Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 1: New Worlds to Conquer

Until about three-quarters of the way into New Worlds to Conquer, I thought Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars was going to be one of those mistitled movies. Like the studio changed it for some reason. Because when adventurers Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers, and Frank Shannon take off, they’re headed right back to Mongo.

Then it turns out Shannon’s bad at reading astronomical photographs and they should’ve been going to Mars.

The chapter opens with Crabbe and company returning to Earth (from the previous serial). There’s no ticker tape parade scene because budget. Instead, some swirling newspaper montages announce their return and lionization… only for a new problem to arise for Planet Earth. Natural disasters. Scientists are flummoxed. Little do they know (previous serial) villain Charles Middleton has teamed up with Beatrice Roberts (a cruel megalomaniac queen of Mars) to zap the Earth with a ray. They’re sucking the Nitron out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Roberts wants it so she can wage war on some of people on Mars; Middleton just wants to suffocate all the Earthlings.

Good thing while in flight to Mongo, Rogers sees the ray and they change course to Mars. Also good thing Crabbe and company’s rocket ship is fast enough for such maneuvers.

After their introduction and landing on Earth, there’s not a lot for Crabbe, Rogers, or Shannon to do in the chapter. Shannon gets the most–he’s got an interview after their homecoming–but then they disappear during the natural disaster response and Middleton plotting. It’s up to reporter Donald Kerr to bring them into the story. He tracks them down–Crabbe’s become Shannon’s assistant, Rogers is presumably hanging around because Crabbe. Kerr stows away on the rocket ship, so he’ll be a sidekick or something.

The acting is all fine. Kerr’s funny. Roberts is truly disturbing in her cruelty. Middleton’s… maybe better than last time. And the three heroes are all solid, of course. Crabbe and Rogers are earnest, Shannon’s scientist-y; they’re all good.

Technically, however, New Worlds starts Mars on ominous footing. Anytime there’s a cut to close-up, it’s a bad one (the serial’s got four credited editors so who knows whose fault it is… could just be lack of coverage from directors Beebe and Hill); the special effects are shaky too. The model work is fine… but most of the effects so far are composite shots. One has at least three layers (maybe four) and it’s far from effective. And Mars, so far, looks a whole lot like Mongo from the last serial.

Still, given Crabbe, Rogers, and Shannon–not to mention Kerr–Mars at least has got a lot of likability going for it. Hopefully it finds some narrative momentum soon.

CREDITS

Directed by Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill; screenplay by Ray Trampe, Norman S. Hall, Wyndham Gittens, and Herbert Dalmas, based the comic strip by Alex Raymond; director of photography, Jerome Ash; edited by Joseph Gluck, Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, and Alvin Todd; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov), Charles Middleton (Emperor Ming), Beatrice Roberts (Queen Azura), Donald Kerr (Happy Hapgood), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), and C. Montague Shaw (Clay King).


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2 thoughts on “Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 1: New Worlds to Conquer”

  1. Thanks for your fun post! I recently saw one of the chapters of Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars a couple of weeks ago at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, CA. It featured Flash Gordon and the Clay people! I will have to watch the prior chapters in order to understand the context better, but I enjoyed it for what it was, and found it entertaining. Although the audience groaned at the special effects and models, I feel most people attending got a kick out of it!

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