Category Archives: 1938

Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 14: A Beast at Bay

A Beast at Bay could just as easily be called We Give Up, There’s One More. After a lackluster cliffhanger resolution, Buster Crabbe’s plan to save the Clay kingdom fails because he couldn’t control one unarmed prisoner and then couldn’t beat him in a fistfight. The thirteen chapters of Crabbe kicking Martian ass… well, they were all just wimps, apparently. Crabbe gets zero material through the rest of the chapter, but he seems perpetually perturbed, which is accurate given his utter failures at the opening.

Once Crabbe gets the upper hand again–because he remembers he’s got a ray gun on him–it’s back to the Clay kingdom to tell no longer clay king but still overdoing it C. Montague Shaw he’s failed to execute his plan. Bay skips how Crabbe’s sidekicks knew he’d failed since I think they were waiting for him at a rendezvous point. Whatever.

Luckily the new Martian prisoners realize–immediately upon their arrival in the scene–Crabbe is actually a good guy and pledge their allegiance to him. Just after Shaw gives Crabbe command of the army, which seems questionable given his planning has been so terrible. Again, whatever.

They end up going back to the palace, where Charles Middleton is about to be crowned King of Mars. Now, you know it’s the penultimate chapter because instead of telling Jean Rogers she’s too girly to go along or Donald Kerr he’s too annoying to go along and dumping them in Shaw’s care, Crabbe–still looking put out–brings them along.

After some trouble, they get to Middleton’s coronation and Crabbe–with the help of flashbacks to the previous serial–talks the Martians out of making Middleton king. So he holds them up with a ray gun–everyone else is armed but no one is willing to risk Crabbe–and makes a getaway.

It’s a sad chapter. It’s not even disappointing. It’s just sad. It’s sad from the start. Especially when they use footage from the obviously visually superior previous serial. Trip to Mars can’t end soon enough.

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).


RELATED

Advertisements

Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 13: The Miracle of Magic

The Miracle of Magic is a funny title for the chapter since nothing really miraculous happens. There’s some anti-miracles. Maybe it refers to the curse of the Clay people getting lifted, which involves magical receptacles, but not really magic itself. It’s a strange sequence where the still suspicious C. Montague Shaw has Buster Crabbe do the spell lifting because Crabbe’s familiar with electricity and can run the Clay people’s machine. Presumably they too could use the machine, since they’re pretty technologically advanced–including the high-speed subway system–but whatever. Maybe they wanted publicity stills of Crabbe and company with the electronic gadgetry.

Besides lifting the curse–revealing all the Clay people are male–most of the chapter involves Crabbe and the boys trying to stop Ming (Charles Middleton) from arming the Forest people to attack the Clay people. Middleton had to get Beatrice Roberts out of the way to do so; it’s not clear why exactly, just because he wanted her out of the way. She probably would’ve gone along with him arming the Forest people. It’s also not clear why they’re better for destroying the Clay people than the Martian troops. The Martian troops have all the weapons, they’re just giving them to the Forest people.

Maybe because Middleton has stupid ideas, which does explain why it’s taken him thirteen chapters to get to this point in his scheme.

Crabbe ditches Jean Rogers with Shaw, rather ingloriously, and takes Frank Shannon, Donald Kerr, and Richard Alexander to the Forest people’s… well, their forest. Then he and Alexander ditch Shannon and Kerr to go sneak around and discover what’s the rumpus. Of course, it turns out Shannon and Kerr figure out what’s going on without having to go sneak around the Forest people’s underground lair.

The chapter ends with Crabbe executing his plan to save the Clay people. It’s not going as planned.

There’s some big plot developments in the first few minutes–Clay people curse lifted and such–but then it’s more of the same stalling and circular narrative for the rest. Mars has only got two chapters left and it’s hard to imagine they’re going to be able to make a major quality uptick. Magic is far from the worst chapter in the serial, but also far from the best. It’s one of the better middling chapters.

Hopefully there’s some engaging surprise coming, because there sure wasn’t anything here.

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).


RELATED

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).


RELATED

Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 11: Human Bait

And it’s back to the Martian imperial city or whatever it’d be called this chapter. After a surprising cliffhanger resolution–brainwashed Jean Rogers does indeed stab Buster Crabbe in the back–Crabbe and his male sidekicks (Frank Shannon, Donald Kerr, and Richard Alexander) go running around in the forest a bit before they have to go back to the temple. So much going somewhere and going back. Eventually they get to Alexander’s rocket ship so they can get to the city and rescue Rogers.

Only Charles Middleton and Beatrice Roberts have her and she’s the Human Bait of the title.

Crabbe and Shannon once again fall for one of Middleton’s questionably contrived plans against them, eventually getting them to the cliffhanger. It’s a very boring chapter. The stuff with Rogers having sympathetic (slightly sympathetic anyway) guards is far more interesting than anything in the finale. Except maybe how none of the four editors realized Middleton was supposed to be away from the trap spot only they kept cutting to old footage of him there, conniving.

Oddly weak performance from Roberts this chapter too. She just stares into space while Middleton talks to her. Meanwhile Rogers is in Mars more, only as a zombie. It’s a disappointment.

With only four chapters left, Human Bait is definitely concerning. There might not be anywhere else for Mars to go and it’s a little too early for it to be in such bad shape. Hopefully they pull it off. Hopefully.

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).


RELATED