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  • This serial only proves that Buster Crabbe is definitely the king of the Saturday morning serials. He played two of the most memorable characters in comicdom, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. The main difference is the fact that Flash Gordon is more of an adult strip while Buck Rogers was more of a kiddie strip. In comparing the serials, Buck Rogers had as much action as the latter two Flash Gordon epics, however there was not as great a chemistry between Crabbe and Constance Moore as Crabbe had with Jean Rogers. All that aside though, on its own merit, its a great serial.
  • It strikes me that "Buck Rogers" is almost like a male fantasy come to life. Think about it: Buck gets to take a nice, long five-hundred-year nap! I'm ecstatic if I can get a fifteen-minute nap on a weekend! When he wakes up, Buck is the smartest, most dynamic guy around. Never mind that in real life you would treat someone five centuries behind the times like something that escaped from the zoo. Everyone needs Buck to go on exciting missions, fight the bad guys, test exotic equipment and fly rocketships (and crash them -- I think out of five or six flights Buck makes in the serial, he only lands successfully once).

    Now that that's out of the way...

    "Buck Rogers," the serial, is merely average: better than some serials, not as good as others. It's inevitable to compare it to the "Flash Gordon" serials, and in that contest, "Buck Rogers" comes in second. Buster Crabbe essentially plays the same character as Buck and Flash, but he had more style and dash (okay, more "flash") in "Flash Gordon." Constance Moore's Wilma tries to be a more proactive character than Jean Rogers' Dale, but Rogers just seems to inhabit her character more (and those belly-baring costumes from the first "Flash" serial weren't hard on the eyes, either). You can't even begin to compare Anthony Warde's Killer Kane to Charles Middleton's Ming: Warde could have been any gangster from any generic crime movie, but Ming was an archetype of evil right up there with Fu Manchu.

    "Buck Rogers" does provide the requisite thrills and generates its share of excitement, although the rocketship crashes get repetitive after a while (as I said before, almost every time Buck goes near a rocket, he crashes it). It's a decent enough story on its own merits, I suppose, but it does pale in comparison to the "Flash Gordon" trilogy.
  • BEGINNING its life in a humble enough manner, a story titled "Armageddon 2419 A.D. in an edition of AMAZING STORIES Magazine published in 1929, BUCK ROGERS was soon transcribed into the pages of the Nations Newspapers as a Daily and Sunday Color Comic Strip. Radio next beckoned with Hollywood waiting in the wings.

    WHEN Universal worked out a deal to make a Saturday Matinée staple out of it as a Cliff Hanger Serial (aka "Chapterplay"), they were well acquainted with the new sub-genre of the Science Fiction Movie, the Space Opera. Universal Pictures, long known as the top producer of the Horror Films. With such classics to their credit as FRANKENSTEIN (1931), Dracula (also '31), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), THE MUMMY (1932) and the first and still greatest of sequels with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935); as well as so many more titles and sequels extending right up to the 1960's Space Monster Craze.

    UNIVERSAL was also one of the three main purveyors of Serials. Having begun the practice in their earliest days, even pre 1920's Silent Screen Days; Mr. Carl Leamelle's Studio was joined later by Mascot and some independents like Victory Pictures and Weiss Brothers Artclass Pictures. Eventually Mascot merged with some others to form Republic Pictures; which was the numero uno producer of Serials (along with the "B" Western Series) for years. The third major Serial Company was Columbia.

    FURTHER qualification for Universal was in evidence of its two previously highly successful outings featuring their adaptation of the Hearst King Features Syndicate's Comic Strip done by artistic giant, Alex Raymond by name.

    THE Serials' entitled FLASH GORDON (1936) followed by FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO MARS (1938) both starred former Olympic Swimming Champion, Clarence Linden "Larry"(Buster) Crabbe in the title character's role. Although Buster was a Contract Player with Paramount, he had already been lent out to Universal on three occasions; making three comic strip adaptations as Cliff-Hangers. In addition to the aforementioned two, he also did the honors as Earth-Bound Detective, RED BARRY (1937).*

    SO, when BUCK ROGERS became their next project, who would be better to fill Buck's 25th Century Boots than the athletic, likable and talented (as a screen Thespian) Mr. Crabbe. It became a fait accompli in short order; taking to the big screen much like the proverbial Duck taking to the equally proverbial small pond or slough of H2O. (That's Water, Schultz!).

