Renegade Satellite (1955)

Renegade Satellite (1955)‘One shot into the Gyrocentric Control, you go on a fine, bouncy ride!’

Space Ranger Rocky Jones and his crew visit a planet where the residents live in an underground city. Soon he finds himself arrested for attempted murder and the theft of a spaceship…

It’s the final mission for Rocky Jones and the loyal crew of the ‘Silver Moon’ as they police the space lanes one last time on behalf of the United Worlds of the Solar System and Roland Reed Productions of Hollywood, Calif. This was TV’s very first space opera, available weekly in 25 minute episodes, most of which told a complete story in three parts. Many were combined into ‘feature films’ and given a new title for rebroadcast.

This adventure was originally called ‘The Trial of Rocky Jones.’ And that’s exactly what we have here. Rocky (square-jawed, twinkly-eyed Richard Crane) intervenes when old friend and ‘lovable’ rogue Pinto Vertando (Ted Hecht) gets on the wrong end of a beating on the street. As a result, he’s arrested for attempted murder and banged up in the big house (or a small set in this case.) His list of crimes increases when he breaks jail and is caught afterwards in the captain’s chair of a rocket that’s been launched into space! The rocket doesn’t belong to him, of course, and neither does its valuable cargo.

With a record like that, it’s hardly surprising that he’s up before the beak pretty sharpish in the shape of no-nonsense planetary potentate Volga (Dayton Lummis). Luckily (I suppose!) Rocky’s co-pilot Biff (Jimmy Lydon) has read a book on law overnight and so is perfectly qualified to be his defence attorney! The rest of the story focuses on the trial, with Biff cross-examining both friendly and hostile witnesses, having his objections overruled and generally getting a bad time off Lummis on the bench.

Most of this involves a lot of talk, of course, as Lydon tries to besmirch the good name of Griff (Leonard Penn) the trader whose cargo ship Crane had ‘accidentally’ appropriated when drugged up to the eyeballs by person or persons unknown. Apparently. It’s not much of a defence if you ask me. Originally, Griff had been a space ranger himself, who betrayed the Earth a bit in much earlier story ‘Silver Needle ln The Sky’ (1954). Our ‘only’ traitor, Rocky muses, conveniently forgetting all the others that betrayed them on almost every episode of the show. Next to be subjected to Lydon’s crude attempts at character assassination are other principal prosecution witnesses Rudy Di Marco (Richard Avonde) and Dr Reno (Thomas Browne Henry). Just because they had tried to take over the planet Herculon in ‘A Cold Sun’. That was all just a misunderstanding. Obviously.

Renegade Satellite (1955)

When it came to their latest pictures of the moon landings, people suspected that NASA hadn’t updated to the latest version of photoshop…

Of course, all this means a lot of verbal testimony, most of which is aided by a little cinematic device called ‘the flash back.’ Yes, it’s what old movie serials used to call the ‘recap’ episode, or, in more modern vernacular, a ‘clip show’! It’s a pretty cheap way to bring the curtain down on the series but, if you can believe it(!) the show was apparently quite expensive to produce, mainly due to the fact that it didn’t have the backing of a major network.

So it’s goodbye to the two-fisted Rocky Jones, blonde but dim navigator Vena (Sally Mansfield) and annoying young brat Bobby (Robert Lyden) as they sail off into the galactic sunset aboard the ‘Silver Moon.’ It’s nice to believe that they’re still out there somewhere in the cosmos; matching wits with alien queens who wear tiaras and sit behind big desks, watching out for strange, magnetic forces that pulverise spaceships made with wooden parts, putting on their goggles to prevent radiation getting in through their eyeballs, and beating the crap out of unnamed stunt players in uniforms decorated with lightning bolts. And that Secretary Drake (Charles Griffith) is still Earthside at Space Ranger HQ, worrying about everything, and getting betrayed by every minor functionary that happens to be hanging around in his office. And that Ranger Clark (William Hudson) is still on the astrophone on board Space Station OW9 privately wishing that the Service could afford at least one other member of staff to help him out, and, every now and them, dreaming of a 50-foot Allison Hayes…

‘Rocky Jones calling the Office of Space Affairs…come in, Secretary Drake!’

Robot of Regalio (1955)

Robot of Regalio (1954)‘You are kept in this sealed-off room because if you had any power on Herculon, you’d lead us to destruction as our father Bavarro almost did before us.’

The planet Hermes is mysteriously dragged out of orbit and, at the same time, senior officials at the United Worlds of the Solar System discover that strange, unknown aliens have arrived on Earth by parachute. Can the two events be connected? It’s up to Rocky Jones and his crew to find out!

Richard Crane starred as handsome, clean cut space ranger Rocky Jones in a 39-episode syndicated US TV show in 1954, called, somewhat unimaginatively, ‘Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.’ Most of his adventures played out over 3 shows of 25 minutes, allowing them to be cut together into features and rebroadcast as ‘films’ at a later date.

