The Rocketeer: Ten Things to Know About the Movie

The Rocketeer stars Alan Arkin and Timothy DaltonHere are 10 trivia facts about The Rocketeer from 1991, which originally appeared as a Mystery Movie Quiz on our Facebook page. There are lots of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this movie.  Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.

1. This film is set before World War II.

The theater posters for The Rocketeer said, “Three years before the United States declares war, Cliff Secord leads America’s first battle against the Nazis.”  Dave Stevens’ original graphic novel sets the time as the 1930s.

2. Some of this film’s themes are loosely based on real life events.

The original graphic novel has a 1930s nostalgia to it and the folks at Disney made the most of it, with the help of The Rocketeer’s author Dave Stevens.  Incorporated into the film is a similarity to the Hindenburg disaster, Errol Flynn’s rumored involvement as a Nazi spy, Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose,  along with a terrific reenactment of the filming of Warner Brothers’ The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) but adding to the real-life feel are the landmarks seen in the film. There are glimpses of period restaurants The Brown Derby and The Bulldog Diner, and of course, the famed Hollywoodland sign.

3. Although the movie is fiction, a real person is depicted in the film.

The writers using the original comic book material based the Neville Sinclair character on Hollywood swashbuckling hero Errol Flynn, who in real life was thought to be a Nazi spy.   However that character and the Bettie Page type heroine as well as the Rondo Hattan look-alike (Tiny Ron) were all fictitious parts in the film but the one real person in the movie is Howard Hughes, played by veteran actor from the Lost TV series, Terry O’Quinn.  Here’s how Hughes, who is not in the original graphic novel, got into the film:  Pulp novel hero Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze was the inventor of the rocket pack in Dave Stevens’ original graphic comic book.  Due to copyright issues involving the use of Doc Savage, Disney substituted Hughes, the colorful billionaire avaitor and inventor, for Savage.

Another real reference, albeit a sticky one is that the gum Howard Hughes is seen chewing is “Beeman’s,” the real-life lucky gum of pilots.

4. More than one language is spoken in the film.

Some scenes of German spies are spoken in German, especially those on board the dirigible (with no subtitles) and since the Neville Sinclair character (Timothy Dalton) has ties to the Nazis, the scenes are much more realistic presented in both English and German dialogue.

5. Two of the actors have children who are also accomplished actors.

Alan Arkin’s son Adam Arkin has appeared in films like Hitch (2005), A Serious Man (2009) and dozens of television shows including Knot’s Landing, Northern Exposure, A Year In The Life, The West Wing and many more, and is probably best known as Dr. Aaron Shutt in the TV series, Chicago Hope.

Mira Sorvino, talented daughter of Paul Sorvino, has appeared in many films and is both a Golden Globes and Oscar winner for her role in Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite (1996). Mira started her career in 1985 but received her first screen credit when she appeared in Guiding Light (1991).

6. Chewing gum plays a role in the movie.

When Cliff’s jet pack gets pinged by a bullet, his mechanic-mentor Peevy (Alan Arkin), sealed the leak with chewing gum.   Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) always puts gum on the side of his planes for good luck and without giving too much away, chewing gum is important to the film’s climax as well.

Jennifer Connelly in The Rocketeer (1991)

7. The female lead is an Academy Award Winner.

Jennifer Connelly is not only a Best Actress Oscar winner for her role as Russell Crowe’s wife in A Beautiful Mind (2001), but it’s been said she was the inspiration for Disney’s animated Princess Jasmine in Aladdin (1992).  Loving her profession, she said, “Acting is great. When it works it is so fulfilling.  You do the research and work with other talented people who are creative and compassionate and use all your faculties. The ability to express yourself completely is the most wonderful feeling in the world.  Each film is a chapter in my life wherein I learn so much more about myself.”

More trivia: Using the theory of “six degrees of separation” as it pertains to Jennifer Connelly — in 1993, she was married to Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind and then in 2007, she was Joaquin Phoenix’s wife in Reservation Road.  Neither of these two facts would mean much except in Ridley Scott’s Academy Award winning movie, Gladiator (2000), Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus killed Maximus played by Russell Crowe.  Nice and tidy, eh?

8. One of the stars of the film played James Bond in another movie.

Timothy Dalton, who was James Bond in The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989), plays a perfect Errol Flynn seem-alike in The Rocketeer.  If any of the rumors about Flynn’s being a spy for the Nazis are true, this film adds fuel to the fire.  In Dalton’s final scene, he humorously says, “I’ll miss Hollywood” at the same time crashing into the “LAND” part of the “Hollywoodland” sign, becoming the “Hollywood” sign as we now know it.

