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

Thursday, September 10, 2015


The "lobster-clawed dragon" has Flash in its clutches
FLASH GORDON (13 chapter Universal serial/1936). Director: Frederick Stephani.

In this serial based on the Alex Raymond "cartoon strip," the earth is threatened by another planet rushing toward it on a path to destruction. Flying to this planet, Mongo, with Professor Zarkov (Frank Shannon) and lovely Dale Arden (Jean Rogers of The Second Woman), Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe) encounters Emperor Ming (Charles Middleton of The Town Went Wild) and his horny daughter, Aura (Priscilla Lawson). The original menace of two planets colliding is solved right off the bat, but now Flash and his friends have to deal with a variety of friendly and not-so-friendly Mongo inhabitants, as well as giant, man-eating lizards and a terrible fire dragon with lobster-like claws. Ming is also determined to make Dale his bride, while Aura is equally smitten with Flash and hates Dale, whom he prefers. Prince Thun (James Pierce) is king of the lion men while the obese King Vultan (Jack "Tiny" Lipson) rules the winged Hawkmen. (One can't imagine how Vultan would ever be able to get off the ground!) Flabby-armed and pot-bellied Prince Barin (Richard Alexander) claims to be the rightful ruler of Mongo. An "octosac" is merely an octopus that battles a shark (in footage later used in The Beast from 20,00 Fathoms and probably dozens of other films). There are some exciting scenes and death traps in the serial, such as a electric torture device in chapter six, a tank that fills with water and then an octosac; and a splendid, lengthy sword fight between Flash and Barin in chapter eight. The dragon does double-duty, first appearing in chapter two before becoming a fire-breathing variation in a later chapter. It's interesting that the flying ships of Mongo greatly resemble the design of Arkov's own spaceship, but why on earth does the scientist wear hot pants throughout the serial! The acting is more than acceptable, with Crabbe quite good in fact, and Middleton wisely underplaying instead of chewing the scenery as a lesser actor might do. There are interesting sets and some creative art direction, but some of the supporting players may have you scratching your head All told, however, Flash Gordon, despite its variable pleasures, is not that great a serial.

Verdict: A generally fast pace helps put the absurd material over and much of it is fun. **1/2.


Neil A Russell said...

When I want a really good trip down memory lane I load up Flash Gordon.
Even though the story has enough holes to cause a rift in the space time continuum, it has the perfect storytelling formula. Good guy, girlfriend, baddie, dangerous problem to solve and get the girl.
If Hollywood would realize this is all it takes to keep an audience interested, pictures would be a lot better today.
George Lucas seemed to realize it, I don't think there's much doubt that Star Wars is essentially Flash Gordon rehashed and it worked brilliantly.

Sadly the 80s movie version of Flash was ruined not by the people in it, the casting was nearly perfect (Brian Blessed was born to play Vultan and von Sydow and Topol would have given the original players a run for their money) but the story was overloaded with nonsense and the biggest failing of all was not setting it in the 1930s. It was as big a screwup as the Doc Savage movie, but don't get me started on that.

I've always wondered if there is some significance to the name "Aura", it turns up again in the Captain Video series with a character called Princess Ultima Aura although it's pronounced "Auria". From what I can gather the latter Aura was working for the bad guys as well but I never knew if there was something to the name or it just sounded good to the scriptwriters.

Neil A Russell said...

While we're on the planet Mongo; it took me a number of years to finally see the movie "Just Imagine" from 1930 about what life would be like in the far distant time of 1980.

The cool dance sequence that Ming is seen enjoying in the first episode of "Flash" is lifted right from the earlier film as I would suppose are many of the other stock scenes.

William said...

You're undoubtedly right about that! I haven't seen the remake of Flash Gordon in decades, but will probably give it another look and possibly watch the two other FG serials which I haven't seen in a long time. The "Doc Savage" movie was a major disappointment and it just sank any chance of a cinema series -- too bad.

Now there could be some profound significance to the name "Aura" -- especially when it's pronounced "Auria" -- but more likely the screenwriters just thought it sounded okay or were ripping off "Flash," LOL.