In what proved to be their penultimate adventure, Rocky and company find Earth being menaced by the machinations of the Nazam of Regalio (Ian Keith). He’s planning to use the magnetic charge generated by rogue moons Posito and Negato to destroy our planet and wipe the space rangers out of existence. If long-time fans of the show found this plan sounding a tad familiar, then yes, it’s just a rehash of Episodes 21-23 that were combined into ‘Crash of Moons’ (1955). Although the show wasn’t exactly noted for the originality of its plots or their development, this was the first time they could be accused of blatant repetition.

Robot of Regalio (1954)

‘If I make a patronising, sexist remark will you hold it against me?’

The one wrinkle is the increased presence of Suzerain Juliandra of Herculon (Ann Robinson) who throws in with Rocky and his crew in their efforts to preserve the Earth and foil Keith’s dastardly scheme. But Juliandra has a secret; evil, twin sister Noviandra (Robinson, again) who is locked up in the palace but must surely be the worst guarded prisoner in science fiction history. And if you need definite proof that she’s the ‘evil twin’, well just check out her darker eyebrows and the way they slant at a sharp and sinister angle! Unfortunately, she doesn’t really cut it when compared with the show’s previous femme fatale Cleolanta (Patsy Parsons) but Robinson seems to be having fun and her cheerful performance is the only thing that livens up a very dreary 75 minutes. Apart from the robot.

By no standards can this mechanical man be regarded as one of the worst vintage robots that has ever graced the screen. They are plenty of cardboard box and tin can examples that are much, much worse. It’s obviously a man in a suit, of course, but the design is a little different and only vaguely silly. The scenes where we see him working amid showers of sparks in Keith’s power centre (the brilliantly named ‘Magnetorium’!) are actually mildly effective. But there was obviously some kind of a problem with mobility. At times, he seems to move ok, but, once he’s let loose all his victims seem contractually obliged to run headlong into his arms! As you can probably guess, it looks completely ridiculous. No idea what the issue was but it would be fun to know.

The other mystery around this effort is the strange presence of Robinson. Just a year earlier, she’d been second-billed to Gene Barry in George Pal’s smash hit ‘The War of the Worlds’ (1953) and, before that, she’d starred with Gloria Grahame and Vittorio Gassman in well-regarded noir ‘The Glass Wall’ (1953). Ok, she’d had little significant work before those projects, and afterwards she did a lot of TV, but still…what in the galaxy was she doing on a show like ‘Rocky Jones’? By 1956, she’d made a return to the movies, appearing opposite Doris Day and Barry Sullivan in the weird amalgamation of ‘Gaslight’ (1944) and ‘Airport 74’ (1975) that was ‘Julie’ (1956), but then committed career suicide by running off to Mexico to marry a matador! Not the done thing at all. She did return to take on the Martians again decades later on a few early episodes of the TV reboot of ‘War of the Worlds‘ (1988-90) and also featured in the Spielberg remake of the story in 2005 which starred Tom Cruise.

A dull adventure with a couple of fun moments courtesy of our mechanical star.

 

The Magnetic Moon (1955)

The Magnetic Moon (1954)‘These particles move at 10 million, billion volts!’

During a routine space patrol, ranger Rocky Jones gets into difficulties when his ship is seriously damaged by a mysterious energy force. Further investigations reveal that the disturbance has been created by nuclear eruptions on a rogue moon. Unfortunately, the Earth is directly in the path of these deadly emissions, and the planet is only being protected by its own moon…

‘Rocky Jones Space Ranger’ was a US TV show broadcast in 1954. Typically, stories played out over three 25-minute episodes, making them perfect to combine into stand-alone features for the small town movie circuit and rebroadcast on television. This was the eighth in a total of the 10 examples, harvested from the 39 episode run. Of course, the show followed a tight, familiar formula, but any members of the juvenile audience who’d not been watching on the small screen might have been a little surprised by this one.

The previous ‘film’ had been ‘Crash of Moons’ (1955) and back then beefcake Richard Crane had still been flying his trusty Orbit Jet XV2, accompanied (as always) by wacky sidekick Winky (Scotty Beckett). But, in the intervening seven episodes of the TV show (none of which were combined into movies), much had changed. For a start, the Orbit Jet had been destroyed! lt was crushed by an avalanche of rocks on an unnamed planet in Part 2 of a story called Blast-Off!’. This episode also contained the last reference to Winky; a passing comment that he was off searching another area of space for the lost jet. In reality, Beckett’s run-ins with various law enforcement agencies proved incompatible with his continued employment on a children’s television show.

Arch villainess Cleolanta (Patsy Parsons) had also gone permanently AWOL (boooo!!), although probably for far less questionable reasons. The ‘Blast-Off!’ adventure also featured the last appearance of boffin Professor Newton, as actor Maurice Cass died of a heart attack shortly after filming completed. The following three-part story was called ‘A Cold Sun’ and the scriptwriters weren’t slow to ring the changes. The scientist role was recast with Reginald Sheffield playing Professor Mayberry and the audience got a new alien queen, the much friendlier Juliandra (Ann Robinson), Suzerain of Herculon. She offers star pilot Biff Cardoza (James Lydon) to the United Worlds, and he becomes Crane’s co-pilot on brand new ride the ‘Silver Moon’. Luckily for the production designer, it’s the sister ship of the original Orbit Jet so there’s no need to put in any overtime on pesky new set designs or dressing. Oh, and pretty blonde navigator Vena (Sally Mansfield) got a brand new hat.

The Magnetic Moon (1954)

‘I just don’t think it suits her, Rocky…’

So this time out, it’s Rocky and his new crew getting their first encounter with serious bother when Mansfield’s navigation reports disappear, along with her super-scientific clipboard! Then their rocket’s controls literally start falling apart. Yes, they’ve encountered an invisible force that pulverises one of the most important substances used in the construction of spacecraft…wood!

Luckily, Rocky is able to get them back to Earth where the craft is refitted with radical new materials. Made of metal. Meanwhile, new boffin Sheffield spends two days and nights trying to work out what’s going on. His conclusion? It’s a mysterious energy force that destroys wood. Err…yeah, thanks for that. Eventually, he does come up with a plan to neutralise the lethal rays approaching the Earth: deflect them with Space Mirrors. Building them in such a short time seems a big ask, until you realise that they’re all the size of shaving mirrors, and his plan is for the entire population of the planet to hold them up in the air all at once! (Stop laughing at the back!)

Muddying the waters is old adversary Agar (Charles Davis), who is determined to have his revenge on Crane and sabotage Sheffield’s brilliant plan. He’s teamed up with bad girl Shima (Pamela Duncan), who brings along Naboro to help. This dim muscleman is played by everyone’s favourite bald Swedish wrestler, and Ed Wood veteran, Tor Johnson! Of course, Crane and he fight, but, for once, Crane comes off second best, especially after they lurch into the wall of the spaceship and it clearly wobbles! lt’s a moment Ed himself would have been proud to call his own. Also on the side of the bad guys is the duplicitous Dorton (John Alvin) who works at the Headquarters of Space Affairs. I’m going to say it one more time: Secretary Drake (Charles Griffith) really needs to get his recruitment and screening procedures sorted out. Over the course of the show, it seemed that almost everyone working there was a traitor of some kind!

The ‘Rocky Jones’ series was never noted for even a passing acquaintance with basic scientific and astronomical facts, but this particular adventure is even more clueless than usual. But, of course, that’s one of its many charms.

Unfortunately, the lack of action, budget, compelling characters, a good script, SFX, and excitement may make it a bit of a long haul for some members of a modern audience.

The Forbidden Moon (1954)

The Forbidden Moon (1956)‘That ship’s radioactive! l’m going inside!’

When a space station sends out a mysterious distress signal, Rocky Jones and his loyal crew are dispatched to investigate. An alien ship from the planet Medina is already docked when they arrive and it’s contaminated with cosmic radiation. ls it an accident or are the United Worlds of the Solar System facing a new intergalactic threat?

Square jawed tough guy Richard Crane starred as ‘Rocky Jones, Space Ranger’ on 39 episodes of Roland Reed’s syndicated TV show, initially broadcast throughout 1954. Most of the stories took place over three 25-minute shows and some were combined and issued to theatres as features. There were 10 ‘movies’ in all, which shows that Reed was a smart cookie, presuming this was all part of a planned strategy.

Not surprisingly all the ‘films’ follow a familiar pattern. There’s some kind of emergency in space. Secretary Drake (Charles Meredith) decides that only Rocky can deal with it (the Space Rangers seem to be woefully understaffed). Our clean-cut hero takes off in his Orbit Jet X-V2 accompanied by ‘comedy’ sidekick Winky (Scotty Beckett), hopeless blonde navigator Vena (you have to make allowances, she’s only a woman, after all!), egghead Professor Newton (Maurice Cass) and Newton’s annoying pre-teen ward Bobby (Robert Lyden). On this occasion, they tangle with Agar (Vic Perrin), an alien ruler with a severe ‘Napoleon’ complex due to his lack of height!

The story begins with Ranger Clark (William Hudson) in trouble on the space station. Not only is he apparently running the place entirely by himself (see what l mean about understaffing?!), he’s been poisoned by the Cosmic Radiation brought on board by Agar and his goons. He blocks the door to the communications room with his desk, but passes out in the midst of sending an S.O.S. to Earth. Secretary Drake calls in our heroes and briefs them on their mission, using some charts laid out on his desk. Rocky won’t let Bobby come along for the ride, because it’s too dangerous. Of course, that doesn’t go down well with the trainee Ranger. After take-off, there’s an immediate problem. All their instruments start running backwards! But, no worries, it’s only happening because of a lump of quartz from Bobby’s rock collection. He’s brought it along (for some reason) as part of his completely unpredictable plan to stowaway (bet you never saw that one coming, Ladies and Gentlemen!)

