Review Buck Rogers (1939)

Doctor Omega

Member: Rank 10

Buck Rogers is a 1939 Universal serial film starring Buster Crabbe (who had previously played the title character in two Flash Gordonserials and would return for a third in 1940) as the eponymous hero, Constance Moore, Jackie Moran and Anthony Warde. It was based on the Buck Rogers character created by Philip Francis Nowlan, which had appeared in magazines and comic strips since 1928.

Production notes

This 12-part Buck Rogers movie serial was launched in 1939. It starred Buster Crabbe, who had played the role of Flash Gordon in the serials Flash Gordon and Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars prior to Buck Rogers. Constance Moore played Lieutenant Wilma Deering, the only woman in the film, and Jackie Moran was Buddy Wade, a character who did not appear in other versions of the Buck Rogers franchise, but who was clearly modeled on the Sunday strip character Buddy Deering. Anthony Warde played "Killer Kane", Buck Rogers' enemy; this was the only time that Warde, who usually portrayed evil underlings in serials, played a lead villain. Korean-American actor Philson Ahn, younger brother of noted actor Philip Ahn, played Prince Tallen, a Saturnian native who befriends Buck Rogers.

The noted actor and "crown prince of stuntmen" David Sharpe, who appeared in over 4,500 films over the course of a seven-decade career, also appeared in the Buck Rogers serial in several roles: as one of Kane's pilots, a Hidden City sentry, and a Saturnian lieutenant.

The serial had a small budget and saved money on special effects by re-using material from other stories: background shots from the futuristic musical Just Imagine (1930), as the city of the future, the garishly stenciled walls from the Azura palace set in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, and even the studded leather belt that Crabbe wore in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, turned up as part of Buck's uniform.

In 1953, the 1939 movie serial was edited into a feature film entitled Planet Outlaws. Then it was edited again to feature length and titled Destination Saturn for syndication to television, in 1965. Finally, the serial was edited once again into a feature film format in the late 1970s, this version simply entitled Buck Rogers with the theatrical poster advertising, "Star Wars owes it all to Buck Rogers", and which was later was sold on videotape in the early 1990s by VCI Entertainment under the catalogue title of Planet Outlaws (which title, to make it appear legitimate, was also superimposed onto the first shot of film following the main titles). The original "Planet Outlaws" and also "Destination Saturn" have both been available in video format since the early 1980s, and as early as 1970 were both available for user-purchase in 16mm film format from Thunderbird Pictures. VCI released all twelve installments on DVD in September 2000. In November 2009, VCI released a special 70th anniversary edition on DVD, with extras including "The History of Buck Rogers" by Clifford "Laughing Gravy" Weimer, a photo gallery and the 1935 Buck Rogers short feature originally shown at the 1933-34 Worlds Fair.

Chapter titles
  1. Tomorrow's World
  2. Tragedy on Saturn
  3. The Enemy's Stronghold
  4. The Sky Patrol
  5. The Phantom Plane
  6. The Unknown Command
  7. Primitive Urge
  8. Revolt of the Zuggs
  9. Bodies Without Minds
  10. Broken Barriers
  11. A Prince in Bondage
  12. War of the Planets

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Doctor Omega

Member: Rank 10
Strangely, they never seemed to show this on the telly when I was a kid - or maybe they did and I missed it. Flash Gordon was on all the time.

I have since caught up with it on dvd and the remastering was really well done.

They have not remastered FLASH GORDON yet at all, from what I have seen.