Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 3: Queen of Magic

Queen of Magic has a lot going on. After the perfunctory cliffhanger resolution, there’s another chase sequence (of sorts) through the Clay Men’s caves. It takes a while–and has Buster Crabbe and company duking it out with the actual bad guys (Beatrice Roberts’s human thugs)–but eventually the Clay Men get them. The good guys. The leader of the Clay Men, C. Montague Shaw, wants Roberts brought to the caves so she can make the Clay Men human again. He’s going to hold on to Jean Rogers to motivate Crabbe to do it.

Shaw and the Clay Men also strip and redress all the Earthlings… just because.

And it isn’t a particularly difficult task for Crabbe–who brings Frank Shannon along–because Roberts’s troops are a bunch of morons who walk Crabbe into her throne room where he’s able to grab her. The only one who figures out maybe it’s not a great idea to be trusting is Charles B. Middleton (who’s got a major obsession with killing Crabbe, though not enough to stop doing his work around the palace, which appears to be to slowly turn Roberts’s people against her… maybe).

There’s a lot of great production design. Maybe not production values, but the design of the city and the palace–as far as the backdrops and mattes and such–is phenomenal. They’ve got to walk across a “light bridge” at one point, which is a simple effect with a matte backdrop, but it really does bring some scale to the goings on. The miniature sets of the Martian city leave a lot to be desired–the miniature sets of the Martian landscape aren’t exceptional or anything, but they’re at least competent and thoughtfully rendered. Not so with the Martian city. It’s real lazy. So it’s nice to see the backdrops fill it out.

Solid acting all around. Crabbe’s a great lead–though he gets a lengthy exposition dump explaining Roberts and Middleton’s plan to Shaw and it’s a tad much–Shannon’s good, Rogers’s perfectly likable (though she’s way too literally the damsel here). Donald Kerr isn’t annoying this time. Roberts is good. Unfortunately, with the possible scheming subplot thrown in, Middleton is starting to disappoint.

Still, it’s a more than adequate entry. Lots of excitement. And maybe a couple sequences George Lucas borrowed obviously for Star Wars.

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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