Ever since buying a few cheap DVDs from Madacy in the late 90's I've
been very leary of public domain releases. They're very hit or
miss as far as quality goes, more often miss than hit. I've
purchased or received review copies of films where the video quality in
literally unwatchable or several minutes are missing from the
narrative. (Not edited out, but just missing... I remember one
film where two people were talking in a cafe and then there's a
mid-sentence jump cut to a scene many minutes later.) When I had
the chance to review Mill Creek's
Classic Sci-Fi TV - 150 Episodes collection it was with a bit of
trepidation that I took the assignment. The fact that this set
contains some great shows that I would love to have in my collection
was the deciding factor. There are some very rare shows contained
in this set such as a 1958 Hammer produced pilot for a weekly horror
show Tales of Frankenstien,
nearly a complete collection of Captain
Z-RO, a nearly forgotted 50's SF show, two different pilots
based on the pulp hero The Shadow, an early Christopher Lee appearance,
Gene Autry's first staring role in the genre-blending serial the Phantom Empire (all 12 chapters are
included) as well as a dozen episodes of Flash Gordon, episodes of Rocky Jones Space Ranger, Lights Out, One Step Beyond, and the list goes
on and on. Though the A/V quality is mediocre for most of the
set, there are some standout shows that look and sound great and none
of them are so bad as to be unwatchable. When all is said and
done, Mill Creek has put out quite an impressive and worthwhile set.
Disc One - Flash Gordon (1954)
- 12 episodes:
Based on the popular comic
strip, this show only lasted a
single season, which is a little surprising. Though the production
very low, they weren't significantly inferior to some of the other SF
the time that gained more fame.
Oddly enough, this was an international co-production with
German, French, and US companies picking up the tab.
It was filmed in West Berlin and Marseilles,
and it's interesting to see these cities so shortly after the
WWII. There were still many bombed out
buildings to be seen in the background and it actually gave the show a
Though the characters are the same, the show departs from
the Alex Raymond strip in a lot of ways.
In this show Flash, Dale, and Dr. Zarkov are agents of the
Bureau of Investigation and travel the universe battling evil doers in
space ship the Sky Flash.
The scripts are good and the program is a lot of fun.
The episodes included on this disc are (though not in this
Episode 1: Planet of
5. Akim the Terrible
6. The Claim Jumpers
8. The Breath of
10. Return of the Androids
17. Lure of Light
19. Race Against Time
20. The Witch of
21. The Brain Machine
22. Struggle to the
25. The Forbidden
And continued on Disc Two:
36. Deadline at Noon
39. The Subworld Revenge (The last episodes)
Space Angel (1962):
Set in the not too distant future, this SF children's program
centers around Scott McCloud who is secretly the effeminate sounding Space
Angel. He commands the space ship
Starduster which is manned by Taurus, the mechanic with an unbelievable
accent, and Crystal the navigator/ science expert.
On Earth is Dr. Mace, Crystal's father and
the inventor of many of the gadgets that McCloud uses.
He's available for a quick video-phone call
when things get tight and always has the answer to any problems the
The program was presented in
color, and was the second show
to come from Cambria Productions. The
company is best known for their so-bad-its-good 'cartoon' Clutch Cargo. That
show was only a cartoon in the most
basic sense. There was almost no
animation at all. Instead of having to
do to the cost and expense of animating lip movements, the lips of the
actors were superimposed over the static facial images (using the
patented Synchro-Vox technique.) Actor's
hands would be filmed turning dials and opening doors, cardboard
slide across the frame to illustrate movement and cigar smoke was blown
front of the camera lens to create fog.
Space Angel uses the same
technique, but the people at
Cambria improved the technique significantly after their experiences
First and foremost they added make-up around
the actor's lips to match the color of the drawn characters. The jarring, surreal white lips of Clutch
were replaced with something that at least matched.
They also de-emphasized the technique to a
large extent, rarely showing the moving lips in close up.
