Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 8: Tournament of Death

Tournament of Death is an unexpectedly strong chapter. There’s a lot going on. There’s the cliffhanger resolution, there’s Buster Crabbe facing off with Charles Middleton for the first time since Chapter One, there’s Frank Shannon saving the day, there’s Jack Lipson having character development, there’s Richard Alexander having hilarious character development, and there’s Jean Rogers screaming every once in a while. It’s actually a better part than Priscilla Lawson has this chapter; she just stands and looks reservedly terrified.

Why’s she terrified? Because of the titular Tournament of Death. First, Crabbe has to fight a masked swordsman. The masked swordsman’s identity is pretty obvious, which leads to an amusing scene for Crabbe. Because Tournament is where Crabbe gets to round out the character a little. He’s a bit of a primpy preppy. During the sword fight, Crabbe’s always keeping form. It’s silly. But it proves endearing.

And then the second match of the tournament is Crabbe versus a giant horned ape. The tournament “arena” is a big empty space, ostensibly part of Lipson’s throne room, but it’s just a big empty space. And Crabbe versus giant horned ape in this big empty space–even with the film sped up and the editors overwhelmed–it’s a bitching fight scene. Director Stephani kind of drags this one with the pacing, but it pays off.


Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), James Pierce (Prince Thun), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), Jack ‘Tiny’ Lipson (King Vultan), Theodore Lorch (High Priest), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


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