Welcome to my twentieth Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review. Considering, when I started this, I figured I’d only be able to write about a dozen of these, I think this is something to celebrate. In honour of this arbitrary milestone I am reviewing a wonderfully bad piece of cheese, Radar Men from the Moon.
Released in 1952
Directed by Fred C. Brannon
Written by Ronald Davidson
Starring George Wallace, Aline Towne, and Roy Barcroft
Basic Story Line
Men from the moon are attacking earth in preparation for a full scale invasion and it is up to Commando Cody to stop them.
Although not the worst serial I have seen, Radar Men from the Moon does signal the impending demise of the film serial as an art form.
The 30’s and 40’s is considered the Golden Age of serials. Iconic characters, such as Flash Gordon, Batman, Superman, Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, and The Green Hornet all got their film debut in serials during this era. If you look at the credits, most serials during this period have two directors and a whole team of writers. In 1952, Radar Men from the Moon, has one writer, one director and boasts the introduction of a brand new character, Commando Cody. If you have never heard of him, you are not alone.
Radar Men from the Moon was filmed on a reasonably tight budget. With these restricted finances almost everyone has only one costume. All the sets are simple and uninspired. When the first manned rocket into space is launched, all the fanfare they could afford for this momentous occasion is two cops in a desert. The rocket suit is recycled from a previous serial entitled King of the Rocket Men. Lots of footage is reused throughout the serial. There are about three flying shots and the scene of the mountain melting is taken from Adventures of Captain Marvel.
Radar Men from the Moon is not a long serial but the story is so thin they still need to pad the script with useless scenes. There are several lengthy car chases that seem to involve nothing but close ups of the drivers and stock footage of cars going around corners. There are drawn out sequences of people loading weapons, running down corridors and going through doors. Both our heroes and our villains engage in useless adventures that contribute nothing to the story. There are two chapters dedicated to our villains trying to raise money to repair their ray gun. These chapters have no bearing on the plot and only serve to make the serial two chapters longer. Our heroes return to the moon to steal some lunarium (An element like uranium except it is only found on the moon) to make their own atomic ray guns. Fine, except that they don’t make their own ray guns, they use one that they captured from the Moon Men. There is also the dreaded flashback episode. It is that episode where one character explains everything that has happened in the serial so far, to anther character, in the form of flashbacks.
Despite his name, there is nothing commando about Commando Cody. He works in a lab. While he’s at work he’s dressed in a suit and polka dot tie, not a military uniform. He is also continuously getting his ass kicked by a couple of bumbling thugs in two on two fights. In their glory days Republic serials were know for some excellent fight sequences. They could do gritty realistic brawls or dynamic room wrecking fights. In Radar Men from the Moon, people do nothing but throw basic punches and occasionally someone will be hit by a chair. Hardly the kind of combat you would expect from a highly trained commando. The only possible explanation my friends and I have come up with for his name is that he must not have underwear.
Republic made its last serial three years after Radar Men from the Moon. It was not long after that, serials disappeared from theatres completely.
Things to watch for
– A continuity error involving a car driving away from the rocket, but in the next shot the car is still there when the rocket takes off. (The same shot gets used twice in the serial)
The Back Row Weekly Serial Drinking Game
While watching a serial, anytime you or a friend point out a plot hole or inconsistency, take a drink. (Note: You may need a lot of alcohol to get through this one.)
Odds of getting sloshed: Very High