Archive for Frank Shannon

Rocketing to Earth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2022 by dcairns

Mike Hodges tells me that Larry “Buster” Crabbe was quick to condemn his 1980 FLASH GORDON. “He couldn’t quite bring himself to say this great American hero might be GAY! Hey Ho!”

If not gay, then certainly camp.

Join Larry “Buster” Crabbe and his chums for the final episode of the 1936 series!

We open, more or less, with the ceiling falling in on our heroes after they descend through a convenient trapdoor to escape aerial bombardment. The whole “Trapped in the Turret” thing is rather a misnomer as they never go upstairs. “Trapped in the Basement” would be closer to the truth, but they’re never trapped either: immediately downstairs from the “turret-which-is-played-by-a-cave” next to the “Lake of Rocks” which is just a desert, they find a corridor leading to the dungeon which allows them to rescue Prince Barin who is being escorted there. They belatedly realise that it wasn’t Barin who had been bombarding them.

Oh, and King Vultan has been injured. He’s covered in plaster and looks quite woebegone. Covering someone in plaster will have this effect, but it turns out if they’re wearing big rigid fake wings the effect is enhanced.

Fiona, having skipped most of the episodes, is amused all over by Princess Aura’s way of aiming her knockers at people. “She said, bustily.”

There is toing and froing. Or “to-ing and fro-ing” I guess since the previous iteration looks like it should rhyme with “boing.” It having been established that anyone can just barge into Ming’s throne room whenever they feel like it, our heroes do so. They also encamp in Ming’s laboratory and Zarkov electrifies the door to keep intruders out. Ming is so ineffectual, in other words, his abductees can make themselves more secure IN HIS HOUSE than he can himself. Zarkov, previously dejected by his wrecked invisibility machine, is briefly triumphant about his electric wood, until Ming outsmarts him by shutting the power off. Outsmarted by a tinpot dictator who uses common sense: there’s something to be dejected about.

Speaking of tin pots, here come the Lion Men in their “gyro-ships,” pronounced by Charles “Baldy” Ming Ming with a hard G and Frank “Knobbly Knees” Shannon with a soft one. This time, I feel Zarkov has the right idea, despite Ming being the native speaker.

“It must be hell in there,” says Fiona, gazing upon the wobbly, twirly, smoky and buzzing craft. Thun, standing at the controls as if operating a Moviola, somehow seems to have a view that isn’t constantly panning 360, which would admittedly be irritating.

At 9: there’s another of those delightful moments when a line of dialogue is yelled in by an off-camera director or AD: “It’s Thun, and his Lion Men!” Truly hilarious. The first two words have been loosely synched to “Larry “Buster” Crabbe’s lip movements, the rest play over a wide shot of rampaging cat-dudes. The voice is inept and very camp. It’s exactly the way I imagine the voice of the AD on Mankiewicz’s JULIUS CAESAR when he famously shouted “Now here comes Julius!”

There is a huge, uncoordinated fight, resembling the slapstick donnybrook at the end of HELP! Just a bunch of random shoving and falling over. In this fashion is Ming finally vanquished.

Defeated, Ming runs — RUNS! — “Max Von Sydow was far too dignified to go flapping about like that,” argues Fiona — to the only other standing set or location of any use, the tunnel leading to the recently exploded fire dragon. The smirking High Priest, who puts me in mind of comedian Joe Melia, watches him go, and, in a literal puff of smoke, Ming just vanishes.

This seems pretty weak, but I can’t recall being disappointed by it as a kid. One can even argue that the abstraction of it — transparently a means to preserve the possibility of Ming returning, Fu Manchu-style (“Mongo shall hear of me again”) — has a certain grandeur. Middleton plays it as if it’s Shakespeare, helped by the fact that there’s no dialogue to remind you that it’s not Shakespeare.

I’m then reminded that Von Sydow does a similar fade-out in the Mike Hodges version, and that as a kid I DID feel a pang of disappointment — there’s a huge build-up to Flash flying towards Ming’s palace, setting up the expectation that he’s going to do something pretty dramatic when he gets there. But no — he just crashes into it. This, of course, is perfect — Sam “Not Buster” Jones’ dim-witted Flash isn’t going to save the day in any other way than by direct collision. And it ends with “THE END?”

I’ve read numerous accounts of how the big finish of STAR WARS — boring pageantry with stirring march music — is derived from TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, but it’s clearly derived from right here, where it’s done quicker and cheaper. Pomp and reduced circumstances. FG being Lucas’ stated inspiration, and in fact the film he would have made had Dino De Laurentiis granted him the rights.

What’s left of the ’36 outing is diminuendo with the emphasis on DIM. Flash, Zarkov and Dale depart leaving Aura enthroned, to govern Mongo with the scheming and vacillation wisdom she has demonstrated in the previous twelve episodes, but the smirking High Priest plants a bar-bell bomb in the rocketship. Then, for no reason, he confesses this, still smirking, which allows Barin and co to alert the earth-chums. They open the door and chuck the bomb out. No biggie.

Fiona is convinced that actor Theodore “Smirky” Lorch is spoofing the whole thing with his scare-quotes “performance” but he was a former silent movie actor (Chingachgook in the Clarence Brown-Maurice Tourneur LAST OF THE MOHICANS) whose talking career was all bit-parts and serials, mostly in fact bit-parts IN serials, so I see no reason to assume he’s driven by anything other than delusions of competence.

Then there’s an unsuccessful attempt to inject drama into the flight back to terra firma and stock footage. Finally, in their native skies at last, Flash and Dale stare wonderingly into each others’ eyes (they could hardly stare into their own) in a doomed search for meaning or intelligent life, while Zarkov smiles creepily upon them, a father substitute in unsettling shorts.

THE END?

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

Battling the Sea Beast

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 18, 2022 by dcairns

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.

NOW READ ON!

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 —

TO BE CONTINUED…