The Rocketeer (1991)

Blast from the Past!

As a fan of classic Hollywood cinema, how can I not love The Rocketeer? I delight in all those old Hollywood references, from lines such as “You stood behind Myrna Loy with a bowl of grapes”, to a movie set very similar to the castle interior from The Adventures of Robin Hood. I even find myself thinking this film’s protagonist has a pretty sweet life going for him; he gets to fly planes all day, has a hot aspiring actress girlfriend and lives in 1930’s Hollywood.  The cast of The Rocketeer have that cartoony look which stars of the 1930’s possessed; even one of the film’s villains is modeled after Rondo Hatton, a not well known b-movie player with a uniquely disfigured face. The film also provides a nostalgic look at the golden age of aviation; ah for the days when aviation was a gentleman’s pursuit, back before every Joe Sweatsock could wedge himself behind a lunch tray and jet off to Raleigh-Durham.

Why do these pulp serial adventures keep failing at the box office (The Shadow, The Phantom, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow)? Of course, The Rocketeer’s lack of box office success canceled plans for an intended trilogy. Are audiences just not interested in these kinds of films, or do they just keep getting poorly marketed? Either way, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Timothy Dalton is the one of who steals the show as the Errol Flynn-esque Neville Sinclair. Dalton really is one of the last of his kind, as a Shakespearean trained actor who can play these types debonair, hammy villains, both here and his role in Hot Fuzz. Interestingly Errol Flynn himself has had (hopefully untrue) posthumous accusations of being Nazi sympathiser. What’s scarier than Nazis? The Rocketeer has the answer: Rocket-propelled Nazis who can travel across the Atlantic on their jetpacks.

My only complaint with The Rocketeer and the only aspect which prevents me from awarding the movie with the mighty 10, is the lead protagonist Cliff Secord played by Billy Campbell, whom I find not to be terribly interesting. While it could be argued he’s supposed to be dull in keeping with the tradition of B-movie serials having bland leading men. Still, I would rather have a more charismatic screen presence but when a movie still manages to be this much fun despite this nor do I ever care in the slightest as to why the rocket blasts to not burn off the back of Cliff’s legs, it’s defiantly doing something right.

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