155. Manhunt in Space (1956)
Director: Hollingsworth Morse
Writer: Arthur Hoerl
From: Cult Cinema
Rocky Jones and the United Worlds must thwart the plans of the evil Cleolanta and her interstellar pirates.
The second compiled serial movie for the weekend, this is three episodes of the TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger cut together into a feature-length presentation. Whereas Shadow of Chinatown was downright manic with its plot, this is glacially slow. So much so that it pauses in the middle for Rocky’s sidekick, Winky, yes, “Winky,” to sing a little song.
There’s not a whole lot of plot to relate. Space pirates hijack a ship carrying Rocky’s girlfriend which leads to Rocky not only saving her but uncovering the larger plot. Eventually he goes to the planet where the pirates are striking from, uses experimental “cold light” technology to make his ship invisible, and defeats the villains. THE END.
I’ll admit to not watching this one very closely. In fact, I watched the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version (avaible on Vol. XIV), and even then I drifted off periodically and didn’t bother rewinding. There’s not a whole lot here to engage with.
I mentioned in the last post that I didn’t like Star Wars: Episode IV because it stays too close to the style of the serials that it’s an homage to, but the reason Star Wars, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon work and Rocky Jones doesn’t is the scale of the imagination. Patton Oswalt, in Talking for Clapping, refers to Star Wars as a “realm,” a space he could fall into and learn everything about. Not only did the Star Wars universe, through its presentation, invite people in, but there was a universe there to explore. While people may criticize the prequels (which is fair—they’re bad movies), they are evidence of that very scope of the universe. The prequels get into the political minutia of the setting, an impulse familiar to anyone who’s gone deep into Tolkien or played a long-running Dungeons & Dragons campaign. The adventure and spectacle is what draw people in, then the obsession and attention leads to a detailing of every element.
Rocky Jones doesn’t have any adventure, it’s just the politics, and not even interesting politics at that. There aren’t strange alien species for him to interact with, odd cultures and technologies for him to encounter, he’s just a bureaucrat making sure trade routes remain unclogged. He’s the rough-and-tumble, two-fisted traffic reporter giving you updates on the eights. There’s no adventure here.
And if you think I’m being unfair to the movie, there’s actually so little going on that despite the movie being the perfect length to play unedited in MST3k, they still cut it down, put an episode of General Hospital before it, and used their first host segment to make fun of that instead of the movie. Paste Magazine ranks this as the 143rd of 177 MST3k episodes, noting that compiled movies like this are very rarely good ideas. Even they, though, get it wrong by saying the movie is composed of two episodes of Rocky Jones instead of three. That’s how little happened here: even after editing the edited version of three episodes, it was still read as two bloated episodes.
Wikipedia says the movie is in the public domain, but I’ve found records for it on copyright.gov, so it’s definitely not. Not that much is lost. It’s easily found if you’re desperate to see it, but I’d recommend the MST3k version instead. That looks to be officially out-of-print at the moment, but the episode is streaming on Amazon and easy enough to find otherwise.