Archive for May 21, 2022

The Destroying Ray

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 21, 2022 by dcairns

At last I have a slightly better copy of FLASH GORDON now, so the quality of framegrabs will improve. And I can geek out to the opening credits and go “Yay!” and “Boo!” at the goodies and baddies. An important ritual.

You’re still stuck with YouTube, alas.

What a relief — the huge annihilating wave that swamps the screen at the end of part 4 passes, and our heroes (and a couple of villains) are still standing. They hurriedly leave the room. Not sure what could cause a huge a.w. to come and go like that in an underwater city that’s sprung a leak, but we can all be glad it wasn’t more lasting.

Great model shot of a fleet of rocketships, spinning lazily on their wires so that several of them are flying sideways or backwards.

Enter Prince Barin (Richard Alexander — Oliver Hardy was unavailable), or Pwince Bawin as I always think of him, thanks to Ornella Muti’s idiosyncratic line reading. A big man wearing body armour above the waist, and very little below the waist. Lurking shyly at the entrance to Zarkov’s workshop, as well he might. PB is, he tells Z, the rightful ruler of Mongo. What he’s doing lurking around the workshop with no pants on is never explained.

Montage of iguanas and rockets! This starts to get pretty abstract. Terrarium pyrotechnics.

Flash, Thun and the girls emerge from a cavern. Apparently the submerged city was pretty easy to get out of after all. Perhaps the destroying ray won’t be so bad either? Maybe more just an annoying ray?

A miniature rocky valley with miniature winged men circling like vultures! I once read an explanation, and I think it came from Larry “Buster” Crabbe, where he said the model crew would have the camera on a rotating platform with the model set, and the rockets would descend vertically, and the rotation of set and camera would make it LOOK as if they were descending in a spiral. Obviously nonsense. These little hawkmen are swinging round in circles just like the rockets.

Curious that the Hawk Men have actual wings, whereas the Lion Men just have beards (well, a beard) and the Shark Men just have skull caps and cummerbunds.

My Dad pointed out when I was watching this as a kid that generally when Flash gets into a fight with a group of bad guys, they come at him one at a time, the spare guys just standing idly by while he drubs their buddy. This is what is known as Fight Arranging.

Anyway, despite all this, and despite the hawkmen being encumbered by big rigid wings, Thun and Dale are soon all captive. Barin and Zarkov arrive in a rocket and help Flash defeat his attackers. Flash determines that Dale & Thun must be rescued, brushing aside Aura’s demand to be taken back to her father. “No, you’ve caused enough trouble already,” he says, peevishly. Rather ungrateful: if not for her, he’d still be getting tentacle-porned by the octo-sac.

Barin tweaks the door handles on his console and the rocketship lurches skywards.

Fade up the floating city! MUCH better than the underwater city. It wobbles about gently on beams of light, which as I recall are coal-powered. Later we will hear them described as “gravity rays,” which sounds good. In a hi-tech corner of the spacious throne room (left over from God knows what super-production) a couple of winged MDs do things to Dale Arden with neon tubes. But don’t worry — it’s sophisticated avian medicine. The throne itself looks to be an original prop — it’s too wonderfully goofy not to be. But maybe someone can prove me wrong.

King Vultan looks really good, I think. I sort of believe he has the power of flight more than I do with Brian Blessed. This is Jack “Tony” Lipson, otherwise a bit player, achieving low-budget immortality. Normally his characters have names like “Hefty Customer”, “Huge Turk” and “Fat Man with Newspaper.”

(Since we have Larry “Buster” Crabbe and Jack “Tiny” Lipson, it feels unfair that the other cast members have no nicknames. Feel free to chime in with suggestions, but I’d offer up Frank “Knees” Shannon for starters.)

Thun, played by Alan Moore, has been set to work shovelling coal in his shorts in “the atom furnaces.” The science here is all the more evocative by virtue of being, as the Wizard of Oz would put it, “technically unexplainable.” Along with the atomic coal there are slavemasters with bullwhips and those dials popularized by METROPOLIS, which possibly have something to do with balancing the city.

A lot of energy goes into keeping the Shark Men’s city underwater and the Hawk Men’s city airborne. Ming could cut down on his fuel bills by just setting them down amid the iguanas.

Finally something has been done about the single repeating rocketship interior, allowing director Stephani to shoot the crew frontally. A floating wall has been successfully floated, possibly with the aid of atom furnaces. So now we can enjoy the actors’ expressionless faces as they sway gently back and forth, pretending there’s a view. They’re facing the wrong direction to match the model shots, but nevertheless, the serial has taken a leap forward in decoupage.

Dale wakes up and is alarmed by Vultan’s maniacal yet eunuchoid laughter. Jean Rogers does some skilled bosom-heaving here, though outmatched in that department by Tiny’s steel-plated tits.

Barin’s rocket is fired upon by “the melting ray,” a nifty art deco searchlight. “Our resisto-force will soon be exhausted by the power of those melting rays!” pipes up a voice not easily identifiable as any of the characters in the rocket — possibly the director is feeding in lines himself again. I may soon be exhausted too.

Meanwhile (a word that gets used a lot in these things, I know) Vultan is feeling slighted. It’s implied that he’s tried to get Dale to pay the rent on his sky palace and she’s declined, so he now opens a sliding door and a striped bear pads into his chambers, the intention apparently being to intimidate the fair maiden into adopting a more convivial attitude.

Having dopily plodded into the room, Urso, for such is his name, shambles out again, his appearance so fleeting, so Bunuelian in its incongruity, that one can only conclude he came as a job lot with the iguanas or was rehearsing on the next sound stage for a production of Goldilocks and accidentally leaned against a freshly-painted picket fence. Anyway, he’s gone.

But don’t relax yet — Tiny, having abandoned the subtle approach, now comes lurching towards camera with an evil glint in his armoured moobs. That would seem like a pretty good cliffhanger in itself, but to cap it all the melting ray hits Barin’s rocket which promptly explodes (rather than melting, as one might expect) and plummets from the sky (rather than melting, as one might expect) and then it’s