Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952)

Zombies of the Stratosphere

“It may sound ridiculous but it’s theoretically possible!”

Martians plan to detonate an H-bomb so powerful it will knock the Earth out of orbit, allowing Mars to move in & enjoy better weather. But there’s no need to worry – Earth’s entire defence is in the hands of 4 very wooden secret agents (who work for the government or something). And one of them has a rocket powered flying suit!

‘Zombies of the Stratosphere’ (1952) was the 60th movie serial from Republic Studios who’d been at it since the mid-1930s. Sadly, not much had changed since then – each week the villains still go after various thingummys and doodads that they need to build their WMD and our heroes thwart them at every turn but are often left in life threatening situations. These are always resolved in the next episode, of course, when we see that they actually jumped from the moving car/boat/go kart as it goes over the cliff/into the water/off the mountain road, etc. Actually, some of those crashing vehicles looked strangely familiar… and the rocket ships still resemble the spitting fireworks from ‘Flash Gordon’ days!

The flying suit has three knobs – ‘on/off’, ‘slow/fast’ & ‘up/down’. And why not? What else would you need!? After all, it had already seen active service in ‘King of the Rocket Men’ (1949) and the adventures of Commander Cody – in fact this was supposed to be a ‘Cody’ serial but was changed at the last minute, although our ‘new’ hero retains Cody’s lab and even his assistant (Aline Towne). To confuse things even more lead actor Judd Holdren actually went on to play Cody in the TV series.

Not Commander CodyThe whole enterprise is distinctly second hand; from the generous amount of re-used footage from older serials to the trash can robot exhumed from the ‘Undersea Kingdom’ (1936), (although it’s never actually explained how he has finally made it to the surface world). Our heroes’ lab consistently fails Health & Safety inspections with equipment exploding at the slightest provocation and when they sprint toward a plane in the desert, their footsteps sound suspiciously like two guys running across a studio floor.

Of course this enterprise is mostly remembered now for an early appearance by Leonard Nimoy as one of the three Martians. He’s quite hard to recognise, apart from his voice. These extra terrestrials aren’t much cop actually; needing to recruit a turncoat scientist and a nasty couple of gangster types to help. On the side of the angels, boss man Mr Steel goes through our Rocket Man’s job description in the opening scenes – just in case he’d forgotten what he was supposed to be doing.

I can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers actually knew what a Zombie was? Still I suppose it’s a good title. But it’s all very tired, outdated even for the early 50s. Republic only made another half dozen serials before they finally called it a day.

‘Those Zombies must have been crazier than they looked.’ If only…

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