Crash of Moons (1954)
Rocky Jones and his fearless Rangers save untold millions from certain death!
This is a full-length movie culled from three episodes of the Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, a kids' sci-fi adventure television series from 1954. This was a three-episode story arc from July of the first season in 1954. The movie itself was finished later in the 1950s, and very possibly was only shown on television.
Crash of Moons was directed by Hollingsworth Morse, who also helmed all 39 television episodes of Rocky Jones. Morse would go on to direct some classic television series, including Flipper, McHale's Navy, The Fall Guy and The Dukes of Hazard. Truly, his body of directorial work has to rank near the top of all time, though few people today probably know his name.
I will be using a 2005 Brentwood DVD for this review, presented in black and white and running just 72 minutes long. The film quality is fairly good, and the sound is strong and clear, very nice for such a low-budget movie. All in all an enjoyable film to watch with a bag of Baked Lays and a Fresca.
And now on to our show...
Ok, first off, I have never seen a single episode of Rocky Jones the series, so my review will be based solely on this movie and nothing else. From what I've seen here, it doesn't look like I've missed much by not seeing the series.
Hmmm...I have a video camera, not a good one, but serviceable. I also have a sewing machine, a box of nuts and bolts and some super glue. Further, I have about fifteen bucks cash and there's a Wal-Mart just down the road. With all of this, and a free afternoon without the kids, I could easily recreate all the sets and costumes seen in Crash of Moons. I think that's about all I need to say about the quality of the props and sets.
Our story takes place in deep space, in a time far in the future when the galaxy has been largely explored and colonized by man. Peace and security are assured by the presence of Rocky Jones and his Space Rangers, a sort of interplanetary police force for the United Worlds, a galaxy-spanning sphere of influence centered on Earth. With a force of spiffy rocket ships and ray guns, Rocky and his Rangers save the day on countless occasions.
We open on the planet Ophesus, where Rocky is involved in contentious negotiations with Cleolanta, iron-fisted dictator/queen of this world. Along with Rocky are his flaming gay co-pilot Winky and bumbling diplomat Drake, who is "Secretary of Space" for the United Worlds. Cleolanta is a total bitch throughout this entire movie, arrogant and blustering, always sparring with Rocky and threatening his death. Cleolanta ends these talks by telling Rocky he has an hour to get the hell off her planet or she will blast them. So Rocky and his two associates leave in their spaceship. [Editor Pam: It looks as though this "special effect" was created by moving a cardboard cutout of a spaceship over a drawing of some mountains.]
Space Ranger Rocky Jones, here and in all the television episodes, is played by 36-year old Richard Crane. Crane was a well-traveled actor in the 1940s and 50s, appearing in a lot of movies during WWII when many other stars were in the service. For my tastes, his most notable role might be Captain Harding from 1951's Mysterious Island. He's a rather unassuming looking man, with a slight build and unremarkable features. Not exactly what one would expect from a leading man, but he's not up against much competition in this movie. It took me several watchings to determine that he looks most like Brad Sherwood from the insanely funny Who's Line is it Anyway? . Rocky, and all the Rangers, wear a standard uniform of a dark jacket, t-shirt and tights with a stripe down the legs. I will resist any and all comparisons to Captain Kirk.
Queen Cleolanta is played by sultry 23-year old Patsy Parsons, a voluptuous and attractive girl, made more so by her sneering and bitching...I have strange tastes, I know. In this scene wears a low cut outfit that shows off some seriously impressive cleavage.
Queen Cleolanta (yum!).
Ok, this two minute scene can either be totally blown off or it can be carefully listened to. Cleolanta admonishes them for "landing on my planet without my permission". To which Rocky and Drake seem actually indignant, despite this clear breach of diplomatic protocol. How would they like it if some alien race just landed on Earth without even announcing themselves? They'd be pissed for sure, and maybe even start shooting. So the movie wants us to roll our eyes at Cleolanta the Imperious Bitch Queen, but her reactions seem perfectly reasonable considering the circumstances. Hmm...and I wonder if Ophesus is a veiled anti-communist poke? Considering the political climate at the time (1954) I wouldn't doubt it.
And why are Rocky and Drake here anyway? They say they are here to, I guess, pressure Ophesus into joining the United Worlds. They say it's for their own good, that the United Worlds can offer them many benefits. That may be true, but it sure seems like the UW are the bullies on the street who just assume that every planet in the galaxy wants to join with them. Hmm...nothing like America and the rest of the free world, eh?
Back aboard their spaceship, co-pilot Winky begins to complain about Cleolanta' rudeness. Drake agrees with Winky's complaints, he just can't understand why anyone would not want to be in the United Worlds and goosestep along with Rocky and his friends.
