Blu-ray Review: Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe

When I signed up to review this release my only knowledge of the titular Commando Cody was the Mystery Science Theater 3000 shorts. However, those are based on Radar Men from the Moon which was released in 1952 and starred George Wallace. Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe saw Judd Holdren dawning the Commando’s iconic helmet and was released theatrically as a serial a year later in 1953. It wouldn’t air on TV until 1955.

From what I read, the series (12 episodes) was filmed in two parts with a large break in-between, the first 3 episodes were produced then after the break episodes 4-12. There is a very obvious tonal difference between these episodes. Most noticeably William Schallert who plays Ted Richards (played by William Bakewell in Radar Men) is replaced by Dick Preston (Richard Crane) who takes on much more of a comic relief role, with each episode ending with him cracking a joke. Aline Towne, who plays Joan Gilbert, is the only main character to appear in both series and be played by the same actor.

The other big change is the introduction of Baylor, The Ruler’s lead henchman on earth (more on The Ruler later). Baylor is played by Lyle Talbot, which should excite all the Ed Wood fans out there. He played General Roberts in Plan 9 from Outer Space. The last big difference is that the first 3 episodes tell a full story that ends with The Ruler’s potential death. While the last 9 are much more episodic with The Ruler coming up with a new way to destroy the planet and Commando Cody and his team stopping him.

Enough with the history lesson already, so who are these characters? Commando Cody, simply Commando to his friends, is a masked super-scientist with a space ship and a cardboard looking space mask, that he uses to fly around and save the day. He is paired with Joan and Ted (later Dick) who assist Commando in thwarting the evil Ruler (Gregory Gaye). The Ruler is an alien who likes to enslave planets. He is constantly coming up with new ways to threaten all life on earth and it’s up to Commando Cody and crew to save the day! Towards the end The Ruler gets frustrated with being thwarted so many times and simply resorts to trying to destroy the planet. I guess he’d rather destroy what he can’t control.

Being this was a very low budget 50s sci-fi serial, the sets and special effects are pretty bad. Most of The Ruler’s plans involve changing the weather which allows for the use of copious amounts of stock footage. For an alien bent on enslaving or destroying the earth, he sure seems to have a lot of earthlings for henchmen. Men who seem to blindly follow any crazy scheme The Ruler thinks up. Only once does one The Ruler’s alien soldiers question him. When The Ruler’s plan is to crash the Moon into Earth, one of the men on the Moon who are working to knock it out of it’s rotation with a series of explosions meekly asks “You are going to get us off this think before it hits Earth, aren’t you?” This might have been my favorite line in the whole series.

I’m sure in the 1950s this was some pretty exciting stuff. Lots of explosions, lots of poorly choreographed fights, and laser gun shoot outs, but it’s no wonder the previous installment was picked to be MST3K fodder, and I wonder why they never got around to these ones. I’m sure watching one a week or something like that could be fun, but binge watching all 12 episodes to get this review done became a bit of a grueling endurance trial. I’m not going to lie, I did sleep through a couple of them.

All-in-All, this is an interesting time capsule of simpler time in sci-fi entertainment. If you grew up on Commando Cody then I’m sure there is some level of nostalgia attached that makes it more endearing, but for the most part these episodes are boring and silly.

The show is presented in 1.37:1 and Mono sound. For a low budget 50s production, this blu-ray transfer actually looks pretty fantastic. Stock footage never looked so good.

There are no special features.

Twelve episodes was a lot to cram into only a couple viewings, but I wanted to get this review done quickly. There were some fun moments, and while I do appreciate bad 50s entertainment, see above for my love of Ed Wood, but Commando Cody just doesn’t quite make the cut. Maybe if they’d made it a bad movie instead of a bad serial I would have enjoyed it more. I’m sure there are fans of this series out there. Are you one of them?

Olive Films presents Commando Cody: Sky Marhsal of the Universe. Written by Ronald Davidson and Barry Shipman. Directed by Harry Keller, Franklin Adreon and Fred C. Brannon. Starring: Judd Holdren, Aline Towne, William Schallert, Richard Grane, Gregory Gaye and Lyle Talbot. Running time: 361 min. on two discs. Rating: Not Rated. Released on Blu-Ray: September 13, 2016.

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