Archive for Frankenstein

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

Flaming Torture

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2022 by dcairns

The FLASH GORDON episode recaps are turning into word soup. “Doomed shark city” sounds like som kind of garage band, while “forced to feed radium to the mighty atom furnaces” supplies information that I don’t think was even present in the previous episode. That’s radium he’s shovelling? I’m afraid Thun is screwed.

And the rapey King Vultan is, we are to understand, merely “boisterous”? Although we admit his boister “terrorizes” Dale, as well it might. Possibly the title-writer is attempting to seed in a rehabilitation for the alarming man-fowl, since he’s got to perform a volte-face later on. Or possibly it’s an example of the cautiousness with words Nic Roeg detected in the newspaper strip. “You could have Princess Aura whipping Dale Arden but the caption would just say something like ‘Oh! That hurts me a lot!'” Roeg was attracted by the idea of smuggling sex and kink into a kids’ film, and when he departed the 1980 project, Mike Hodges inherited that ambition…

Two-part recap! The fall of Barin’s stricken rocketship is mysteriously arrested mid-plummet — is this the birth of George Lucas’ tractor beam? — then we flashback in order to allow the stripey bear to appear again, by popular demand and so the production can get their money’s worth. The bear leaves (again) and Vultan starts advancing indecently (again).

By a surprising temporal leap, the indecent advance is interrupted by the arrival of Barin, Aura, Zarkov and Flash, all chained at spearpoint. I suppose Vultan could have continued advancing, but decency prevails: not in front of the prisoners.

Meanwhile — what’s Ming up to? Sitting at an instrument panel, receiving news from the armour-plated minion with the adorable kidney-bean shaped torso of the kind so beloved of Robert Crumb. Except that said minion is a dude, a disqualifying attribute to becoming a companion to Honeybunch Kaminsky or Angelfood McSpade.

The episode is halfway over and nothing has happened but talk! A touch of mid-serial droop is detected. It’s like an Eric Rohmer movie in space. Better hurry up and get to the FLAMING TORTURE.

Flash and Barin, stripped to their trunks, are sent to join Thun, whose beard and fangs should’ve fallen out by now, shovelling radium into the furnaces. I’m unclear whether setting light to your scoops of radium is the best way to get the value out of them. I’m no physicist but…

Is this the flaming torture? The flames look uncomfortable, but I would imagine that it’s the radioactivity that really makes for unsafe working conditions.

Zarkov, meanwhile, is excused shovelling, and it put to work in yet another electrical Strickfaden workshop, where he sets about making the novelty contraptions flash on and off in a stimulating fashion.

Aura now gets to work on Dale, trying to make her renounce Flash — good MEAN GIRLS psych-out stuff. Judging from this serial, when girls want to attack other girls, they work on their emotions. When guys want to attack other guys, they use a DESTROYING RAY or else hit them with a spear. Men are from Mars, women are from Mongo.

You’ll notice the visual quality of my viewing copy is even better now, so we can all appreciate Aura’s exotic eyebrows (inherited from her father, no doubt).

SUDDEN WEIRD PRODUCTION NUMBER! Undoubtedly stock footage. The chorines bouncing in their boob tubes are notably wingless. Plus, it looks expensive. I’m not sure if it’s from JUST IMAGINE, but I think it’s likely. I’m not sure I ever made it through that movie… it has El Brendel in it.

JUST IMAGINE is on YouTube! You can see that Zarkov’s lovely rocketship model has also been ported over to FG. But I don’t see the stock shot above. Anyone who knows which obscure early thirties musical it’s culled from, let me know.

The stock shot doesn’t last long, and soon Vultan is eating roast chicken — a clear case of semi-cannibalism. THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII is just three years old, and Jack “Tiny” Lipson clearly seems to have been influenced by Charles Laughton’s performance. But Jack “Tiny” Lipson, sir, is no Charles Laughton. This being a movie serial and not a Korda film, the banquet is cut-rate too — “Tiny” must content himself with a small piece of chicken, a goblet of something, and two loaves. Then we pull back and there’s a big plate of some kind of meat and a fruit bowl. Better.