The final improvement was that they used the
technique sparingly. The person talking
was often facing away from the camera or had his mouth covered by a
Initially run from 1962-64, this shows was surprisingly
sophisticated given the time constraints and audience.
The stories incorporated some real science on
occasion (when landing on a planet in one episode, the crew leaves the
ship in orbit and takes a lander down to the planet, a pretty advanced
1962) and the plots, while simple, never talked down to children. The characters used futuristic terms
realistically, as if they've been using them for years and never just
term "space" in front of a word to make it sound advanced.
Many SF shows at this time felt the need to
define all of the terms in the same sentence that lead to awkward and
unrealistic lines like "Hand me the space wrench, a tool that can open
stuck hatch in an instant!" Space
Angel gets kudos for avoiding such muck.
This was a syndicated show, and each story was comprised of
five episodes each running five-minutes.
Stations could show one a day Monday through Friday or group
together and program them as a half-hour block.
The stories presented here are stitched together into 30 minute
without the credits interrupting every few minutes.
The stories included in this set are:
Scratch One Chimp
They Went That Away
The Light Barrier
Expedition to a New Moon,
The Donovan Plan
Visitor from Outer Space
The set only has a single episode from this 1950's hour-long
series, but what an episode: Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde adapted by Gore Vidal and staring Michael Rennie (The Day the Earth
Stood Still). Broadcast live, this
kinescope is a great addition to anyone's SF TV collection.
The Star and the Story (1955):
The first episode of this ½ hour long drama is included, a
story called The Dark Stranger staring
Edmond O'Brien (The Barefoot Contessa
for which he won an Oscar and the Film Noir classic D.O.A.) In
this thriller O'Brien plays a writer who
specializes in crime stories, but his fiction starts to ring true when
latest book starts to be played out, and he's in the role of the
Disc Three and Four:
Captain Z-RO (1955):
Like Flash Gordon, this was a very low budget Sci-Fi show
that I really enjoyed. Located in a hidden laboratory somewhere on
Captain Z-Ro (pronounced "Zero") conducted "experiments in time and
space!" Though it was a SF show, the
stories had a historical content, like early episodes of Doctor Who. In
most cases Captain Z-RO would locate some
nefarious plot in the distant past and go back in time to help the good
guys. He saves the Pony Express from a
rival stagecoach firm, helps get the Magna Carta signed, and they even
certain thief to escape from a trap set by the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Occasionally the shows would
have a more typical SF theme,
such as when Z-RO invents a robot to explore the planet Mercury. Unfortunately a lightning strike right at the
minute of transportation sends the robot to San Francisco instead of
planet and scrambles its electronic brain in the process. Much of the
taken up watching the robot walk around SF and occasionally causing
Though the production values were very low (it looks like it was filmed
someone's decorated garage) the show had a lot of spirit and was fun to
This disc presents 24 or the 26 episodes of this show.
1: Christopher Columbus
2: Daniel Boone
3: Marco Polo
4: Benedict Arnold
5: King John
7: Pony Express
8: William Tell
9: Roger the Robot
10: Blackbeard the Pirate
11: Attila the Hun
12: Robin Hood
13: Washington and Howe
15: Hernando Cortez
16: Molly Pitcher
17: Discovery of Gold
20: Aztec Papers
21: Genghis Kahn
22: The Great Pyramid
23: Leonardo DaVinci
24: William the Conqueror
25: Adventure in Space
26: King Alfred
The main reason I wanted to review this set is for the shows
on this disc. There is a wonderful
compilation of very rare shows and pilots, many that I had only heard
about but never seen.
