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Planet Outlaws (1953)
"Planet Outlaws" is a 1953 sci-fi film which was directed by Ford Beebe, who has also directed such films as "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe" (1940), "African Treasure" (1952), and "The Shadow of the Eagle" (1932).
Warning: Spoilers will likely be given during this review.
The film is 69 minutes in length and stars Buster Crabbe ("Tarzan the Fearless", "Alien Dead", "King of Gamblers") as Buck Rogers, Constance Moore ("Show Business", "Atlantic City", "Las Vegas Nights") as Wilma Deering, and Jackie Moran ("Gone With the Wind", "Since You Went Away", "High School Hero") as George Wade.
The plot for the film reads as follows: An American soldier suspended in time wakes up to find himself in the futuristic world of the year 2500.
The film was originally twelve 20-minute episodes which were aired in 1939 and simply called "Buck Rogers" and condensed into the 69 minutes of length that it runs for. What transpires is a lackadaisical effort in editing and production, which confuses the viewer to no end. Everyone knows the story of Buck Rogers, and if you don't know it and like "Star Trek", "Battlestar Galactica" and even "Star Wars", you probably should. Buck Rogers is a pilot who crashes and wakes up from suspended animation 500 years later, with the Earth in a very different state of affairs. Is it any good? Let's find out!
I do love opening credits on old films, especially those which list the cast as 'The Players'. I think it adds a touch of style to it and you know you're going to get something good when a film begins like that, right? Let's not jump the gun here! First off, you're not going to get cheesy 1950s sci-fi because of it actually being filmed in the 1930s, so instead you get really bad cardboard sets and even worse special effects. Those range from the spacecraft which Buck and his enemies fly in. They are not very aerodynamic and just do not look convincing at all, and something I noticed this morning was that they sounded like my electric toothbrush. Each and every one of them. The humans have some kind of jetpack which is much later explained as gravity belts, giving our heroes much ease when landing on planets. It is so clearly done with wires that it's even preposterous to think otherwise, but nobody said they had a big box office budget, after all.
Anyway, after Buck Rogers awakens from stasis and they immediately put him in charge of the mission to rid the universe of the evil Killer Kane (Anthony Warde). I thought this very strange to put someone in charge who has just been revived from 600 years in suspended animation, especially given that he'd have a lot of questions regarding technology and so forth, but maybe that's just me. Anyway, Buck and Buddy travel from Earth to Jupiter and they're awed by the 1,000mph speeds. I'm more awed at how fast it takes them to get there, because my rough estimate would be about 90 years or so! Speaking of Saturn, it has a breathable atmosphere in this film, and the inhabitants are humanoid in appearance.
A few more things of note that I found interesting, or rather, found silly, include the uniforms that Buck and his colleagues wore. These were basically low cut V-neck shirts, and they wore what appear to be swimming caps on their heads. Obviously they wouldn't wear them anywhere else, but they just looked so out of place. The ray guns, too, didn't work for me. These looked so much like torch beams but with a cardboard cutout of a rectangle stuck on them so that they 'fired a beam'. The rocket firing mechanism is in Buck's spacecraft is a huge pulley, the like of which you would get in a railway signal box which are becoming less and less commonplace these days. The soundtrack is also something that doesn't fit, because when you listen to something like that, you automatically think back to silent films. For a space theme, it definitely isn't right.
So I'm 28 minutes into watching the film and I suddenly begin to wonder what is going on with the film's plot, or lack of plot, if you want to put it another way. Buck has escaped from Earth (I think) and I now have no idea why. Then, 8 minutes later, he's on Earth's side again (possibly). It's very confusing, and I will have to put it down to the editing, because I hadn't had any alcohol that night, though I probably should have done just to cope with the remaining time left of the film! During this time, Buck and the gang manage to escape from the 'aliens' in an alien spacecraft and it takes the ground people awhile to fire on them. Almost as if they didn't realise what they were supposed to be doing until it was too late for the director to cut and reshoot.
A few more things that I found comical - or I would if it was supposed to be - Someone gets on the subspace er... telephone (possibly) a couple of times and one of those instances she says " Calling the leader, calling the leader, calling the leader." To which she gets a reply, "This is the leader." And another one where she says "The Earth calling planet Saturn" had me laughing. Not because it was funny but because it wasn't supposed to be. Speaking of the 'leader', he gets a subspace message in his boardroom, or I presume it's a boardroom. Anyway, everyone can hear what the message says but he still returns to the head of the table to tell them about it. Then there are the legions of people that have been coerced into doing as they're told. They're fitted with something that looks like a watering can on their heads and suddenly they're zombified. But finally, the best one was when Buck Rogers gets, in his own words, 'just a burn from a ray gun' and he'll 'be alright tomorrow'. These are the same ray guns which have disintegrated people throughout the film.
I won't give the ending away but perhaps I should, because you, the reader, is not going to want to watch this tripe to be honest. There is no cohesion in the film at all, and everything is put together pretty poorly. I usually like this sort of film but I just cannot recommend it to anyone. Bad editing, wooden acting and cardboard sets are all present and correct here. I really wish it was better but it just isn't, unfortunately, and that's not a good thing as far as talent like Buster Crabbe goes.