COMMANDO CODY: SKY MARSHAL OF THE UNIVERSE (1953) – This will not be a comprehensive examination of the winding saga of Commando Cody, the character’s changing names and his status as the inspiration for the much later Rocketeer figure. However, as a quick preface to this look at the short-lived half-hour television series Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe I will recap the three Republic serials that preceded it.
King of the Rocket Men (1949) – This 12-episode serial was directed by Fred C. Brannon and written by Royal K. Cole, William Lively & Sol Shor. An organization called Science Associates finds its major scientists being killed off one by one through the efforts of a mysterious villain calling himself Dr. Vulcan.
One intended victim, Dr. Millard, secretly survives the attempt on his life but lets the villain and his underlings believe him to be dead. He covertly joins forces with fellow S.A. scientist Jeffrey King (Tristram Coffin) to fight back and flush out Dr. Vulcan and his organization.
With Dr. Millard playing dead, Jeffrey King dons the experimental rocket pack invented by Millard and takes to the air. King, the title “King” of course, also arms himself with a ray-gun pistol that he and Millard developed together. To keep his identity a secret, Jeffrey wears a helmet that conceals his face in addition to providing protection.
Through 12 chapters the hero thwarts Dr. Vulcan’s schemes for world conquest and brings him to justice after he destroys New York City in the rollicking finale. (It’s just recycled footage from the 1933 movie Deluge.) King of the Rocket Men was edited down to become the 1951 feature film Lost Planet Airmen and became the inspiration for the band Commander (sic) Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen.
Radar Men from the Moon (1952) – This time around “Jeffrey King” began being called Commando Cody (actor George Wallace), the name that was also used in the later television series. No official explanation was ever given for the name change, but fan lore holds that – after his adventure against Dr. Vulcan – Jeffrey King’s secret identity was further protected by the government giving him the code name Commando Cody.
The rocket pack, helmet, jacket, etc are all the same, so it’s a reasonable assumption. Plus Commando Cody is a scientific genius like Jeffrey King in the 1949 serial. No longer bound to Science Associates, Cody runs his own team, including Ted Richards (William Bakewell) and Joan Gilbert (Aline Towne), with Agent Henderson (Don Walters) as their government liaison.
Retik, the leader of the advanced civilization of Radar Men who live on Earth’s moon, wants to conquer the world and relocate his dying race to our more fertile planet. To that end Retik uses Earth criminals and lunar agents as saboteurs and also uses moon technology to cause disasters around the world.
Commando Cody has designed and constructed a spaceship, so he, Ted and Joan fly back and forth between the American Southwest and the hidden lunar city of the Radar Men from the Moon.
Clayton Moore, the future Lone Ranger, plays one of the bad guys in the resulting warfare between our heroes and the Radar Men. Cody also drives a bus-sized Moon Tank at times and both the tank and the spaceship were available as toys.
Radar Men from the Moon was later edited down to become the 1966 telefilm Retik, the Moon Menace. If footage from this production looks familiar, the serial later showed up in Hot Shorts, It Came from Hollywood, The Texas 27 Film Vault and Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952) – The saga of Commando Cody underwent another twist after the success of Radar Men from the Moon. A television series was put into development but in the meantime the script for what was to be the 4th episode of the upcoming 13 episode tv show was appropriated and stretched out into its own 12-episode serial.
This time around information has come down to us regarding the changes to character names for Zombies of the Stratosphere. While the Commando Cody show was still being developed, Republic ran into contractual problems regarding fine print that bound them to release the figure’s next storyline theatrically and not on television.
What followed was the infamous memo from an Associate Producer (some sources say Franklin Adreon) to all Republic Pictures Corporation departments regarding “Production Number 133” (The serial Zombies of the Stratosphere). That memo made clear that “Certain character names have been changed as follows: Commando Cody becomes Larry Martin (Judd Holdren); Joan Gilbert becomes Sue Davis (Aline Towne); Ted Richards becomes Bob Wilson (Wilson Wood) and Henderson becomes Steele (Craig Kelly).”