Cutting back to the dupey stock shot makes it clear that this gay performance is meant to be happening right in front of Vultan’s dinner table, an illusion which crumbles before it’s even formed. I don’t care what Mr. Kuleshov says, that banquet and that dance number are not happening in the same sky palace.

Still, as a kid I was always fascinated by those shots, so much more elaborate than anything involving our main cast.

A really miserable looking winged chef brings Vultan a fresh platter of turkey legs. More cannibalism ensues. Dale, coached by Aura, tells Vultan how attractive she finds him. He gets amorous again, so the serial cuts to Flash & co being whipped in the furnace room — a kinky case of erotic displacement. The perversity of the 1980 FG is all fully-present in this version.

REBELLION! Since a shovel is a deadlier weapon than a bullwhip, the slaves can easily overpower their overseers, especially since the big turkeys don’t consider taking flight, and are weighed down by their huge rigid wings. But now some guards enter, armed with futuristic pop guns. “If anyone moves, you’ll all be destroyed!” Good luck keeping the “city in the sky” airborne without a slave force, bozo. Flash and the gang could have taken over simply by going on strike.

Marvelous emoting from “Larry “Buster” Crabbe in response to the threat. Flash, big dummy that he is, responds to “don’t move” with an exaggerated brandishing of his shovel, despite the fact that his foes are way out of range.

And so the mutiny is quelled, I believe the word is. Vultan comes along to gloat from a catwalk, bringing his bitches along to enjoy the view. Dale forgets to act indifferent, overcome as she is with compassion for the sight of the sweat-sheened Flash getting lacerated. She screams and faints. “She did not eat enough dinner,” diagnoses Vultan, whatever medical acumen he has distorted by his fat-guy sensibility.

Vultan resolves to punish the unruly Flash. “Take him to the Static Room!” I envision a room where everybody is sedentary. It sounds like a perfect encapsulation of this episode.

Aura berates Dale in what passes here for an opulent boudoir. It’s quite attractive, actual: Grecian deco. “What happens to him now will make those whip lashes seem like love pats!” spits the princess. My favourite line in the whole photoplay to date, the perfect combination of sado-eroticism and awkwardness. The dramatic equivalent of snagging a nipple clamp on your partner’s earring.

The Static Room turns out to be an elaborate Kenneth Strickfaden torture chamber, the impressive set-piece needlessly elaborated upon by stock shots from God-knows-where — FRANKENSTEIN? No. MASK OF FU MANCHU? I wonder. Director Stephani’s signature move is the pull back from a close to a wide, or the opposite, and he does a nice expressive rush towards Dale’s reaction, standing in a palatial doorway ported over from some bigger and more dignified production. Why the torture chamber NEEDS a door that size is beyond the scope of this dissertation.

Flash passes out from the non-specific torment — it’s not exactly FLAMING TORTURE but it’ll do — I guess we could admit that the episode has featured both flaming and torture — and a lightning bolt wipe introduces the TO BE CONTINUED title —

OK, it was a talkie episode, but it made up in sheer perversion what it lacked in punch-ups. I look forward to the Shattering Doom with undimmed enthusiasm.

Captured by Shark Men

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 11, 2022 by dcairns

And we all know what that feels like, right?

Episode three of FLASH GORDON resolves the rubber dragon-lobster problem rather briskly, with Thun rushing up and raygunning down the offending beast. But not before we’ve been allowed to enjoy the sight of a miniature Flash, rigid of limb and seemingly hydrocephalic, being waved triumphantly around in one giant pincer. Intercut medium shots of Larry “Buster” Crabbe gritting his teeth et voila! A classic science fiction fight scene to rival anything in the MCU.

The baggy-trousered reptile laid smouldering on the cavern floor, Flash and Thun descend a precipitous stone stairway inherited from FRANKENSTEIN — in the steps of Dwight Frye. Then Flash strangles a bloke in a Norman helmet with a dinner gong, freeing them to reach the cluster of MUMMY props to save Dale from almost certain matrimony. The stone god — definitely the idol from Freund’s monsterpiece, makes a familiar gesture, and then tips forward at the celebrants, propelled by Flash, your visiting district iconoclast. Dale, only lightly dehumanized, is swept off her feet by her hero, leaving Ming jilted and emasculated, a spare prick at his own wedding. Curses!

Dialogue indicates that the tumbling deity is “the great god Tao,” but he looks totally different to the version seen last time, in footage from JUST IMAGINE. I guess that was the great god Tao of stock footage, and this is the great god Tao of secondhand props.

Flash and Thun now continue on down the same staircase they already descended, I think, though this is not embarrassingly obvious or anything, it’s just that I know the set. How far down are we going? “FIRST FLOOR DUNGEON: Assorted simple tortures”? I note that the stair has been cleaned and dried since Colin Clive was its proprietor.

Flash and Dale are halted at a big steel bulkhead and a henchman spies at them through a telescope as Dale’s dehumanization wears off. Flash takes too long to notice, though, and before a clinch can be arranged they’re dropped through ANOTHER trap door, this time into water. Boy, if Aura could see this, would she be jealous. “I’m the one he should be plummeting through trapdoors with!” Imagine Flash’s stuttered excuses: “I dropped twenty feet with her but that’s as far as it went!”

Now Flash is set upon by Shark Men. Well, it must have seemed a good idea to give Larry “Buster” Crabbe, Olympic swimmer, some splashing about to do. But aquatic punch-ups are rarely fun to watch, and this babbling donnybrook is no exception. That’s why THUNDERBALL will never be my favourite Bond — the one time undercranking would have helped them, they forgot it was available.

Our heroes are soon abducted into a Shark Man submarine, the tiniest-looking model yet. The big bricks in its dock don’t help.

Now, in the finest tradition of Ruggiero Deodato, we get some genuine animal bloodshed — shark versus octopus. Ugh. At one point the picture goes out of focus and the image rolls vertically, which is a relief.

Flash and Dale barely have time to get dry — but they do get dry, perhaps for censorship reasons — before they’re presented to the grand old King Kala of the Shark Men, played by the grand old Duke York Jr. Within seconds of meeting, Flash and the King/Duke engaged in a wrestling match. Pretty strange royal protocol they have on Mongo. But it soon escalates into a knife fight, which is more in line with the life of our own dear Queen.

Editing can do strange things to performance, and Jean Rogers’ reaction shots make you wonder if she’s fully de-dehumanized. Not her fault.

Flash beats Kala who’s so impressed he orders that his captors spend the night “in their separate quarters” (Production Code dictates or something more sinister?) and be released in the morning. “Don’t worry, Dale. Everything’s all right,” Flash assures her, but with so little time to the cliffhanger, can this be true? Also, Dale’s separate quarters consist of a divan in the corner of the throne room, surrounded by shower curtains. Those aren’t proper quarters. They’re barely eighths.

Flash’s separate quarters, on the other hand, are a metal vault, into which he is bundled by Kala’s hench-shark-men. Their costumes deserve mention: swim trunks and HUGE silvery cummerbunds, boots and skull-caps. At least Kala gets to wear a kind of lurex sarong with a cartoon squid on it. Dignity, always dignity.

Flash’s quarters are, in fact, less air-bnb than airlock, and are soon flooding. Worse, since Dale’s bedroom is PART OF THE THRONEROOM, she’s able to sneak out and eavesdrop as Kala has a quick Zoom call with Ming, showing them to be in cahoots, or nextdoor to cahoots. Ming’s image appears, amusingly, in a porthole. Because Shark Men would naturally have portholes for monitors.

Cliffhanger! Flash’s metaphorical cliff is a room filling with water, in which he is not hanging but drowning. Soon, an “octo-sac” is unleashed, to further inconvenience him. Deduct at least one rating star.

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK!