King of the Rocket Men was a 1949 12-chapter movie serial made by Republic. It introduced the world to the Rocket Man, who would later appear with different character identities in Radar Men from the Moon (1949), Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952), and Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe (1953). King of the Rocket Men was budgeted at $164,984, although the final negative cost was $165,592 (a $608, or 0.4%, overspend); it was the most expensive Republic serial of 1949.
Each episode would end on a cliff-hanger leaving viewers wondering what would happen next!
In the serial, an unknown evil genius known as “Dr. Vulcan” (heard only as a voice and seen as a shadow on a brightly lit wall), plots to conquer the world, but first needs to eliminate, one by one, the members of the Science Associates, an organization of America’s greatest scientists.
After narrowly escaping an attempt on his life by Vulcan, one member of Science Associates, Dr. Millard (played by James Craven) goes into hiding and then outfits another member, Jeff King (played by Tristram Coffin) with an advanced, sonic-powered rocket backpack and jacket, a bullet-shaped, aerodynamic helmet, and ray gun they had been working on together.
With the help of that powered flying jacket and helmet, a magazine reporter and photographer named Glenda Thomas (played by Mae Clarke), and using other inventions provided by Dr. Millard, Jeff King, as Rocket Man, battles Dr. Vulcan and his henchmen. Eventually, Vulcan steals Millard’s most dangerous invention, a Sonic Decimator, and uses it to flood, then destroy both New York City and the rest of Manhattan Island – can Rocket Man save the day?