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

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Flash and winged Vultan lead the attack on Ming's palace
FLASH GORDON (1980). Director: Mike Hodges.

Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) are shanghaied to Mongo by nutty professor Arkov (Topol of For Your Eyes Only) when Ming (Max von Sydow) begins terrorizing the earth for sport. There Flash meets Ming's daughter, the sexy Princess Aura (Ornella Muti), who has a hankering for the hunky quarterback; Prince Barin of Arboria (Timothy Dalton), who is betrothed to the unfaithful Aura; and Vultan (Brian Blessed), leader of a race of winged warriors. These disparate groups eventually become allies but will even they be able to beat the forces of Ming? While there are many things to like about this version of Flash Gordon, ultimately it's a disappointment. There's no reason to harp about its silliness, as the original serials were pretty silly (but not campy). Jones is acceptable as the heroic Flash, and Anderson isn't bad as Dale, but the acting honors go to von Sydow (although he can't erase the memory of the wonderful Charles Middleton); Dalton as the prince; Peter Wyngarde as Klytus, the masked head of the secret police (Wyngarde's face is never seen but he makes a definite impression); and Mariangela Melato as the nasty General Kala, who wields a mean whip. Muti deserves special mention for her excellent, seductive portrayal of Aura, who switches sides when her own father has her tortured by (unseen) bore worms. Flash Gordon's strength lies in its striking scenic design -- Ming's magnificent palace; the land of Arboria which consists of mile-high trees; Vultan's HQ in the sky -- and a couple of memorable scenes, chief of which is a battle between Flash and Barin atop a floating platform, miles in the air above Mongo, which begins to tilt precariously during the battle and even shoots out spikes from its surface. There's also a crab-like creature that lives below the surface of Arboria and reaches up to ensnare Flash, and an interesting sequence when Zarkov's memories are expunged and we see quick glimpses of his life as it goes backwards. A sobering scene, at odds with the rest of the movie, depicts a boy who tests his manhood in a bizarre ritual, and dies (with hardly anyone giving him a thought). A big problem with the movie is that it has no suspense or real sense of danger -- that the earth itself is about to be destroyed -- until the very final minutes. Rock group Queen's theme music is awful, but it's interesting that Wagner's wedding march from Lohengrin is played even on Mongo! The ending sets up a sequel which never materialized. One wouldn't have considered this an auspicious debut for Jones (he actually had small roles in two previous films), but the actor amassed 76 credits after this film, and starred as The Spirit on TV. Anderson mostly did TV work as well. Muti has had a long career of mostly Italian films. Peter Wyngarde was the star of Burn, Witch, Burn.

Verdict: Opulent, with some good scenes and performances, but one can see why there wasn't a sequel. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

Agreed, Bill, there are so many good things about this film, the production design is divine, actually, but the movie just doesn't deliver the goods.

Apparently Sam Jones's dialogue is all overdubbed by a more skilled actor, according to something I read. But he was GORGEOUS, was the first Playgirl centerfold I fell in love and became obsessed with. He's also cute in Blake Edwards's 10 with Bo Derek, but didn't have more than 2 lines of dialogue in that one either! Some people don't need to talk, I guess!

Sam Jones and the wonderful sets and costumes are a reason to see this again!

William said...

I've heard about the over-dubbing of Jones but if this is true it doesn't seem obvious at all, and his voice at least seems to resemble his real voice in other movies/TV shows. I had definitely heard that supposedly bisexual model Klinton Spilsbury was overdubbed for "The Lone Ranger," his one film, and it was confirmed on Wikipedia (James Keach did the voice), but not so for Jones, so the rumor may be false. Anyway, beefy Jones is still acting, playing himself in two movies about a Teddy Bear that comes to life ["Ted" and "Ted 2"]!

He called himself "Andrew Cooper III" for his first Playgirl appearance, and they used his real name after "Flash" when the spread was reprinted.

I think what put Jones over for me wasn't so much his good looks, but a very appealing personality, although you're right that he was hunky, ha.

angelman66 said...

I would agree with you, Bill, I think that is Sam's real voice too. And he is a delight in the Ted movies...glad he is still working!