Zombies of the Stratosphere (Republic Studios, 1952) was intended as the second serial featuring "new hero" Commando Cody and the third 12-chapter serial featuring the rocket-powered flying suit introduced in King of the Rocket Men (1949). Instead, the hero is "Larry Martin", preventing Martian invaders from using a hydrogen bomb to blow Earth away from the Sun so that Mars can take its orbital place. The director was Fred C. Brannon, with screenplay by Ronald Davidson and special effects by the Lydecker brothers. The serial is remembered today as one of the first appearances of a young Leonard Nimoy, who plays one of the three Martian invaders, Narab. In 1958 a feature film called Satan's Satellites was made by re-editing footage from this serial.
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 and Earth can have Mars's old orbit, with a hydrogen bomb being used to blow Earth away from the Sun.
As in Radar Men from the Moon (also 1952), most screen time is expended on fist fights between the heroes and a gang of crooks hired by Narab and his extraterrestrial colleague Marex to steal and stockpile supplies needed for construction of the H-bomb.
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, but 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 Rocketman outfit, seen first in this serial, is a huge two-way radio about the size of a lunchbox that Larry Martin wears hanging heavily from his belt when dressed in the flying suit. This radio is also seen in some stills of Cody in the flying suit in Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe. As most flying sequences are reused stock footage from earlier Rocketman serials, the radio usually disappears when Cody is in flight. Martin also uses an ordinary police revolver instead of the ray gun favored by Cody in earlier and later appearances.
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. It was filmed between April 14, and May 1, 1952. At seventeen days this is the joint-shortest, with King of the Carnival, 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 hot-water heater), 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 color Roy Rogers film. It is also heavily padded with footage from King of the Rocket Men, to which this was a pseudo-sequel. However, although this serial has Martians as the villains, they are not the version shown in the earlier 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 effects team. The flying effects, using a dummy running along a wire, were first used in the Darkest Africa (1936) and Adventures of Captain Marvel (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 editing the serial footage together, was released on March 28, 1958, under the new title Satan's Satellites. It was one of fourteen feature films Republic made from their serials.
Zombies of the Stratosphere was one of two Republic serials to be colorized for television in the 1990s.
The serial was released in original black and white, on 2 videodiscs by The Roan Group in 1991 (full length); by Republic Pictures Home Video in 1995 in USA on VHS (93 minutes, colorized); as a 2-DVD set by Cheezy Flicks Entertainment in 2009 (full length, black-and-white).
Critics and viewers found the serial to be relatively dull and unimaginative, not as interesting as even the somewhat tedious Radar Men from the Moon. The use of stock footage from earlier serials is not quite as overwhelming as it was in the earlier or later Cody outings, as greater emphasis is placed on fistfights than scenes with the rocket suit. Holdren's performance is often stiff and amateurish, especially when compared to the smooth professionalism of the old Republic pros who surround him on screen. Cline describes this serial as just a "quickie."
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),