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: