Archive for Just Imagine

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!

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!