Here Comes Tobor (1956):
This is the pilot for a proposed TV series based on the movie Tobor the
Great. It was created by the same
production company, Dudley Pictures, and many of the people who worked
film contributed to this episode. The
only person to appear in the movie and the series is the robot himself,
they carried the themes from the film over to the small screen. The large and powerful robot is controlled
psychically by a small boy, and in this episode they have to rescue an
submarine that has been taken over by the enemy. It's
corny but a lot of fun, sort of like the
Tales of Frankenstein (1958): This is
another rare pilot that I had seen
still from, but never the whole show. It
was created by Hammer Films, and ironically featured a monster that
lot like Universal's Frankenstein monster.
A terminally ill man and his wife
travel to Dr. Frankenstein
in search of his help. He's the only one
who could possibly save the young man's life.
Unfortunately the doctor has other plans. He
needs a fresh, young brain for his
creation, and if he just waits for a short while, the man who came
aid will provide it.
This was a great show!
It had an eerie atmosphere that was very reminiscent of the best
Universal horror moves an intriguing plot that painted Dr. Frankenstein
wonderfully evil light. After reading
about this show in Famous Monsters decades ago, I was glad to finally
chance to see it and very happy that it lived up to my expectations.
The Shadow - The Invisible Avenger (1958): This
pilot tried to bring the popular pulp
hero to the small screen, but failed.
Running at about an hour, I'm sure it's the only two episodes
filmed stitched together to make a B-level film. In
this story Lamont Cranston (Richard Derr)
and his mystic teacher Jogendra (Mark Daniels) head to New Orleans to
missing friend. While there they stumble
upon a plot to kill the leader of a rebellion against a South American
dictator. There's some good jazz
in this film, and Derr did a good job as Cranston, but the story was
and there were more than a few plot holes.
Overall this is a nice curiosity.
Clutch Cargo (1959) - This cartoon, if you can call it that,
is famous for taking limited animation to a whole new level. There is virtually no traditional cell
this show; instead human mouths are superimposed over drawn faces to
their speech. A program that has gone
down in history as the absolutely worst looking cartoon ever, it's
here is good for a laugh. You really
have to see it to believe it.
In the adventure presented here, Operation
Spinner, and the dog Paddlefoot pilot a rocket to the moon in order to
lucrative rocket contract for one of their friends.
Johnny Jupiter (1953) - This is from the show's second incarnation
that was broadcast on ABC (the first Johnny Jupiter was on the Dumont
and though the creative cast was the same, the premise was altered
significantly.) In this version Ernest
P. Duckweather (Wright King) is a young inventor who works at the
hardware store. While tinkering in his
lab one day, he manages to contact creatures (puppets) on the planet
Johnny Jupiter, Major Domo, and Reject the Robot.
This was more of a sitcom than a SF show. In
the single episode presented here
Duckweather has to convince the host of a popular radio show to give a
to a local civics group. The host
agrees, but when Duckweather finds out the man wants a $1000 fee, he
as the famous speaker and goes on himself.
The creatures from Jupiter play a minor role, giving Ernest
he needs it. Though the jokes weren't
funny and the puppets pretty lame even for the time, it was an
Your Jeweler's Showcase:
Operation E.S.P. (1952) - This is fun (and rare) program that
Sheldon Leonard (Nick the bartender from It's
a Wonderful Life) as Hardwick Harris.
Harris is a hobo, riding the rails from location to location,
Christmas Eve, no matter where he is, the local post office will have a
delivery letter for him containing $50.
This year the sheriff finds it a little strange that Harris
know the name of the city he's in and yet has mail waiting. He runs him in, in a bid to keep his freedom
Hardwick tells the story of a short order cook in a diner he once met
see into the future.
This is a very fun and cute tale with a few good laughs.
Yes, it's easy to see the ending way in
advance, but just getting there is most of the fun.
Thriller - The Return of Andrew
Bentley (1961): Richard Matheson adapts a
story by August
Derleth in this excellent installment of the program that was hosted by
Karloff. John Newland stars as Ellis
Corbett, a man summoned by his eccentric uncle.
The man promises to leave Corbett his house, estate, and vast
if, and only if, Ellis will check his tomb every day and make sure it
been opened. Ellis agrees, and that
evening his uncle takes his own life.
