“Calling the Leader. Calling the Leader.” “This is the Leader what have you to report?”
Lieutenant Buck Rogers (Buster Crabbe) and his sidekick Buddy Wade (Jackie Moran) are on a dirigible flying over the North Pole. During a violent storm the dirigible crashes. On board is an experimental gas called Nirvano Gas. The gas is released and Buck and Buddy are put into suspended animation until they can be rescued. Unfortunately an avalanche covers the dirigible. Buck and Buddy seem lost forever.
In the year 2440 a patrol sees the dirigible sticking out of the partially melted snow. The patrol finds Buck and Buddy still in suspended animation. They are revived and taken to Dr. Huer (C. Montague Shaw). Dr. Huer explains to them that since 1939 things have changed drastically. The world is now ruled by the ruthless dictator, Killer Kane (Anthony Warde), and his army of "super-racketeers". Trying to combat them is a group of resistance fighters that live in the "Hidden City". Huer and his military counterpart, Air Marshal Kragg (William Gould), resist the criminal rulers of Earth.
Buck and Buddy join the resistance. Trying to gain allies in their fight, Buck and Buddy go to Saturn where they hope that they can find help in their fight against Kane. Things don’t go well. They manage to escape and return to Earth. Prince Tallen (Philson Ahn) goes to Earth with Kane’s lead henchman Captain Laska (Henry Brandon). For awhile Kane manages to bluff Tallen into believing that they are the good guys. When Kane’s plan goes awry Buck and Buddy rescue Prince Tallen and return to the Hidden City.
By now Prince Tallen is convinced that Kane is evil and that the resistance needs the help of Saturn. They return to Saturn to sign the treaty. Wilma Deering (Constance Moore) is assigned to go with them. Saturn is run by Aldar (Guy Usher) and the Council of the Wise. They agree to sign a treaty between Saturn and the resistance fighters, but Kane’s minions are not done wreaking havoc and disrupting the resistance’s plans to secure help from Saturn.
“Buck Rogers” was released in 1939 and was directed by Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind. The serial was the 42nd produced by Universal. As with a lot of movies and serials, a lot of the sets, props and even music were reused from other movies and serials. Wilma Deering is the only female in the serial and, of course as such, has little to do. Still she does what she can with the part and portrays Wilma as a strong and competent officer.
Philson Ahn, who played Prince Tallen, was an American of Korean heritage. Philson only had a few acting credits to his name. Although not a strong actor, having a Korean American in such a prominent role was refreshing. (Philson’s brother Philip Ahn played Master Kan in Kung Fu.)
“Buck Rogers” was not as well received as the “Flash Gordon” serials. A lot of people and critics felt it was a watered down Flash Gordon. Being a novice to the whole futuristic superhero genre I was happy with both. You still have Space ships, interplanetary travel, futuristic toys, despots, cliffhangers, thrills and chills. And Buster Crabbe.
As for toys we have the invisibility ray, the amnesia helmet (coffee pot hat), the Past-O-Scope, de-gravity belts, teleport booths and disintegrator pistols, to name a few.
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