Winky is played by 25-year old Scotty Beckett. Beckett was a child actor, playing Scotty on The Little Rascals from 1934 to 36, and acting in an amazing 77 movies before the age of 18. Following Rocky Jones, however, something happened to his career and he ended up overdosing on drugs in 1968. [Editor Pam: It seems that Scotty Beckett had to be replaced by another actor for later episodes of the series because he was in jail for carrying a concealed weapon. He seems to have gotten into a lot of trouble over the years.] The Winky character is the show's requisite comedic relief and token gay dude, but his attempts at humor are flat even for 1954. I wanted to kill him every time he opened his mouth. There is also a weird dynamic between Rocky and Winky here. As the clear leader of the Rangers, Rocky gives the orders, but Winky almost always delays before complying. Rocky will say "Winky, turn off the engines." and Winky will stare over at him with this look that either says "You pompous pretty boy, I should have gotten the lead role, not you." or "I refuse to be your yes-man, you jerk, so I'm going to pause noticeably before doing what you ask of me."
Ascot-wearing Secretary of Space Drake is a tall, fine-looking older man, who seems pained that he has to wear these silly costumes and blabber on so. Throughout this movie he is forced to say some of the lamest lines and laugh at Winky's inane jokes.
Rocky's spaceship is a fairly typical 1950s design, called the XV-2 Orbit Jet. It's basically a needle-nosed ICBM with two sets of tapering fins, one in front and one near the rocket nozzles. Inside, there's a control room and an attached lounge and navigation station. If this is a one-off custom job or the standard Space Ranger ship is unknown. The interior sets for the Orbit Jet appear to be made of cardboard and plywood, with desks and office chairs covered with "spacey looking" widgets and gadgets. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about the bland sets and if you didn't know it was a spaceship interior, you'd think it was just a house on the ground. The "navigation table" is especially funny, with complex orbital calculations made with little more than a pencil and a plastic ruler on a paper map.
The Orbit Jet!
Over now to Deep Space Station DS-9...er, OW-9. The optical effects here are stunning, with the space station looking nothing like a steering wheel from a 1952 Buick, painted silver with some extra doodads glued on the post. Really. Aboard the station are three friends and associates of Rocky, all regulars from the series. These are the lovely Vena Ray, the smartyhead Professor Newton and the annoying kid Bobby. Vena, Newton and Bobby talk to Rocky over the radio. It seems that they traveled all the way out to the station from Earth because they wanted to meet old friends who live on one of the "Gypsy Moons". It seems these moons wander through the galaxy as a pair, and soon they are going to pass real close to the station. They want to chat with their friends as they pass, catch up on the news and the baseball scores and all that. The moons are named Nagato and Poseeta (I guessed on the spellings), and their friends live on Poseeta.
The perky Vena Ray is played by 31-year old Sally Mansfield. I must say, that for a 1950s television actress, she is rather hot. The curled and gelled haircut has to go, but she has a very pretty face and a lilting sexy voice. She's terribly overdressed for her role here, wearing a short dress, black boots and a satin cape! Who is Vena, anyway? Is she Rocky's lover, sister, what? Nothing in this movie suggests any chemistry between her and anyone else.
Vena Ray (yummy!).
Professor Newton is, like, 70-years old. Maybe it was scripted this way, or maybe the actor was just really old, but the Newton character is borderline senile in this movie. He plays an alleged smartyhead scientist, but he seems well past his prime, and makes at least one critical error that nearly gets them all killed. He's a good-natured old man, however, and gets some lengthy dialogue at times.
Little Bobby is about 10-years old or so and plays the role of Annoying Child Sidekick, predating the demonic Kennys of Godzilla and Gamera fame by several years. Thank God he doesn't wear pedophile microshorts like the Kennys! Since this series was made for kids, it's no surprise that Bobby gets way more screen time than his role deserves. Who is this kid? Is he Rocky's son? Little brother? A Ranger-in-training? Some orphan they rescued from the slime monster of Regulus IV? I'm sure they explained this in the series. Where are his parents? [Editor Pam: My extensive research on the Internet, which took all of three minutes, suggests that the series never did explain who Bobby was and why he was there. I imagine the makers wanted a child in the series, since it appears to have been aimed at children about Bobby's age, and they couldn't come up with a reasonable explanation as to why members of a police force/military organization would be hauling a child around with them.]
