Tag Archives: Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars

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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Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 3: Queen of Magic

Queen of Magic has a lot going on. After the perfunctory cliffhanger resolution, there’s another chase sequence (of sorts) through the Clay Men’s caves. It takes a while–and has Buster Crabbe and company duking it out with the actual bad guys (Beatrice Roberts’s human thugs)–but eventually the Clay Men get them. The good guys. The leader of the Clay Men, C. Montague Shaw, wants Roberts brought to the caves so she can make the Clay Men human again. He’s going to hold on to Jean Rogers to motivate Crabbe to do it.

Shaw and the Clay Men also strip and redress all the Earthlings… just because.

And it isn’t a particularly difficult task for Crabbe–who brings Frank Shannon along–because Roberts’s troops are a bunch of morons who walk Crabbe into her throne room where he’s able to grab her. The only one who figures out maybe it’s not a great idea to be trusting is Charles B. Middleton (who’s got a major obsession with killing Crabbe, though not enough to stop doing his work around the palace, which appears to be to slowly turn Roberts’s people against her… maybe).

There’s a lot of great production design. Maybe not production values, but the design of the city and the palace–as far as the backdrops and mattes and such–is phenomenal. They’ve got to walk across a “light bridge” at one point, which is a simple effect with a matte backdrop, but it really does bring some scale to the goings on. The miniature sets of the Martian city leave a lot to be desired–the miniature sets of the Martian landscape aren’t exceptional or anything, but they’re at least competent and thoughtfully rendered. Not so with the Martian city. It’s real lazy. So it’s nice to see the backdrops fill it out.

Solid acting all around. Crabbe’s a great lead–though he gets a lengthy exposition dump explaining Roberts and Middleton’s plan to Shaw and it’s a tad much–Shannon’s good, Rogers’s perfectly likable (though she’s way too literally the damsel here). Donald Kerr isn’t annoying this time. Roberts is good. Unfortunately, with the possible scheming subplot thrown in, Middleton is starting to disappoint.

Still, it’s a more than adequate entry. Lots of excitement. And maybe a couple sequences George Lucas borrowed obviously for Star Wars.

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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Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 2: The Living Dead

If only The Living Dead had some better stock music choices, because the actual content of the chapter is fantastic. Unfortunately, it’s got this passive, tranquil score without any energy or excitement. Meanwhile the onscreen action is all energy, all excitement.

While Buster Crabbe, Frank Shannon, and Jean Rogers are crashing on Mars, their ship has enough time to shed parts so Charles Middleton can recognize their rocket ship as the one they stole from him last serial. For some reason the shed parts fall to Mars faster than their space ship otherwise crashes. Something with that Martian gravity no doubt.

Middleton and evil Martian Queen Beatrice Roberts go to intercept the Earthlings, who manage to outsmart Middleton–which doesn’t seem hard this time around–and steal Roberts’s own ship. The hijacking is a strong sequence, though the music does it no favors; Crabbe’s comfortably back in action hero mode.

Then there’s a sky battle between space ships. Some good miniature effects–though Crabbe having to shoot at ships through with a porthole with a revolver is decidedly lacking–even if some of the miniature ground sets are wanting.

But there’s even more action, with Crabbe and company encountering the dreaded clay people–who Roberts wants to annihilate. They come to life out of cave walls, which is conceptually cooler than visually, but still a rather successful sequence. Except, of course, for the stock music choices.

Crabbe’s great in Living Dead, Shannon and Rogers is good, Middleton’s annoying for a bit but then a good buffoon. Roberts seems like she’s going to be a decent villain. Donald Kerr, as Crabbe and company’s reporter sidekick–who seemed fine last chapter–doesn’t do so hot in Living Dead.

But it doesn’t matter because everything else is so good. Except that dang music.

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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Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938, Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill), Chapter 1: New Worlds to Conquer

Until about three-quarters of the way into New Worlds to Conquer, I thought Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars was going to be one of those mistitled movies. Like the studio changed it for some reason. Because when adventurers Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers, and Frank Shannon take off, they’re headed right back to Mongo.

Then it turns out Shannon’s bad at reading astronomical photographs and they should’ve been going to Mars.

The chapter opens with Crabbe and company returning to Earth (from the previous serial). There’s no ticker tape parade scene because budget. Instead, some swirling newspaper montages announce their return and lionization… only for a new problem to arise for Planet Earth. Natural disasters. Scientists are flummoxed. Little do they know (previous serial) villain Charles Middleton has teamed up with Beatrice Roberts (a cruel megalomaniac queen of Mars) to zap the Earth with a ray. They’re sucking the Nitron out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Roberts wants it so she can wage war on some of people on Mars; Middleton just wants to suffocate all the Earthlings.

Good thing while in flight to Mongo, Rogers sees the ray and they change course to Mars. Also good thing Crabbe and company’s rocket ship is fast enough for such maneuvers.

After their introduction and landing on Earth, there’s not a lot for Crabbe, Rogers, or Shannon to do in the chapter. Shannon gets the most–he’s got an interview after their homecoming–but then they disappear during the natural disaster response and Middleton plotting. It’s up to reporter Donald Kerr to bring them into the story. He tracks them down–Crabbe’s become Shannon’s assistant, Rogers is presumably hanging around because Crabbe. Kerr stows away on the rocket ship, so he’ll be a sidekick or something.

The acting is all fine. Kerr’s funny. Roberts is truly disturbing in her cruelty. Middleton’s… maybe better than last time. And the three heroes are all solid, of course. Crabbe and Rogers are earnest, Shannon’s scientist-y; they’re all good.

Technically, however, New Worlds starts Mars on ominous footing. Anytime there’s a cut to close-up, it’s a bad one (the serial’s got four credited editors so who knows whose fault it is… could just be lack of coverage from directors Beebe and Hill); the special effects are shaky too. The model work is fine… but most of the effects so far are composite shots. One has at least three layers (maybe four) and it’s far from effective. And Mars, so far, looks a whole lot like Mongo from the last serial.

Still, given Crabbe, Rogers, and Shannon–not to mention Kerr–Mars at least has got a lot of likability going for it. Hopefully it finds some narrative momentum 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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