9. The storyline of the film was originally based on a comic book.

Dave Stevens, creator of the original 1930s pulp-fiction styled graphic novel (1982), presents his story around Cliff Secord, a pilot who finds an unusual rocket pack.  Bill Campbell, who once considered a vocation as a commercial artist, was sure to have read Dave Stevens’ graphic novel The Rocketeer, on which the movie is based.  Many think his haircut, modeled after the graphic novel’s hero Secord, is how Campbell got the part, which originally was thought would be played by future Disney superstar Johnny Depp.  Stevens started pitching his story to the folks at Disney as early as 1985 and it became a full-fledged film in 1991.  As a little inside joke, The Rocketeer’s creator makes a small appearance as a test pilot in the test flight movie sequence.

Oddly enough, as good as the movie is, ticket sales dragged when it first played theaters and Stevens often felt it was mostly due to the over-done movie poster’s style, which didn’t accurately portray the film’s adventure story.  The idea of a planned sequel was shelved because of it but insiders felt the real reason for slow sales was because Terminator 2: Judgment Day opened the same weekend.  When Arnold Schwarzenegger said. “I’ll be back,” he meant it!

10. The main female character was modeled after glamour model Bettie Page.

The name of Cliff Secord’s girl in the Dave Stevens graphic comic was Betty Page, based on his long-time admiration of 1950s pin-up model Bettie Page.  It was changed to Jenny Blake for the movie when the producers felt it would be much less confusing (or maybe they were trying to avoid the possible sexual connection).

And now, sit back and enjoy the nostagic feel of the theatrical trailer for The Rocketeer from 1991:

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1313918551 Enrique Bird-Picó

    An undeservedly underrated movie, well deserving of a sequel. Alas, the Errol Flynn as Nazi sympathizer has long been debunked, and the movie rather unfairly revived it. Still, I much prefer it to the overrated Termninator 2, even though agreeing it was its killer at the box office.

  • Bill Pentland

    I missed any mention about the black and white serials of Rocket Man, I believe played by Clayton Thomas, is it? The Lone Ranger? Good series about the time of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, possibly later. It was a staple of after school cartoon shows and Saturday mornign fare.

  • Ellie

    Just as an FYI to all you fans out there who may not know… it was Clayton Moore who played the Lone Ranger.

  • Hank Zangara

    A few years ago I saw the bulldog diner building standing off in some corner of the “Backlot Tour” at Disney’s Hollywood Studio (the theme park formerly known as Disney-MGM) in Walt Disney World, Florida. Maybe some of “The Rocketeer” was filmed there? Anyway, the tram operators drove right by it without comment, as if they didn’t even know what it was.

    PS to Bill Pentland: David Clayton-Thomas was the lead singer in Blood, Sweat and Tears.

  • George.

    The problem with the anemic box office of THE ROCKETEER isn’t all that hard to understand. In fact, it’s really quite simple. Word-of-mouth killed it. You see, as action movies go, THE ROCKETEER is frustratingly devoid of much action, and, as a result, much excitement. F’rinstance: Nothing much happens in the most important scene in the film, its opening. When it comes to action movies, the viewer must be immediately hooked. It’s very important to quickly draw the audience into the feel and mood of the story. Unfortunately, the first scene is slow, langorous, and downright boring. It has no action. As a result, the action fan is immediately disappointed. From then on, it hardly matters that the rest of the film is really quite good. After the first ten minutes, nobody cares.

  • Philip Davis

    After leaving the theatre, I said “I like it!” just as Cliff (Bill Campbell) said. It was the next best thing to watching those old classic films of the past; just gloriously nostalgic!

  • David Chelstowski

    I am a fan of Commando Cody and the Republic serials

  • Maxwell Starr

    It is a shame THE ROCKETEER did dismally at the boxoffice. It deserves better. But, an even more egregious slight to a movie based on an illustrated character is THE PHANTOM. It was crucified by the knotheads who laughingly call themselves movie critics. I doubt if any of them even read, much less enjoyed, Lee Falk’s brilliantly written adventure series of ‘The Ghost Who Walks’ featured for decades in newspapers. The 1996 feature film was one of the few movies based on a ‘comic book’ character that was faithful to the source material. It was well paced with a nice balance of action and romance and well acted by all involved – Billy Zane was just fine as Kit Walker a.k.a. The Phantom – and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a villianess was as gorgeous in her pre-Michael Douglas days as she was in MASK OF ZORRO. Speaking of gorgeous, and digressing a moment, Jennifer Connelly had spectacular breasts when she made THE ROCKETEER and other films of her early career(check her out in THE HOT SPOT and MULHOLLAND FALLS). What happened to her? Did she lose them to anorexia or did she have breast reduction surgery? In recent years she’s lost her voluptuousness and her sex appeal has suffered for it.

