Zombies of the Stratosphere is a 1952 black-and-white Republic Studios serial that was intended to be their second featuring "new hero" Commando Cody and the third 12-chapter serial featuring the rocket-powered flying jacket and helmet introduced in King of the Rocket Men (1949). Instead, for reasons unknown, the hero was renamed "Larry Martin," who must prevent Martian invaders from using a hydrogen bomb to blow Earth out of its orbit, away from the Sun, so that Mars can take its position. As in Radar Men from the Moon (also released in 1952), most of the screen time for each of the dozen chapters is spent on fistfights and car chases between the heroes and a gang of crooks hired by Narab and his extraterrestrial colleague Marex to steal and stockpile the Atomic supplies needed for construction of the H-bomb.
The serial was directed director by Fred C. Brannon, with a screenplay by Ronald Davidson, and the special effects by Republic's Lydecker brothers. The serial is remembered today as one of the first screen appearances of a young Leonard Nimoy, who plays one of the three Martian invaders, Narab. In 1958, a feature film version of this serial, retitled Satan's Satellites, was made by editing down the serial's footage to feature film length.
Larry Martin (Judd Holdren) a leader in the Inter-Planetary Patrol, detects a rocket coming to Earth. He flies in his rocket gear to investigate and finds two Marian invaders, Marex (Lane Bradford) and Narab (Leonard Nimoy). Since Mars is too far from the Sun and its ecology is dying, the Martian invaders want to swap Earth's and Mars' orbits, so Mars will be closer to the Sun. They plan on doing this by using hydrogen bomb plans stolen from Earth scientists.
Finding they have an accomplice in the form of Dr Harding (Stanley Waxman), they set up an base in a cave that can only be reached underwater. Larry, the Rocket Man, is able to find out what their plans are. In the end, the Martian plot fails thanks to the efforts of the Rocket Man, aided by his associates Sue Davis (Aline Towne) and Bob Wilson (Wilson Wood).
The Zombie Vanguard (20min),
Battle of the Rockets (13min 20s),
Undersea Agents (13min 20s),
Contraband Cargo (13min 20s),
The Iron Executioner (13min 20s),
Murder Mine (13min 20s),
Death on the Waterfront (13min 20s),
Hostage for Murder (13min 20s),
The Human Torpedo (13min 20s),
Flying Gas Chamber (13min 20s) - a re-cap chapter,
Man vs. Monster (13min 20s),
Tomb of the Traitors (13min 20s),
Judd Holdren as Larry Martin,
Aline Towne as Sue Davis,
Wilson Wood as Bob Wilson,
Lane Bradford as Marex,
Stanley Waxman as Dr Harding,
John Crawford as Roth,
Craig Kelly as Mr Steele,
Ray Boyle as Shane,
Leonard Nimoy as Narab,
Just as filming began on this serial, the name of the hero was changed from Commando Cody to Larry Martin, as played by Judd Holdren, who had previously played TV hero Captain Video in a 1951 Columbia Pictures chapterplay; he retains all the same sidekicks, high-tech props and laboratory facilities that Commando Cody had in the previous serial, Radar Men from the Moon.
An addition to the Rocket Man back-pack and helmet, used for the first time in this serial, is a two-way radio about the size of a lunchbox; Larry Martin wears it hanging heavily from his belt when dressed for flying. This radio is also seen in some stills of Cody in Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe. As most flying sequences are reused stock footage from earlier Rocket Man serials, the radio usually disappears when Commando Cody is in flight. Martin also uses an ordinary police revolver instead of the ray gun favored by Cody in earlier and later serials.
Zombies of the Stratosphere was budgeted at $172,838, although the final negative cost was $176,357 (a $3,519, or 2%, overspend). It was the cheapest Republic serial of 1952 and was filmed between April 14, and May 1, 1952. At seventeen days, this is tied with King of the Carnival for the shortest filming period of all Republic serials. The serial's production number was 1933.
Zombies of the Stratosphere reuses the "Republic Robot" (somewhat resembling a walking silvery hot-water heater with two ribbed arms that terminate in pincers), along with stock footage of it in action (such as the Bank Robbery by Robot scene from Mysterious Doctor Satan) and black-and-white footage from a Republic full color Roy Rogers film. The serial is also heavily padded with footage from their King of the Rocket Men (1949), to which this is a pseudo-sequel. Although the Zombies serial has Martians as the villains, they are not the same Martians as shown in the earlier Republic serial The Purple Monster Strikes. The Robot was first seen in Undersea Kingdom (1936) and prominently featured in Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940).
Dale Van Sickel as Larry Martin (doubling Judd Holdren),
All the special effects in Zombies of the Stratosphere were produced by the Lydecker brothers, Republic's in-house physical and model effects team. Their flying effects, using a dummy running along a wire, were first used in Republic's Darkest Africa (1936) and with greater impact in their Adventures of Captain Marvel serial (1941).
Zombies of the Stratosphere 's official release date is July 16, 1952, although this is actually the date the sixth chapter was made available to film exchanges. This was followed by a re-release of Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc., re-titled as Dick Tracy vs. Phantom Empire, instead of a new serial. The next new serial, Jungle Drums of Africa, followed in 1953.
A 70-minute feature film version, created by heavily editing down the serial footage, was released on March 28, 1958, under the new title Satan's Satellites. It was one of 14 feature films Republic later converted from their large catalog of serials.
Zombies of the Stratosphere was one of two Republic serials later colorized for 1990s television broadcast.
Home video releases:
During 1991, the serial was released in original full length and black-and-white on two videodiscs from The Roan Group; in 1995 by Republic Pictures Home Video in the U.S. on VHS edited to 93 minutes and colorized; as a 2-DVD set from Cheezy Flicks Entertainment in 2009 at full length and original black-and-white.
Critics and viewers found the serial to be relatively dull and unimaginative, not as interesting as Radar Men from the Moon. The use of stock footage from earlier serials is not quite as overwhelming as seen in the earlier or later Cody outings, as greater emphasis is placed on fistfights rather than scenes using the rocket back-pack. Holdren's performance is often stiff and amateurish, especially when compared to the professionalism of the old Republic pros who surround him on screen. Cline describes this serial as just a "quickie."
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