The odd naming choice of the serial's main hero, "Commando Cody," was possibly an attempt by Republic to make young audiences think they were seeing another adventure of Commander Corry, the hero of the popular ABC TV and radio series Space Patrol (1950–1955). There is, however, no surviving evidence that this was a consideration by anyone at Republic.
Commando Cody (George Wallace) is a civilian researcher and inventor with a number of employees. He uses a streamlined helmet and a sonic-powered rocket backpack attached to a leather flying jacket. Cody also uses a rocket ship capable of reaching the Moon. When the U. S. finds itself under attack from a mysterious force that can wipe out entire military bases and industrial complexes, Cody surmises (correctly) that the Earth is coming under attack from our own Moon. He then flies his rocket ship there and confronts the Moon's dictator, Retik (Roy Barcroft), who boldly announces his plans to both conquer Earth and then move the Moon's entire population here using spaceships.
During the next 11 serial chapters, Cody, now back on Earth, and his associates Joan (Aline Towne), Ted (William Bakewell) and Dick (Gayle Kellogg) battle an elusive lunar agent named Krog (Peter Brocco) and his gang of human henchmen led by Graber (Clayton Moore) and Daly (Bob Stevenson), who use Lunarium-powered ray cannons to disrupt defense forces and weaken public morale. After a second trip to the Moon, in which he captures a sample ray cannon for duplication in his lab, Cody tracks Retik's minions to their hideout where Krog is killed by one of his own devices, and Graber and Daly subsequently die in an over-the-cliff car chase. Retik flies to Earth to take personal charge of his collapsing operations but is blasted out of the sky by one of his own ray weapons.George Wallace as Commando Cody.
Aline Towne as Joan Gilbert
Roy Barcroft as Retik, Ruler of the Moon.
William Bakewell as Ted Richards
Peter Brocco as Krog
Clayton Moore as Graber
Bob Stevenson as Daly
Don Walters as Govt. Agent Henderson
Radar Men from the Moon was budgeted at $172,840, although the final negative cost was $185,702 (a $12,862, or 7.4%, overspend); it was the most expensive Republic serial of 1952. It was filmed between October 17 and November 6, 1951 under the working title Planet Men from Mars; the serial's production number was 1932.
However those numbers are interpreted, in practice the budget for this serial was so tight that a stunt double was not always used for lead actor George Wallace. His nose was broken by accident while filming an energetic fight scene with actor Clayton Moore. Wallace was also suspended in mid-air, lying on a board with the rocket suit's jacket closed around it, in front of a rear projection screen for the in-studio shot flying sequences. Wallace performed his own stunt flying take-offs by jumping onto a springboard that would send him up and over the camera rig set-up.
This serial is heavily padded with rocket-suit effects footage first filmed for the earlier King of the Rocket Men, to which some believe this was a pseudo-sequel. A repainted Juggernaut vehicle from the much-earlier Undersea Kingdom serial is also reused here as Retik's lunar tank. All spaceship footage was filmed new for the serial. Radar Men from the Moon shows outer space as brightly lit and the characters walking on the Moon in normal Earth gravity and daylight without pressure suits. His laboratory building is actually a Republic Pictures office building with a prop "Cody Laboratories" sign.
Two different aerodynamic helmets were used with the Commando Cody rocket backpack, with the lighter weight version being used only in the stunt sequences; the single-hinged visors of both helmets were always getting stuck open or closed.
Radar Men from the Moon's official release date is January 9, 1952, although this is actually the date the sixth chapter was made available to U. S. film exchanges.
Republic's next new serial, Zombies of the Stratosphere, which also used some of the Cody flying suit and spaceship footage seen here, followed in the summer and began as a sequel to "Radar Men": for unspecified reasons, Republic changed the character names of Cody and Joan at the last minute. In between these two serials, Republic had begun filming on its first attempt at a TV series, "Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe", but stopped production of that after the first three episodes were filmed to begin work on "Zombies of the Stratosphere". After that serial was finished, Republic resumed filming of 9 more episodes of the Cody TV series, but then, after it was completed, released it also as a theatrical serial instead of to TV.
This serial was re-released on September 30, 1957 between Republic's re-releases of the similar Zorro's Black Whip and Son of Zorro. Previously, the final original Republic serial was King of the Carnival released two years earlier in 1955.
Radar Men from the Moon was one of 26 Republic serials syndicated for television in 1966 as 100 minute TV feature films under their Century 66 package marketing name; the title given the TV-movie was Retik the Moon Menace.
In 1979 Firesign Theatre used segments of this and other serials in their made-for-TV parody comedy movie, J-Men Forever.
In 1989 the serial regained notoriety as the first shorts shown by the cult series Mystery Science Theater 3000. The first eight-and-a-half chapters of this Commando Cody serial were lampooned before their main feature-of-the-week (only half of the ninth installment was shown, with the in-show excuse being "the film broke").
In his 1984 book In the Nick of Time author William C. Cline dismissed the serial as a "quickie".
Because of a failure to renew copyright, Radar Men lapsed into the Public Domain in 1979.