The Rocketeer (1991)

Film and Plot Synopsis

Based on the comic book hero created in the 1980’s, the Rocketeer recreates 1930’s Hollywood, complete with the dangerous world of violent gangsters and Nazi espionage. Set in the backdrop of the early years of the Age of Aviation, young pilot Cliff Secord stumbles on a top-secret rocket-pack and soon finds himself fighting for his life against the Valentine gang and Nazi spies, while trying to stay a step ahead of the FBI. Cliff is assisted by his mechanic/mentor Peevy and his girlfriend Jenny as he learns what it means to be the flying hero known as The Rocketeer.

‘The Rocketeer’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
The Rocketeer (1991)In 1938, two thieves steal a rocket pack from Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn). The thieves work for Los Angeles gangster Eddie Valentine (Paul Sorvino), who has been hired by movie star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) to steal the rocket pack. The thieves are pursued by authorities, and the chase leads to an airfield outside of Los Angeles. One of the thieves is shot and killed, but the other thief hides the pack in a biplane cockpit. The biplane ends up being involved in an accident with a car, and the pilot, Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell), and his mechanic, A. “Peevy” Peabody (Alan Arkin) find the rocket pack when they go to repair the plane. Sinclair sends his extraordinarily large henchman, Lothar (Tiny Ron Taylor), to find the surviving thief who tells Lothar where he hid the rocket pack.

Meanwhile, Cliff and Peevy begin tinkering and testing the rocket pack. Peevy makes repairs to the pack and creates a helmet that assists with guidance. Cliff’s girlfriend is aspiring actress Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly) who is an extra in Sinclair’s latest swashbuckling film. On the set of his film, Sinclair overhears Cliff attempting to tell Jenny about the rocket pack while the couple is fighting. Sinclair invites Jenny to dinner to find out more about Cliff.

Later that day, Cliff uses the rocket pack at an air show to save his friend Malcolm (Eddie Jones) from an out of control plane. Valentine’s gangsters are at the show, as well as camera crews, who capture Cliff’s heroic deed and begin calling him “The Rocketeer”. The FBI also is looking for the rocket pack on behalf of Hughes. Both the FBI and the gangsters begin looking for identity of the Rocketeer in earnest.

Separate from Valentine’s men, Sinclair sends Lothar to find Cliff. The FBI arrives at the same time as the lumbering gangster, but Cliff and Peevy escape both. However, Lothar locates Peevy’s detailed schematics of the rocket pack and takes them back to Sinclair. Later, Cliff and Peevy become trapped in a diner by several of Valentine’s mobsters who are looking for them. The gangsters become aware of Jenny’s date with Sinclair and inform their boss that the actor appears to be working at cross purposes with Valentine. The patrons at the diner overpower the remaining gangsters before they realize that they have Cliff in their custody. However, the rocket pack is hit by a stray bullet during the struggle. Peevy uses a piece of gum to cover a leak in the pack’s fuel tank.

Cliff flies to the South Seas Club, the location of Jenny’s date with Sinclair. Once there, Cliff impersonates a waiter to tell Jenny about the rocket pack. The Valentine gang arrives, and a melee ensues which requires Cliff to don the rocket pack again. Jenny is kidnapped by Sinclair and taken back to his mansion. At the movie star’s home, Jenny discovers a secret cabinet and discovers that Sinclair is a secret Nazi agent. Sinclair forces Jenny to call Cliff and tells him to bring the rocket pack to Griffith Observatory to trade for Jenny.

Cliff hides the rocket pack but is arrested by the FBI shortly after. The agents take him to Hughes, who is meeting with Peevy about his designs. Hughes explains to Cliff that the rocket pack is a prototype, similar to one that the Nazis have been trying to develop for some time. Hughes shows them a horrifying propaganda film that shows the Nazis’ plan to take over the world, including the United States, with flying soldiers. The FBI tells Cliff and Peevy that they have been tracking a Nazi spy in Hollywood, and Cliff realizes that the spy is Sinclair. Hughes demands the return of the rocket pack, but Cliff explains that he needs the pack to save Jenny’s life. Cliff escapes but leaves behind information that he is proceeding to Griffith Observatory.

Cliff retrieves the rocket pack and flies to the Observatory to meet with Sinclair and Valentine. Sinclair demands the rocket pack and puts a gun to Jenny’s head. Cliff reveals to Valentine and his men that Sinclair works for the Nazis. True Americans, the gangsters turn their weapons on Sinclair and Lothar, but the movie star reveals that they are all surrounded by dozens of hidden German soldiers. A Nazi Zeppelin appears overhead, just as the FBI arrives. The FBI and the gangsters battle the German soldiers while Sinclair and Lothar retreat to the Zeppelin with Jenny.

Cliff flies up and boards the Zeppelin. Cliff battles the Germans on the ship, but during the struggle, Jenny accidentally sets the bridge on fire with a flare gun. Sinclair, once again, holds Jenny hostage. He forces Cliff to give him the rocket pack. However, Cliff removes the chewing gum before turning over the rocket pack. The fuel leaks down the pack to the exhaust. Sinclair puts on the rocket pack and flies off, but soon catches fire from the leaking fuel. Sinclair crashes and explodes into the LAND portion of the HOLLYWOODLAND sign. Cliff and Jenny climb to the top of the Zeppelin, pursued by Lothar. Hughes and Peevy swoop down in a small plane with a ladder to pick up Cliff and Jenny. Lothar remains trapped on the Zeppelin as it is engulfed in flames.

In the aftermath, Hughes presents Cliff with a brand-new air racer in gratitude for preventing the rocket pack from falling into Nazi hands. Jenny returns Peevy’s rocket pack schematics to him, having found them in Sinclair’s home. Peevy comments that he could now build a better one as the film ends.

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Buena Vista Pictures released The Rocketeer on June 21, 1991. Joe Johnston directed the film starring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, and Alan Arkin.

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