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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
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By means of a gas discovered by Professor Morgan, these two people have remained in suspended animation for five hundred years.
Five hundred years?
George 'Buddy' Wade:
That makes me old enough to be my own great grandfather.
See more »
FLASH GORDON may well have been tops, but BUCK ROGERS was the "Daddy of Them All!"
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).
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