Archive for Flash Gordon

The Unseen Peril

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2022 by dcairns

I bet we can see the unseen peril.

Chapter 10 of FLASH GORDON begins with Flash, in a deathlike stupor, menaced by the fire dragon who might be called Gocko — the recap of this takes far longer than the resolution: “I’ll destroy it with this grenade!” barks Zarkov, and does so. The rubbery foe explodes into clumps and falls over sideways.

The high priest is outraged. He doesn’t go so far as to claim the fire dragon was sacred, but it was guarding the secret chamber of the great god Tao, which you must admit comes pretty close.

Fun with camera angles! Apparently Fred Stephani had some time on his hands this week, so he gives us two novel views of Ming’s throne room. A zombified Flash is tasked with choosing the one he loves the most, like Lassie. But, not like Lassie, he’s been doped with the same love potion (#9) used so effectively by Mickey Rooney to enchant Ava Gardner the lovers in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. Or maybe not — it’s merely a draught of forgetfulness — waters of Lethe — and Aura now tries to persuade the befuddled polo player that she’s his one and only. Not clear why Dale just stands there staring while this goes on, but the scenario rarely allows her what you’d call agency.

Vultan protests this jiggery-pokery and is cast into dungeons dark dank and donk — possible FRANKENSTEIN leftovers, as is the score. Prince Barin wisely chooses not to protest and reports to Zarkov.

Larry “Buster” Crabbe may not be the world’s best actor. Larry “Buster” Crabbe may be the world’s worst actor. But he is very good at playing brainwashed. “Don’t you know me?” asks Dale, quoting Stan Laurel in DIRTY WORK under admittedly fairly different circumstances (chimney sweep genetic regression calamity). Flash just stares into space (which is easy to do in space). He has the ardour, the passionate responsiveness, of Li’l Abner. Sad violins.

Prince Barin tries to fetch him for Zarkov, but the suggestible earth-dolt is tricked into seeing PB as his enemy, A boudoir swordfight ensues, easily the equal of the one which opens LISZTOMANIA. (I don’t know why Ken Russell didn’t use Liszt’s FLASH GORDON theme in his rock opera biopic, his aesthetic has plenty in common with the Flash Gordon Cinematic Universe, and I mean that as a compliment. MAHLER even has a cave-dwelling fire dragon.)

Assisted by Zarkov, Barin knocks Flash (more) senseless with the hilt of his sword, adding brain damage to our strapping hero’s mental woes. Unfortunately it isn’t one of those blows to the head that restores a lost memory. It’s just the kind that makes you fall down on the boudoir carpet. They lug the fallen Flash to the lab and enlist the healing power of neon tubes. It’s so crazy it just might work.

Griffith Observatory calling! Funny how everyone abandons Flash’s prone form once the earth gets in touch. Dale, hearing the radio, rushes to the wall safe space viewer to take a look at the old planet, as if she expects to see its lips moving. Zarkov manages to make himself dimly audible to the terrestrial listeners, something he’s been struggling to achieve since episode 2, and which has no dramatic consequences whatsoever.

Zarkov’s electrical tubing soon restore’s Flash’s “mind” but just then, an imperial death squad arrives from Ming. They stand him against the wall, level their ray guns — but Zarkov does the business with the old lever and makes Flash vanish. The execution squad scream like girls and run away, pursued by a thunderbolt wipe which leads into the Continued Next Week card.

So — it’s not the peril that’s unseen, it’s the imperilled. But that wouldn’t have made a good episode title. And neither one is a match for In the Claws of the Tigron, which is NEXT —

Fighting the Fire Dragon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2022 by dcairns

So, mainly what you need to know is — ORANGOPOID!

Now read on.

Ray “Crash” Corrigan in a unicorny monkey suit. Flash versus Crash! This whole wrestlemania spectacular, and the duel with Barin which preceded it, is the serial’s version of the later movie’s tilting spikey platform whip fight, and one realises how wise Lorenzo Semple Jr. was to keep earth in peril of destruction throughout — in the serial, Ming seems to have given up his evil plan and is just, I don’t know, living in the moment.

