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Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe

Entry updated 6 March 2023. Tagged: Film, TV.

US Serial Film (1953; vt Commando Cody). Republic Pictures. Directed by Franklin Adreon, Fred C Brannon and Harry Keller. Written by Ronald Davidson and Barry Shipman. Cast includes Richard Crane, Gregory Gaye, Judd Holdren, William Schallert and Aline Towne. Twelve circa 28-minute episodes. Black and white.

Commando Cody (Holdren), nicknamed after his wartime employment, has been ordered by the government to wear a mask at all times due to the secret nature of his work – for not only is he an atomic Scientist, but also the Sky Marshal of the Universe. One of his Inventions is a new Flying suit, made up of a Rocket backpack, bullet shaped helmet and a leather jacket; it has three control dials, labelled on/off, up/down and slow/fast. His new assistants, Joan Gilbert (Towne) and Ted Richards (Schallert) – the latter replaced by Dick Preston (Crane) from episode 4 – are briefed on his current investigation: Earth is facing a threat from outer space. Missile attacks the previous winter were covered up by blaming meteors and flying saucer hysteria, whilst Cody prevented further assaults by "encircling the Earth's upper atmosphere with a blanket of radioactive cosmic dust", so now most missiles or rockets are burnt up before reaching Earth – though the occasional craft does get through or is able to release devices from just above the cloud. He is now building an atomic powered Spaceship so he can search the Solar System for the enemy's base: the ship is fitted with a dispersal Ray to counter the cosmic dust.

The attacks are orchestrated by The Ruler (Gaye), a human-like Alien dressed in oriental robes and speaking in a Russian accent, whose base's architecture favours Greco-Roman columns. Earth is to be his staging post to conquering the universe, using its "vast production facilities to supply me with weapons". Stories usually follow the formula of Earth facing a peril instigated by The Ruler; Cody comes up with a plan to defeat it but faces sabotage by The Ruler's agents on Earth: this is overcome, with a fist fight occurring at some point and the flying suit given its opportunity to shine. In episode 3 we have the first interplanetary flight by Cody's spaceship, to Venus, which has been identified as The Ruler's headquarters. The Ruler cordially invites Cody into the caves where he works, showing him his inventions, including a rock melting ray, before attempting to coerce the secret of the cosmic dust from him – but Cody escapes, grabs the ray and uses it to melt the cave system. Another time, on discovering some of The Ruler's weaponry is powered by an Element found only on one of Saturn's moons (see Outer Planets), Cody pays a visit to blow up the mine.

The Ruler usually attempts to force Earth's surrender by causing Disasters, such as using germ warfare; bombing clouds with a radioactive gas to cause torrential rain and massive flooding; magnetically linking Earth to Saturn so that our South Pole permanently faces the Sun, causing the northern hemisphere to freeze; by seemingly putting four extra suns in the sky, with more promised – though they're actually reflections of the original using a "refractive forcefield" (see Force Field) instead of mirrors. Sometimes The Ruler changes tactics, such as firing a ray that diminishes the Sun, to wipe out the entire solar system as a warning to other planets who might oppose him. We discover Cody's spaceship is capable of Faster Than Light travel when he calculates the ray is being emitted from planet M27 "in the first planetary system west of ours", then goes there to destroy it. At another time The Ruler tries to send the Moon crashing into the Earth.

In the end, one of The Ruler's men is coerced into reporting they have captured Cody's spaceship on Mercury; as the planet is already subject to The Ruler he rushes there to get Cody's dispersal ray, intending to copy and use for his Invasion fleet. With the assistance of the Princess of Mercury, The Ruler is captured, but he tells Cody "my subjects will tear your world apart to rescue me" ... he is crestfallen when instead they announce they are sending emissaries to negotiate a universal peace. An era of prosperity beckons.

With the popularity of movie serials in decline, this was originally intended as a Television series (thus episodes were twice the usual length), but union agreements meant it had to be shown at movie theatres first: it was eventually broadcast on television in 1955, on NBC. Though better produced than the previous rocket man serials (see below), with the scientific and other absurdities being moderate fun (some ray guns sound like car horns), by and large the episodes are unremarkable. Commando Cody was nevertheless more entertaining than the slicker Captain Midnight (1954-1956; vt Jet Jackson, Flying Commando).

There had been a previous serial film featuring Commando Cody, called Radar Men from the Moon (1952), and Sky Marshal was intended as a prequel; but for reasons now unknown, production was temporarily put on hold and a new serial – Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952) – made and released. This was essentially a Cody series, complete with the flying rocket suit, except that the protagonist was named Larry Martin. The entry for Lost Planet Airmen (1951) summarizes Republic Pictures' various rocket man productions. [SP]


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