    MOST everyone that screens the Serial today expresses the opinion that the movie is okay, but they prefer the Flash Gordon roles of the previously made productions. All of the viewers of the Serial when it went into its initial release of 1939 must have felt pretty much the same way. The young Mr. Crabbe may also have become strongly identified with the part of the Wealthy Yale Graduate and Polo Player (from Flash Gordon's Comic Strip Origin).

    AT any rate, there was no 2nd Buck Rogers project at Universal until the BUCK ROGERS Feature Film of 1977 with its subsequent BUCK ROGERS Television Series on NBC TV Network.

    AS for the BUCK ROGERS Serial, our subject today, it was as familiar a character as one could be; for everyone (and we mean literally EVERYONE was familiar with the character and its legend of 20th Century Man Buck getting put into a deep sleep (suspended animation) for 500 years only to awaken in a future Earth where criminals ruled the country. (You know, Schultz, kinda like Chicago's Daley Machine!) Just about everything is the same, EXCEPT the methods of Buck's being anesthetized.

    IN the original Prose Story in AMAZING STORIES Magazine, Mr. Rogers was out Spelunking all by his lonesome, when he was put under by some gas present in the cave he was exploring. In the Serial, he and Buddy 'Wade' crashed their dirigible near the North Pole, getting chilled into a deep, five century long nap. In the 1970's version, Buck is an American Astronaut who is in a space suspended animation thing for the time.(Buddy was Buddy Dearing in the Newspaper Strip, ergo was already in the 25th Century where he was born. There was no 'Buddy' character in the 1977 movie or its TV Series spin-off.)

    AS we said, there was little need for any origin exposition with the Universal Serial. Buck really "landed on his feet" and "hit the ground running"; as he was immediately commissioned an Officer in the underground (literal term).

    THERE'S no double talk in the BUCK ROGERS Serial whatsoever. Those were much more innocent times-at least for the kids!

    ROUNDING out the cast were serial veterans Constance Moore (Wilma), Jackie Moran (Buddy), C. Montague Shaw (Dr. Huer), Jack Mulhall (Captain Rankin), Anthony Warde (Killer Kane also referred to as "Leader Kane"), Guy Usher (Aldar), William Gould (Air Marshall Kragg), Phillip Ahn (Prince Tallem as "Philson Ahn), Henry Brandon (Captain Laska), Wheeler Oakman (Lieutenant Patten), Keene Duncan (Lieutenant Lacy), Carleton Young (Scott), Reed Howes (Captain Roberts) and last but not least Wade Boteler (Professor Wade). Also has a whole blank-house full more!

    NOTE: * Universal would have Mr. Crabbe do a third Serial portraying their most successful spaceman in FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE (1940).

