Friday, November 20, 2015

Serial Week: Flash Gordon

Welcome, welcome welcome one and all back for Day 3 of Serial Week. My apologies for not doing this yesterday but family visits, chores and the like can take its toll. That being said, let's journey into some sci-fi. Alex Raymond (Cartoonist from the 1930s) hit the jackpot working on such strips as Tillie the Toiler and Tim Tyler's Luck. His work was hailed as some of the very best that it allowed him to persue the creation of the jungle adventure series Jungle Jim and spy adventurer Secret Agent X-9. Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9 was even set for radio dramas in the day but as he was deemed the artist's artist and most of his work is still a major influence in comic books and the strips, the notoriety of these titles did not give him the recognition as his most popular and well-known science fiction character did. In competition with Buck Rogers, our Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Famer brought boys and girls and many adult, a favorite for ages to come.   This is Flash Gordon.

Hope they don't notice me floating an air biscuit.

With the planet Mongo rocketing towards Earth at unbelievable speeds...yet somehow gravity and atmosphere seem normal as if in the orbit of a sun or moon, Doctor Alexis Zarkov (Frank Shannon of Anthony Adverse, The Texas Rangers, Roll Along,Cowboy, The Adventurous Blonde, Blondes at Work, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars and You Can't Take It With You) ponders and calculates the precise trajectory of Mongo's arrival. Conferring with his colleague Professor Gordon that a daring attempt must be made to confab with the inhabitants of Mongo.

With the help of an experimental rocket ship, Doctor Zarkov abducts his colleague's son Flash (Buster Crabbe of Tarzan the Fearless, Flash Gordon, The Kid Rides Again, Fugitive of the Plains, The Renegade, Devil Riders and Valley of Vengeance) and his friend Dale Arden (Jean Rogers of Flash Gordon, Ace Drummond, Flash Gordon'sTrip to Mars, Charlie Chan in Panama, Whistling in Brooklyn, Gay Blades and The Second Woman) as hostages a.k.a. Assistants in this flight to save humanity.

It also makes Jiffy Pop Popcorn!

No sooner our would-be heroes land on the planet, they are startled by massive lizards (iguanas in super-imposed camera effect) and hoisted to safety by the Emperor's men for violating their airspace and sullying their lands with their filthy human disease. Gotta fear that polio.   Our armored thugs drag the threesome (stop it, ya pervs) to the Emperor himself and you know they are in the hands of a benevolent and kind ruler named...Ming the Merciless (Charles Middleton of The Good Earth, Hollywood Cowboy, Conquest, Stand-In, Jezebel, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars and Jesse James). Our villainous ruler takes an almost immediate shine to Dale (Guess they don't see many blondes) and puts Flash into an arena for MORTAL COMBAAAAAAATTTT!!!!

Will Flash make it out alive? Can Ming be reasoned with? Will Princess Aura have even tinier outfits?

Interspursed with Stage 28 of the Universal Studios we also get to make yet more trips to Bronson Caves in Griffith Park. Look I know it is a prime location for Westerns and Sci-fi but c'mon! I could map this place out in my head I have seen the landmarks that many times.

With a scheduled 13 part chapter serial, the entire show was shot in six weeks meaning cast and crew were pulling fourteen hour days. A budget of $360,000, three times the normal for a chapter play it allowed for elaborate armored costumes, scale and full size models and even stunt choreography that was not seen in previous serials.

Despite the substantial budget of the day, most of the show used existing sets from other Universal films such as: the laboratory and crypt sets from Bride of Frankenstein, the castle interiors from Dracula's Daughter, the idol from the Mummy and even the outer walls of Ming's castle was actually the cathedral walls from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Pretty snazzy, huh?

Excuse me, I am on the throne. Wink wink!  Shut the door!