’s name from Commando Cody to the dynamic Larry Martin (still played by Judd Holdren). Aline Towne also returns but her character is renamed too. Here Larry, wearing the costume as all those who came before fights off Martians who want to swap Earth and Mars’ orbits or something like that. Leonard Nimoy plays one of the Martians.
Needless to say that the rocket costume influenced Dave Stevens when he created the Rocketeer. Commando Cody also influenced a character in the Star Wars prequels, Commander Cody, one of the clone troopers who help out Obi-Wan. Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe is getting a Blu-ray release this week thanks to folks at Olive Films.