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
Cinematography Bud Thackery
Editor(s) Cliff Bell Sr.
Running time 25-30 minutes
Release
Original network NBC
Original release July 16 – October 8, 1955
Chronology
Related shows Radar Men from the Moon

Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (or, informally, Commando Cody) is a 1953 Republic Pictures black-and-white multi-chapter movie serial, which began life as a proposed syndicated television series. It consisted of twelve 25-minute sequential episodes directed by Harry Keller, Franklin Adreon, and Fred C. Brannon, that stars Judd Holdren, Aline Towne, Gregory Gaye, William Schallert, Richard Crane, and Craig Kelly.

Originally intended to be broadcast on television as a 12-episode weekly series, Sky Marshall was first released theatrically in 1953 as a 12-chapter weekly serial; it was finally syndicated to television on NBC in 1955. The Commando Cody character was first introduced in Republic's earlier serial Radar Men from the Moon (1952), with actor George Wallace in the title role. Judd Holdren first played the Rocket Man character in Zombies of the Stratosphere (also 1952), but was renamed "Larry Martin" for this followup serial.

Plot[edit]

Dangerous weather and climate changes are ravaging the Earth. Masked super-scientist Commando Cody is approached by the U.S. government to investigate. Among the tools at his disposal are a sonic-powered one-man flying suit with an aerodynamic helmet and a new Cody-designed and built rocketship.

With his colleagues Joan and Ted (later replaced by Dick), he ascertains the disasters are being caused by space-alien forces led by a mysterious "Ruler" of unknown planetary origins, with occasional help from hired, Earth-born criminals. Warding off various dangers, Cody and his associates are able to methodically close in on the culprits and reveal that The Ruler is from Venus. In the final episode he meets his end on Mercury with the help of the Mercurians.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Commando Cody was originally filmed as a twelve-part television series,[1][2] 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 serial episodes lacked the traditional cliffhanger endings that characterized all previous serials.

The Sky Marshal serial is a prequel to Republic's 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 Cody serial sequel called Zombies of the Stratosphere, also starring Judd Holdren as Cody, Aline Towne as Joan and Wilson Wood as Ted. For reasons unknown, however, Republic Pictures revised these principal characters' names; thus "Commando Cody" became "Larry Martin" instead.

The third TV episode ends with the apparent death of The Ruler, suggesting that Republic may have reconsidered filming the remaining nine TV episodes and planned to cut 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 or action.

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.[2] Stock footage was also used from their other serials, including The Purple Monster Strikes.[3] The Sky Marshal series also 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 and a cap, instead of the regular business suit seen in the Radar Men serial. Cody also wears a black domino mask, 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, although disguising the change of lead with a domino mask had not worked well in the case of the Lone Ranger series.[1]

Setting[edit]

As the story 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.)[1] A mysterious despot, known only as "The Ruler", his base planet even being unknown, is trying to take over the Earth with various disastrous devices. Cody is enlisted by the American government to put an end to the trouble, which takes him into the stratosphere, into outer space, and even to other worlds. The Ruler is finally brought down on Mercury, with the aid of the Mercurian Queen and her soldiers.

For the serial, a number of new outer space scenes were filmed that had not been seen before in the other 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.[1]

Release and chapters[edit]

The serial was first released theatrically in 1953 as a weekly 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"

The serial was subsequently broadcast nationally on television in 1955 by Republic's TV arm, Hollywood Television Service, on NBC stations. The chapters were already filmed with a run-time of 25 minutes each, so required no editing or expansion to fit a half-hour TV slot.

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.[4]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "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. 
  2. ^ a b Cline, William C. (1984). "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. 
  3. ^ Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "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. 
  4. ^ 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)