Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Flash Gordon (1936)

"And Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear ..."

Actually, no. His tighties were dark blue or black. Definitely not silver. Second movie referenced in the song Science Fiction/Double Feature. Ten down, one to go. And that one, Doctor X, will take a while. Netflix and my local library have never heard of it. it may be quite a while before I find out if he does indeed build a creature.

I was thrilled to see Flash appear streaming. Thirteen bite sized episodes just right for occasional viewing. I tried to entice my boys into watching. Here is one of the early influences of Sci Fi. No dice. Color, animated cheese: good. Black and white, live action cheese: bad.

And cheese it was. Olympic champion Buster Crabbe is Flash, big man on campus. When his professor dad discovers that the late model planet driven by Ming is on a crash course for Earth, he offers a bold course of action: die. Eccentric Dr. Zarkov has a different idea. Fly to this mysterious planet in his home made space ship fueled by unseasoned pine, then try to convince it to turn around. Because boy wonder Flash and hot co-ed Dale Arden (Jean Rogers) are around, he invites them to tag along. Flash proves invaluable for getting into one pointless fight after another between bouts of staring blankly into the camera, and Dale shows her worth by screaming a lot then passing out.

Along the way they meet Emperor Ming (Charles Middleton), his daughter Princess Aura, some fat guy with wings, shark people, a monkey with a horn, and a dumpy old man claiming to be the rightful heir to the throne. As you would expect from a serial, Flash gets in and out of trouble with each episode ending in a cliffhanger. Each new episode begins by recapping several minutes from the last episode and adding details that make their impossible escape possible.

While the sets, costumes, and props did look cheesy, they were extensive. This was a fairly high budget production for the day. I learned that Buster dyed his hair blond to match the character, and Jean Rogers dyed her hair blond to match Jean Harlow. The production was rushed to production to beat out Buck Rogers, which also starred Buster in the title role. Ming was modeled primarily after Dr. Fu Manchu. Priscilla Lawson (Aura) apparently lost her leg, either in a car accident the year after this came out or several years later during the war. She had several minor and uncredited roles from '37 to '41, so if she had one leg, they must have filmed around it.

Here's another interesting thing. 13 episodes were filmed in six weeks and the cast worked 14 hour days. Now there is 245 minutes of footage. Even cutting out the many opening and closing scenes, this is a significant footage, and Buster was in almost every foot of it. Running around and fighting, no less. He must have been exhausted! At least Jean was well rested.

Want to poke holes in the story? Sure, that's fun! Apparently the power that keeps the floating city aloft is provided by slaves shoveling radium pellets into a furnace. If the flow is interrupted even briefly, the city may fall back to Mongo. Seriously? You can build a floating city but a pellet hopper is totally out of the question? See, now wasn't that fun? There's much more where that came from!

Worried they won't make it? Rest assured that Flash and the Gang are back for two more serials before being recreated as a 50's TV show. But because series 2 requires me to wait for DVDs, I won't be seeing it. As a fun diversion, it was totally worth watching. AMRU 3. Jean Rogers was hot.

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