The Forbidden Moon (1956)

‘Is it true you’re going to turn into Patrick Troughton at the end of this episode?’

Once they’ve arrived at the station, Rocky goes aboard the alien ship without a protective suit, even though it’s hot with radiation. There’s nothing to worry about because the Professor has brought along plenty of his anti- radiation serum! Rocky identifies the ship as from the planet Medina after reading some papers he finds on a clipboard (stop laughing at the back!) but soon everyone is captured by Agar and whisked off to his home world anyway.

This empty sound stage is actually run by Agar’s sensible sister Yarra (Dian Fauntelle). She does have nice dangly earrings like the series’ usual villainess Cleolanta (Patsy Parsons), but her evening gown isn’t nearly so classy and she’s not even wearing a tiara! Worse than that, she doesn’t even have a desk! I can’t emphasise enough how important desks are in our shiny, space going future.

Events culminate in a trip to ‘The Forbidden Moon’ of the title where Agar has discovered the deadly Cosmic Radiation lying about, and a plant which is a far better cure for it than the Prof’s rubbish serum. Eventually, Rocky overcomes Agar and his men by turning off the artificial gravity in the Orbit Jet, which makes everyone throw themselves dramatically to the floor rather than float, because…Science, I guess!

This is one of the weakest of the ‘Rocky Jones’ features. There’s hardly any action, and without Parsons and her wonderful hissy fits, there’s little entertainment to be had elsewhere. The only enjoyment a modern audience can really get is from the script’s somewhat ‘interesting’ attitude to radiation. It makes a moon glow in space. It can be collected and stored in a box. It can throw spaceships off-course. Special goggles can prevent it from entering through the pupils of your eyes and paralysing your brain. Enough of it can make a radiation mountain, which you can detonate like an A-Bomb! And so on…

Cardboard science fiction space opera at its finest!

Manhunt In Space (1956)

Manhunt In Space (1956)‘When this lamp is switched on, the rays sent out by the terrifically cold light will make the Orbit Jet invisible.’

Rocky Jones and his crew are assigned to investigate the disappearances of space craft in the region of outpost Casa 7. Meanwhile his navigator Vena is already in the area, en route to visit her brother. Suddenly her rocket begins to lose power, and the pilot can do nothing about it…

Handsome hunk Richard Crane spent most of 1954 patrolling the space ways in his cardboard Orbit Jet on behalf of Secretary Drake and the United Worlds of the Solar System; dispensing justice with a ready grin and a twinkle in his eye. He fought the good fight against aliens wearing uniforms decorated with lightning bolts and dastardly space pirates. But, most importantly, he locked horns with alien potentate Cleolanta, played by Patsy Parsons in evening gown, dangly earrings and tiara. Yes, it was science fiction’s first steps into your living room, courtesy of syndicated TV show ‘Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.’ Hooray! Most of the time, stories played out over three 25 minute episodes, which were then combined into ‘features’ and re-broadcast later on under a different title. Hooray again!

In this early entry in the series (episodes 12-14 out of a run of 39!), Crane finds himself initially earth-side, enjoying some downtime with ‘zany’ sidekick Winky (Scotty Beckett) and junior ranger Bobby (Robert Lyden). But it doesn’t last long, of course, with news coming through of yet another spacecraft gone missing in the vicinity of Casa 7. This time the missing include his usual navigator Vena (cute blondie Sally Mansfield) so it’s not long before he’s on the case.

You won’t be too surprised to learn that there’s not really a lot of mystery in the whole affair. Mansfield’s ship has been hijacked, plundered and cast adrift by Henry Brandon and gang of his rent-a-goons. Mansfield and her pilot do put up a fight, though, and it’s nice to see that the blaggard’s ultimate victory isn’t down to a rookie mistake on her part. You see, she’s only a woman and, apart from that, all she manages to do in the whole 75 minute running time is stand around looking helpless and go off to make lunch a couple of times. And no, I’m not joking.

Manhunt In Space (1956)

‘I may let you get lucky later, Mister, but I’ll be thinking of Rocky…’

Of course, all these tiresome shenanigans are down to the machinations of the lovely Parsons who, as ever, is the only thing really worth watching. It’s surprising that it takes lunkhead Crane so long to work this out, as she’s always responsible for every nefarious plot he uncovers! As per usual, the subtle ‘cold war’ subtext means that the radio operator back at base is nothing but a damned Commie fifth columnist, intent on murder and mayhem. Really, Secretary Drake needs to stop pacing about his office worrying about Rocky and sort out his screening procedures!

