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A pilot and his young passenger crash-land on a mountaintop and are put into suspended animation by a strange gas. They awake 500 years later to discover that the Earth is now ruled by a tyrannical despot called Killer Kane, and they lead a fight to overthrow him. Written by
The character of Killer Kane was changed, too: in the original strip, his real name was Oba Kane, he had a twin brother named Nova and a pistol called "Baby". He also had a girlfriend named Ardala Valmar. The regulations would not allow any of this background to be used, either: instead, Oba "Killer" Kane is presented as the despotic ruler of a future Earth. See more »
When Buck and Buddy infiltrate the council on Saturn, the second soldier reacts to being shot by Buck's laser gun before he is shot. See more »
Entertaining but weaker than the "Flash Gordon" franchise
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.
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