Flash, meanwhile, is dying in the moment. But it’s not really that big of a cliffhanger — cue the “To Be Continued” card while he’s getting gored, then start the next episode with him jumping back up on his feet and decking the hairy fellow, right? Let’s see if that’s what happens.

“Is there no way a man can conquer the sacred orangopoid?” asks Aura, possibly her best ever line. Some rando in a funny hat lets her in on the secret. This is a glorious cheat, since the conversation is spliced into the furry grappling already seen in last week’s installlment. Rewriting the past is a popular serial trick.

Learning that the pellet with the poison’d in the vestle with the pestle the white spot on the ‘rango’s throat is his Achille’s heel, Aura grabs a spear and hands it to Flash, who, without any instruction, ventilates his opponent’s heel throat. I guess the windpipe is a reasonable thing to aim at.

Ming is very annoyed. He entrusts the rando who spilled the secret with the job of learning who spilled the secret. The rando is in fact his high priest, who has been seen earlier now I think of it. I like that Ming is surrounded by traitors just waiting for their chance to screw him over.

Ray “Crash” Corrigan does some hilarious “death throes” acting, which the editor tries to salvage, only not hard enough. The little foot kicking in the air seems like the only point anyone in the show has tried to be funny. But maybe he thought he was being serious.

I haven’t studied the work of “Crash” but I have to say, he’s no Charlie Gemora.

Since Flash has won, Vultan frays the sleeves frees the slaves and Flash has the right to marry Dale. Ming is pissed, but Vultan scolds him, “You cannot ignore your own law.” What’s the point of being a dictator, then?

Thun leaves to rejoin his people (like Poochy). Dale gets a costume change. It’s very much like a happy ending, except that everyone’s invited to Ming’s palace, a fairly clear indication of a double-cross. Zarkov shows Dale and Flash the earth, seen through a wall safe with a lens on it, a beautiful cloudless grey globe. Zarkov is STILL trying to set up a comms link, not helped by the fact that he’s been relocated from one lab to another just as he was making a crackly breakthrough.

Meanwhile, at Griffith Observatory, Prof Gordon and his cronies speculate incoherently about the strange signals they’ve been unable to detect. Yes, that’s right — they know they’re out there, they think they may be intentional signals, but they can’t detect them.

I’m all excited about the dragon. Will it be an ill-treated iguana or a bloke in a rubber cossie? Or what? I have no memory of this.

Aura, the serial’s wild card, the only character besides Vultan and the high priest with any ambiguity (though Vultan is, I have to admit, a bad guy, it’s just that he’s also an opportunistic turncoat) seems determined to interfere with Flash & Dale’s marriage plans. Poor Aura! Looking for love in all the wrong places (the Tunnel of Terror, the Arena of Death…)

Spying on the young lovers, Aura is outraged to find the high priest spying on her. He outlines a complicated plan involving the fire monster from the tunnel of terror. Ah-hah, so it seems like this episode’s “fire dragon” is the same big-pincered beastie from The Tunnel of Terror (episode 2). Well, you have to get the most out of your kaiju costume.

I won’t give you the whole plan but it involves an amnesia pill, so I am totally there for it. It should be easy to sneak past the fire dragon because it’s after his bedtime, and he can only be awoken by the “sacred gong.” We’ve already had the “sacred orangapoid” this episode, there’s a lot of random holiness on Mongo I wonder if the high priest doesn’t just wander about anointing things on a whim.

I suppose, having speared the hallowed monkeyman, Larry “Buster” Crabbe is now officially an iconoclast, on top of his other talents (swimming, and, uh…) I always fanced that job. Travelling from church to church, smashing the relics. My own sledgehammer and all the cucumber sandwiches I can eat.

Tender scene of Flash and Barin in the boudoir. Barin joshes Flash: “Nervous about choosing a bride?” “Oh, the choice will be easy,” muses Flash. “It’s just that I don’t trust Emperor Ming.” Don’t marry him, then! At least get a pre-nup.

