Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe

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Commando Cody:
Sky Marshal of the Universe
Codyholdren2.jpg
Commando Cody (Judd Holdren) and Joan Gilbert (Aline Towne)
Also known as Commando Cody
Genre Science fiction
Written by Ronald Davidson
Barry Shipman
Directed by Harry Keller
Franklin Adreon
Fred C. Brannon
Starring Judd Holdren
Aline Towne
Gregory Gaye
Craig Kelly
Composer(s) Stanley Wilson
Country of origin  United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 12
Production
Editor(s) Cliff Bell Sr.
Cinematography Bud Thackery
Running time 25-30 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel NBC
Original run July 16, 1955 – October 8, 1955
Chronology
Related shows Radar Men from the Moon

Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (or Commando Cody) was both a Republic Pictures multi-chapter movie serial and a syndicated television series consisting of twelve 25-minute episodes. Originally intended to be broadcast as a limited-run television series, it was first released theatrically in 1953 as a chapter-per-week serial; it was eventually syndicated to television on NBC in 1955.

The Commando Cody character was first introduced in Republic's earlier movie serial Radar Men from the Moon. The odd choice of character name "Commando Cody" was possibly an attempt to make young audiences think they were going to see the adventures of Commander Corry, the hero of the ABC TV and radio series Space Patrol (1950–1955). The equally strange title Sky Marshal of the Universe was probably the studio's imitation of Corry's title, "Commander-in-Chief of the Space Patrol", proclaimed at the beginning of every Space Patrol radio and TV broadcast. However, there is no concrete evidence that this was a consideration by anyone at Republic Pictures. [1]


Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Commando Cody was originally filmed as a twelve-part television series,[2][3] but union contract issues forced Republic to first exhibit it through regular movie theaters as a 12-part weekly serial. While the TV episodes build on each other in chronological order, the episodes lacked the traditional cliffhanger endings that characterized all previous serials.

The Sky Marshal TV series is a prequel to the Radar Men from the Moon theatrical serial. The first episode has characters Joan and Ted, Commando Cody's established sidekicks in Radar Men, applying for their jobs and meeting Cody for the first time.

There was a substantial break between filming the first three and last nine episodes of the TV series, during which time Republic set about filming a new Rocket Man movie serial called Zombies of the Stratosphere, also starring Judd Holdren and Aline Towne. Originally intended to be a Cody serial, and a direct sequel to Radar Men, Zombies was subject to last-minute revisions to its principal characters; most notably Holdren's "Commando Cody" character became "Larry Martin" instead. Meanwhile, the third TV episode was filmed in a way to show the apparent death of The Ruler, suggesting that Republic may have reconsidered filming the remaining nine TV episodes by converting the three it had finished into a regular science fiction feature film.

By the time work finally resumed on the Sky Marshal series, Republic had lost actor William Schallert as Cody's male colleague "Ted Richards" (played by William Bakewell in Radar Men). A replacement was found in Richard Crane, a year before his best-remembered role as the title character on the science fiction TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. The Ruler also gained a female sidekick, played by Gloria Pall, though she had almost no screen dialog.

Flying jacket and helmet[edit]

Commando Cody reuses the Rocket Man flying jacket and helmet first seen in Republic's 1949 serial King of the Rocket Men.[3] Various elements were also reused from their other serials, including The Purple Monster Strikes.[4] The Sky Marshal series also loosely recycles characters, sets, props, and concepts from the Radar Men serial. Two streamlined, bullet-shaped prop helmets were again used with the Rocket Man costume: The first was made of lighter weight materials and worn only during the various stunt action scenes; during filming, the single-hinged visors on both helmets frequently warped and would stick open or closed.

