Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO MARS

Kane Richmond and Buster Crabbe
FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO MARS (15 chapter Universal serial/1938). Directors: Ford Beebe; Robert F. Hill

When destructive winds buffet the earth causing mass disaster, Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe) heads to Mongo with Dr. Zarkov (Frank Shannon) and Dale Arden (Jean Rogers), but they discover that a deadly ray is trained on earth from Mars. On Mars, Flash discovers that old adversary Ming the Merciless (Charles Middleton) has joined forces with Azura, Queen of Magic (Beatrice Roberts) -- known as "Her Magnificence" -- who is fond of turning anyone who displeases her into living clay. Flash and company take quite a while, nearly the entire serial, to finally turn off that ray, but along the way we see interesting sets, bridges made out of solid light, cloaks that allow people to fly through the air, and an underground tube through which Flash races in a speedy vehicle. Trick photography, as it used to be called, makes the clay people seem to come out of walls made of the same material (these sequences remind one of the rock people in the later Missile to the Moon) and there's a group of Forest People who are even more threatening. The cliffhangers aren't particularly special in this serial, although there is a disintegrater room sequence in chapter nine. With her hair short and brunette instead of long and blond, Jean Rogers is less of a sex object and comes off braver and more competent than in the original serial, but she doesn't look as hot. Beatrice Roberts [Love Takes Flight] is only acceptable as Azura, but Middleton again steals the show as the marvelous Ming. Flash is such a gentleman that at one point he actually apologizes to Ming: "I'm sorry I have to rough you up, Ming." Huh? Crabbe seems a little bored at times. Jack Mulhall, Anthony Warde and future Spy Smasher Kane Richmond [Haunted Harbor] are also in the cast, with Richmond playing an enemy soldier.

Verdict: Hearty hokum. **1/2.

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