I was talking with @freakazoid through our secret backchannel today about the film Forbidden Planet.
It's one of those movies I always go back to (and I adore the poster, a t-shirt of which should arrive in my home any day now.)
Unlike a lot of the other movies that I shill, Forbidden Planet is actually a well crafted film. It's not a perfect movie, but I like it a lot.
Coming away from this discussion, I got to thinking about all the other Space Media from the 50s that's out there.
(This is a thread. The rest of the posts will be unlisted.)
So, Forbidden Planet is a reasonably serious film targeted squarely at adults.
But it shares it's DNA with a bunch of significantly less serious things targeted at kids.
Specifically Space Patrol, Tom Corbet Space Cadet, Flash Godordon, Rocky Jones Space Ranger, Captain Video, Buck Rogers, Captain Z-Ro, and others.
Buck and Flash predate the rest by about 20 years, and are about a turn of the century american fighting Asian people/aliens in the future. They're less important to this discussion that the other shows mentioned, but I'll reference them a few times, so I figured I might as well include them.
Of the remaining shows, they fit pretty nicely in to two groups:
Weird After-school pseudo-educational filler (Captain Video, Captain Zero) and rip-offs Robert Heinlen's Space Cadet (and of one another) (Space Patrol, Tom Corbet, Rocky Jones.)
I'm going to focus on the Space Cadet rip offs for a bit, but we'll get to the others soon.
Space Cadet, the novel, was released in 1948. I haven't read it, but it's pretty easy to guess at the plot:
- Someone from a small town enroles in some form of Space Academy
- We follow them as they struggle to graduate from the academy
- Disaster strikes and is averted
- We see them on to their first mission as an officer
- Disaster strikes again, and is averted, again.
Importantly, though, the story was written for young adults, and features a YA protag.
This book has a lot in common with other juvinile space fiction, such as Rip Foster Rides the Grey Planet, which I have read and enjoyed.
It also served as the inspiration for Tom Corbet, Space Cadet, Space Patrol, and the rest.
The basic idea of these shows was to follow a kid in the space academy as they worked missions in space with a training officer.
Rocky Jones deviates from the formula a bit, casting Rocky as an established hero, but still sticking him with a cadet to train.
Imagine Star Trek, if Star Trek was all about Kirk's years as a cadet on a training vessel, and not about the enterprise.
Now imagine it done live, on basically no budget, in the 1950s.
That's the best part about these shows, IMO.
They were entirely live affairs.
5 or 6 TV episodes plus 1 - 2 radio episodes a week, for 4+ years for Tom Corbet, just as many for Space Patrol.
A lot of those episodes have been lost, less than 300 of the several thousand broadcast remain, and those only as low quality telecines.
Doesn't matter, still a lot of fun.
Rocky Jones Space Ranger has the distinction of being the only show of these that was shot on film, so it was the most well preserved.
It also had the fewest number of episodes, and some of the silliest acting and plots.
Here, have an episode: https://peertube.mastodon.host/videos/watch/6d4118fd-a43f-4bdc-841d-41ece785891f
IF you like it (and I do, so I expect some of you will too) you can find more on Archive.org, or in the bargain bin at the local megamart.
(I'll get the rest of the episodes up on peertube as soon as I figure out which DVD set has the highest picture quality.
Eventually, I'll almost certainly buy some of the crappy DVDs that are floating around of the other similar shows as well, and rip and post them.
This is all public domain material, after all.)
These space shows were Very Popular.
So Popular that, when one network lost the rights to Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (although it might as well have been Space Patrol, the shows are almost identical. It doesn't really matter) they created Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers.
Which was such a rip off of one (both?) of the other shows, including featuring a lot of the same crew, that CBS was sued over it, and the show was taken off the air, and has never surfaced again.
Everyone wanted in on that action, though.
So there was a new Flash Gordon show and a new Buck Rogers show, too.
The Buck Rogers show has been lost, but you can find most of the Flash Gordon show floating around the internet: https://archive.org/details/FlashGordon-StruggleToTheEnd-1955
These reboots were very much intended to cash in on the success of Space Patrol and Tom Corbet Space Cadet.
The Flash Gordon show re-works Flash in to a Rocky Jones/Commander Corey style character. I'm surprised they didn't give him a teen sidekick.
They stand n pretty stark contrast to the earlier (1930s and 40s!) Flash Grodon and Buck Rogers film serials, which had more in common with fantasy than science fiction.
(They are also great. I'll talk about them in a minute.)