That's when Ellis' troubles begin as a black magician and his
familiar are trying to steal his uncle's body for nefarious purposes. Dark, moody, and suspenseful, this episode is
one of the best installments of Thriller
The Shadow (1955):
Another pilot for a Shadow TV show that never took off. Not quite as enjoyable as the 1958 version on
this disc, but still fun. This time Lamont Cranston is a psychologist
retainer with the police department.
Along with his girlfriend Margo Lane, Cranston investigates the
murder. In this case a woman answers the
door and is murdered. Her boyfriend is
the prime suspect, but Lamont thinks something strange is going on.
This was a more standard police mystery with the Shadow only
adding to it a bit. A good tyr, but one
destined to fail.
Destination Space (1959):
In this pilot Harry Townes plays Jim Benedict the engineer who
and designed America's first space station.
When a solar flair causes significant damage to the station,
to travel back to Earth to fight congress for funds to keep the station
This is one of those shows where you have to wonder what
they were thinking. After a short but
exciting opening when the station gets damaged, the next 20 minutes are
watching Benedict trying to convince congressmen how important the
station is. Terribly boring and drawn
out, it's no surprise that this wasn't picked up.
Stamp Day for Superman (1954): The cast
and crew of The Adventures of
Superman donated their services to the US Government for this
adventure. Lois is kidnapped and held by
jewel thieves and it's up to Superman to save her and get to a high
time for his appearance to sell US Saving Stamps.
Disc Six: One
An unlucky 13-episodes from this
anthology series hosted by
John Newland that explored the paranormal.
Each story, supposedly true, revolves around a ghost or some
ability. This was never my favorite show
and seeing these episodes once again reminds me why:
The stories are pretty poor and the only
thing that makes them interesting is the implication that they really
wild coincidences make for poor drama, and
if you have a hard time swallowing that psychic abilities really exist,
not a lot that this show offers.
The episodes are:
The Sorcerer (with Christopher Lee... a small bit of footage
seems to be missing)
House of the Dead
The Stone Cutter
Bride Possessed (the first episode)
The Burning Girl
Forest of the Night
Where are They
Discs Seven and Eight:
Rocky Jones Space Ranger 23 episodes (1954):
There is a good chunk of Rocky's
adventures presented here,
23 out of the 39 filmed episodes. Set in
the year 2054, Rocky, his co-pilot Winky (played by the tragic actor
Our Gang star Scotty Beckett,
later replaced by James Lydon (as Biff) when
Beckett fled the country to avoid a weapons charge) and his pals Vena,
Professor Newton and Bobby fly through space in their rocket ship
Earth from the evil mechanizations of villains such as Queen Cleolanthe
Ophiuchus who alternately wanted to kill Rocky and mate with him, and
Space Ranger Griff.
This show is a lot like Space Patrol. The stories are simple but fun and while the
scripts won't win any awards the program does bring out the kid in you. The special effects are actually quite good
for a low budget show from the 50s too.
My only regret is that all 39 episodes weren't included in this
There is a bug in the lower right hand corner, consisting of
the Rocky Jones logo. Presumably this is
to cover the source of the video.
The episodes included are:
Beyond the Curtain of Space Episodes 1-3 (where Rocky first
meets Vena, Professor Newton and Bobby)
Escape into Space
Pirate of Prah 1-3
Crash of the Moons 1-3
Silver Needle in the Sky 1-3
The Forbidden Moon 1-3
Bobby's Comet 1-3
Rockey's Odyssey 1-3
Kip's Private War
Empire Episodes 1-12 (Complete):
The three of the last four discs all contain movie
serials. While these aren't technically
TV shows, I'm not going to split hairs.
The Phantom Empire is not the best serial to ever come out of
(that honor arguably goes to The Adventures of Captain Marvel) but it
is one of
my all-time favorites. This Mascot
serial has it all, I guess they figured if they threw in everything
the kitchen sink everyone would be happy.
