Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 9: Symbol of Death

Nine chapters in, Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars hasn’t had any majorly repetitive chapters. The overall story moves along, at least moderately, by the end of the chapter. But not so with Symbol of Death. The chapter opens with Buster Crabbe escaping Charles Middleton’s imprisonment and death ray; it ends with Crabbe imprisoned and Middleton bombarding him with another death ray. A different death ray. Middleton’s got all sorts.

In between, Crabbe tries to escape, but gets caught destroying the beam zapping the Earth’s atmosphere. Now, he uses a weapon near the hanger, far away from where he got caught last chapter; Symbol never addresses why Crabbe went to Middletown’s lab to destroy the Earth-sucker when he just could’ve done it from the hanger.

One big change is Crabbe loses his advantage over Martian queen Beatrice Roberts, forcing Frank Shannon and Richard Alexander to go back to the palace to rescue Crabbe. So they’re in trouble at the end too. And it’s confirmed Middleton is plotting against Roberts. But it’s a fairly boring, pointless chapter just to get all those story switches flipped.

Though there’s one great scene where Alexander knocks around two Martian guards. His helmet’s barely hanging on to his head by the end of it.

And there’s some decent stuff with Crabbe’s escape through the palace city–and, eventually, the first decent miniature effects of the palace city. Usually there’s a strange profile shot but there’s finally the city next to the Martian landscape here. But once you realize Crabbe’s just going somewhere better to destroy the Earth-sucker ray… the circular narrative gets annoying.

It’s competently produced–Crabbe gets nothing to do–and it’s nice to see Shannon and Alexander team up, but Symbol of Death is Mars’s weakest chapter so far.


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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