Back to the story. The problem is that the two wandering moons are plotted to pass one on either side of the station! This is bad as the "atmosphere chain" between the two moons will mangle the station, which is not designed for such stresses. The station has no attitude controls of its own and has no capability to relocate or affect the paths of the moons. Sitting duck, in other words. It also has no means of saving the crew in event of an emergency, no space lifeboats, no ejection pods, nothing. There aren't even any spaceships currently at the station to get the crew to safety.
They Gypsy Moons are a'comin'!
The transport ship TR-14 from Earth that dropped off Vena, Newton and Bobby left a while ago, but they make an effort to try and call it back to evacuate the station. They can't make contact, however, and they are now running out of options. Rocky's Orbit Jet is too far away, and even though he's speeding as fast as he can, it looks like the moons will win this race.
The whole idea of the Gypsy Moons is preposterous. They want us to believe that these two celestial bodies are wandering around the galaxy following a virtually random path. And what sort of repulsor effect keeps the one with the lesser mass and gravity from merging with the larger one? They are shocked to learn that they put their space station right in their paths, and later are equally shocked with they are headed for another planet, suggesting that either this is the first time the Gypsy Moons have come through this galaxy or that the Space Rangers have no way to calculate orbital paths. Since all their astrophysics and navigation instruments seem to be cardboard boxes placed on tables with knobs and switches duct taped onto them, I can see how they wouldn't be able to track the moons.
We leave this "tense drama" for a bit to go to the surface of Poseeta, one of the aforementioned Gypsy Moons, to visit the friends that our heroes came to chat with. The people we meet here are a married couple and their toddler son, and I think that the man is the "king" of this moon. We see that their child has a problem, he seems to cry uncontrollably for no reason at odd times. As the father of a 3-year old and a 2-month old, I can sympathize with these parents. The baby is shown in close-ups as what appears to be a stock footage child (!), all live action shots have the baby completely wrapped up in a blanket to hide the fact that it's a doll.
King Bavarro is the dad, and is played by 44-year old John Banner. Banner will forever be remembered as the clueless Sergeant Schultz on Hogan's Heroes, but he had a long and varied career in both movies and television. He's apparently a big-time San Diego Chargers fan as his house and his costume are adorned with numerous lightning bolts. That's cool, San Diego is a great city, best weather in the world and lots of pretty girls sunning themselves along the Silver Strand. Not too bad a football team either, nice to see Drew Brees really shine in his contract year like that. If they could just get some decent help on the offensive line, and maybe some lock-down corners, they could compete in a weak division. 12-4 last year was a fluke, their schedule this season is brutal. Money is on 8-8, maybe 9-7 at best. Hmm...wait, I think I'm supposed to be doing a movie review here.
Potanda is the mom, a quite tall woman who wears a sexy short dress, with high heels even, and has the firm muscular legs of a dancer.
Potanda, the tall hottie there in the middle.
So the station OW-9 is now in serious trouble. Caught in the atmosphere chain, it's buffeted severely. Inside, the actors stumble around as the camera jiggles. Ancient Newton just stays in his chair holding onto the desk while gritting his teeth, he's too old to be lurching around like that. At the last minute, Rocky races in to save the station, maneuvering the Orbit Jet into the station's docking port despite the wild rocking and rolling. The docking complete, Rocky opens the throttles on the Orbit Jet, using the thrust to push the station out of the atmosphere chain.
The optical effect of the station in the atmosphere chain is laughable, the model shaken on its string in front of a back-projection of a stock footage rolling volcanic eruption (Vesuvius in 1944?) and flashes of lightning. And just how powerful are the engines on the Orbit Jet? That close to both moons, you'd think that there would be a substantial amount of gravitational attraction to overcome.
Anyway, that crisis over, Rocky Jones and crew visit the moon Poseeta, landing their ship near the home of Bavarro and family. Hmmm...awful bright on the surface of the moon considering how distant they are from the sun. They exchange warm greetings and catch up a bit, the girls hugging and googooing over the baby. It seems that Rocky and his crew haven't been to Poseeta in several years (or at least an indefinite length of time). The baby is about two-years old, and their reactions suggest that they haven't seen him yet. Further, Rocky and Potanda never really greet each other, which is a little strange. And that baby looks a bit like Rocky in the face...You, know, I think Rocky banged Potanda the last time he was here and that baby is his!!!! Damn, maybe he's more like Captain Kirk than I thought.
Rocky drops the bomb on Bavarro, telling him that his moon is destined to smack into the planet Ophesus and be atomized. They checked and double checked the figures and there is no doubt about it. Bavarro is shocked and disbelieving, of course, but agrees to Rocky's suggestions for a drastic course of action. Bavarro and Drake will go over to the other moon, Nagato, to arrange for refugees to move over there. Rocky and Winky will go to Ophesus again to try and warn Queen Cleolanta about the approaching danger. Newton, Vena and Bobby will stay here at the house with Potanda and the baby.