Aura sends a flunky with the doped wine, falsely claiming it as a gift from Vultan. “Sure wish Vultan was head man around here,” says Flash, forgetting that Vultan enslaved him, tortured him, re-enslaved him, and tried to seduce his girl using a stripey bear, shadow-puppetry, expensive jewels and his second-best turkey leg. Also, it’s probably an insensitive thing to say to Barin, who might fancy the top job himself. One of the great innovations of the Mike Hodges movie is to make Flash a big idiot, but the groundwork had clearly been done.

Knocked cold by his roofied plonk, Flash is carried out on a litter while some Franz Waxman plays on a loop — not only sets and props but also music from Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN films get repurposed. I always found the musical connection exciting as a kid, but I never seem to have noticed the sets.

Everyone is perturbed to find Flash missing, but Vultan immediately discovers a scarf dropped by Aura. I wish there were a whole series entitled KING VULTAN INVESTIGATES in which the flightless monarch solves crimes in the mean streets of New York City using deductive reasoning and shadow-puppetry.

Prince Barin plays bad worse cop, strangling the flunky to get info. “Speak, man! Through the Tunnel of Terror?” Urk. Choke. Kaff. Strangling has been an efficient tool for Flash, but it has its limits as an interrogation technique, and clunking the guy’s helmet head against the set wall (for real) may also be ill-advised. But hey, it works!

At around 16:05 you can enjoy Jean Rogers (Dale) and Frank Shannon (Zarkov) getting their cues muddled up and talking over one another, thereby inventing overlapping dialogue ahead of Howard Hawks. A retake was considered too ambitious.

“Are you sure the fire dragon will not molest us?” Aura asks the high priest, who is standing suspiciously close to the sacred gong. Five seconds after Aura and her litter-bearers have lugged Flash into the dragon’s den, he bashes the sacred dinner gong and INSTANTLY the rubber-suited leviathan is awake and on its outsized feet, ready for his Banana Splits audition. Drooper, Snorky, Fleagle, Bingo and… Gocko!

Apparently the creature has a name, never spoken in the serial but established by Alex Raymond: Gocko. First cousin to Gorgo. Ambitiously, the effects team have rigged it up to breath fire, resulting in the poor occupant setting his own costume ablaze. Fortunately it’s just the weird bifurcated dangly horn/feeler sprouting from his latex brow. Definitely a design flaw. I hope the guy’s getting danger money.

Good use of forced perspective to make Gocko look huge. And then it’s —

TO BE CONTINUED

Tournament of Death

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2022 by dcairns

The familiar strains of Liszt’s Les préludes, symphonic poem No.3, S.97 (crap name) can mean only one thing — another episode of FLASH GORDON!

TOURNAMENT OF DEATH begins with an even more incoherent recap-titles than usual ~

“When Dale at sight of Flash being tortured betrayed…” — where’s Virginia Woolf when you need her?

“If we had been informed of your coming, a banquet would have been served,” declaims Vultan, making little nervous flaps of his cape with his fingertips. We’ve seen his banquets, they’re not that impressive, and so his fidgeting is understandable.

Flash throws the shovel in the furnace (again) and this time the model of the city in the sky rocks violently, with an explosion several blocks wide engulfing midtown. Yet Flash and friends survive it by hiding behind a low lead wall in the heart of the (vaguely atomic) explosion. Then they come rushing into the throne room, since the city in the sky is, though composed of twenty-odd buildings in the wide shot, is only about three rooms on the studio floor.

Flash is fairly glistening with baby oil, which might allow him to slip by both Ming and Vultan’s numerous guards, but instead he resorts to his old standby, shoving the nearest Hawk Man and sending him staggering dopily under the weight of his wings. He soon has Ming at swordpoint, but incomprehensibly Dale throws herself at him, seizing one greasy bicep and dragging him off-balance, so that Vultan can wrestle him into a half-Nelson. Way to go, girl!

Amusing conversation between sweaty Barin in his nappy and hairy Zarkov in his onesie. Zarkov is worried that the whole city is about to drop out of the air and smash. Barin doesn’t care about all that. “We’ve got to save Flash!”

Flash and Thun face the firing squad — when the, uh, conductor, or whatever he’s called, cries “Ready!” they brace themselves to LEAP. Why? Fortunately, the city’s little gravity defiance problem becomes critical at just this moment. The camera starts Star Trekking about, while everyone staggers drunkenly.