  • RAY YOZWIAK

    THE ROCKETEER WAS BASED SOLELY ON THE REPUBLIC MOVIE SERIALS KING OF THE ROCKET MEN. THE THREE SERIALS WITH THE ROCKET MAN WERE

    KING OF THE ROCKETMEN
    RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON.
    ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE.

    ANYTHING ELSE IS BALONEY.

  • George Matusek

    Another “George” says that if there’s no SLAM-BAM action in the first 10 minutes, then action-movie fans won’t care about the rest of the movie — well, I don’t care about such pathetic simple-minded short-attention-span viewers — they are probably the ones who would “boo” great rewardingly slow-paced films such as “Ordet” or “L’Avventura.” I thought that “The Rocketeer” was a fun movie.

  • Neil C H

    Oh, this sure brought back the patriotic forties again. . . . .Rosie the Riverter, where are you ?

  • Bill Gould

    I had high hopes for “The Rocketeer” from the moment I saw a coming-attractions poster for it at the theater, and loved every minute of it. Bought it on VHS as soon as it came out, and have since replaced that with a DVD. Disney’s missing a sure thing by not following it up with at least a couple of sequels — especially since CGI likely would make it much less expensive. To Bill Pentland: Clayton Moore played a heavy in “Radar Men from the Moon,” the second Republic serial to feature the helmeted, rocket pack-wearing hero who’s come to be known as Commando Cody.

  • David Chelstowski

    Ray, I agree with you

  • Richard Dodge

    No one has mentioned it…but…isn’t the house where the Timothy Dalton character lived..a REAL Frank Lloyd Wright house? It looked way too good to be a set.

  • Larry Kinsley

    Very good, Richard – you’re the only one who spotted that. I’m not sure which of the houses it was, but it was one of the 4 so-called Romanza textile block house the great architect designed in So. California during the 1920’s. Perhaps someday someone will do a respective of movies that had included Wright designs in them, ie the Guggenheim Museum in both Someone To Watch Over Me and The International. And as for George. and his comment on why the Rocketeer didn’t far well at the B.O., if his theory was true then Die Hard would be a total bomb instead of one of the best action movies ever made!

  • Louis Koza

    This was a very nice series of Rocketeer movie details. I’ve been a huge fan of the comic book when it was first released by Pacific Comics. I made sure I caught every issue, regardless of the many months or even years in-between releases. I loved the film, and smile at each tidbit written in the article because each and every one is on the mark. However, there is one exception. Dave Stevens did not meet the real Betty Page until many, many years later. Long after July 1991 when the film was released. In fact, he wasn’t sure if she was still alive. In interviews in comic magazines, he said that if he ever met her he was going to give her a nice check, since he used her likeness in the Rocketeer. Within the last 10 years, artist Greg Teakson, another admirer of Ms. Page found her living in Texas, a grandparent. She wished to keep her life private, wanting her fans to remember her for her pin-up years. Because of the Rocketeer comics, Dave actually created a fan stir when he drew her. Ms. Page had absolutely no idea her likeness had a renewed interest or caused a craze. Dave met her, spent a weekend in Texas getting to know her, and of course made due on his promise to give her a piece of the action. Sadly, the two passed away within months of each other. Lou-New York

  • Chuck Neumann

    A very good movie. It was not an action movie as such, though it had plenty of action. It was a comedy adventure with a nice love story thrown in. Great period detail.

  • George.

    Hey George Matusek, putting aside your thoughtless condescension, I was talking about THE ROCKETEER, not MACBETH!

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com Jerry Frebowitz

    Louis Koza is right about Dave Stevens and Bettie Page — and the article has been corrected. Thanks Lou, for the additional information.

  • Tom Webb

    While this is a very entertaining movie, it was somewhat spoiled for me by the revival of the “Errol Flynn-as-Nazi spy” bit. Timothy Dalton is one of my favorite actors, but this part was really unfair to the man it was supposedly based on. The writer here mentions Flynn, who, he says, “in real life was thought to be a Nazi spy.” Thought, by who exactly? This absurd idea originated with one sleazy writer alone, a guy named Charles Higham, who wrote a deceptive, lurid bio of Flynn, in 1980, trying to prove this. No one else ever seemed to think it was true. And it has been proven a lie by just about everyone since. I think this slander of a great star, and well-liked guy (by his contemporaries) is unfortunate, as it perpetuates this B.S. And, for me, it ruins the movie. Sad, as the movie is so great otherwise.

