Tag Archives: Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 2: The Tunnel of Terror

The Tunnel of Terror opens with Buster Crabbe and Priscilla Lawson quickly escaping from the previous chapter’s cliffhanger. The unfortunate lizard monsters (real lizards standing in for giant monsters) make a brief return, but soon Crabbe and Lawson are just on the run from the guards.

Pretty soon, Crabbe is on his own and piloting a rocket ship to take out a force flying against Charles Middleton’s evil Ming. The sky battle is admirably executed; director Stephani, composer Clifford Vaughan, and the four editors work up some excitement, which makes up for the lacking special effects.

Meanwhile, damsel Jean Rogers is being held captive until she’s brainwashed into marrying Middleton and scientist Frank Shannon is goofing off in the futuristic palace lab.

Everyone’s appealing except Middleton. He’s really not getting any better. His costuming is great, his performance is all sorts of dreadful.

The cliffhanger involves another giant lizard, only this one is an actual practical special effect, not a real lizard ostensibly shot forced perspective. The resulting action scene is far more exciting. Even if Crabbe’s stand-in looks suspiciously like a little kid.

CREDITS

Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), James Pierce (Prince Thun), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


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Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 1: The Planet of Peril

In just around twenty minutes, The Planet of Peril, the first chapter of Flash Gordon, boldly defines itself. It establishes the ground situation–Earth is about to be destroyed by a collision with another planet and the world’s in panic. It establishes the leads–Buster Crabbe’s a blond, smart guy jock, Jean Rogers is his airplane co-passenger who thinks he’s swell, Charles Middleton is the emperor of whatever planet Crabbe, Rogers, and rocket scientist Frank Shannon have landed on.

There’s a narrative conciseness to Peril’s script, but the production design and visual effects don’t really aid it. The script aids them. Because Gordon is fantastical–there are fighting cave men, interstellar princesses, rocket ships, bad guys in tin suits, one bad guy in a suit of armor, everyone else doing a Roman thing. It’s a lot. Lots of costumes. Lots of special effects, usually miniatures, sometimes not great, sometimes great, always interesting, often cool. And everything seems directed to suport them.

Until the fight scene. Crabbe vs. cave men. It turns out to be this phenomenally edited, long action scene. Director Stephani, the four editors, they know how to shoot and cut action. There’s tension with the rocket take-off, there’s some good editing elsewhere, but the arena fight scene is something else.

And then it comes to a nice cliffhanger. There’s not much peril in the cliffhanger–Crabbe and now soft on him alien princess Priscilla Lawson are falling into something called “the pit,” but it’s just chapter one. There’s just going to be more amazing Flash Gordon.

Really, the only thing wrong with it so far is Middleton. He’s playing the role without a sense of humor. Meanwhile Shannon’s using humor (at least whenever he gets a real line or two), Crabbe is running with it, and Rogers hasn’t got anything to do. Except look scared.

Flash Gordon is awesome.

CREDITS

Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


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