Saturday, September 05, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Rocketeer (1991)

Another day, another Disney Screen movie!

I returned to the Cinemark Theatre in Huntington Beach today to see Disney's THE ROCKETEER (1991) for the first time ever. I had no idea what to expect, aside from knowing it was a period piece scored by James Horner, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It has a terrific cast, a fun setting in 1938 Southern California, and best of all, a fabulous score by the late, great Horner.

Cliff (Bill Campbell) is a scrappy young pilot who intends to fly a plane designed by his friend Peevy (Alan Arkin) in a national race. Unfortunately the plane is shot full of holes during a test flight, as some G men led by Fitch (Ed Lauter) chase some bad guys.

Cliff and Peevy later find something the bad guys hid in their shop: a rocket pack designed to enable a man to fly. Little do they know the mysterious jet pack was stolen from Howard Hughes (Terry O'Quinn), who is discontinuing working on the project because the Nazis want to get their hands on it.

Cliff impulsively uses the rocket suit to save a fellow pilot (Eddie Jones) whose plane is going to crash; the resulting media attention means that soon Cliff and his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connolly), an aspiring movie actress, are chased by Nazi spies who want to get their hands on the suit.

THE ROCKETEER has the feel of a Marvel movie, before Marvel movies were made; indeed, Howard Stark of the Marvel films was inspired by Howard Hughes. Like the Marvel films, it's a feel-good film which is wholesome enough for the family to enjoy together. (And unlike the Marvel films, it has wonderful music...if only Marvel had copied THE ROCKETEER in this regard.)

I found the movie especially similar in tone to Marvel's CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), with its "retro" story of an ordinary man having an unusual chance to battle the bad guys during WWII. It was thus very interesting to learn that the director of THE ROCKETEER, Joe Johnston, directed both films, two decades apart. Johnston, who also worked on special effects for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), definitely has an affinity for the era.

Another fun Marvel connection: Jennifer Connolly is married to Paul Bettany, the voice of Tony Stark's computer Jarvis in the IRON MAN films.

THE ROCKETEER does a great job portraying Hollywood of days gone by, without the viewer feeling that every corner is painted by computer. There are plenty of special effects, including the rocket suit flying sequences and the final set piece with a zeppelin over Mt. Griffith Observatory, but the movie's look as a whole feels more "real" than some more recent films.

I especially loved the scene with Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) filming a swashbuckler, as the set seemed to be modeled on one from THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938).

I also got a real kick out of the climactic battle, with mobster Eddie Valentine (Paul Sorvino) declaring "I may not make an honest buck, but I'm 100% American!" Mobsters and G-men joining forces to battle Nazis...priceless.

The excellent cast also includes Margo Martindale, Jon Polito, and William Boyett. The singer at the South Seas Club was one-time child actress Melora Hardin.

This great-looking movie was filmed by Hiro Narita. It runs 108 minutes.

THE ROCKETEER was preceded by the cartoon CLOCK CLEANERS (1937), in which Mickey, Goofy, and Donald Duck struggle to clean a large chime clock. It's available on DVD in the Walt Disney Treasures set Mickey Mouse in Living Color.

THE ROCKETEER is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed on Amazon Instant Video. I'm going to be adding the DVD to my collection, as this is one I'll be wanting to watch again.

Previous Disney Screen reviews: OLIVER & COMPANY (1988), EIGHT BELOW (2006), and THE LOVE BUG (1968). The chance to see so many Disney films on a big screen locally has been a real treat!

7 Comments:

Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

One of the most innocent and earnest Saturday aft serial type movies ever, they got the tone right. My favourite part of this is Dalton. I'm curious to see now what you'd think of The Phantom, The Shadow and Darkman (Not saying they're all this good :) )

5:27 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

How great that you have that participating theater so close to you! I love Rocketeer so much. The time period, the actors are perfect, and the soaring, wonderful score by Horner. I would love to have seen it on the big screen again!

The part you mention where the mobsters join the G-Men has been my dad's favorite part of this movie for years. He gets the biggest kick out of that moment.

Really glad you enjoyed this one.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

This is a movie I've always really liked. I don't feel Disney got behind it like they should have back when it first came out and therefore it didn't get the recognition it deserved (or still does for that matter!).

7:45 AM  
Blogger Terence Towles Canote said...

The Rocketeer is one of my all time favourite superhero movies. It does justice to the comic book upon which it based, and I love how it evokes the movie serials and pulp magazines of the Thirties. It was also cool to see a villain very loosely based on Errol Flynn. Don't get me wrong, I love Errol, but he does make a good bad guy!

9:46 AM  
Blogger Dan Day Jr. said...

A very underrated movie that should have been more popular than it was. Jennifer Connelly looks fantastic in 1930s clothing.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Fantastic to hear from so many fellow fans of THE ROCKETEER. It was such a nice surprise going into it with no expectations and enjoying it so much. :)

Kristina, you're right about Dalton. Truth to tell I have often found him on the dull side over the years, but not in this one. It was a wonderful part and he was just right.

Deb, I hope the Disney Screen program spreads -- they are occasionally replaying a title and if it did maybe you'd get a chance to see ROCKETEER in a theater too.

Irene, I'd sure like to see Disney use this more in the parks, other than the theme music. Incidentally, while watching the AGENT CARTER "One-Shot" short this weekend I realized another ROCKETEER/CAPTAIN AMERICA parallel, the photo of the girlfriend next to the airplane controls.

Terry, that set for the swashbuckler movie looked just like where Flynn duels Rathboone in ROBIN HOOD, doesn't it?

Dan, I agree, Jennifer looked great. I was als9o amazed how young she was in this and had to look up her age (about 20).

Best wishes,
Laura

11:34 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

I'm rewatching our DVD today :) It had been quite awhile since I last saw it. I was remembering that wonderful music and how it was used in Tomorrowland when they used to raise up that spinning thing they put in back where the rockets used to be and sometimes the theme song from Rocketeer was played. I miss that. Poor Tomorrowland - it just seems to sit there now taking up space.

8:58 PM  

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