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Buck Rogers - 12 Episode Serial (1939)

Cast: Larry "Buster" Crabbe, Jackie Moran, Anthony Warde, more...
Director: Ford I. Beebe, Saul A. Goodkind
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Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Vci Video
Genre: Science Fiction , Classic Sci-Fi, Classic Sci Fi/Fantasy, Classic Fantasy
Running Time: 241 min.
Languages: English
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After starring in two successful serials as All-American Boy in Outer Space Flash Gordon, Larry "Buster" Crabbe found himself visiting very familiar territory in 1939's Buck Rogers, a 12-episode serial in which he played an young adventurer sent 500 years into the future. Buck Rogers (Crabbe), his friend and sidekick Buddy Wade (Jackie Moran), and Buck's sweetheart, Wilma Deering (Constance Moore), are piloting a new and experimental airship when bad weather sends them crashing into the Arctic wastes. A newly developed drug called Nirvano is supposed to keep this crew in suspended animation until help arrives; however, five centuries pass before Buck, Buddy, and Wilma are found by scientists working for Dr. Huer (C. Montague Shaw). Huer is an idealist who is attempting overthrow fearsome ruler Killer Kane (Anthony Warde), who rules the Earth with an iron fist. Buck and his pals throw in their lot with Huer and his staff, and attempt to find allies on Saturn; however, Buck is unaware that Saturn has already fallen to the minions of Kane. Originally released as a serial, Buck Rogers was later re-edited into two different feature-length condensations, Planet Outlaws and Destination Saturn. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Hugely influential by oldkingcole August 26, 2003 - 2:37 AM PDT
6 out of 6 members found this review helpful
Having never before read any of the Captain America comics, I decided to start at the begininning: with reprints of the first 10 issues of "Captain America Comics," from the character's inception in 1941. While reading these, I couldn't help but notice that Captain America is the alter ego of Steve ROGERS and his sidekick is named BUCKY. Hmm. BUCKY, ROGERS,... Buck Rogers? I decided to do a little more investigation.

There were many obvious connections, even down to the fact that, for a brief period in the mid sixties, Captain America and the Buck Rogers newspaper strip (which had begun in 1929 and was still running in the 1960s, albeit, with a different writer and artist) shared the same artist (George Tuska).

But the 1939 Buck Rogers serial's influence extends way beyond Captain America, exerting strong pull on Star Trek, and Star Wars, and indeed most filmed science fiction produced since. Within the first two episodes, we see what is, for all intents and purposes, a "transporter", probably the first appearance on-screen of the sci-fi staple. One character even explains how it works, and the explanation is essentially the same as that given in the classic Star Trek series.

The "what happened last week" chapter-recaps in Buck Rogers are angled back and recede into a vanishing-point in the distance, just like George Lucas's prologues do in his Star Wars films. In fact, it's obvious that this serial was a very strong influence on those Star Wars films.

Yes, the special effects are simplistic by today's standards (or even compared to big-budget films of the day -- Gone with the Wind and The Wizard Of Oz came out that same year with much more impressive visual effects), but seen as escapist fare, against the backdrop of WWII, the stories are not as laughable as one might expect. In fact, I rather enjoyed them.

When Saturn's "Council of the Wise" must decide whether to remain an isolationist power or to cast their support to Buck Rogers and his Hidden City allies against Killer Kane's tyranny, the historical context lends a certain weight to the scene. Many Americans in the audience must have been grappling with much the same quandry.

There is also some very progressive casting in this film. Of course, there is the female military officer: Lt. Deering. I've heard that Gene Roddenberry reported that audiences had a hard time in the early 1960s accepting a female second officer in his original Star Trek pilot, so this conceit in 1939 must have seemed quite radical.

Then, there is the casting of Philson Ahn as Prince Tallen, which must be one of the earliest instances of race-neutral casting I've ever seen, ranking up there with the Homicide TV show's casting of Yaphet Kotto as an Italian immigrant. Ahn's Prince Tallen is not a comic-relief sidekick either: he's a noble Saturnian Prince, and no mention is made of his being asian. I found this too to be very interesting.

So, if you're in a historical, pop-culture-archeological frame of mind, this 1939 Buck Rogers will prove endlessly fascinating. You can laugh and sneer at it if you like, but really, I think it deserves better.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.33)
9 Votes
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