Friday, September 3, 2010

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger : Crash of the Moons (1954)

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger is a syndicated science fiction television serial originally broadcast in 1954. The show lasted for only two seasons and, though syndicated sporadically, dropped into obscurity. But because it was recorded on film rather than being broadcast live as were most other TV space operas of the day, it has survived in reasonably good condition. The film format also allowed more elaborate special effects and sets, exterior scenes and much better continuity. The program was aimed mainly at children, so the plots were simple and always involved good versus evil and Rocky Jones outsmarting or outfighting the bad guys. By today's standards for television science fiction, the Rocky Jones serials seem crude and simplistic. But for its time, years before humans first journeyed into space, the sets, props, and optical effects were remarkably well done. Indeed, many of the effects that became standard sci-fi fare, such as the forward view screen and automatically opening doors were seen first on Rocky Jones.

The show was based on the exploits of clean-cut, square-jawed Rocky Jones, the best known of the Space Rangers. These were Earth-based space policemen who patrolled the United Worlds of the Solar System in the not-too-distant future. Rocky and his crew would routinely blast-off in a V-2-like chemically-fueled, upright rocketship, the Orbit Jet XV-2, or later the nearly identical Silver Moon XV-3, on missions to moons and planetoids where the odds of success seemed remote yet they would always prevail. Although they might destroy a rocketship full of unseen bad guys, their space pistols were never fired at people, and conflicts were always resolved with fist fights, as was typical of family fare at the time. Although many strange worlds were visited, the alien characters usually spoke English and always appeared as normal humans, albeit in bizarre costumes and environments. The script-writers did not appear to know the difference between planets, moons, stars and constellations, so that the specific locations Rocky and his sidekicks visited are generally unknown to astronomers. Half hour episodes were usually grouped into stories that consisted of three 'chapters' that were broadcast on successive weeks. A few of the stories were complete in one episode

Rocky Jones was the creation of Roland D. Reed, a Hollywood producer best known for his successful My Little Margie series. Roland Reed Productions was founded in 1950 and in 1951 Warren Wilson penned the screenplay for the Rocky Jones pilot. By the end of 1951 a cast had been selected, headed by square-jawed leading man Richard Crane as Rocky Jones and one time Our Gang member Scotty Beckett as Rocky’s co-pilot and comic relief, Winky. The pilot was shot between January and April 1952 with the titles and effects shots being prepared in March of that year. Post-production was completed in May. The pilot was screened on September 29, 1952. Although the premise showed potential, several characters were recast, including Vena Ray and Secretary Drake. With the new cast finally in place and screenplays prepared for the first 26 episodes, filming began in October 1953 and continued until April 1954. An all out merchandising blitz began during this time. Wrist watches, wallets complete with space dollars, badges, buttons, records and clothing were produced to promote the show. A Rocky Jones, Space Ranger comic book was issued by Charlton. Issues 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the ongoing title Space Adventures are devoted to Rocky's adventures. Rocky, Winky, Vena, Bobby and Cleolanthe appear prominently. The largest sponsor was the Gordon Baking Company, makers of Silvercup Bread, the original sponsor of the Lone Ranger radio and television series.
The series finally premiered the week of Monday, February 22, 1954 at various days and times on stations across the United States. Unfortunately, off screen issues began almost immediately. In February 1954 Scotty Beckett was arrested for possessing a weapon after being implicated in an armed robbery at the Cavalier Hotel in Hollywood, CA. After posting bail he fled to Mexico where he encountered more problems for writing bad checks and more weapons charges. After a gun battle with local police he was incarcerated for four months and did not return to the United States until September 1954. By then the character of Winky was written out of the show, replaced by Biffen Cardoza (James Lydon). After filming of the initial 26 episodes ended, Maurice Cass died of a heart attack on June 8, 1954. An additional 13 episodes were ordered, and filming took place between August and October 1954. Lydon continued to play Biffen Cardoza, and Professor Newton was replaced by Professor Marberry (Reginald Sheffield), while regular villainess Cleolanthe, Suzerain of Ophiuchius (Patsy Parsons) was replaced by Juliandra, Suzerain of Herculon (Ann Robinson). No further episodes were ordered, and the series ended after 39 episodes. Thirty-nine 30 minute episodes were filmed and shown over the period starting in February, 1954 into January, 1955, depending on the local market schedule. Thirty six of these were grouped into 12 three-chapter 30 minute stories, and three were complete in one 30 minute episode each. Most of the three-chapter stories were edited into feature length films for television. This is one of those films,

Crash of the Moons
 Rocky Jones (Richard Crane) zooms into action with a life-and-death mission in "Crash of the Moons", a feature-length presentation of a three-part story from the TV series, "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger." Two inhabited planets locked in constant orbit are dealt a lethal fate when astronomers predict that they will collide with one another, ultimately destroying both civilizations! Rocky and his team must race against time to save the lives of their respective citizens, while trying to persuade Cleolanta, an arrogant dictator of one of the "moons," to cooperate with their rescue efforts. The non-stop thrills make this an exciting adventure for all ages. "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger," which aired on NBC during the 1954-55 season and was subsequently syndicated, is distinguished for being the first space TV show shot entirely on film. The out-of-this-world hemline of Rocky's assistant Vena Ray (Sally Mansfield), excellent special effects and the theremin-heavy theme song have helped it to retain its enduring cult status.

72 MIN

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