Unfortunately, all these developments are seriously mundane and the only action on offer is a half-hearted climactic bout of fisticuffs. On the bright side, Professor Newton has invented a ‘cold light’ lamp thingy that turns the Orbit Jet invisible (cough; ‘cloaking device’; cough) and has put it at the disposal of the United Worlds of the Solar System (cough; ‘The Federation’; cough). Predictably enough, the standout scene features Parsons, who reacts with a wonderful hissy fit when she learns that Brandon has tried to kill Crane against her specific orders. Lieutenant Harry Lauter makes a crack about her fixation with our muscle-bound hero and gets a book thrown at his head!

Brandon has a typically one-note role as the villainous space pirate, but enjoyed a level of success as a supporting actor that the rest of the cast never came close to attaining. He began with unbilled bits in the early 1930s and worked his way up to minor supporting roles in pictures like the early Humphrey Bogart vehicle ‘Black Legion’ (1937) and hit serial ‘Buck Rogers’ (1939). After tangling with Rocky and his deadly smirk, he turned up in John Ford’s classic ‘The Searchers’ (1956), John Carpenter’s ‘Assault On Precinct 13’ (1976) and rounded off his career with the considerably less celebrated ‘Wizards of the Lost Kingdom ll’ (1989).

This was subtitled ‘An Adventure of Tomorrow’ on its re-broadcast but quite probably looked dated even back in the 1950s. After all, things didn’t seem to have moved on in any way from the movie serials that were popular two decades earlier.

It’s mighty poor stuff. Even in comparison with the other exploits of Rocky Jones and his crew.

The Gypsy Moon (1955)

The Gypsy Moon (1955)‘Long live the memory of Rocky Jones and his loyal crew.’

Earth spaceship the Orbit Jet XV2 lands on a gypsy moon far beyond the reaches of known space. The inhabitants seem friendly at first but relations cool when Space Ranger Rocky Jones refuses to help them in their ongoing war with their sister moon, advocating a peaceful solution. Meanwhile the evil Cleolanta plots to use the crew’s disappearance to her own dastardly advantage…

The continuing adventures of TV’s ‘Rocky Jones, Space Ranger’ in another small screen feature cobbled together from 3 episodes of the show. Here, Rocky and his crew are still busy patrolling the galaxy on behalf of both the ‘United Worlds of the Solar System’ and Roland Reed Productions, Hollywood, Calif.

As usual, Jones (clean cut Richard Crane) is joined by hilarious sidekick Winky (Scotty Beckett), blonde (but hopeless) navigator Vena (Sally Mansfield), ageing Professor Newton (Maurice Cass) and his young ward Bobby (Robert Lyden). This time around their wobbly, plastic spaceship takes them to the moon of Posito (everyone seemed to live on moons in the Rocky Jones universe for some reason), which is under the rule of John Banner, who looks more like a middle aged business man than an alien potentate. He’s desperate for Posito to win the war with their neighbours on Negato and wants Crane to nuke them for him.

After he finds out that both moons were once part of the planet Electro (see what they did there?) Crane puts his foot down and refuses. A long bout of negotiation follows, via a translation machine, as the aliens don’t speak English (for once!) That’s refreshing in a way, but it does mean that large parts of the ‘action’ involve one of them talking into a microphone and the other reading a ticker-tape translation in the next room! It’s not exactly thrilling.

The Gypsy Moon (1955)

🎵Who knows what tomorrow brings…
In a world few hearts survive🎶

ln related matters, young Bobby isn’t best pleased to he find out that his homework assignment is reading Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’! However, events seem to parallel the epic poem, so he’s always able to suggest a plan to get them out of their latest predicament. What they would have done without it, is anybody’s guess! Lovely Patsy Parsons doesn’t get much of a look in this time as everyone’s favourite tiara-sporting villainess, although she does appear in the final third dressed up as Vena in a silly blonde wig, so that’s something.

Of course, this is all pretty juvenile stuff with completely predictable plot development, lots of chat on the same drab sets and aliens who wear skull caps, carry blasters, and have lightning bolt uniforms. Of course, Secretary of Space Drake (Charles Meredith) paces his office worrying about everything, Space Ranger Clark mans the astro-phone on the local space station, and Crane and Beckett end up indulging in fisticuffs with some unnamed extras. This is formula entertainment aimed at youngsters in an age when TV drama wasn’t exactly sophisticated. The only differences between this entry and the rest of the series are the surprising lack of any casual sexism toward Vena (a staple of other episodes) and one scene in a market place that actually features some extras!