  • This one could have been better. Still interesting and good to look at. The re-recorded music is somewhat diluted because the orchestra was smaller than the one used in the original recordings. Warde is only fair as Killer Kane but Crabbe does a good job as Buck. Worth a look but it is no "Flash Gordon".
  • "Buck Rogers" (Episodes 1-12, 1939): This stuff is interesting to me for more than its comic book/kitsch style, weak acting, poor production, low grade special effects, lame story, and bad costumes. In 1938 & 1939, audiences were treated to Serials before the main movie at their local theater. Each section of these ongoing stories was about a half an hour in length, and a new one was shown each week. To see all 12 episodes (the entire story) you had to attend the movies 12 weeks in a row. Did you know the good guys would win? Of course. Did you know that at the end of each week's installment, there would be a "cliffhanger" moment leaving you wanting more next week? Of course. The Great Depression was still on, and television was invented but not yet available except to a few rich people in New York City. Once a week, especially on the weekend date nights and Saturday matinees for the kiddies, the Movie was IT...A SPECIAL experience to be savored for a nickel or dime. You got the NEWS, a CARTOON, a SERIAL installment, and THE MOVIE, plus some "private" time with your date...IN THE DARK, IN AIR CONDITIONING!! What a deal!! When I look beneath the surface of this serial (I go back and forth whether I like the characters in Flash Gordon OR Buck Rogers better, both having the same Space/Future theme, but I definitely prefer the décor and the hidden symbology of Buck) I see, as always, a "future" depicted by what we ARE at the moment, in our own time - considered the most "modern" of styles available to us. The cities, room sets, machines, costuming, transportation, and tools expected to be available to us in the future, are all shown in the Middle Art Deco style of America – Zig Zag, Geometric, Jazz, Skyscraper – applied (slathered) to everything from a pair of shoes to a rocket ship and an entire city. And, since the most modern symbols of the 1930's were our very own skyscrapers - with their skeletons of riveted steel - everything in the future is made of…riveted steel, even if it should float. Wonderful and silly. The city designs are direct ripoffs from various buildings of the 1933 Chicago and 1939 New York World's Fairs. The costumes are a mix of para-military horse riding jodfer outfits, and objects that can serve as both helmets OR trash cans for example...trash cans with lightning bolt wings, anyhow. Radio microphones FLOAT (on a fishing line) for some reason, but their speakers still look like turn of the century wind-up record player speaker horns; doors are toothy, biting jaws that open and close with intimidating chews; every object of any importance has a few vacuum tubes or power line insulators on it, along with the rivets; the powerful rocket ships snap, crackle, pop, fizz, and smoke like a used Desoto pouring sparks out its tail pipe, but somehow they get from planet to planet in minutes. Fight scenes: Buster Crabbe's (Buck's) stand-ins do all the work – and you KNOW they're stand-ins because you can SEE them fighting, and they look NOTHING like Buster/Buck. "Hey look, some OTHER guy's fighting now! Oh wait, he's Buck's stand-in!" Then we have the Zoggs – a dark skinned race of dolts, with large spirals of forehead flesh that hang in their eyes, serving as the gophers and laborer/minions of governments. Bad guys wear tight black uniforms. And here is where we get glimpses into the world of 1938/39, when Hitler, like the "Killer Kane" maniac leader in our story (a name that would have been recognized as the powerful "Citizen Kane" character who represented publisher William Randolph Hearst), who was attempting to take over the world, the solar system, the universe...controlling the minds of everyone. The good guys are working on alliances, some are ready to roll over for Killer Kane, others want to fight, and politics & leadership councils are being put to use as everyone decides who is on which side. In Buck Rogers, the American/English Caucasians/Earthlings are joined by the Chinese/Asians Saturnians and the Russian/Caucasians (of some other planet) to fight the power-mad German/Aryan race. The parallels were simple enough for all of that movie audience to "get". (The Japanese/Asians Aliens were not in the mix directly, but the audience would've known that the alliance with the Americans meant China, who was being attacked by Japan.) On and on the serial goes... battles, spying, espionage, meetings, weapon races, disguises, and science dedicated to winning wars not curing diseases. It was low-grade info-tainment – mild propaganda on a weekly basis – expressions of contemporary concerns and fears, which reached so many millions of Americans every week. Those hidden in the top back rows of the balcony didn't notice.
  • I can't help comparing this 1939 serial to "Flash Gordon" (1936) and "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe" (1940). Although some of the special effects (the ray guns and fleets of spaceships) are superior, "Buck Rogers" is less fun. It's not the fault of Buster Crabbe, who invests Rogers with the same heroic energy he gave to Gordon. And Jackie Moran shines as sidekick Buddy Wade (in the newspaper strip he was Buddy Deering, Wilma's younger brother). But the other actors fall short. So does the story and pacing.

    Anthony Wade's Killer Kane is a colorless villain, lacking the panache of Charles Middleton's gleefully evil Ming the Merciless. He badly needs a slinky, sinister Ardala Valmar to spice things up. Constance Moore is a competent Wilma Deering but there's no chemistry between her and Crabbe. Moore lacks the passion Jean Rogers exhibited as Dale Arden in the "Flash" series or the breezy camaraderie Erin Gray displayed as Wilma Deering in the 1980s "Buck Rogers" television show. C. Montague Shaw is OK as Doctor Huer but doesn't have nearly as much to do as Frank Shannon's Doctor Zarkov (again, from the "Flash" serials).

