Thursday, November 29, 2012

Serial Review: RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON


RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON

1951, Roan Group/Troma Team #AED-2064, DD-2.0/+, $24.95, 165m 27s, DVD-A

By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #71

Although it had been a venerable attraction since the early days of cinema, the serial was on its last legs by the time this Republic production appeared in theatres. The second of the company's "Rocket Man" chapterplays (following 1949's KING OF THE ROCKETMEN), the 12 part RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON stars George Wallace (FORBIDDEN PLANET) as Commando Cody, fearless government agent/scientist and "The Sky Marshal of the Universe." After a series of government buildings and installations are blown up by an atomic ray, Cody dons his rocket pack and bullet-shaped helmet and flies into action, aided by his able assistants, Ted (THE BAT WHISPERS' William Bakewell) and Joan (ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE's Aline Towne). A spaceship excursion to the Moon reveals that the various acts of sabotage are being carried out under orders from the planet's ruler, Retik (B-western perennial Roy Barcroft), who is using human gangsters to soften up Earth's defences. Once this is accomplished, his armies will invade and abandon their dying world, in favor of our planet's rich atmosphere and plentiful natural resources. In addition to their ray attacks, the interstellar interlopers use an A-bomb to create a volcanic eruption and it soon becomes apparent that the only way for Earth to offer a workable defence is to counterattack with atomic rays guns of their own. This necessitates a return trip to the Moon and a risky mission in which Cody must penetrate Retik's inner sanctum and steal a supply of Lunarium, the element needed to power the weapon.
           
While a science fiction film in character, RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON is more concerned with action than anything else and veteran screenwriter Ronald Davidson (DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE) certainly does not skimp in this area. Although they are capable of creating spaceships and super atomic weapons, the Moon Men have not figured out how to forge Earth currency, so they must finance their campaign of destruction by dispatching hired thugs (led by Clayton Moore, taking a one season break from THE LONE RANGER TV series) to pull a series of bank robberies and kidnappings, a convenient excuse to stage even more fisticuffs and shootouts. No stranger to the genre, director Fred C. Brannon (THE PURPLE MONSTER STRIKES) keeps the proceedings breezing along and Wallace (who is still active in movies and TV) makes for a serviceable hero. Although Republic produced some of the best chapterplays around, there is nothing at all special about this one and too many of the cliffhanger resolutions are of the predictable "jump out of the way just in time" variety. The real interest is provided by The Lydecker Brothers' excellent model work, which has nary a wire or other telltale device in sight to spoil the illusion of flight. However, even the special effects will not seem original to those who have studied the company's output. With box office returns from serials on the decline by this time, Republic was cutting costs and RADAR MEN boasts a high stock footage quotient. Just about all of the flying scenes are recycled from KING OF THE ROCKETMEN and the various explosions, crashes, and derailments come from numerous sources (some dating back to the 1930s). Newsreel documentation of various natural disasters also provide an economical means of depicting the aftermath of havoc wreaked by Retik. Aficionados will also note that the spacesuits worn by Retik's moon minions' hail from Monogram's FLIGHT TO MARS (also 1951) and a slightly modified version of the suit's helmet would later be sported by George Barrows in his dual role as Ro-Man and The Great One in ROBOT MONSTER (1953). Still, for all of its shortcomings, it is difficult to stop watching RADAR MEN once you start and the production makes amusing use of that favorite transition device: the screaming newspaper headline (much fun can be had looking at each paper's subheadings, with stories like "Increase In Commuter Fares Denied" getting an absurd amount of front page space in the wake of potential global catastrophe!). As is customary, the opening chapter runs slightly longer than usual, clocking in at exactly 20m, while the remaining segments are a little over 13m apiece. A 100m feature version of the serial, entitled RETIK, THE MOON MENACE, was released to television in 1966 by National Telefilm Associates.

A public domain title, RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON has been released by countless labels over the years, including Republic Pictures Home Video (who also put it out on laserdisc). The DVD (which has no time functions and was compressed by Conwood Enterprises) presents six chapters per side and gives the viewer the option of watching them one at a time or straight through without interruption. The black and white picture is a little soft and mildly grainy but the materials are very clean and contrasts are good. The sound is crisp and complete credit sequences are included for each chapter. Extras (included on both sides) consist of the theatrical trailer, a cast and crew listing, and three screens worth of production information (one of Moore's punches connected with Wallace and broke his nose). The initial pressing (AED-2044) had chapters 1-6 on both sides; the corrected version can be identified by a sticker on the spine of the keep case insert, carrying the new catalogue number (AED-2064).

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