Banner went onto fame as Sgt Schultz on ‘Hogan’s Heroes‘, Beckett to an early grave after a life plagued by gun crime, drink and drugs, and Cass to a sudden fadeout during filming the show via a fatal heart attack. Indeed, none of the actors had a lot of luck in later life, either professionally or personally. Crane also succumbed to coronary failure at the age of 50 only five years later after the series wrapped, Lyden passed at only 43 in the mid-1980’s and Mansfield’s career never amounted to anything more than a few guest slots on TV shows which dried up in the 1960’s. Parsons ended up as a newspaper columnist and working in a University’s finance department.

These days, the show and its re-titled films hold some curiosity value as a reflection of their times, but don’t expect a great deal of entertainment.

Beyond the Moon (1954)

Beyond the Moon (1954)‘Jiggling Jupiter, it’ll be super stellar when we get back on Earth once more!’

Top Earth scientist Professor Newton has defected to the unfriendly regime on the planet of Ophiucius with his young ward, Bobby. Ace Space Ranger Rocky Jones is unconvinced of the boffin’s sincerity and suspects that he’s being held against his will. He mounts a mission to investigate, intending to rescue the professor and the boy if necessary.

‘Rocky Jones, Space Ranger’ was an American, syndicated TV show that ran for 39 episodes in the mid-1950s. Each story played out over three 25-minute episodes, which allowed for shows to be combined into features, which were then re-titled and re-broadcast.

This one is an origin story of sorts, being an edit of the first three shows in the series. Most of the elements are already in place, though, with Rocky (handsome Richard Crane) and sidekick Winky (wacky Scotty Beckett) patrolling the cosmos in their Orbit Jet XV-2 on behalf of the United Worlds of the Solar System (see ‘The Federation’ on ‘Star Trek’!) Back home, the organisation is represented by Secretary Drake (Charles Meredith) whose headquarters seem to be in the Palomar Mountain Observatory (at least from the outside). Rocket take-off is regularly achieved from what looks like an electrical power station and mission control is bypassed by having Crane shout at a bloke in overalls who throws a few switches.

Stepping off the ladder from their rocket after a routine patrol, our heroes are almost flattened by a speeding car driven by fetching blonde Vena Ray (Sally Mansfield). I can almost see the headlines now: ‘Space Rangers run over in car park!’ (or should that be ‘rocket park.’) Anyway, Mansfield is in a hurry to plead for Prof Newton (Maurice Cass) and his annoying ward (Robert Lyden) because she doesn’t believe in their declaration of loyalty to Ophiucius. Her only connection to them is that the Prof once handed her a medal for something or other, but she’s very insistent and Crane takes her side because he thinks it’s all a bit fishy anyway.

Beyond the Moon (1954)

‘Don’t worry, I got these off ebay’

Unfortunately, Crane’s less supportive of Mansfield when she wants to join his crew for the rescue mission. After all, she’s ‘only a woman’, despite being a qualified navigator and fluent in the Ophiucian language. Of course, later on, we find that these accomplishments aren’t important at all, as she doesn’t do any navigation (perhaps she couldn’t master the pencil and paper), and all the Ophiucians speak English anyway.

In-flight entertainment mainly consists of some of the usual cheerful sexism from Crane who tells Mansfield to knit him a sweater! (groan) To make things worse, despite her initial outrage at the suggestion, she actually tries! (double groan). But, of course, she can’t manage it because she’s forgotten how, what with all that silly navigation training and trying to be as good as a man. Women, eh? Know your place.

Anyway, once we’re though the Ophiucian Curtain (spot the subtle ‘Cold War’ subtext!), we’re touching down on the enemy world and Crane is tangling with the machinations of alien potentate Cleolanta (the fabulous Patsy Parsons). As with most of these ‘Rocky Jones’ features, she’s the only real highlight as she smirks and schemes and throws tantrums like a spoilt child. All the while dressed for a formal evening dinner party in dangly earrings and tiara! She has the hots for the hunky Crane, of course, (maybe she likes patronising lunkheads) but ends up frustrated at every turn, both romantically and politically.

There are few surprises here, of course. Story development is entirely predictable and mostly consists of dialogue scenes in barely-dressed sets, and a few wobbly SFX of the cardboard variety. Having said that, there is probably more location filming than in the rest of the series combined (not that that’s saying much), and a spy at Space Ranger HQ does provide further subtle warnings about the 1950’s Commie invasion of the U.S.A.

Combined with the gloriously dated trappings, the old fashioned attitudes do makes for some harmless fun in these (hopefully!) more enlightened times, and this juvenile space opera was one of Science Fiction’s first steps on the small screen. It raises the occasional smile if you put your critical faculties to one side.

Invaders From Space (1965)

Invaders From Space (1965)‘He is the creature made from the strongest steel. He is the creature who can disguise himself as an Earthling. He is the creature known as…Starman!’