I mentioned briefly that there were also Radio Shows.
These have been more well preserved than the TV shows.
Tom Corbet - https://archive.org/details/SpaceCadet2
Space Patrol - https://archive.org/details/OTRR_Space_Patrol_Singles
And there were other radio shows, like Dantro the Planet man - https://archive.org/details/OTRR_Planet_Man_Ver2_Singles
as well as various several Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon radio shows.
Now, I should specify at this point that these shows are pretty dated.
In addition to looking ugly, and being full of advertisments for products that often don't exist any more, and being fairly frequently sexist and occasionally racist, these shows also feature the kind of square jawed writing and acting that you really only find in the fifties.
They're fun, if you don't think about them too closely. And they make sense, and are entertaining.
Unlike some of the other shows I mentioned.
(you thought I forgot about the captains, didn't you?)
Captain Video and Captain Z-Ro...
Alright, it's not fair to put them together, even though I have.
I'm going to talk about Captain Video first, and then we'll get in to Z-Ro.
Captain Video debuted in 1949.
It's *old* and dated in ways that I can't really even explain.
It's almost entirely lost.
Even if it wasn't, it barely makes sense.
Captain Video and His Video Rangers "rockets from planet to planet."
This was extra live, and extra cheap, and extra sloppy.
We had barely figured out how to make TV.
But it was super popular.
It makes Tom Corbett and Space Patrol look well made.
Captain Z-Ro is another animal entirely.
According to wikipedia, Z-Ro is "an American children's television show that ran locally on KRON in San Francisco and KTTV in Los Angeles, from November 1951 through 1953, and was later nationally syndicated in the United States, [...] Modeled on the science fiction space operas popular at the time (cf. Captain Video and Space Patrol), it featured sets and costumes emulating the futuristic designs of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.
That's right. this is a local show. The others had national budgets, this one did not.
Another thing that set it apart is that Z-ro traveled in Time, not in space.
The episodes were supposed to be educational.
Because the show was syndicated, a lot of the later episodes survive: https://archive.org/details/CaptainZ-Ro
This show isn't Bad, exactly, but it's not nearly as fun as TCSC or Space Patrol or Rocky Jones, IMO
Anyway, if this stuff interests you, this website (archived from an old earhlink site) has info on basically all of these shows except the big two: https://web.archive.org/web/20041011133155/http://home.earthlink.net:80/~joesarno/tvscifi/index.htm
I learned a lot from that site.
Oh. I said i'd talk about the early serials.
There's a lot to say there. Probably more than there is tos ay about this early space TV stuff.
But also it's just a tangentially related thing, so I'm going to just touch on it briefly.
Before TV was a thing, film serials were the closest thing to TV that existed. Short, cheap, weakly movies that told a continuous story through heavy use of cliffhangers.
Everyone got a cliffhanger, Captain Marvel, Superman, The Shadow, the Spider, Batman, The green hornet, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Commando Cody (The Sky Marshal of the Universe), Dick Tracey, Captain America.
So man #CliffhangerSerials were made that it feels like a shame to just talk about the small number of space operas
(Especially because the space operas were really secondary for that genre, which was farm more comfortale with having singing cowyboys fight robots from under the planet, I'm not making this up. It's called The Phantom Empire and it's wonderful.
At any rate, If you watch the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, you'll notice something.
They look and feel a lot like Star Wars.
Star Trek took it's inspiration directly from the military scifi of the 50s, from the Space Cadet style shows.
Star Wars was all Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, right down to the sword fights.
The early Flash Gordon serials have some of the prettiest special effects shots to come out of the 30s and 40s.
But these are stories that are largely about how Asian looking people are evil, so ... you know, that's not great.
Flash Gordon Conquers the universe is on Archive.org. I can't vouch for video quality, as I haven't seen this one yet: https://archive.org/details/flash_gordon1
But if we're going to talk abuout film Serials, we really have to talk about #Judex.
Judex is a french silent film serial from 1916. It's based on a series of pulp novels, and is basically the template for the modern super hero (Judex informed The Shadow who Directly inspired Bat-Man.)
366 weird movies did a good writeup on the serial: http://366weirdmovies.com/judex-1916/
the entire thing is on Wikimedia, and I started uploading it to Archive.org (I should finish that sometime)
There are lots of film serials, though.
- King of the Rocket Men/Radar Men from the Moon, etc.
- Captain Marvel
- The Green Hornet
- The Phantom Empire
But there are dozens and many of them are very good and worth watching.