The Rocket Man (1954)
Warning Note: Viewing This Film May Be Detrimental To Your Health (details follow)
Disambiguity Note: Not to be confused with Disney’s Rocketman (1997), which was probably pretty bad. But not as bad as this.
Don’t let the DVD cover or the cast list fool you. The DVD cover shows some guy in a space suit, holding his helmet on his hip. The cast includes genre stalwarts Anne Francis, Beverly Garland, and John Agar. But this SF film may be the least science fictional SF movie of all time.
Set in the never-never land of small town America of the mid-fifties, The Rocket Man concerns a (surprisingly female) Justice of the Peace (Spring Byington) who is surprisingly stern, unsurprisingly morally upright, unbelievably Pollyannish, and a good cook to boot. Among her many eccentricities, she apparently collects adorable orfinks from the local orphanage (at least, no one thinks it’s unusual when she takes home adorable little Timmy, played like Opie Taylor heavily ‘luded up by George “Foghorn” Wilson, but, suspiciously, no one mentions any others she may have “taken home” earlier. Hmmmm.). Coincidentally (coincidence thunders through this film like the Hand of God), right before she picks up Timmy, the orfinks had just been entertained by representatives of an apparently local tv spaceman show (I’m sure many small towns in America had their own local tv shows in the 1950’s; just part of what made America so great back then), but when it came Timmy’s turn to pick up his souvenir ray gun, they’d just run out.
Not to worry. The dude from the cover of the DVD appears (literally) and places a ray gun in the box now empty of toys. Oddly, no one notices this, but, what the hell, Timmy gets his ray gun, so everyone goes home happy.
That very afternoon, Timmy is playing with some orfink pals near the highway (never a good idea) and one of orfinks is play shot and lays down in the middle of the highway playing dead (really never a good idea). Along comes drunken lout and local political bigwig Big Bill Watkins, traveling at seventy miles an hour. It would have been blood on the highway and a closed-casket funeral, but little Timmy points his ray gun at the car and stops it inches away from squishing his pal. A cop drags the sot before the stern and incorruptible JoP, and she jugs him for ten days, despite his threats and offers of a bribe. This arouses Big Bill’s ire and plot really starts rolling.
Anyway, I’ll try to keep this short, but, Jesus, plot hijinks keep ensuing. One of the grand-motherly JoP quaint hobbies is to board young felons on parole, to give them the opportunity to go straight, which was a practice quite prevalent, I’m sure, in small town America in the 1950s (as long as the parolees weren’t Black, I’m guessing). She gets a telegram from the governor that another such jail bird is on the way and will arrive by bus on Saturday, conveniently leaving out such details as, oh, HIS NAME. This ensures further hijinks as the JoP sends her adult (and quite stunning) daughter Anne Francis, to pick him up. Who shows up but John Agar, sleepwalking his way through this one, handsome, and in a well tailored suit. Unnoticed by young Anne, another guy, much less handsome, also gets off the bus, accompanied by a young (and unblond) Beverly Garland. He’s the real parolee, of course, and though they show up at a few points later in the movie, they mainly exist to provide for more coincidence and plot shenanigans.
Anne takes John home to Mom, and after supper that night they’re on the swing on the porch (of course) talking about having kids and stuff, and John allows as to how they could have six daughters and six sons and then he’s on her like a wolf on a pork chop. So much for 1950’s sexual mores, but, hey, got to move the plot along.
In light of that, the guy from the cover of the DVD visits little Timmy that night (not in a dream, but, literally, again, appearing by his bedside as he sleeps) and tells him that his ray gun is very powerful, just like Aladdin’s lamp, and must only be used for good, not evil. Great judgment, there, Rocket Man (There are no rockets in this film.), in giving it to a seven year old.
So, of course, it turns out that John Agar is really a lawyer working for Big Bill, and he’s in town to put in a bid for the orphanage, whose lease, coincidentally, is up in the next couple of days. He plans to buy it and put it out of business and all the adorable orfinks will get sent to the State Orphanage, which, unlike the orphanage with no visible means of support in this small town, is really, really hideous.
Not to worry, says, the JoP, she’ll raise the money to top his bid and buy the orphanage herself. Alas, they are fifteen hundred dollars short. But, it’s Ed’s poker night. Ed is a portly guy (Charles Coburn) and is the town’s plumber and mayor, and has been the JoP’s suitor for the last twelve years (he always shows up for meals because she’s such a fine cook). He’ll win the money. Well, no. He loses almost all his dough, until little Timmy, watching from a window, intervenes in the last hand and gives all the other guys four of a kind and Ed a royal flush. Problem solved. Money raised, 1950’s disapproval of illegal gambling be damned.
JoP rushes to the office of something or other to put in a topping bid, but Big Bill has informed the clerk, or whoever the hell he was, of an old and obscure blue law that will not allow state property (which apparently the orphanage was all this time) to be sold a day before a municipal election, which, coincidentally, will be held the next day.
Not to worry, says Ed. He’ll fix things. They all attend the political rally of Big Bill’s Honest Party (really), even John Agar, who is back in Anne’s graces. Ultimately, she apparently couldn’t resist the lure of all that sex it would take to engender six sons and six daughters. Big Bill is in the middle of a blustery speech about electing him (for what office, actually, is never revealed) and there’ll be a chicken in every pot and America will be great again, etc, etc, and the rubes, I mean, voters are eating it up, when portly old Ed Johnson interrupts and offers an opposing viewpoint. But, damn. He’s hooted off the stage. What to do? Who will save the orfinks?
Not to worry, little Timmy is in the audience and he’s bought his gun. He shoots Big Bill and Big Bill goes on a rant all about how he’s a boozer and a dame-chaser and all that, and why he really want the orphanage. It seems that there’s oil under the orphanage’s land (the orphanage, which, remember, seems to be owned by the state). Oil. Black Gold. Texas Tea.
Well, that does it. The Honest Party is in the crapper. Apparently, the opposition party, whatever it’s called, wins. Cut to final scene, where there’s an oil derrick RIGHT ON THE FRONT LAWN of the orphanage (sure to be environmentally friendly for all the little orfinks). Where’s Timmy, someone asks. Oh, he’s on the moon. The moon, you say? Timmy suddenly appears, eating a sandwich. A green cheese sandwich. What do you think the moon is made of?, Timmy asks. Cut to guy from DVD cover, smiling and also contentedly munching a green cheese sandwich. Cue closing credits.
I had to leave out many details (such as the fact that little Timmy is accompanied near everywhere by his pet Sol, who is a giant bullfrog who is never near water during the entire movie and who, suspiciously, never moves much, if at all, during the course of the film), but you get the drift. This is SF only by the most exhaustive stretch of the imagination possible. It has SF trappings, sure, but the movie would have worked better if little Timmy actually did have Aladdin’s damn lamp. At least that would have made some sense. This movie is Capra corn on steroids and the most astonishing thing is that the screenplay was largely written by Lenny Bruce. Lenny goddamn Bruce. What was he thinking?
So, I’m sitting there, watching this at about 1:30 AM and as I’m getting towards the end of it, I’m feeling queasy. I soldier on, nonetheless, but ultimately have to pause it, because I’m really not feeling well. I suddenly realize that I’m hypoglycemic. I check my blood sugar, and, it’s really, really low, which is totally weird because I’d checked it just a couple of hours before and it was fine. This film has literally sucked all the sugar out of my blood stream like some kind of diabetic vampire, maybe to add to its already sky-high saccharin content. You’ve been warned.
The Rocket Man gets a 2 on my 1-10 scale, and a “2″ is not on the high end.
Amazon: The Rocket Man on DVD