Monday, February 4, 2013
THE ROCKET MAN (1954)
Lenny Bruce? Well, sort of. It's before Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet and John Agar as he transitions from Shadow of The Duke to fighting monsters. And Bruce was only brought in to punch up a weary script by Jack Henley, the scribe behind some of the Ma and Pa Kettle things...
...and it shows. The world of The Rocket Man is aggressively provincial. Everyone is chirpy in that Eisenhower-era sort of way and a boy can still get away pointing a gun at a politician and no one bats an eye.
The gun is a raygun, slipped to froggy-voiced seven-year-old Timmy (George 'Foghorn' Winslow) by some teleportin' space perv. I mean, look at this guy eyeballing Timmy outside the orphanage:
No reason given why Rocket Man gives a child a raygun. Must have been bored.
Then Timmy is temporarily signed out of the orphanage by the matronly Justice of the Peace (Spring Byington) to stay over at her house in order to set up some narrative nonsense about saving the orphanage from a crooked pol's landgrab. Agar drops by on some business for the sleazy pol, but is charmed out of participating in the scheme by Anne Francis. Every rare now and then Timmy points the raygun at things, but 95% of the running time is spent on domestic matters.
A raygun in the hands of an orphan in Mayberry, RFD has some dynamite potential but the film can't be bothered. The high concept is lost in all the unrelated subplots. Basically, the MacGuffin-with-cheese just gets used to wrap things up in the end, albeit pulling double duty as a deux ex machina. And although Lenny was called in to to polish some gags, aside from occasional Daddy-O phrasing you wouldn't know it.
Granted, it's a kids film, cranked out to make a matinee dime and then discarded. But I'm guessing there were more than a few of the target demographic pretty unhappy with the bait-n-switch. The film couldn't afford even a half-assed rocket for the eponymous dude. He just appears in a puff of smoke, pulls his Smiling Bob face and then disappears. But then, its cheapness is also sort of endearing. Shot in someone's house and surrounding Bible Belt burg, it has a nice paint peeling clutter to it...
I suspect the producers were so tight they even had the actors use their own cars. I wonder how many kids they went through...
But, no...this is not some forgotten gem. It's kind of a chore, especially if you go in expecting some Bruce satire to creep in (although he might have gotten away with a stealth STD joke). But as a snapshot of 1954 and how sci-fi was still regarded, it's interesting.