As it is, the serial is a mess but a fun mess.
Gene Autry stars as himself in
his first staring role. He's the
half-owner of Radio Ranch and has to
broadcast a daily radio show from the ranch (which pretty much consists
singing one song) or else he'll loose his land.
When a professor and his daughter arrive at Radio Ranch looking
deposits of Radium, Gene agrees to help look and discovers the secret
civilization of Murania, located 25,000 feet below ground.
Murania is a technologically advanced
country, the survivor of the lost island civilization of Mu, which is
the voluptuous Queen Tika. When Tika
finds out that Gene has discovered her country she orders her soldiers
robots) to kill him. Add in some
dishonest crooks who want the radium for themselves and you've got an
The thing I like about this adventure is the genre blending
nature of the show. There are horse
chases (with the Murania's looking like KKK members running off to a
robots, ray guns, aerial dog fights, and plenty of fisticuffs. Yes, it ludicrous when Gene sneaks into
Murania and is about to discover something important only to announce
we've got to get back to Radio Ranch and do the show or I'll loose the
spread!" The only singing cowboy science
civilization serial ever made, it's well worth checking out. What makes this disc even better is that the
picture quality is excellent, well above the other shows in this set.
Disc Ten: The
Undersea Kingdom (1936) Chapters 1-12 (Complete):
This was only the second serial
Republic produced but it's
clear that they knew what they were doing.
Filled with action, adventure and excitement, The Undersea Kingdom is a classic.
The story, what little there is of it, involves top
Annapolis student Crash Corrigan (Ray Corrigan who took the name
this serial) going on a expedition with Professor Norton (C. Montague
his newly invented atomic powered submarine to find the source of a
recent earthquakes. A reporter, Diana
Compton (Lois Wilde) tags along as does Norton's son Billy (Lee Van
assistant Joe (John Bradford) and Briny (Smiley Burnette) and Salty
Marvin), the comic reliefs.
Once under the sea they discover that the earthquakes are
being caused by villains from the lost city of Atlantis.
The fabled city is in the midst of a civil
war between a war-like faction who wants to take over the surface world
peace-loving group that just wants to leave things as they are. It's easy to tell these two groups apart
because the war mongering faction wears black robes and the peaceful
wears white. It's up to Crash and his
companions to make sure the white capes win and the stop the nefarious
the black capes.
While there are a lot of 'cheats' in this serial (as there
are in Phantom Empire and Radar Men from the Moon) it's still
a fun show. Just the idea of a
civilization that has harnessed nuclear power and created a race of
going into battle on horseback and fighting with swords is great. Corny as hell, but it gives the opportunity
for a lot of great horse stunts. I'll
admit there were several times I was hoping that someone would shoot
Salty, but nothing's perfect I suppose.
Tales of Tomorrow (1951-53) 6 Episodes:
This is an excellent series that presented some solid SF
stories every week. There's more SF than
horror, and the tales weren't necessarily aimed at children. Test Flight was reminiscent of
Heinlein's The Man Who Sold the Moon,
concerning a man obsessed with being the first
into space and therefore being able to control space travel. It has an interesting twist at the end. All of these episodes are good, (though Verdict in Space drags at the
The episodes contained in this
Verdict in Space (the first episode)
What We Need (a wonderful 'magical shop' story)
Age of Peril
Lights Out (1946-1952)
This long running series was one of a handful of shows to
make the transition from radio to television and managed to snare some
writers and an impressive cast for most shows.
The quartet of episodes included here are about average for the
they'll hold your attention and it's fun to see some of the actors in
television. Unfortunately these were
broadcast live and all that remains are kinetescopes.
The image quality of these shows are below
average for this set.
