Cast in order of (ridiculous) appearance

Excuse me. I’m all excited now and have to go run around the room a few times.

I remember playing in the garden as a kid and my Dad called me in because there was something coming on TV he thought I’d enjoy. It was the original FLASH GORDON serial. He’d seen it at the cinema as a kid in the 40s, where the audience literally cheered the goodies and booed the baddies during the opening titles. Watching it with me, he was a little skeptical about the staging of the fights — Larry “Buster” Crabbe as Flash beats up an Imperial Guardsman while two other Imperial Guardsmen stand and watch, waiting for their turn. I loved it — I was probably nine or something. I didn’t notice that Professor Zarkoff (Frank Shannon) was inexplicably Irish. I loved the monsters and the Brute Men of Mongo and the spinning top spacecraft and the crackling firecracker rocketships slowly circling to land in fogbound papier-mache valleys.

I’ve seen barely any other serials apart from the FLASH sequels and BUCK ROGERS, all of which aired on the BBC in my dim youth (usually starting a couple of days before the Scottish school holidays, so I’d miss episodes 1 & 2) — any suggestions? I don’t want to be noticing the poorly staged fights, I want to be enveloped in pulp.

24 Responses to “Cast in order of (ridiculous) appearance”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    I actually do have an entire Flash Gordon serial on DVD – FLASH GORDON CONQUERS MARS, or something like that. It’s great fun once you get over the atrocious acting/production values/filming though not a patch on the glorious 1980 remake!

  2. You either have Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (with Montague Love as the King of the Clay People!) or Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (with its hilarious “We’ll justify that title when we get to it” last scene).

    I love the Hodges-DeLaurentis-Semple movie too. I wish there were more of them.

  3. During the late ’80s/early ’90s, one station around here ran four hours of serials in the early morning hours every morning for months and I’d catch a couple of chapters before going to work. I can’t say I remember any of them well except Perils of Nyoka.

  4. david wingrove Says:


    I’d remember if Montague Love were in it, as his acting would stand out a mile from the others.

    Yes, Dino was obviously intending a sequel to his 1980 FLASH GORDON but, alas, the audience didn’t bite. Oh well, at least it did better than SATURN 3!

  5. I’m kind of hoping John Carter (or Mars) is good, but there’s no way it can be as perverse and lurid as the 80s Flash.

    Nic Roeg had a hand in developing Flash, and his real interest was the kinky sexuality of the Alex Raymond comic strips. “You could have something quite extreme going on, like Princess Aura whipping Dale Arden, and the speech bubble would say ‘Oh, that hurts me a lot,’ and it would get through because the censor didn’t look at the pictures.”

  6. TCM is running Perils of Pauline (’33 Universal serial) starting on April 28. From IMDb comments it sounds like pulpy adventure, but being before the code, it’s on my to-do list :) TCM has been fitfully attempting a Serial Saturday Morning theme since last year, but some of what they show are series films like The Lone Wolf or Boston Blackie, so it doesn’t hew very close to the serial ethos.

  7. We unstintigly recommend DRUMS OF FU MANCHU with Henry Brandon and ZORRO’S BLACK WHIP with Linda Stirling. Best of the lesser-known serials.

  8. I just finished watching all of the Dick Tracy serials, and you really can’t go wrong with any of those, although I’d definitely recommend the middle two, Dick Tracy Returns and Dick Tracy’s G-Men, because they have superb villainy from Charles Middleton and Irving Pichel. Middleton in particular is fantastic in Dick Tracy Returns, just about as cold-blooded and reptilian a baddie as the serials ever produced.

    Other recommended serials: The Drums of Fu Manchu (maybe the greatest of them all), Zorro’s Fighting Legion, The Spider’s Web, The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher, The Green Archer. Phantom Empire’s fun, too, as you’d expect from a musical sci-fi western hybrid.

    I have a soft spot for The Shadow as well, even though it’s got the weakest clifhangers I’ve ever seen. This weakness is somewhat compensated by a terrific lead performance from ideally-cast Victor Jory, though.

  9. I watched a ton of serials as research for a pastiche-play I wrote a few years ago, SPACEMEN FROM SPACE! I was already a fan of some of the Republic classics, but I found some more favorites, in particular the wonderfully insane THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, with its ancient civilization buried miles below Gene Autry’s Radio Ranch, and THE LOST CITY, which takes many of the same ideas and transplants them to the African jungle (with some added jaw-dropping racism and sexism thrown in). THE UNDERSEA KINGDOM starts slow and gets better as it goes, and I love THE CRIMSON GHOST and any of the Commando Cody serials, too.

  10. And don’t forget “Minutemen From Mars” the comic book Dovima was reading in Funny Face. When do we get a film of that?

  11. Good question.

    I did delve into Fu Manchu a little, just as part of my research on Steve the Citizen Kane octopus.
    But I didn’t actually watch it except on fast forward, checking for tentacles.

    Charles Middleton always provokes a whoop of joy. It was particularly interesting to see him in Sternberg’s An American Tragedy and realize that’s why he’s in the trial scene of Duck Soup.

  12. The Whispering Shadow is great fun, and features Mr. Great Fun himself, Bela Lugosi! Best of all, you can watch it free online at archive dot org:

  13. I watched The New Adventures of Tarzan last year: pretty kitschy stuff, partly filmed on location in Guatemala. I watched parts of The Great Alaskan Mystery, from 1944, about Nazis trying to obtain some kind of special weapon; apparently the colonial authorities in Kenya thought parts of the serial might inspire the Mau Mau to acts of violence.

  14. All these things inspire ME to acts of violence! A sugar rush of running around shouting bad dialogue and going ZAP!

    The silent Tarzans exert a strange fascination, so I’ll probably watch more…

  15. Christopher Says:

    I also agree with Jason on the Dick Tracy serials,Zorro’s Fighting Legion,The Adventures Of Captain Marvel and would also add the Lugosi classic,The Phantom Creeps and the excellent Daredevils Of the Red Circle

  16. david wingrove Says:

    I don’t even have sound on my computer (or don’t know how to make it work, which is more likely) but Baltimora the Tarzan Boy is exceptionally cute…many thanks!!

  17. Who would win out of Bomba and Baltimora?

    More movie serial madness soon!

  18. will pfeifer Says:

    Ever see the Firesign Theater movie “J-Men Forever”? It cobbles together dozens of serials (no Flash Gordon, alas) into a new plot involving rock and roll, villains from the moon, drugs (of course) and plenty of pun-based humor. It’s not entirely successful, but it’s definitely worth a look. And I’m pretty sure it’s on DVD.

  19. Sounds pretty good — and they’re certainly the guys to do it justice.

  20. I’m sorry someone beat me to remembering LOST CITY. David would love that one, it consists of nothing but insanity. PHANTOM EMPIRE is great, but Autry provides a feeling of competence that undermines the dementia.

  21. I’m on it!

    Thanks for all your suggestions, everyone!

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