At any rate, the storyline this time involves the ruler of Mars planning to warm up his planet by taking over Earth’s orbital position around the sun. To complete that plan assorted Martian agents (including a young Leonard Nimoy himself at left) work to use H-bombs to blow our planet out of its orbit, following which Mars will move into Earth’s position, while our world dies.
Zombies of the Stratosphere featured fun Martian spacecraft, a goofy robot, “zombies” in the final chapter and an underwater entrance to the hidden lair of the interplanetary villains. The flying scenes are as repetitious as ever, but the combination of Doctor Who and Rocketeer elements keep the charm alive.
This serial was edited down to become the 1958 feature film Satan’s Satellites. Despite the future Mr. Spock’s incredibly minor supporting role recent reissues hype his appearance as if he’s a co-star!
Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953) – That pesky fine print that supposedly caused character name changes in Zombies of the Stratosphere surfaced again. Some sources claim that Republic outfoxed itself by thinking the changes to the previous serial met the requirement to release the next Commando Cody storyline theatrically.
Instead, we are told that even though each episode of Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe was self-contained and featured no cliffhangers, the contractual fine print meant the show had to first be released to theaters AS IF it was a standard 12-chapter serial.
Audiences were supposedly perplexed and put off by the lack of cliffhanging thrills at the end of each episode and the misplaced production flopped. However, with the theatrical requirement now satisfied, Republic released the 12 completed chapters as their 1955 television series, also titled Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe.
No character name changes were necessary, so Judd Holdren was called Commando Cody this time around, Aline Towne played Joan Davis for basically the third time and William Schallert, Patty Duke’s television dad, took over the role of Ted Richards. Craig Kelly assumed the role of Agent Henderson, rounding out the usual regulars. (After 3 episodes Richard Crane of Rocky Jones fame would replace Schallert as Cody’s new aide Dick Preston.)
Sadly, Republic seems to have become disenchanted with the whole Commando Cody concept after all the twists and turns, so they never bothered making any additional episodes. With the Zombies of the Stratosphere script removed to become its own serial, that left the Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe series with just 12 episodes instead of 13.
EPISODE ONE: ENEMIES OF THE UNIVERSE – This first episode introduces us to the storyline for the series. In addition, Commando Cody wears a mask when he isn’t wearing his helmet because his secret identity is even more closely guarded now. (Plus, wearing a mask would save them having to periodically give him name changes for his own safety, like they did giving him the “Larry Martin” identity as a cover after he had to abandon his “real” name Jeffrey King.)
Evil aliens from a planet presumed to be somewhere in our own solar system are trying to take over the Earth. Commando Cody uses his scientific genius to create a “cosmic dust blanket” to surround the world to prevent the aliens’ missiles from continuing to ravage the Earth. Hirelings try to sabotage the headquarters of Cody’s team with explosives.
EPISODE TWO: ATOMIC PERIL – The alien leader (Gregory Gay), called simply the Ruler, sends agents to try stealing Cody’s own spaceship (which can penetrate the dust blanket) and take all of Earth’s uranium back to the home planet.
Some of the sets, props and costumes from the earlier Commando Cody serials were reused throughout this series.
EPISODE THREE: COSMIC VENGEANCE – Commando Cody flies his spaceship to Venus to destroy a military outpost that the Ruler and his people have established there.
The Ruler plots a countermove which will cause Cody’s vessel to be destroyed by the cosmic dust blanket.
EPISODE FOUR: NIGHTMARE TYPHOON – The Ruler sends alien agents to use advanced technology that unleashes incredibly destructive storms on Earth.
Commando Cody and his aides try to locate and take down the storm agents before Earth’s leaders surrender to the Ruler.
EPISODE FIVE: WAR OF THE SPACE GIANTS – Cody and his team spring into action when the Ruler uses poisonous toxins in ray form (just go with it) to unleash lethal germs that will wipe out Earth’s population via biological warfare.
EPISODE SIX: DESTROYERS OF THE SUN – The Ruler reveals that he is on a planet outside of Earth’s solar system and plans to make our world an example for any other planets which may try to defy him. He has his scientists begin to blacken the sun and cause all life on Earth to freeze.
