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Buck Rogers
Buck Rogers Conquers the Universe / Buck Rogers: Destination Saturn

USA 1939
produced by
Barney A. Sarecky (associate) for Universal
directed by Ford L. Beebe, Saul A. Goodkind
starring Buster Crabbe, Constance Moore, Jackie Moran, Jack Mulhall, Anthony Warde, C. Montague Shaw, Guy Usher, William Gould, Philson Ahn, Henry Brandon, Wheeler Oakman, Kenne Duncan, Carleton Young, Reed Howes, John Harmon, Wade Boteler, Roy Butler, Eddy Chandler, Lane Chandler, Russ Clark, Jack Gardner, Karl Hackett, Kenneth Harlan, Stanley Price
screenplay by Norman S. Hall, Ray Trampe, based on characters created by Philip Francis Nowlan, musical director: Charles Previn

serial
Buck Rogers

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Buck Rogers (Buster Crabbe) and his young friend Buddy (Jackie Moran) get into a terrible dirigible accident in the 20th century that buries them under tons of ice - but thanks to some suspended animation gas developed by Buddy's dad (Wade Botcheler), they are kept in suspended animation (and thus de facto alive) to come back to 500 later. In the meantime, Earth has come under the rule of Killer Kane (Anthony Warde), an offspring of 20th century racketeers who rules the planet with great brutality. But fortunately there's Professor Huer (C. Montague Shaw), leader of the rebels who reside in a hidden city inside a mountain - and also, fortunately Buck and Buddy's dirigible is found by Professor Huer's men, and Buck is quick to not only understand everything that's going on in this future world, he also quickly becomes the rebels' most formidable hero, and Wilma Deering (Constance Moore), ace pilot, falls in love with him.

Buck, Wilma and Buddy go to Saturn to ask the Saturnians for help, but Killer Kane sends some of his men as well, and the Saturnians, judging the situation wrongly, send an emmissary, Prince Tallen (Philson Ahn) down to earth with Kane's men to sign a treaty. In what almost turns out to be a suicide mission, Buck and Buddy get Tallen out of the hands of Kane's men and convince him to sign the treaty with the rebels. But since no radio connection has been established between earth and Saturn, so Buck and Wilma have to fly Tallen to Saturn themselves ... but one of Kane's man, Captain Laska (Henry Brandon) has made it to Saturn first, and somehow he manages to kidnap Tallen, make him his mindless slave with the help of a amnesia device, and thanks to that Tallen betrays Buck and Wilma and almost has Saturn side with Kane before Buck can call the cheat. But by now, Laska has already made the subhuman Saturnians, the Zuggs, his subject with the help of a robot - actually a rebel wearing an amnesia helmet to make him a mindless slave ... and the Zuccs almost overthrow the Saturn Council until Buck again heroically deals with the situation. Returning back to earth, Buck and Wilma are captured by Kane's men, and Buck is even made part of Kane's robot squadron via one of Kane's amnesia helmets, but Buddy has persuaded one of the Hidden City's pilots to fly him to Kane's headquarters and save the day. But returning to the Hidden City in Kane's captured private ship, Buck and company unknowingly take Kane's private pilot with them who transmits the location of the Hidden City over to Kane, and now Kane's men launch an attack. The first wave is unsuccessful though, but now the Hidden City knows they have to lauch a counter attack with help of the Saturnians to not perish in Kane's next attack - but communications to Saturn are down, and Buck and Buddy have to make another trip to the planet to find Laska has kidnapped Prince Tallen in order to force the Saturnians into submission. Of course, Buck manage to save Tallen and ultimately get Saturn on the rebels' side for good. Then it's back to earth, where the Hidden City forces and the Saturn forces are to attack Kane's air force while Buck and Buddy sneak into the Dynamo Room where Kane's robot squad work, they free them all of their amnesia helmets and organize an uprising from within, ultimately forcing Kane into submission by putting an amnesia helmet on him ...

 

Quite obviously, Buck Rogers was made as an attempt to cash in on Buster Crabbe's Flash Gordon-serials of the same era, and a successful one at that - mainly because the similarities between the serials were rather striking - but that said, the Flash Gordon-serials did have the upper hand, there was more sense of wonder in them, they had more exotic and colourful sets and characters, so even though in print, Buck Rogers may have preceded Flash Gordon, on film it seemed a bit like the kid brother - but the kid brother who can, because seeing the serial on its own terms it's a nice exercise in escapism, with an simplistic yet interesting enough story, plenty of action, exciting (even if from today's point of view primitive) visual effects (even if the most impressive backdrops of Killer Kane's city were lifted from 1930's Just Imagine), cool backdrops (borrowed from other Universal productions, mostly, as was the rule with serials), all carried by a for its time over-the-top and fantasy-out-of-bound narration and plenty of excitement, making this good fun, especially when seen through the veil of nostalgia.

 

By the way, there is very little that ties this serial to Philip Francis Nowlan's novellas Armageddon 2419 A.D. and The Airlords of Han that originated the character of Buck Rogers, and for mostly legal reasons, the similarities to the comic strip by Nowlan and Dick Calkins (art) are fleeting as well.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD