The Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review: King of the Rocket Men

Basic Story Line
Professor King uses an atomic powered rocket suit to fight Dr. Vulcan who is killing off his colleagues and stealing their inventions.

Quick Facts
Released in 1949
Directed by Fred C. Brannon
Written by Royal Cole, William Lively, and Sol Shor
Starring Tristram Coffin, Mae Clarke, and Don Haggerty

King of the Rocket Men is the first of the Rocket Men serials and the inspiration for The Rocketeer. Outside of its legacy there isn’t much to say about this serial. It is a cheesy bit of late forties sci-fi.

The Rocket Men serials, that include Radar Men from the Moon and Zombies of the Stratosphere (Does not actually contain zombies), have never been my favourite serials. In fact, I tend to rip them to shreds. The stories are weak, the science is bad, and the heroes aren’t that bright. In one scene the villains are trying to break into Professor King’s secret cave laboratory. (Yes, you read that right) They set off the sensor and then drive a motorcycle by as a decoy. Both our heroes leave the lab unattended and unsecured, to start shooting at the passing motorcycle. Let’s take a moment to think about this scene. I would like to start with the fact that they are shooting at a passing motorcycle. All they know is that their motion detector went off and that a motorcycle is driving by. They don’t know who this person is or what he is doing. They could be shooting at a perfectly innocent motorcyclist who is just passing by. It could be some teenager from a loving family in the suburbs who is taking a year off from school to tour the country before heading off to college, maybe he has a girl named Mary Sue he plans on proposing to when he gets back, but now his family will never know what happened to poor Billy, because not only do our heroes shoot at him, they then proceed to chase him down and cause him to drive off a cliff. Yes, for all our heroes know, they could have just murdered a totally innocent Midwestern teenager. Professor King obviously suspects something is happening, and yet both he and his assistant leave the lab, that contains the object our villain, Dr. Vulcan, is looking for, unattended, and apparently don’t even bother to lock the door.

Our hero isn’t the only problem with this serial. The villain is just a figure in the shadows. He doesn’t even have a gimmick or a plan. Dr. Vulcan just randomly kills scientists and tries to steal inventions. The obligatory female character has no personality and doesn’t serve a purpose except to occasionally give Rocket Man someone to save. The only interesting thing about her is she is played by Mae Clarke who is best known for having played Elizabeth in the original Frankenstein movie.

There are a few things that work reasonably well. There are some impressive bits of scientific sounding nonsense that get spouted out. The flying sequences are pretty good but the same footage of Rocket Man flying gets reused in all the subsequent Rocket Man serials. In the final chapter Dr. Vulcan turns his new weapon against New York City with scenes of destruction that would impress Roland Emmerich. Although, apparently, even that was lifted from one of the Dick Tracy serials.

Having said all of that I have to add that there are serials that are much worse than King of the Rocket Men. This serial is technically sound and enjoyable enough for cheese lovers everywhere.

Things to watch for
-The Rocket Man suit has only three controls, On/Off, Slow/Fast, Up/Down.
-Rocket Man has a ray gun in the first and last chapters but a regular gun the rest of the time.
-The complete destruction of New York

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: Yes, I think the fact that he is running around, getting into fights while wearing a nuclear generator on his back is worth a drink.)
Odds of getting sloshed: Medium to High


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