  • BadGnx2

    A very good, entertianing film that deserves a second chance with the public. I remember that it wasn’t promoted as heavily as “The Terminator”, which benefitted from an already built in audience and plenty of preview buzz.
    Although not as groundbreaking as “The Terminator”, the special effects in this film were very good.

    I will agree that it started kinda slow and then built up a steady pace. But pre- James Bond, many prior action films were like this.

    Bill Campbell had just the right amount of youth and “aw shucks” kind of innocence that this role required. I think he was dating Connelly at the time of the filming.

    Jennifer Connelly looked gorgeous in this film as she often did in many of her earlier films. Who knew she would later becaome one of Hollywood’s leading actresses of this era?

    Timothy Dalton was very good as a slimey villain. Showing much depth and more personality that had restrained him as James Bond.

    This film has a good storyline with satirical touches about old Hollywood too. Definitely not a true kiddie film, its appealing to adults too.

  • Ron

    This movie is a hidden gem. The cast was top notch and the story was delightfully entertaining. This is a DVD that I enjoy watching again and again. Nostalgic, patriotic, somewhat educational. It even had great songs from Cole Porter. The Commando Cody version of Indiana Jones.

  • Salvatore R LaRosa

    This film is based or copies an old serial film called King of the Rocket Men!

  • Bill C.

    The “King of the Rocket Men” is certainly ONE of the influences on the film, but hardly the only one. If you would read the source material – Dave Steven’s Rocketeer comic strips, you would also find a healthy dose of pulp novels (Doc Savage & the Shadow in particular) and well as numerous other pop culture references.

    That Stevens was able to synthesize these elements into something fresh & exciting is testimony to his skills as an illustrator & story-teller.

    BTW the article fails to mention that the lead character of Cliff Secord was actually modeled on Dave Stevens himself. And use of his own image was his way of creating the prefect fantasy romance with his “dream girl” Bettie Page.

    Stevens was also briefly married to B-Movie actress Brinke Stevens (who retained her married name throughout her professional career). Many of Dave & Brinke’s friends remarked on her resemblance to Ms. Page.

    I understand this film has done very well for Disney on home video, which makes me wonder why they haven’t released a “Bonus Edition” DVD with outtakes, deleted scenes, etc. I know I would repurchase it.

    One final trivia bit: the nightclub singer in the film – who does really good versions of “Begin the Beguine” and “After Your Lover Has Gone” is future TV actress Melora Hardin. Who knew she had such a great singing voice?

  • Shaun Pettitt

    First of all, with or without a lot of action at the very beginning, I think “The Rocketeer” is an excellent movie! A sequel would have been great in my opinion!! I always thought that “The Rocketeer” was based on a 12 chapter movie serial from 1952 called “Radar Men from the Moon”, starring George Wallace as Commando Cody [I also have it on DVD]. In that serial he wore a leather flight jacket,a jetpack, and a helmet that also covered his face….very similar to Cliff Secord, The Rocketeer! The similarity between the two are uncanny!!

  • Shaun Pettitt

    To Salvatore R LaRosa: I wonder if maybe you and I are talking about the same movie serial…possibly retitled at some point. “Radar Men from the Moon” and “King of the Rocket Men!” might be one and the same! But, I really don’t know for sure…just an educated guess on my part!

  • Victor

    Radar Men from the Moon and King of the Rocket Men were two seperate serials George Wallace played the leading role the first and Tris Coffin in the second.The Phantom movie was excellent.When will they make a movie of Captain Marvel(Shazam)?The serial with Tom Tyler was good who by the way also played The Phantom in a serial.

  • Bill C.

    A Captain Marvel movie is in the planning stages. the rights are held by producer Michael Uslan – who has worked as a scripter for DC Comics and served as Executive Producer on the Batman movie series.

  • Chris

    I was hooked by this movie when I recognized they were rolling a GeeBee out of the hanger. To anyone who loves aviation, that plane’s about on everyone’s top ten list. Another attraction I have to the Rocketeer are the sound bites, and by far, Alan Arkin has some of the best lines :

    ” Clifford, when you take somethin’and don’t tell no one, they call that steal’n, don’t you know…”

    or by Ed Lauter:

    ” You’r buddies’ being fitted with a pine overcoat…..if you make it to County General, Alcatraz is your new digs.”

    This movie’s great fun, plain and simple.

  • Gary Smith

    A great adventure and fun ride through the Los Angeles of the 30’s..Need a directors cut blu-ray perhaps for the 25 year anniversary.