"No, Bobby, you can't touch them."
We go back to the planet Ophesus for a bit, were we meet Queen Cleolanta's right-hand man Atlasan and his wife Trinka. These two have a very dysfunctional marriage, he's a yes-man for Cleolanta and Trinka is strong-willed and independent, causing frequent and often violent arguments. Trinka is also a member of the "underground" and she has an "astrophone" in her room that she uses to listen to messages from off-world. Astrophone? Didn't they realize that radio waves travel through space in 1954?
The Atlasan character was a semi-regular on the Rocky Jones series and the movies made from those episodes. Harry Lauter was the consummate television actor, appearing in a stunning 240 episodes of various shows. He also appeared in 159 different movies over a 42-year career. For my particular tastes, he's best known for playing General Winthrop in 1971's Escape From the Planet of the Apes and Drake in 1958's Missile Monsters.
Atlasan, there on the left with Cleolante.
The actress playing Trinka, Nan Leslie, once dated Gene Autry, which might be her best claim to fame. She's not an especially attractive woman, and the only female cast member who doesn't wear a mini-skirt. She's a much better actress than the rest of them, however.
Rocky and Winky have by now arrived at Ophesus, where they stand off and attempt to radio the populace of the planet about the danger. Trinka picks up the message on her astrophone and is appalled. Before she can do anything, however, her husband Atlasan catches her and accuses her of being a "traitor" for having the forbidden receiver. This is a bad, bad marriage. Atlasan totally sells out his own wife without even waiting to hear her side of the story. He drags her off to Cleolanta, even though it will probably mean her death. These people need Doctor Phil.
Not receiving any reply, Rocky again lands the Orbit Jet on Ophesus without permission. They are nearly shot down by defensive fire, but are saved when Trinka pulls a gun on Atlasan, preventing him from shooting any more. Trinka is then hauled off to a cell, her husband decrying her as a rotten traitor. The "special effect" for the attack on the Orbit Jet is hilarious. A firecracker is hung on fishing line near the Orbit Jet model and set off. I seriously could duplicate that effect in five minutes using just my kitchen table and some Elmer's glue. Also note the quick insert shot where Rocky and Winky react to the explosion. Rocky jerks sharply in his chair on the mark, but Winky barely moves! Winky must have ice water in his veins...
Once landed, Rocky and Winky break into the city, pushing past and around the laughably weak security. They force Queen Cleolanta to listen to their warning. In these scenes, we see a total of three Ophesus security guards. Cleolanta, despite the dire circumstances, locks Rocky and Winky in a cell and knocks them out with sedative gas. She then plots with Atlasan to fly to Poseeta and destroy it with missiles, saving Ophesus. Wow, Cleolanta is truly a sadistic bitch! She's perfectly willing to sacrifice the entire population of Poseeta for her own planet's safety. Well, I guess that's what I'd expect from my queen, however, to look out for my people first. Better one moon destroyed than two, right? And she does kind of have a point, it's not Ophesus' fault that the collision is going to take place, they are the ones being rammed.
Before they take off, Atlasan goes to see Trinka, wracked with guilt for branding his wife as a traitor. He tells her that he is going with Cleolanta in her spaceship to destroy the rogue moon. Trinka begs him to either warn the people of Poseeta or let Rocky Jones go and do it. Atlasan is reluctant to directly help, but he does unlock Trinka's cell so she can do it herself. When Atlasan goes to see his wife in the cell, note that his sidearm is missing, the empty holster fairly obvious. Why? Did Cleolanta disarm him after he let Trinka steal his gun earlier? Did the prop master just forget to give it to him before the scene?
Atlasan and Cleolanta now take off in their spaceship, headed for Poseeta. Cleolanta's ship is a 1940s design, looking like an overly simplified V-1 rocket. It apparently has a crew of just two (Cleolanta and Atlasan) and is armed with missiles. I suspect, with Cleolanta being so xenophobic, this might be the only spaceship on the planet. The control room set for Cleolanta's ship is a simple redress of the Orbit Jet set. The desks and chairs are the same, just the camera angle and the frame around the door in the background has been changed a bit.
Trinka sneaks out of her cell and into the other, reviving Rocky and Winky from the gas. She tells them about Cleolanta's evil plan and they make their break out of the city. Along the way, they have to fight several guards. They have to knock out three guards (the same three extras that we saw earlier when they landed) which they do in some of the lamest fight scenes ever filmed. DVD slo-mo shows that punches miss by eight inches at least and kicks are "walked into" more than delivered. Rocky is oh-so-not Captain Kirk, because not once did he rip his shirt or launch the patented Shatner Double-Leg Flying Kick. And Kirk would have banged Trinka five minutes after they first met.