When not in his flying jacket and helmet, Cody wears a black military tunic with many insignia, instead of the regular business suit seen in the Radar Men serial. Cody also wears a black domino mask, presumably to hide his real identity. Holdren always suspected this was due to producers not wanting to take a chance that he might walk out if any future demands for a higher salary were not met, as Clayton Moore had done on the popular The Lone Ranger television series. The mask presumably served to conceal any change of actor should the part ever need recasting; disguising the change of lead with a domino mask had not worked well in the case of the Lone Ranger series.[2]

Setting[edit]

As the television series opens, it is the near future as seen from the perspective of the early 1950s. Earth is in radio contact with civilizations on planets in our solar system, as well as planets in other, distant solar systems, and Commando Cody has just built the world's first spaceship. The rest of the world appears unchanged by these galactic developments. (The exterior of Cody's headquarters building is actually a Republic Pictures office building.)[2]

In each episode The Ruler tries to take over the Earth with a new scheme, each one designed to make maximum use of Republic's stock footage library of various disasters and previously used action long shots. For the series, a number of new outer space scenes were filmed that had not been seen before in Republic serials, including "space walks" for several exterior spaceship repairs; aerial raygun duels between "hero" and "enemy" spaceships; and black star fields (rather than daylight and cloud-spotted skies) for backgrounds when Cody's or the villain's spaceships were shown outside the Earth's atmosphere.

Cody and his associates use special badges that conceal radios to communicate with one another, prefiguring similar communication badges used more than 30 years later in Star Trek: The Next Generation. There were futuristic props and sets, as well as shots of the intricate model-rocket special effects work of Republic's Howard and Theodore Lydecker; the spaceships of Cody and The Ruler are the same basic shooting miniature with different attachments and markings added to make them appear different.[2]

Release[edit]

The television series was first released in theaters in 1953 as a serial of twelve approximately 30-minute chapters:

  1. "Enemies of the Universe"
  2. "Atomic Peril"
  3. "Cosmic Vengeance"
  4. "Nightmare Typhoon"
  5. "War of the Space Giants"
  6. "Destroyers of the Sun"
  7. "Robot Monster from Mars"
  8. "The Hydrogen Hurricane"
  9. "Solar Sky Raiders"
  10. "S.O.S. Ice Age"
  11. "Lost in Outer Space"
  12. "Captives of the Zero Hour"

It was then shown on television in 1955 by Republic's TV arm, Hollywood Television Service, in syndication on NBC stations. The serial chapters were edited down to 25 minutes (before commercials) and also feature different music scores and opening credits from those in the theatrical release.

Television series or movie serial?[edit]

The release of Commando Cody as a weekly theatrical serial, despite being originally filmed as a TV series, has led to controversy among serial purists: Should it be included in Republic's canon of serials, or should it be considered a separate, stand-alone, limited run science fiction action TV series? The filmed TV episodes were first titled and numbered as "Chapters" on all theatrical release prints and in Republic's advertising, while the later broadcast TV series, with changes made, lived on in syndication for years, long after the movie serial finished its 12-week run in theaters.

The twelve serial episodes are complete but with the same general plot line as the one running through the TV series: the Ruler is always trying to destroy the Earth. Although there are no traditional cliffhanger endings, each serial chapter has a partial resolution at its end: Each episode's primary henchman always escapes. The TV episodes continuity must be shown in their correct order, rather than being seen in the serial's interchangeable chapters.

Reference works on movie serials, however, generally exclude the serial version of Sky Marshal, or simply mention it in passing as a later Republic TV series.[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Weaver, Tom and Paul Parla, "Call Him Commando Cody," Comics Scene, #20, August 1991, Starlog Communications International, Inc., pp. 29-30 (interview with George D. Wallace).
  2. ^ a b c d Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut. "11. New Masks for New Heroes "Get That Masked Trouble Maker"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. pp. 288–290. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9. 
  3. ^ a b Cline, William C. "5. A Cheer for the Champions (The Heroes and Heroines)". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 75. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X. 
  4. ^ Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut. "2. "We Come from 'Earth', Don't You Understand?"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. pp. 55–56. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9. 
  5. ^ Commando Cody is excluded from Jack Mathis' Valley of the Cliffhanger Supplement, for example.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Jungle Drums of Africa (1953)
Republic Serial
Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953)
Succeeded by
Canadian Mounties vs Atomic Invaders (1953)