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 the rocket-powered hero serials that followed:
- Radar Men from the Moon (1949)
- Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952)
- Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe (1953)
- Jeff King/Rocket Man – Tristram Coffin (Sky Raiders)
- Glenda Thomas – Mae Clarke (Frankenstein, The Public Enemy)
- Tony Dirkin – Don Haggerty (Sands of Iwo Jima)
- Burt Winslow – House Peters Jr (Flash Gordon, The Twilight Zone)
- Dr. Millard – James Craven (The Green Archer)
- Professor Bryant – I. Stanford Jolley (The Adventures of Superman)
- Gunther Von Strum – Stanley Price (Superman, Captain Marvel)
- Dr. Vulcan – Traitor (20min)
- Plunging Death (13min 20s)
- Dangerous Evidence (13min 20s)
- High Peril (13min 20s)
- Fatal Dive (13min 20s)
- Mystery of the Rocket Man (13min 20s)
- Molten Menace (13min 20s)
- Suicide Flight (13min 20s)
- Ten Seconds to Live (13min 20s)
- The Deadly Fog (13min 20s)
- Secret of Dr. Vulcan (13min 20s)
- Wave of Disaster (13min 20s)
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 goes into hiding and then outfits another member, Jeff King 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, and using other inventions provided by Dr. Millard, Jeff King, as Rocket Man, battles Dr. Vulcan and his henchmen through a dozen action-packed Republic chapters. 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 before finally being unmasked and brought to justice by Jeff King in his Rocket Man persona.
- 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.
- The serial, Republic production number 1704, was filmed between April 6 and April 27, 1949.
- Republic liked naming their heroes “King” in order to use the title “King of…” The studio had found success with this naming scheme following the adaptation o Zane Grey’s King of the Royal Mounted. The main character in this serial was Jeff King, otherwise known as Rocket Man. His flight sequences were inspired by the Buck Rogers comic strip.
- Two streamlined, bullet-shaped prop helmets were used with the sonic-powered, rocket-equipped backpack attached to a leather flying jacket. The first was made of lighter-weight materials and worn only during the various stunt action scenes; during filming, the single-hinged visors on both helmets frequently warped and would stick open or closed.
- King of the Rocket Men was more cheaply made than previous Republic serials, and the casting is atypical.
- Coffin was a typical movie “dress heavy” of the time period, complete with pencil-thin moustache, and it was a bit of stretch for serial audiences of the day to accept him as the hero.
- The casting of nearly forty-year-old Clarke as the typical damsel in distress was seen as odd.
- The serial also lacks a colourful costumed villain along the lines of Republic’s earlier The Crimson Ghost.
- The final chapter’s flooding and destruction footage, though spectacular, had previously been used by the studio as the centrepiece for 1941’s Dick Tracy Vs Crime Inc.
Categories: Cult TV