EPISODE SEVEN: ROBOT MONSTER FROM MARS – Using mind control rays and a Martian robot the Ruler tries to steal Commando Cody’s technical secrets so he can destroy the cosmic dust blanket protecting the Earth.
EPISODE EIGHT: THE HYDROGEN HURRICANE – The Ruler uses the title weapon to move the moon away from the Earth. This unleashes devastation on our planet, with Commando Cody and company struggling to save the world.
EPISODE NINE: SOLAR SKY RAIDERS – Commando Cody and his team try to thwart the Ruler’s latest scheme – the villain dispatches his minions to cause the sun to multiply, so that the Earth will be wiped out via the excess heat and solar radiation.
EPISODE TEN: S.O.S. ICE AGE – The Ruler uses a super-magnet to drag the Earth out of its orbit and cause it to collide with Jupiter. This unleashes intense heat on one half of the world and an ice age on the other half.
EPISODE ELEVEN: LOST IN OUTER SPACE – The Ruler and his minions lure Commando Cody to Mercury, where they plot to hijack his spaceship. Once that is accomplished they then plan to make an entire fleet of similar vessels that can slip through the cosmic dust blanket protecting the Earth, paving the way for an all-out invasion.
EPISODE TWELVE: CAPTIVES OF THE ZERO HOUR – Commando Cody decides to use some of the Ruler’s own tactics against him. He organizes a rebellion of Mercurians against the Ruler’s occupying army to force the villain out into the open for capture.
As you can guess from the above synopses, lots of stock disaster footage from old movies was used for most of the special effects in this fun but ill-fated series.
FAN FICTION – Though there’s lots of fan fiction about CommanDER Cody from Star Wars lore, there’s virtually no Commando Cody fan fiction out there, unfortunately. Hell, the titles alone of those three movies they cobbled together by editing down the serials have always teased my imagination with the kinds of stories they COULD have been. Just off the top of my head:
LOST PLANET AIRMEN (1951) – How about the “Lost Planet” in question being the planet that is theorized to have been between Mars and Jupiter and the destruction of which formed the asteroid belt? Maybe the “Airmen” from there fled that planet before its destruction long ago in a space-ark headed for ancient Earth.
And, say maybe they crash-landed in the Pacific Ocean and their suspended animation system malfunctioned, leaving them comatose for thousands of years. Meanwhile, their bio-technical spaceship fed on barnacles and other items as “fuel” to keep itself functioning.
In 1951 U.S. submarines would discover and explore it, causing the Lost Planet Airmen to awaken and begin leaving the sunken space-ark in their flying saucer-shaped aircraft to do recon work on Earthlings and raid military bases around the world.
Commando Cody and his team could get involved and save the planet from the aliens’ plans for world conquest. Lots of aerial dog-fights and ray-gun fights between Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen.
SATAN’S SATELLITES (1958) – Since the Sputnik incident happened in 1957, this could have been a campy, full-bore Cold War item. Commando Cody and his team would be called in when the Soviet Union starts using their satellites to shoot down the primitive satellites from competing nations.
As Cody used his spaceship to go into orbit and pitted his rocket-suit and ray-gun against the Soviets he would eventually learn that they got the technology for energy ray-firing satellites by plundering – NOT reverse-engineering – tech from a downed UFO from their own version of a Roswell incident.
Our hero could destroy the UFO wreckage in a “take this weapon out of the hands of the enemy” spirit. Since the Soviets could not yet replicate the aliens’ energy tech the Space Race would proceed as it did in real life from there.
THE MOON MENACE (1966) – With Retik left out and the title whittled down to simply The Moon Menace, this tale could pit Commando Cody and company against Nazi war criminals hiding in South America. Or, if you prefer, Antarctica. The unrepentant fugitives would have given up hope for any kind of Fourth Reich, so, in the ultimate scorched earth policy they would want the planet wiped out since their ugly dreams will never come true.
Cody would have to thwart their scientists’ plan involving a huge, immensely powerful magnetic/ orbit device to cause the moon to collide with the Earth. If they can’t rule the world, they want it destroyed.
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