A 20th Century pilot named Buck Rogers and his young friend Buddy Wade awake from 500 years in suspended animation to find that the world has been taken over by the outlaw army of Killer Kane. Written by
This serial is probably based on an unofficial Flash Gordon story in which Flash Gordon travels to Saturn; this story was not and has never been part of the original Flash Gordon universe (it was illegally published in 1936). See more »
Narrative cheating: In the cliffhanger ending of Chapter Nine, Buddy Wade is shot down (and presumably killed) with a ray gun while trying to escape from Killer Kane's men. This scene is replayed at the beginning of Chapter Ten, but with a blatantly different resolution: Buddy escapes by diving out of a window, as if his earlier shooting had never happened. See more »
Westmore Observatory calling dirigible Chandril. Westmore Observatory calling dirigible Chandril.
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Opening credits are displayed on a kaleidoscope background. 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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