Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 12: Ming the Merciless

It’s a good thing Ming (Charles Middleton) loves to carelessly gloat because if he didn’t, there’s no way Buster Crabbe could’ve got the upper hand this chapter. Ming the Merciless is, sort of, about Martian queen Beatrice Roberts finding out Middleton isn’t really her pal. But she doesn’t have much in the way of recognition of his betrayal. In fact, it goes without mention or much reaction.

Other than that scene, not much happens in the chapter. Sure, Crabbe de-brainwashes Jean Rogers but once she’s back to normal, she’s really back to normal. She’s got no lines, just follows Crabbe and Frank Shannon around.

The cliffhanger resolution at the beginning has Crabbe and Shannon feigning death so they can get the upper hand on Middleton’s stooge Wheeler Oakman. Oakman has just about the most thankless job in the serial. He’s got to pretend Middleton’s smart and pretend Crabbe is a competent captor. There’s nary a moment when Crabbe’s leading Oakman around Oakman couldn’t escape. But he’s convincing in his… lack of escape ambition.

The serial explains it, like everything else, with Middleton being such a genius conniver there’s never anything to worry about. And that thesis isn’t wrong; at least, presumably, until the last chapter when the serial can stop toggling between Middleton or Crabbe having the upper hand.

The chapter ends with all the good guys in trouble, even though Donald Kerr and Richard Alexander are separated from Crabbe, Shannon, and Rogers. Crabbe and company has Roberts prisoner and drops a note to Kerr and Alexander, which is a good waste of ninety seconds or so when Kerr and Alexander think it’s an enemy attack. A lot of Ming feels likes the filmmakers are just trying to kill time.

Trip to Mars’s turn for the worse hasn’t made any further turns in that direction, but it certainly hasn’t corrected course. Poor Roberts, who had some credibility before, has been reduced to being tricked by Middleton and having moon eyes for Crabbe. It’s a good thing it’s cover 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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