    After an exciting start, the serial falls down in the latter six episodes. It is typical of the genre to have a late episode replay scenes from earlier in the series to pad things out. But "Buck Rogers" does this twice. Serial plots also tend to have a lot of captures, escapes, and re-captures. "Flash Gordon" broke the monotony by having these occur in a variety of ways in a variety of locations. "Buck Rogers" has only two destinations: Earth and Saturn. Both planets apparently share the same rocky desert terrain. Doctor Huer has only one technological gimmick to help Buck. The heroes get stranded by crashed spaceships seemingly every other episode. And Kane's goons never tumble to the fact that it's Rogers driving that rocket cruiser reported missing from their hangar.

    Given it's charismatic hero and quality special effects, "Buck Rogers" could have equaled or surpassed "Flash Gordon" if it had had stronger writing or more energetic secondary characters. Unfortunately, it has neither.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A must see for any fan of retro-futurism or of Buster Crabbe. This serial epic is truly one of the best examples from an era when people went to the movies on Saturday afternoon,spending only a dime for a day of cartoons, movies and adventure serials based on popular comics strips and funny books.

    This serial, based on the 30s comic strip of the same name, pulls out all the stops to entertain and wow it's audience. Although the FX will seem dated by todays Hollywood standards, they were state of the art when the serial debuted in the 30s.

    This is a good family film to watch, and far more culturally significant than another Saturday morning with spongebob. Parents note that the film is spread out into chapters, or episodes, so an episode a day will keep your kids entertained. It's also fun for the parent who is fed up with the schlock kids are forced to watch now... any parents wishing Thundercats were still around?

    Ever wonder where George Lucas got his ideas for Star Wars? Well look no farther, this Buck Rogers serial was one of at least two inspirations for the galaxy, far, far away (the other being Flash Gordon Conqures the Universe, another comic based sci fi serial starring the immortal Buster Crabbe.) For fans of the original comic hero, it's a little disappointing to see some minor changes to the story. Like Bucks sidekick Buddy not being Col. Wilma Deerings little brother, or Wilma, Bucks main love interest, demoted to a lieutenant, darn Hollywood making women all helpless again, not to mention the fact that she is barely in the serial at all.

    Don't expect Buck to be a frozen fish like the 70s TV version, Buck Rogers was a WW1 pilot who was preserved in a caved in mine who awoke 500 years into the future. In this serial he's still a pilot, only now he is preserved in an Airship along with Buddy.

    The cliffhangers are still fun to this day and the space ships Buck rides around in are pretty cool. This serial stands the test of time, much like it's hero.
  • This was the first TV serial I saw in my childhood, and I still remembers it as a jewel. Buck Rogers (Linden or Larry `Buster' Crabbe) and Buddy (Jackie Moran) had an air crash in 1940, hopefully they survived and were discovered under heavy snow and ice layers 80 years later. Both were conducted to a hidden city, a headquarters of revolutionaries fighting against the injustice of Killer Kane (Anthony Wade), who ruled a very modern city. The adventures had plenty of fiction, with a lot of action, air-spaceship fighting, modern parachutes, visits to far Saturn planet and others. The only disappointment of the serial was that there was no a single kiss between Buck and his eternal female colleague Wilma (Constance Moore). The soundtrack (of Hajos &Waxman), although it was used in other serials of Flash Gordon and Tim Tyler's luck, its introductory part is really nice and difficult to find out in any shop at present. It is pity not to see DVD and/or VHS video available with subtitles in Spanish.
  • Outstanding serial with themes and ideas used in much later Hollywood productions.

    Firstly, I was not a child of the 30s, I was a child of the 70s. I think my age might make me look at this production in a different light to the older viewers. By that I mean, Buck Rogers is often compared to sister production of the day - Flash Gordon (1936-40) - but because I was not around in that day - I am not too concerned with Flash Gordon. Now that we have that out of the way, my review.

    I once saw a very edited down version of this serial (lasting about an hour) but today in January 2020 I finally saw the full complete four hours and I was blown away by how good this Universal serial is! Columbia's Batman and Robin (1949) still stands as my favourite old time B&W movie serial but this must come in second or third best.