The Emerald Men on the Emerald Planet send Starman back to Earth when they realise that mankind has been targeted by the evil Salamander Men of Kulimon. Their nefarious scheme is to decimate the human population with a mysterious plague and then claim the planet for their own…

We’re back in the company of Ken Utsui as ‘Starman’ in this feature cobbled together by Walter Manley Productions and Medallion Films from the Japanese children’s TV show ‘Super Giant’ from the late 1950s. He was the Far East’s version of Superman, complete with a silly costume and cape, super strength, and the ability to fly. He can also detect radiation using his Globe-Meter, a nifty piece of tech that bears an uncanny resemblance to a wrist watch. His bosses on the Emerald Planet look kinda familiar too, some having been seemingly assembled from old vacuum cleaner parts, others looking suspiciously like men dressed in stitched together bed sheets with coneheads. They communicate with each other by waving their arms up and down very slowly, which is nice.

Things are looking pretty grim for the hoo-mans by the time Starman makes the scene, with large numbers apparently dropping like flies due to this strange new disease. The scientists get together around the big table to sort it all out, as they always do, only this time there are only three of them and the table appears to be more suited to a small family’s intimate dining experience. But no matter! Chief Scientist Masao Takamatsu has the two main attributes that every top researcher needs in a world-threatening crisis: a beautiful daughter (Monaka Yamada) and a dashing, young assistant (Shozaburo Date). Unfortunately, even the addition of three adorable young moppets also fails to help, and actually might be seen as an annoyance by anyone of a less charitable disposition than myself.

Invaders From Space (1965)

‘Let’s do the show right here!’

But what elevates this production above the other entries in the series are the Salamander Men. These Kulimonians are superb villains with a brilliant plan to spread their deadly plague across the Earth through the medium of dance! Yes, they’ve got the technology to come halfway across the galaxy, but their first step to world domination is hiring a theatre and putting on a show! lt’s either genius or completely bonkers, or possibly both.

What does become abundantly clear is that they never miss an opportunity to shake their groove thang! They also have lightning bolt halitosis, wear suits and fedoras and flip more often than the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. One of the film’s highlights is an early fight with Starman, which looks more like a gymnastics contest than hand to hand combat! Their makeup and all over body suits are also a hoot.

By all accounts, this 75 minute feature is stitched together from 2 episodes of the TV show, and only 9 minutes of footage was cut. But, if that’s the case, why is our old friend VoiceOver Man on overtime here? He almost never shuts up with the exposition, which suggests a longer original runtime. Not surprisingly, there does seem to be a little bit of confusion as to which specific episodes were turned into the four mid-1960s features for U.S. release. Even the origin of the name ‘Super Giant’ is a bit of a mystery. After all, Utsui might have been a tall chap, but that’s going a bit far. There’s even a suggestion that the character was named after baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants!

If you’ve already familiar with ‘Starman’ then you know what to expect, but the deliciously evil Salamander Men raise it to a level that the other films in the series simply can’t hope to match.

Goofy fun.

Menace From Outer Space (1956)

Menace From Outer Space (1956)‘My gosh, it would be a dirty trick if my comet landed on top of us.’

What appears to be a rogue meteorite falling to Earth turns out to be a rocket sent from a civilisation on one of Jupiter’s moons. The United Worlds of the Solar System send top space ranger Rocky Jones and his crew to investigate, but when they arrive they find a renegade Earth scientist who is up to no good…

Yes, we’re back in the cardboard world of mid-1950’s American TV with three early episodes of syndicated series ‘Rocky Jones, Space Ranger’ combined into a full-length feature. The programme ran for two seasons with 39 episodes in total and was just about as ‘apple pie’ as only a show from that era can be. Rocky is played by hunky Richard Crane with a twinkle in one eye and a ready flash of his pearly whites. His crew consists of ‘wacky’ sidekick Winky (Scotty Beckett), token ‘girl’ Vena (Sally Mansfield), old scientist Professor Newton (Maurice Cass) and annoying moppet Bobby (Robert Lyden).

This time around they’re off to Fornax (one of the lesser known of Jupiter’s moons) where leader Zoravac (Walter Coy) is preparing to wage war on Earth at the prompting of rogue scientist Professor Cardos (Nestor Paiva). He’s been filling Cory’s head with all sorts of nonsense about Earthmen but one grin from Rocky and the king realises the error of his ways. Paiva then attempts to align with galactic villainess Cleolanta (Patsy Parsons) but how can they possibly prevail against Rocky and his brave crew?

Almost inevitably, to a modern audience, these ‘features’ are far more a reflection of their times than actual entertainment. Unfortunately, this has fewer points of interest than most of the ‘Rocky Jones’ entries. Yes, there is actual location filming (almost five minutes’ worth!) which is a bit of a shock to the system, but elsewhere it’s the usual static, relentlessly talkie drama in poorly dressed, interchangeable sets. The gloriously wicked Parsons only gets one scene (booo!), and Vena is also mostly side-lined, which means there’s little opportunity for Rocky’s usual brand of hilarious sexism.

