Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 4: Ancient Enemies

The cliffhanger resolution from last chapter should be this awesome sequence where Buster Crabbe–faced with a collapsing structure–swings down on a line, risking his life to save his prisoner (Beatrice Roberts), in a scene George Lucas would “borrow” for Star Wars. Unfortunately, the whole thing is played on a view screen for Charles B. Middleton to witness. Sure, it’s obvious Middleton doesn’t like how Crabbe’s a hero first, but there’s this great action sequence and it’s in this (relatively) tiny window.

Roberts thanks Crabbe and Frank Shannon for saving her by imprisoning them again and giving them to Middleton to execute. Except Middleton, despite having been capable and evil enough to become an intergalactic evil emperor, sees red when it comes to Crabbe and sets up some dumb way of executing them. Crabbe and Shannon get out of it, capturing Middleton, who then outwits them.

The chapter title, Ancient Enemies, seems to refer to Roberts’s Martian queen and the Clay Men (who still have Jean Rogers and Donald Kerr hostage–waiting for Crabbe to deliver Roberts to them), only they’re not really ancient enemies. The Clay Men are just political outcasts Roberts has changed–magically–into clay people. And Crabbe and Middleton, despite really hating one another, haven’t been enemies for too long either.

Title confusion aside, once Crabbe and Shannon are trying to save the Clay Men from an attack by one of Roberts’s bombers–just one, she only sent one bomber to utterly destroy a settlement–Enemies picks up, tension-wise. There’s an airship chase, there’s Rogers and Kerr chained up to be bombed (Clay King C. Montague Shaw doesn’t trust Crabbe anymore). It’s an exciting finish.

There’s some decent effects work, some decent composites, some not decent effects work, some not decent composites. The decent stuff is real effect and the not decent stuff isn’t too damaging. Doesn’t hurt the stock music isn’t bad this time.

Plus there’s another Clay Men coming out of the wall shot, which is neat.

There’s enough content it could’ve been two chapters–especially since no one really gets enough material. Crabbe and Roberts needed more at the start (when she realizes he’ll stand for everyone) and Rogers needed more at the end. Roger’s way underutilized in Trip to Mars so far.

Anyway. Ancient Enemies is pretty good.

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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