Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Cult-TV Flashbak: Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: "Escape into Space" (1954)

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger is a space adventure TV series from before my time. 

It aired in 1954, some fifteen years or so before I was even born. But that means that the syndicated TV show (which ultimately aired some 3-dozen episodes...) also pre-dated Doctor Who in the UK by nine years and Star Trek in the USA by twelve years.

So, I think it's more than fair to state that Rocky Jones is a genre pioneer (and I also put Space Patrol and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet) in that category.)

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger chronicles the adventures of a well-muscled, straight arrow hero named -- you guessed it -- Rocky Jones (Richard Crane) who captains an XP-2 class rocket called an "Orbit Jet." His co-pilot is a whisper-thin sidekick-type named Winky (Scotty Beckett), and occasionally Rocky takes a pseudo-girlfriend, Vena (Sally Mansfield) and a kid named Bobby (Robert Lyden) on his voyages. 

A bulwark of decency and honor in space, Rocky takes his orders from the "Secretary of Space" Drake (Charles Meredith).

In the episode "Escape into Space," a criminal named Truck Harmon (known for trafficking the dangerous 'tarantula weed') and his buddy, Lawson, go an "unlicensed flight" in a space ranger rocketship. In our language, that means they steal it. You see, Harmon has committed many crimes on Earth, but none in space, and so -- according to the space ranger guidebook -- he can't be arrested in space.

Drake assigns Rocky Jones and the orbit jet to pursue Harmon, and it isn't long before they locate him. Turns out Harmon's ship flew through a meteor shower and has been badly damaged. There is "air seepage" aboard, and Harmon kills Lawson to preserve his air supply. 

Harmon is taken into custody by Rocky, but lies about Lawson's death. He says it was a tragic accident. With no evidence to support a charge of murder, Rocky must allow the nefarious Harmon to leave the nearby moon of Fornax a free man...

But that sticks in Rocky's craw. Still what can he do? As Rocky says, "We can't go against the laws of freedom and immunity." Fortunately, little Bobby has the answer. He's been teaching the pagan natives of Fornax about Earth holidays, and Halloween is coming up. And hey, Truck Harmon is a superstitious guy, so Rocky and Winky decide to confront him with "the ghost of Lawson," and make him confess to murder.

"Your confession of a crime in space is a one-way ticket to Earth!" Rocky declares after getting the goods on Harmon, in this episode directed by Hollingsworth Morse and shot by Walter Strenge.

Okay, Rocky, but isn't that entrapment? Isn't that against space ranger laws too?

Once upon a time, Rocky Jones was the Captain Kirk of his day! A stolid, law-abiding, fair-minded hero who wears a uniform, in this case one that consists of a ball-cap, and an insignia-ed white short-sleeve T-shirt. 

But still, Rocky was out there in the "black" early (along with Buzz Corry and Tom Corbett and Rod Brown...), and I'm sure that a generation grew up loving him and his adventures. He espouses unambiguous, core American values (of the 1950s) and there's no angst or brooding anywhere. 

Of course, that means there's very little character-depth too, but this was a show for kids, and it made outer space look as exciting as The Wild West: all fisticuffs, alien savages, and damsels in distress. The attitude may be "gee whiz," but today - sometimes - our pop culture can overdose on the "dark."

Today, we look at the Orbit Jet's technology, the TV-set "visiographs" and cucumber-like(!) walkie-talkies, and are tempted to laugh at the oddities. 

But once, long ago - in the 1950s - this was cutting edge stuff. And truth be told, the Orbit Jet still looks awfully cool today. I wouldn't mind taking a spin aboard her...

No comments:

Post a Comment