Menace From Outer Space (1956)

‘If you want, I can show you some other designs’.

Having said that, gravity on Fornax is twice that on Earth and, although it doesn’t seem to affect the crew in any way (other than getting a bit tired), it does allow our square-jawed hero to make some witty comments about Vena’s sudden weight gain. Pleasingly, she’s completely confused by the whole concept. Women, eh? On the bright side, she does get a new dress on Fornax, which makes her look like she’s auditioning for a low-budget movie opposite Sinbad the Sailor.

Some of the technology is impressive, though: the Visiograph allows our hero to watch scenes happening elsewhere in the imperial palace (and I thought it was just for communications), and there are some lovely comfy chairs and seat belts to counteract the G-forces during blast off. There’s also a fair amount of rather silly technobabble and, combined with the fact that Rocky works for the United Worlds of the Solar System, leads us to one inevitable conclusion. This show was the inspiration for ‘Star Trek’!

A couple of casting changes were forced on the show at the end of the first season. Cass died of a heart attack and was replaced by Reginald Sheffield as Professor Mayberry. Beckett, once a child star, had a reputation as a serious drinker and a gambler who refused to pay his debts. Given that Mansfield had a ‘morality’ clause that didn’t allow her to get pregnant (weren’t the 1950s an enlightened time?!), it’s no surprise that Beckett soon got his marching orders. Various run-ins with Johnny Law followed, including fraud, carrying a concealed weapon, drunkenness, drink driving, possession of controlled substances, drug smuggling, and shooting it out with the Mexican police. He died in 1968 after being severely beaten, although it’s unclear whether that caused his death or it came from a suicide cocktail of drink and pills. He was only 38 years old.

One of the duller entries in the ‘Rocky Jones’ universe, which ticks all the expected boxes. And that can’t be a good thing.

Atomic Rulers/Atomic Rulers of the World (1964)

Atomic Rulers of the World (1964)‘Starman, you should never have interfered with us. But you did. lt’s a shame. Because you will die. I’m going to throw this nuclear bomb in there with you.’

The Emerald Men of the Emerald Planet are concerned that nuclear testing on Earth is poisoning the galaxy. When the rogue nation of Magolia begins scheming to bring about a third World War, they send Starman to retrieve their doomsday device and put an end to their nonsense.

‘Supa Jaiantsu’ (aka ‘Supergiant’) was a series of nine children’s movies made in Japan in 1957 starring Ken Utsui. These were obviously inspired by the U.S. movie serials of the 1930s and 1940s, except these were shown in sets of two 40-50 minute episodes; in effect a film chopped in half. Medallion films and Walter Manley productions picked these up for stateside distribution, cutting the stories into 75 minute movies and releasing them with titles such as ‘Invaders From Space’ (1965), ‘Attack From Space’ (1965) and ‘The Evil Brain From Outer Space’ (1965).

This was the first of the films and it opens on the Emerald Planet where various robots, apparently cobbled together from household appliances, discuss what to do about the hoo-man problem, whilst a ringed planet sways gently in the background. (Obviously, that’s a visual anomaly caused by atmospheric conditions, rather than a cardboard planet on strings). Starman gets the gig, and heads Earthside, along with his Globe-Meter, which is obviously disguised as a wrist watch to help him blend in. What are his special powers? Well, he can fly, has super strength, can detect nuclear radiation and has a silly, white costume with a cape. So, not a bit like Superman, then.

The main mechanics of the plot revolve around a mysterious briefcase which everyone is after. Why? Apparently, it contains the Magolian’s nuclear device! During the course of events, it passes through the hands of various Magolian agents (most of them played by Western actors), and some pesky kids from the local orphanage. Of course, one of these brats gets himself kidnapped, and, once Starman’s rescued him, it’s the pretty nun who runs the children’s home who finds herself in the enemy’s clutches. So it’s off to the secret island base for the final showdown, via some wobbly model work and less than convincing flying sequences.

Atomic Rulers of the World (1964)

🎵’Ah! Ah! Ah! Staying’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive!’🎶

This was cut down from the two longest original films so there are noticeable narrative gaps, as more than 20 minutes of original footage is missing. But never fear, our old friend Voiceover Man is here, filling in the holes with his usual stentorian tones, convincing us just how damned important the whole thing is. Unfortunately, this is rather a dull experience, with enjoyment limited to the energetic fisticuffs, dodgy wire work and Starman leaping great heights as the film runs backwards.

Despite the overall lack of quality on display, it is necessary to bear in mind that this was designed as children’s entertainment, the Japanese equivalent of the Saturday Morning Matinee, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Utsui certainly didn’t see the joke, however. He was a serious dramatic actor in Japan and despised the role, the silly costume in particular, and refused to discuss it in interviews until the day that he died.

Undemanding, knockabout antics that often drag but provide some level of entertainment.