Archive for July 2, 2022

Trapped in the Turret

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2022 by dcairns

“Trapped in the Turret” is a wonderfully lame title for the penultimate episode of FLASH GORDON. Some sense of escalation, of final doom to be averted, is presumably desirable at this point, but instead we have a description of an inconvenience.

I looked up the actor who plays “Commander Torch,” Ming’s earthbound (or mongobound) flying monkey. Earl Askam seems, in his armour and with his kidney-bean torso, like an actor who would play an unsympathetic cop in a Laurel & Hardy short, if Edgar Kennedy was preoccupied. Instead, of course, he was a B-western fixture. He died just a few years after making this, from a Bing Crosby-anticipating golf course heart attack, while playing fellow western star Kermit Maynard. Earl was also a trained opera singer, a talent I wish this serial had exploited.

Flash rushes to Dale’s aid, and his differently-shaped stunt double has an enjoyable rollabout with the playful tiger fearsome tigron, as Dale and her stunt double take turns watching in terror. Ming, in turn, watches on Zoom.

The closeups of Larry “Buster” Crabbe wrestling a stuffed cat corpse are tastefully interpolated — the trick is inherently obvious, but never becomes comically obvious the way it is in many more expensive productions. Flash uses his main talent — strangling — no doubt acquired on the polo field — to subdue the ravenous taxidermy exhibit.

“The sacred tigron has been killed!” gasps the Indian temple maiden. Flash Gordon, visiting district iconoclast, strikes again. Mongo will be an entirely profane planet by the time he’s got through strangling everything.

Prince Barin converts Aura to the cause by pointing out that arranging for Dale’s devouring is unlikely to win Flash’s love. “I shall intercede with my father the emperor,” she says, which depending on your reading is either bragging (my son, the lawyer) or exposition above and beyond the call of duty (it’s a big building with doctors in it, but that’s not important right now).

The wide shot of Ming’s palace is really lovely, even if it does have a big hair growing out of it in the frame I’ve selected.

Commander Torch (is he backed up by Sergeant Screwdriver, Corporal Sliderule and Private Flyspray?) belatedly remembers he has a firearm and subdues Vultan and Zarkov, aiming directly at the pretty flower on Frank “knobbly knees” Shannon’s onesie. Ming demands that Flash be found, “visible or not.” At which point, Flash and chums enter the throne room. And Ming STILL doesn’t look happy. He and Zarkov really ought to be friends, they have so much in common: both seem depressed and sullen about their lot in life , the clothes they have to wear, the words they’re expected to say.

Ming is immediately held hostage, his armed guards somehow powerless against Barin’s sword and Flash’s disapproving attitude. Aura, whose character arc resembles a crazy straw, has not only joined the forces of good, she’s SETTLED — accepting passively the meaty love of Barin. Ming promises the earthfolks can return to their “sphere” — but he does it while making Mr Burns-type evil finger movements. We discover he has a henchman called “Officer Ego.”

One is used to these stories being tales of foreign intervention, so the willingness of all concerned to leave Ming in charge, with no guarantee he won’t threaten the earth again, is baffling.

I’m struck by the fact that I found Vultan to be a fun character when I was a kid, whereas it’s now abundantly clear that he’s as dangerous as Ming, crazier by far, and has the mind of a three-year-old. Mike Hodges told me that he saw his FG as a satire on American interventionism, with the bounding idiot Flash (shades of Lang’s Siegfried) smashing the state without understanding anything that’s going on. I suggested there should have been a sequel where Mongo falls to pieces without its dictator, like a post-Tito Yugoslavia. He chuckled.

The non-interventionist Flash we see here, obeying some unstated Prime Directive issued to polo players on the off-chance of interplanetary entanglements, perhaps echoes American foreign policy circa 1936, explaining that late entry into WWII, whereas 1980 Flash is consistent with a new era.

The earthfolks and their buddies load “power units” onto Zarkov’s rocket, intent on visiting Vultan’s city for no clear reason. Commander Torch and his bitches watch warily.

First mention of the turret! “I am to meet the others at the turret-house, by the lake of rocks,” says Barin. I very much want to see this “lake of rocks.” I wonder if it’s a sacred lake of rocks? Or just regular.

Due to popular demand, director Frederick Stephani shows us the iguanas again. They watch Zarkov’s rocketship buzz overhead, licking their dry lips, and it is amusing to speculate what they might be thinking. Perhaps they are anticipating their appearance in an 80s surrealist cigarette commercial. Perhaps they are looking back on their acquaintanceship with that nice Mr. Darwin. One opens his maw to give throat to a fearsome cock-crow — apparently in valediction to the departing earthpeople. So long. It’s been emotional.

See you later, iguana.

Arriving at the turret-house, Flash, Dale, Aura, Vultan and Zarkov notice a rocketship bearing down on them. Like Cary Grant in NORTH BY NORTHWEST they stand for ages, dopily staring at it, too embarrassed to run or duck until its lethal intentions become completely unambiguous. It’s very human.

“It must be Prince Barin’s ship,” says Flash the optimist.

BOOM! It fires on them.

“Why should Prince Barin do that?” asks Zarkov, not rhetorically — he’s legit terrified at this new development. Friends have become enemies, enemies friends! Chaos!

“I don’t know!” says Aura, just as baffled. Nobody has the power to think during this scene. It’s scary. They’re trapped — and they’re not even IN the turret! they are trapped in a brainless limbo: the Sea of Rockheads. Five characters without the initiative to even search for an author. Stiff, hopeless illustrations of the doctrine of predetermination, they must now trap themselves in the turret to fulfill a chapter title not of their own choosing. But, when you think about it, isn’t that the plight of every one of us? Isn’t every one of us forced to trap themselves in a turret to fulfill a chapter title not of our own choosing?

The inside of the turret door looks very much like Bronson Caves. Explosion! Explosion-like wipe to closing title card! Next week, the chapter title Flash and his chums will be rigidly fulfilling will be —