Rediscovering a classic: The Rocketeer

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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.


    6 Comments

  1. PoppunitAugust 6th, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    I saw this movie in theatres, when I was eight yeas old, and it completely blew me away. So much fun! I never understood why it was so negatively received. Thanks for this review. It took me back a few years 😉

  2. EthelMuggsAugust 7th, 2012 at 6:34 am

    LOVED this movie! 🙂 I think Dad still has it on VHS somewhere.

  3. Stephen JanesAugust 7th, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Loved this as a kid, stil do. Nice article.

  4. kadoshoAugust 9th, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Likewise with Poppunit, I saw “The Rocketeer” during its theater run. It was amazing to see an incredible story, characters, design, and architecture. It was never stuck on the ground, it had such a steady flow it felt like a dance more than an action flick. Bummer that seeing it re-released that it didn’t receive extra bonus goodies. Because this film totally deserves more attention than Disney thought back about it back then.

  5. RebekahAugust 10th, 2012 at 11:46 am

    I also have vivid memories of seeing the Rockateer in theaters when I was a kid! I also remember a year later it was the choice film at a friends slumber party, so not only did I view that film with a room full of strangers, but also a room full of pre-teen girls who were my friends– the reactions from these groups of people were divergent, and predictable now that I think about it. One group wanted Cliff to be their boyfriend, the other group wanted to BE Cliff– maybe.

    I also recall having a visceral reaction to realizing that Jennifer Connelly was making out with not David Bowie, and that Timothy Dalton, aka James Bond– was in fact playing a NAZI.

    Can I just say that I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who still possibly has editions of Disney Adventures stashed away.

  6. RobAugust 16th, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    i never forget this movie, i really wanted to watch this again for ages…i was really young when i saw this and like you i was in awe after seeing it. nice article!!!makes me wanting to see it more…

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