The episodes included are:
What Just Happened (with John Howard)
Curtain Call (Otto Kruger)
Man with the Watch (Francis L. Sullivan)
G.E. Theater 2 episodes:
Hosted by Ronald Regan, this program ran for a decade and
was one of the first early TV hits. The
two stories presented here (the first one staring Reagan) aren't really
though the second one comes closest. In Let it Rain Reagan is a reported
who stops into a small southern town for a
short vacation and falls in love with a local girl.
The Ballad of Mender McClure
is a bit more
interesting. A grumpy, mean, old man is
given a jug full of a magical potion that will heal any illness. How does he use it, and how does it affect
him? Vincent Price plays the devil and
does a wonderful job.
Radar Men from the Moon 12 episodes (1952):
This chapter play was produced at the end of the serial era
and it's obvious that the glory days had passed. The
first Commander Cody serial and reused
the same outfit from an earlier Republic serial, King of the Rocket Men
(1949). (It would be followed by "Commando
Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe" (1955).
In between the suit would also star in "Zombies of the
(1952).) Unfortunately, that's not the
only thing it reuses, as it includes a lot of stock footage from
When a series of military targets
are destroyed in the US,
the government asks scientist Commander Cody (George Wallace) and his
investigate. Using his newly invented
flying suit, he discovers a group of men (well, two actually) who are
pave the way for an alien invasion from the moon!
This serial just doesn't have the impact of the other
two. Oh, it's alright, but it moves at a
slower pace and the action isn't nearly as exciting.
The fist fights have a tendency to go on a
bit too long, and there are too many dialog scenes.
The main problem with this is that the
super-hero Commando Cody is battling some second rate thugs? That's not too exciting. The
aliens play only a small role for most of
the serial. Like the other two serials
in this collection, the image quality was pretty good.
Captain Fathom (1955):
This is another pilot that has been all but forgotten.
Captain Fathom in the inventor and captain of
the atomic submarine Explorer, searches the seas for adventure. In this episode he detects a high amount of
radiation coming from an unusual object.
Written by Curt Siodmak, this was a pretty good show.
Captain Fathom (1965):
Captain Fathom was the third
and final Syncro-Vox cartoon
that Cambria Studios would release. Like
their earlier shows, Clutch Cargo
and Space Angel, this show
animation and used filmed mouth movements superimposed over static
images. The show revolves around Captain
Bill Fathom and the crew of his submarine the Argonaut.
Fathom, along with Cookie, Ronnie, Scotty,
Miss Perkins, and Flip the dolphin, would get into trouble each week
an unknown sea monster or lost treasure or both. As
with Space Angel, the designs
were by Alex
Toth which means the show looks nice, even if the "animation" is
The episodes (sets of 5 five minute shows stitched together
to form a complete story) are:
Ice Trap (A lot of color bleed.)
Pisastro's Private War (looks much better)
Most (if not all) of these shows are presented in two channel mono,
which isn't too surprising given thier age. Most of the programs
have some amount of background hiss or a hum, but even the worst
examples weren't too bad. The dynamic range was
never that impressive and a few shows were a bit muddled but over all
the audio was acceptable.
These shows are all presented in their original full frame glory and
look pretty decent. Keep in mind these are all shows that are in
the public domain and as such there's no incentive for anyone to
restore them. In general the images are soft and the level of
detail isn't great, but the contrast is good over all and none of the
shows are particularly horrible. The three serials are in
surprisingly good condition and are among the best shows, video wise,
in this set. The color episodes of Space Angel and Captain Fathom
had some color bleed too. One nice thing is that there are no
logos or 'bugs' in the corner of the shows with the exception (noted
above) of the Rocky Jones shows.
Whew! What a
set. I have to admit that this is one of
the most enjoyable collections I've had the pleasure to watch in a
while. The shows range from fun and innocent to quite good and
while there are a few duds most of the episodes are well worth
watching. If you're a fan of SF TV this set is not to be
missed. With so many rare pilots and seldom seen programs, and at
such a reasonable price (especially if you look around a bit on line)
this collection comes highly