Tom Corbett, Space Cadet
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(May 07, 2009)
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-black and white-Join the adventures of Tom Corbett and his crew, Astro and T.J., in the 24th Century aboard the rocket ship Polaris! This famous 1950s television series would help inspire the creation of future science fiction programs like Star Trek. Episode 1-Assignment Mercury- Tom and the crew are in for a tough time when hardnose Major Connel miscalculates the temperate zone of Mercury, putting the Polaris and crew in jeopardy. Episode 2-Ambush In Space- 2 convicts on the run lure Tom and his pals into a trap to steal the spaceship. Episode 3-Fight For Survival-Tom, T.J., and Astro are marooned on Venus. Can the gang evade the giant snakes and other dangers of the hostile planet long enough for Captain Strong to rescue them? Episode 4-Pursuit of the Deep Space Projectile- The Polaris crew lock horns with Cadet Monroe on a mission to secure an important deep space probe. As a bonus,a color episode of -Space Angel- a classic animated space show, is included. The Space Angel, alias of spaceman Scott McCloud and the crew land on a planet inhabited by ghosts.
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“Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” aired live, Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6:30 PM from October 2, 1950 to September 26, 1952 on CBS, then later on ABC. After 1952, it aired on Saturday mornings on NBC until 1955. The early shows were 15 minutes long. Later episodes were roughly 25-30 minutes each. This single disk contains four episodes, some with commercials for Kraft caramels, transferred from old kinescopes. Considering how crude black and white kinescopes where, even in the 1950s, these transfers are pretty good. The four episodes are: “Assignment Mercury,” 23:00, “Ambush in Space,” 23:00, “Fight For Survival,” 22:00 (aired April 30, 1955), and “Pursuit of the Deep Space Projectile,” 28:00 (aired June 4, 1955). All four shows date from 1954 or 1955. Jan Merlin, who played cadet “Roger Manning,” does not appear in any of these episodes. Merlin quit the show twice, first in 1953. Then he came back for another season and quit again in 1954. He was replaced by Jack Grimes. These four episodes all feature Jack Grimes who played cadet “T.J. Thistle” for one season, 1954-1955.
While “Tom Corbett” was a low-budget show, it was better looking than its rival “Space Patrol.” It had bigger and more impressive looking sets and many more of them; the characters often went out into space or to a hostile planet wearing their space suits. While the special effects for Tom Corbett were crude and cheap, the show tried things that “Space Patrol” never did, like floating because of the loss of gravity or drifting off into space. One of the big pluses for “Tom Corbett,” was that the show employed a science consultant named Willy Ley. Ley, who was a friend and associate of rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, reviewed scripts and advised the producers and actors on how to keep the science in the show real. Ley and Von Braun collaborated on a book titled: “The Conquest of Space,” about earth’s first orbiting space station. Movie producer George Pal (“Destination Moon,” “War of the Worlds”) later turned the book into a really bad movie of the same title. Ironically, the trailer for Pal’s “Conquest of Space” is also on this disk!
Besides the four episodes of “Tom Corbett,” this disk also has three BONUS ITEMS: an episode of the animated show “Space Angel: The Ghost and The Crystal Mace,” 25:00; a Superman cartoon from the 1940s, “Superman: The Mechanical Monster,” 10:00; and, as noted, the movie trailer for George Pal’s “Conquest of Space,” 2:38. The entire running time of this DVD is 134 minutes.
Unfortunately there is no information in the disc’s packaging about these shows. There is only the cover sleeve, with a cheap drawing, a copy of the art inside the case, and a release date of the DVD: April 28, 2009. The manufacture is obviously as cheap as were the “Tom Corbett” shows. Spaceman’s Luck!
The regrets, for me are two fold. I clearly remember the music that began each episode: a pseudo martial ode with the words "From the rocket fields of the academy to the far flung stars of outer space…" Well in these episodes - which apparently date from before that theme song was written - there is only some trite John Phillip Souza-esque strains to start things off. More serious, neither Roger Manning,who i remember as a pleasingly acerbic character, nor Captain Strong are much present. Manning not at all and Captain Strong for only one episode. This is especially disappointing to me because of an amusing incident that I hope Ed Bryce, the actor who played Captain Strong and who passed away in 1999 would not mind me recounting.
I was about 11 years old when my loving parents arranged as a birthday present a visit to the set where the show was broadcast. Although it was a lovely idea it was terribly disillusioning for this eleven year old to discover how shoddy and un-spaceship like the reality of the Tom Corbett set was. As if to make amends, Frankie Thomas, who played the title role gave me a script for that show and signed it "Stay in the right orbit says big Tom Corbett."
Ed Bryce was a warm and admirable presence as Captain Strong. One trusted him. No doubt that's why he got the role in the first place. Well about ten years or more later, I was waiting for the train to New York at the Hartsdale train station and there on the platform in a trench coat was a disconcertingly familiar figure. I was sure it was Ed Bryce. I approached him and said "Excuse me but didn't you used to play Captain Strong on Tom Corbett Space Cadet?" Ed Bryce looked at me. He said nothing but a strange smile came over his face. His hands went to his coat. He opened it. He was wearing the Captain Strong uniform!!! "I'm going to a convention" are the only words he spoke.