    Buck has a youthful pal "Bud" who has touch of "The Boy Wonder" in him. In fact there was a point in one of the later chapters where I had to remind myself that I was not actually watching some very early take on Batman and Robin - as "Bud" just seemed so much like Robin in his actions with Buck!

    The planet Saturn (seen here) seems like the alien planet seen in 1965's Lost In Space - that is because both shows were filmed at Red Rock Canyon.

    The suspended animation theme would be used for another classic hero in Irwin Allen's The Return Of Captain Nemo (1978).

    My point? You walk away from Buck Rogers (1939) feeling like several 60s/70s Hollywood productions were getting ideas from this show. You feel like it is the start of something. That alone makes it one of my very favourite pre-1940 productions period. And it does not always feel like a 30s show. It could pass as a 50s show without any problems.

    Granted, the villain might not compare to the deep voiced Wizard (seen in 1949's Batman and Robin) but he does an okay job. Granted, there is a male-only feel to the production as there is only one female present (Wilma) in the whole four hours and she is so covered up in heavy clothing (from a distance she could almost be confused as male).

    So basically, if you want girls, I might suggest you turn to Flash Gordon (1936) instead, but if you want a knockout boys club which might have given Hollywood some ideas later on - Buck Rogers (1939) is for you!
  • klofkorn-122 August 2006
    Buck Rogers as rendered in this serial is a far cry from the comic strip. Somehow, the producers & director managed to create what amounts to a pale shadow of the original strip. The sets used in the 1939 Buck Rogers series are painfully and obviously recycled from the prior Flash Gordon series. Not only that, but some of the film sequences seem to be recycled shamelessly (e.g. the sequences of the underground subways).

    For anyone who wonders about the genesis of the homo-erotic themes of Batman, though, look no further! Buck and Buddy do seem to be the prototypes of the now common comic book stereotypes. I am not certain whether this was intentional or not. Possibly the director merely had in mind an appeal to the pre-adolescent social constructs of a bygone age? Buddy still looks like he's the "boy wonder" of this series, though, while the Buck Rogers films date back to 1934 or so, several years before the Batman debut (1939). There must be a master's thesis waiting to be written here.
  • Foreward...In a film made decades ago a fearless fighter and his young protégé are out fighting evil in 1939 when their zeppelin lands and freezes in snow-covered mountains. There the two bodies rest in a state of suspended life due to a newly invented gas thus preserving life for centuries. in the 25th century these two bodies are found, life is restored, and Buck Rogers and his faithful sidekick Buddy wade join forces of the Hidden City as it fights for its life again the cruel killer wade and his evil forces of reckless racketeers. That is in a nutshell the premise behind this serial and its not entirely a bad one. The story definitely has some strong aspects to it and we get to see some inventive science fiction as well, but Buck Rogers is NOT Flash Gordon nor is it ever really close to that. First of all let's see what we do have in common: a basic story that pits the few good against the evil majority, a fearless, indestructible hero both played by Larry Buster Crabbe, an evil villain bent on world and extra-world domination, and cheesy special effects. The major differences are not so much in the story but in its execution. Flash Gordon was a big budget affair compared to this. Here the sets look so much cheaper and the effects so much, well...cheaper. The acting too is excruciatingly bad as Crabbe is one of the best actors in the film, and that isn't saying too much as he says lines looking like a silent screen actor arching eyebrows, etc... Jackie Moran is the most fun as his sidekick Buddy, but everyone else ranges from acceptable(C. Montague Shaw as Professor Huer to terrible Anthony Warde as Killer Kane to one of the worst acting performances seen in a long time - Philson Ahn as Prince Tallen - boy he could use some presence. I wanted to pinch him to see if was really alive. The direction is crisp and their is only minimal use of flashback sequences, but the musical soundtrack really bothered me as Franz Waxman's score from The Bride of Frankenstein was repeatedly used throughout and used to ill-effect very often. Don't get me wrong - Buck Rogers is a fun serial. It has some cool action scenes, an inviting story, and cheesy effects like the spaceships sputtering about like a listless firecracker, but it is in no way close to Crabbe's previous serial Flash Gordon - perhaps the greatest serial ever made. One other note: Constance Moore playing Wilma Deering has virtually no personality and, as far as I recollect, is the only female in the entire production. Interesting.