Rediscovering a classic: The Rocketeer
by Marianne Paluso
When I first heard that Joe Johnston would be directing the recent Marvel, World War Two set superhero flick Captain America: The First Avenger, my instant reaction was- Perfect Choice! This was due to one significant reason. Johnston directed another undeniably entertaining, World War Two era set movie: The Rocketeer, a film that has remained an eternal favorite of mine since it first hit theaters back in 1991. In fact, my first vivid movie memory (non animated of course) was of watching, in sheer amazement, Cliff Secord, the charming but down on his luck stunt pilot strap a rocket pack to his back and go blazing across the sky. I remember coming out of the theater exhilarated and somewhat smitten with its lead actor Billy Campbell. I think I still have my Disney Adventures Magazine with him on the cover stashed away somewhere.
Childhood crushes aside, The Rocketeer, which is based on the comic series created by Dave Stevens, has developed a devoted cult following over the years, and rightly so. Despite being deemed a box office disappointment, fans of this film no doubt are charmed by the old-fashioned innocence and wild escapades of its characters. If you’re unfamiliar with the film, the basic story follows a young pilot named Cliff Secord, who discovers a jet back that allows its wearer the amazing ability to fly. Unbeknownst to him, the rocket is also fervently sought after by the FBI, the Errol Flynn-esque Hollywood star Neville Sinclair (a devilishly delicious Timothy Dalton), and the maker of the jet pack itself, Howard Hughes (LOST’s Terry O’Quinn), not to mention the Nazi party who have rather unscrupulous plans for the machine.
Even with its old Hollywood style, the film has no shortage of action and thrills including a daring rescue at an Air Show, a tussle at an upscale nightclub, and finally a show down atop an enormous zeppelin, all done with a balance of spirited adventure and an undertone of humor. There is not one cynical note played here, which makes it all the rarer, and appealing. The cast is also excellent, from Campbell, who plays the part with the kind of gee-whiz likeability that would have made him a huge star in the 1940’s, to a stunning and still somewhat unknown Jennifer Connelly, and finally to Dalton, in one of his finest performances. Even with charismatic roles such as James Bond and Alexi Volkoff in Chuck, Timothy Dalton will always remain Neville Sinclair in my eyes.
If it’s been years since you’ve seen this classic or have never had the pleasure of doing so, I encourage you to rediscover The Rocketeer. The Saturday matinee serial style is a refreshing alternative to the cynical and jaded films of today. Excellent as those are, sometimes we are more inclined for a lighter slice of good, old fashioned, American, let’s take down the Nazis kind of flick. If you loved Captain America, I guarantee you’ll thoroughly enjoy The Rocketeer. Rediscover this gem today!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
The Rocketeer is now available on a beautifully restored Blu-Ray edition, which unfortunately bolsters no special features, but looks and sounds stunning.