King of the Rocket Men’s first chapter, Dr. Vulcan – Traitor, opens with the mysterious Dr. Vulcan killing off members of the scientific establishment. The first couple just die in mysterious explosions, but the third has Dr. Vulcan taunting him with his impending doom. So far, not a great villain. Director Brannon rushes through the sequences, showing them from Vulcan’s lab, not the victim’s perspective. It removes most of the tension.
The chapter then goes into some setup. Mae Clarke is a reporter for a science magazine. She’s trying to get to the bottom of the suspicious deaths (no one knows about Dr. Vulcan because all his targets have died). Tristram Coffin is the science organization’s troubleshooter, who thinks there’s something to the Dr. Vulcan business.
There are a bunch of other scientists, any of whom might be Dr. Vulcan. It makes sense since Dr. Vulcan sends some thugs to search Coffin’s office. Coffin finds them and proves some scientists can throw a punch.
The fight scene isn’t bad at all, it’s just really long. Brannon doesn’t do much with composition and the editors don’t do much with the cuts, but the choreography isn’t bad.
Afterwards, Coffin goes and picks up a rocket suit from one of Dr. Vulcan’s presumed victims (James Craven), who actually survived. Only Coffin knows.
Cue another fight scene, this time with Brannon overpowered (and his security guard shockingly useless).
But then Dr. Vulcan goes somewhere unexpected. Coffin suits up in the jet pack and takes off to save the day. The thugs have stolen an experimental rocket.
The flying effects are solid enough–a dummy run on pulleys doubles for the flying Rocket Man–and Vulcan gets some real tension to carry it through the last few minutes.
It’s not off to a superb start, but it’s far better than expected. Coffin’s a durable, somewhat unexpected lead. No one else makes an impression yet.
Directed by Fred C. Brannon; written by Royal K. Cole, William Lively, and Sol Shor; director of photography, Ellis W. Carter; edited by Cliff Bell Sr. and Sam Starr; music by Stanley Wilson; released by Republic Pictures.
Starring Tristram Coffin (Jeffrey King), Mae Clarke (Glenda Thomas), Don Haggerty (Tony Dirken), House Peters Jr. (Burt Winslow), James Craven (Prof. Millard), I. Stanford Jolley (Prof. Bryant), Ted Adams (Prof. Conway), and Stanley Price (Prof. Von Strum).