Ming the Merciless, Emperor of the Planet Mongo, bombards the Earth with death rays. Flash Gordon and Dale Arden are press-ganged by genius Dr Zarkov to take a flight to Mongo in his experimental space rocket the Earth people ferment a revolution to ov
Based on Alex Raymond’s famously well-drawn (and sexy) newspaper strip cartoon, this thirteen-episode 1936 serial remains one of Hollywood’s most delirious fantasies, at once childish in its gosh-wow attitude and all-action business and deliriously adult in the many s-m or lust-driven sequences.
Swimmer Crabbe, hair dyed blonde and wearing tights, is the perfect two-fisted serial hero, tangling with baggy-suited monsters or toiling shirtless in the mines of Mongo, but everyone is perfectly cast: the thin-lipped, bald-pated, Fu Manchu-moustached, snarling Middleton as the megalomaniac dictator of Mongo (he insists his guards address him as ‘mighty potentate’) who nurtures a wild lechery for peppy Earth girl Dale; and the fleshy, bare-midriffed, lazy-eyed Priscilla Lawson as Ming’s sometimes-treacherous daughter Princess Aura.
The special effects, with stubby little rocketships trailing sparks, seem quaint these days, and Universal’s penury is evident in the recycling of sets, music cues and even footage from the likes of The Mummy and Bride of Frankenstein. Like most serials, it’s a hard slog if watched as a four-hour feature, but still plays well if you dole out a chapter or so a day, appreciating the ingenuity required to save Flash, Dale and company from various cliffhangers.
Crabbe and Middleton returned in two direct sequels, Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938) and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). Subsequently, Flash has returned several times in live-action and cartoon TV series, in the sexy parody Flesh Gordon (1974) and the colourful 1980 remake with Sam Jones and Max Von Sydow.
Fun but perhaps not to be watched in the whole 4 hour feature format