Battling the Sea Beast

James Cameron, eat your CGI Canadian heart out.

Last we saw, Larry “Buster” Crabbe as Flash Gordon was wrestling an “octo-sac” in the flooded guest bedroom of King Kala of the Shark Men. Strangely enough, his tendriled foe transformed mid-tussle from a bit of stock footage of a real octopus to a rather flat looking rubber cephalopod, which might be easier to defeat, I dunno, limited experience here.


Worse, Kala has a special handmaiden on, well, hand, to make sure Dale Arden “misses none of the sport,” so Dale has her face pressed to the what you might call a Porthole of Death, not quite a ringside seat since she’s standing and it’s a waterlogged chamber, but morally undistinguishable. “Watching helplessly” is essentially Jean Rogers’ entire character description here, but she switches it up by falling into a dead faint. The handmaiden “Zona” is played by one Muriel Goodspeed. Yes, THAT Muriel Goodspeed. The one who plays the handmaiden “Zona” in this.

Surprise entrance — in the best Raymond Chandler tradition, one or other of the four screenwriters has a man come in the door with a gun, or in this case, a Lion Man and a woman with a raygun. How they gained access to this undersea kingdom isn’t immediately clear, but it has to be good news for Larry “Buster” Crabbe who, Olympic swimmer or not, is going down for at least the third time. More like sixth, if you count the recap.

“Stop that fight at once!” demands Princess Aura, for the female newcomer is she. “How does one stop an octo-sac?” asks Kala, which sounds like a perfect set-up to a joke, but Aura replies with plodding literalness, getting Kala to drain Flash’s bedroom, currently wetter than the Moscow Ritz-Carlston.

Meanwhile, in Ming’s palace workshop, Zarkov labours among bad vats and jeroboams, Strickfadenesque electrical toys and Ruritanian decor. His situation has not advanced much since episode 2, and Flash has passed up two opportunities to rescue him. However, through his cunning, he has set up a comms link with Griffith Observatory. Under the very nose of Ming!

Hilarious moment at 8.22 to where, mid-conversation Ming-Zarkov, the Emperor’s off-camera lines are read in by some stooge, possibly the director. Mid-SENTENCE. Ming: “They are being cared for -” Not-Ming: “-by Kala, King of the Shark Men.” One expects to see Charles Middleton transfigured, like the octo-sac, into some (even) cheaper stand-in, but he’s back to normal by the time we see him.

FG rarely falls below a certain level of competence, but that was a goofy moment. Emperor Fake Shemp.

Flash, free from his watery lodgings, is required to overpower a guard. Disarming the underling of his ray-gun, he’s faced with a sword, while Aura every so cautiously reaches in extreme slow motion for the fallen pistol. This kind of behaviour drove me nuts as a kid, but now seems a plausible simulacrum of royalty in a crisis.

Thun has been left guarding Kala at gunpoint for some time now. Anxious lest we forget about this tense stand-off, the filmmakers cut regularly to them exchanging pleasantries/threats.

While Flash’s shadow strangles the guard’s shadow — one of the regular nods to expressionism — Aura lasers some kind of control panel, and immediately the undersea kingdom starts leaking. Possibly a mistake?

With her tiny earthwoman lungs, Dale is once more the first to react to the lack of oxygen. She’s better than a canary.

My favourite exchange in this episode follows: a Mongovision TV screen is showing the water squirting through the undersea kingdom’s bulkheads in a steady spurt. A man in tinplate armour says to a man in a cassock, “Find out what it means.” Aaaand SCENE.

What it means is that Dale passes out for the second time this episode — she spends more time unconscious than a housecat. Kala is prepared to abandon his feud with Thun if it means he doesn’t have to asphyxiate. Who says Shark Men and Lion Men can’t be friends?

The controls of Kala’s console are a bunch of door handles, I think possibly from a Model T Ford.

CRASH! Just as Flash is reunited with Dale (and Thun and Kala), the undersea kingdom CRUMBLES, which translates in visual terms to a wobbling model shot, some stock footage of leaks, and a firehose turned full on, cueing a liquid vertical wipe that runs down the screen and tells us to —


8 Responses to “Battling the Sea Beast”

  1. I trust we all recall the fake octopus in “Bride of the Monster”

  2. And Citizen Kane! (Possibly the same one)

  3. Ed Wood’s was considerably deflated

  4. Yes, missing its motor, apparently…

  5. bensondonald Says:

    “So, Kala, I built you this fine palace which is held in place by magnets and will pop up to the surface like a cork if anybody touches a switch in my lab, which would leave you utterly defenseless to attacks by hawk men, lion men, and man men. Happy birthday!”

    “Gee, Ming, you’re a pal. Uhm, about that switch …”

    “Not to worry. Nobody is allowed in the lab except unsupervised alien scientists. How soon can you move in?”

  6. Heh!

    Yes, the domestic arrangements on Mongo are curiously fragile. If I recall correctly, the hawkmen live in a flying palace powered by coal furnaces…

  7. Mike Hodges must have remembered the coal furnaces too because the 1980 hawkmen are all rather grubby-looking.

  8. Come to think of it, yes. Not a natural or obvious idea for winged men to be slightly soot-blackened.

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