B movies boast a proud tradition of rugged rocketeers.
Narrowing the field to 10 proved a daunting task. Here's
hoping the following roster will stand as a salute to all
the "Rocket Jocks" of fantasy filmdom. Let the
10. WILLIAM HOPPER, 20,000,000 Miles to Earth
Hopper is best known as Perry Mason's no-nonsense
personal investigator Paul Drake. But just after beginning
that seminal series, Drake co-starred, with some of Ray
Harryhausen's most heartfelt effects, as a two-fisted astronaut.
The lone survivor of a trip to Venus, Hopper is forced to
track down a particularly ferocious example of Venusian
fauna that roams the Italian countryside.
9. ERIC FLEMING, Queen of Outer Space
Is this thing a comedy, or someone's idea of plausible
science fiction? In either case, stalwart Eric Fleming isn't
laughing. Soon to rise to stardom as Rawhide trail
boss Gil Favor, Fleming keeps a straight face opposite Zsa
Zsa Gabor (the only citizen of Venus with a thick, eastern-European
accent) and her curvy Venusian freedom fighters.
8. RICHARD CRANE, Rocky Jones
Dependable Richard Crane hustled through such genre
faves as The Alligator People, The Devil's Partner and
others. He made his mark, however, as square-jawed space
ranger Rocky Jones, starring in the threadbare tele-series
of the same name. The program boasted special effects that
were ambitious beyond the producer's means, but a likable
cast sparked by Crane's flinty good humor, made the nonsense
7. MARSHALL THOMPSON, It! The Terror From Beyond
Thompson was a cult-film regular who brought life to
some of Britain's better sci fi efforts (First Man Into
Space, Fiend Without a Face). In what is arguably Ed
Cahn's most convincing thriller, Thompson delivers a genuinely
affecting performance as a falsely accused killer who must
help rid his ship of the titular, bloodthirsty predator.
6. GERALD MOHR, Angry Red Planet
Hammy smoothy Gerald Mohr never failed to deliver a
likable characterization despite his inherent smarminess.
A film fixture since the late 30s, Mohr was just beginning
to show his age in this 1960 shocker, but is still engaging
as the spaceship's first in command. Even Jack Kruschen
as the token, Brooklyn cornball can't seem to shake Mohr's
typically casual presence.
5. REX REASON, This Island Earth
Few actors ever delivered a line with more stentorian
authority than Rex Reason. This earnest, groundbreaking
sci fi film has many assets -- imagination, suspense, color
-- and Rex is not the least of them. In lesser hands, his
Dr. Cal Meacham would come off as too good-looking and smart
to be true. Yet Reason, still a relative amateur at the
time, helps bring credibility to the outlandish scenario
through a convincing portrayal.
4. LLOYD BRIDGES, Rocketship X-M
Bridges was one of the most ingratiating actors ever
to walk on a sound stage. With a subtly mischievous delivery,
he tackled a variety of roles and helped bring genuine humor
to this immensely enjoyable and important film. Hustled
through production to beat George Pal's Destination Moon
to theaters, its downbeat ending (which Bridges objected
to) is one of its major assets.
3. WILLIAM LUNDIGAN, Riders to the Stars, Men
Why William Lundigan? Because Lundigan took sci fi so
darned seriously. A lightweight lead with some solid performances
to his credit (check out Follow Me Quietly), his
earnest characterization helped make Riders to the Stars
a convincing exploration of the possibilities of space flight.
Likewise, Men Into Space, which aired just as NASA
was getting its act together, treated the subject matter
realistically and soberly (sometimes a trifle too soberly).
Along with memorable appearances on Science Fiction Theater
-- most importantly the pilot episode -- these portrayals
brought credibility to an often-misunderstood genre.
2. BUSTER CRABBE, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers
Who DOESN'T like Buster Crabbe? The one shining example
of successful superhero casting, Crabbe brought the funny
papers to life. The guy even played Tarzan, for corn's sake!
Muscles bulging, nostrils flaring, tousled blond hair waving,
he was one of the B's best and most durable heroes. Handsome
and engaging into his senior years, this guy was Flash in
1. EDWARD KEMMER, Space Patrol
Kemmer starred in a pair of my favorite 50s shockers
-- Giant From the Unknown and The Spider aka
Earth vs. the Spider. He'll always be remembered, however,
as Buzz Corry of TVs wildly popular Space Patrol.
A likable actor with an easy, earnest delivery, Kemmer was
convincing as a planet-hopping adventurer possessed of a