(In LOGAN, I have just learned, when Professor Xavier has his seizures, Sir Patrick Stewart specifically requested camera wobble — from his Trek experience the knighted thesp understood that this kind of thing cannot be done by acting alone! The filmmakers rattled the camera wildly, then attempted to stabilize it in post, creating a weird distortion effect that’s tremendously effective. I like the idea that Sir PS demands camera shake for all emotional scenes. I’d like him to demand shaking stages when he plays Shakespeare.)

The confusion allows Flash and Thun to jog past the firing squad and past a bunch more guards, who stand staring curiously after them as if auditioning for MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.

Fortunately, the immediate doom of everyone can be averted by Zarkov, who has just discovered/pulled out of his ass “a new ray.” Vultan swears to release all his captives if Z can save him. He swears by “the Great God Tao” — he of the changing appearance, depending on whether he’s a prop from THE MUMMY or stock footage swiped from JUST IMAGINE (and later swiped again by Kenneth Anger, who made the best use of it yet).

Zarkov switches on a Strickfaden contraption and the model city gradually tilts back to the horizontal, while everyone watches and sways, as if about to sing “Kumbaya, My Lord.” It’s very touching. Princess Aura puts her hands over her ears, for unknown reasons. Maybe she’s expecting everyone to sing “Kumbaya, My Lord.”

Flash and Thun come bounding into the throne room AGAIN. That’s the sign of a serial written in real time: chases fights and reversals that bring you back to the exact situation you were already in, with nothing altered. All the rushing and wrestling begins to seem curiously aimless since nothing is advanced. See any 6-part Dr. Who adventure from back in the day. These things can get kind of Bunuelian.

“As the Emperor of the Universe, it is my right to call a tournament of death,” declaims Ming, a relatively rare instance of an actor being allowed to say the title of the episode. Since all the dialogue in the serial has, effectively, speech balloons around it, they should let the cast enunciate the chapter titles as a matter of course. But Richard Alexander has devised an even better approach, saying his line here with a drunken slur. It’s a tribute to the acting profession that you rarely hear them sounding drunk when they’re not supposed to, unless it’s Wilfred Lawson or someone of his stature. FLASH GORDON, however, is not a tribute to the acting profession.

Flash changes into a nifty Prince Valiant costume — chainmail sweatshirt and tight black trousers and silver belt. “Your weapon will be presented to you at the Arena of Death,” says a guard ($1.25 a day). That has such an ominous sound. Couldn’t they have come up with a cheerier name? The guard, who has hilarious painted eyebrows for no reason, helps Flash into his stylish cape.

The arena turns out to be a reverse angle of the throne room. Space is at a premium in the city in the sky. Flash is to fight “the masked swordsman of Mongo,” who, it is immediately obvious, is Prince Barin. He’s already expressed an interest in the fight but isn’t present in the audience. Plus, the m.s. of m. is a big fat guy, the only one in the story who doesn’t wear fake wings.

Barin, masked, caped and bare-legged as usual, cuts a ridiculous figure, but then so does Santo, and he got a whole series of movies celebrating his exploits. Don’t give up hopes of stardom yet, Prince Barin!

I just noticed that Dale’s new gown has a sort of elongated sporran.

Looooong swordfight with multiple nonreaction shots, which starts to become faintly hilarious. Genre convention suggests that Dale and Zarkov should be looking concerned, Ming malicious, Vultan amused. But everyone is just sort of staring. Like they’re all waiting for a drop of water to fall from a fawcett. It’s funny and sort of abstract, as the illusion that they’re actually looking at what the editing suggests disintegrates and it becomes a series of disconnected strips of celluloid.

Flash unmasks Barin, and a defect on the film causes him to acquire a soap bubble around his nose for a single frame.

The tournament of death having ended in non-death, Flash and Barin repair to the nearest bedroom. I’ve got the sound turned off so this is somewhat surprising. No doubt if I could hear the dialogue all would be clear.

ROUND TWO!

And NOW the onlookers look concerned —

TO BE CONTINUED!