Cleolanta has a head start on them, however, and she starts bombarding Poseeta with "Tritantic missiles". Down on the moon's surface there is bedlam as explosions rock the city and people run for cover. The little baby is taken by Vena and Bobby to an underground shelter, while Newton and Potanda hunker down in the ruins of the palace. Hmm...I hope they plan on hitting Poseeta with millions of those little missiles, otherwise I don't see how they are going to "destroy the moon" any time soon.
Rocky's Orbit Jet now arrives on the scene, charging up from behind. He disables the Ophesusian ship with a single missile and orders them to stand down. Atlasan has a not-unexpected change of heart when he hears Trinka aboard the Orbit Jet and agrees to stop the battle. He ties up Cleolanta (!) and apologizes to Trinka. Wow, when Cleolanta gets loose, I sure hope she immediately has Atlasan executed for this treasonous mutiny.
The Orbit Jet then lands on Poseeta and they go to rescue their friends. Everyone is fine, though a bit frazzled. Notice that when Rocky runs into the damaged palace, his first words are not "Where is Vena, Bobby or Newton or Bavarro?" but "Where is the baby?" His concern for the child above all else perhaps proves that the little guy is Rocky's alien love seed!
Oh, yeah, that's Rocky's spawn right there.
So they evacuate Poseeta to Nagato, flying over in "shuttles" that look like chromo-keyed A-4 Skyhawks superimposed on the planet's surface. Cleolanta is brought down to Poseeta by a tractor beam and given a lecture by Drake about the value of life and the transient nature of land and country, blah blah blah. As this scene starts, watch Vena in the background as she misses the cue, still smoothing out her dress before realizing the camera is rolling.
The new plan is, once Poseeta is evacuated completely, Rocky will go up in Cleolanta's ship and try and destroy the empty moon with the missiles. This they try, but as we could have told them, the little missiles have absolutely no effect on Poseeta. Well, that sucks. Now they have to evacuate Ophesus and just let the two bodies collide. Since there is only one spaceship apparently owned by the planet, they will have to have outside help.
A fleet of United Worlds spaceships lands on Ophesus. These are duplicated and superimposed shots of the Orbit Jet and the TR-14 transport rocket. So, I guess that Rocky's ship is the standard model for the Ranges after all. As the first ship lands, a desperate mob of locals tries to storm the control room. They are talked down by Trinka, of all people, who assures everyone that the UW will get everyone to safety.
Queen Cleolanta, meanwhile, is still raging about the injustice of it all. She laments the loss of her planet and is sure that her people will now be scattered across the galaxy like the Lost Tribes of Israel. This issue is never resolved at movie's end and we can only assume that, indeed, they disbanded as a people. Once exposed to other cultures and governments, I doubt that many Ophesusians would want to return to rule by the autocratic Cleolanta anyway.
"Rocky, you magnificent bastard, when will you realize my hidden love for you?"
Once the population is off, they all watch from space as Poseeta collides with Ophesus, exploding both in a big puff of sparks and smoke. The ending scene hints that Cleolanta has perhaps finally realized that being nice does pay. Or something like that, I really wasn't paying attention at this point. Rocky smirks and laughs as the credits roll, another day saved by our hero.
The end, thanks for reading.
Too bad for Nagato, all the fragments of the two destroyed bodies so close surely rained down on Nagato in a never-ending extinction level event of death and destruction. Ok, I'm sure that last part didn't happen, but it should have.
[Editor Pam: I can't bring myself to be too hard on this movie. The sets are bargain-basement cheap and designed with incredible corniness, as with the lightning-bolt motif of Poseeta, and the special effects wouldn't fool a four-year-old. Not only that, but the plot is nothing but worn-out cliches. Still, the Rocky Jones series was designed strictly for small children, ones young enough so that everything about the show probably seemed original to them. TV shows in the early 1950s mostly had small budgets anyway, so I'm sure that by the standards of its time, "Rocky Jones" wasn't too bad. The movie at least escapes the blatant commercialism of so many children's shows, then and now. And none of the actors were Oscar candidates, but anybody who could look at those cardboard sets, wear those ridiculous costumes, and say those hoky lines, all the time keeping a straight face, deserves some credit. I'd have to say that although the movie's aspirations were pretty limited, it did meet them successfully. I really can't recommend the movie to anybody much older than seven, though, unless it's being watched as an example of what TV was like in 1954.]
Written in May 2005 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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