Gee Golly Gosh Buster Crabbe was a babe back in his day! The 1930’s actor & Olympic gold medalist swimmer was the only actor to star as each of the top three pulp heroes of his time- Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Tarzan. Considering my recent obsession with everything related to Buck Rogers’ in the 25th Century (after discovering the 1979/1980 series remastered on BluRay, in which an older-yet-still-spunky Crabbe appears in one episode) I gleefully tracked down and consumed the 12 part 1939 movie serial in which he starred.
The gist of the story: Buck Rogers (Buster Crabbe) and his young friend Buddy Wade (Jackie Moran) are piloting an airship over the Arctic when they become trapped in a blizzard and are forced to crash land. Luckily there is a supply of experimental Nirvano gas on board (placed there as a precaution by Buddy’s dad) meant to preserve them in a state of suspended animation until they can be rescued. But when an avalanche buries their ship, Buck and Buddy aren’t found for 500 years.
After some mild bewilderment at having woken up in 2440, they forego the expected adjustment period, and jump right into helping the rebels of Hidden City in their valiant quest to rid the Earth from its tyrannical dictator ruler ‘Killer Kane’.
Buck and Buddy help to save the world from Killer Kane (Anthony Warde) and his evil henchmen (who strongly resemble space-Teletubbies) with the help of the lovely Lieutenant Wilma Deering (played by singer/actress Constance Moore); Hidden City Chief Scientist Professor Huer (played by the Australian C. Montague Shaw) and Prince Talen of the planet Saturn (Philson Ahn). Oh yeah- and Saturn is just like Earth, didn’t you know?
For the 1930’s, this film serial has some pretty cool special effects, such as the funky kaleidoscopic film titles, some slick retro film transitions, and gratuitous use of a Star Trek- like teleportation platform in which characters enter the chamber to de-materialise and re-materialise a few rooms away as much as possible, even if it serves no purpose to the story. They saved money in the art department though, by re-using some of the art deco sets and costume props from other productions such as the futuristic musical Just Imagine (1930), and Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938) in which Crabbe also starred.
But back to our babe of the week!
Here’s a gallery of screenshots from the 1939 Buck Rogers serial (you’re welcome!) and below that, another gallery, of Buster Crabbe looking real suave (you’re also welcome).