Sunday, September 22, 2013

Flash Gordon 1936 Chapter 1 'The Planet of Peril'

For the past few week's we've been taking a look at what the future would hold for humanity as 'foreseen' in the 1930 movie Just Imagine. Way back in 1930 the film maker's attempted to predict what the world of 1980 would be like in the first talkie sci-fi movie, a combination musical/comedy. It was a fun movie that also introduced us to what would later become the iconic space ship built by Dr. Zarkov and flown by Flash Gordon in those wonderful serials by Universal Studios. 

While Buck Rogers was America's first space hero it was Flash Gordon who made it to the big screen first in the form of 20-minute serials first released in 1936. The 'serial' was a long running gimmick of the studios to get people to attend movies and lasted at least from the silent film era on into the 1950s. The first known serial was from the German production company Deutsche Vitaskop GmbH in 1910 and was a Sherlock Holmes mystery Arsene Lupin Contra Sherlock Holmes. Serials were essentially one long movie split into multiple 'episodes' with one episode being shown in theaters each week forcing people to attend the theaters for up to 15 weeks to see the entire 'film'. Remember, this was in the days before television, before VHS, DVD, or DVR recorders. If you missed an episode you were screwed! The serials were awesome and featured space heroes, cowboys, detectives, drama, spy stories. You name it, they had it.

This first Flash Gordon serial was named simply Flash Gordon and ran for 13 episodes, the first of which The Planet of Peril, is featured here today. The premise is simple; scientists detect what they believe to be a rogue planet on a collision course with Earth. As it nears, chaos, panic, and natural disasters plague the planet, but one person, Dr. Zarkov has a plan to fly to the planet with his newly created rocket ship. As luck would have it our hero Flash and a young lady named Dale Arden, were passengers on an airliner when the plane was hit by a hail of meteorites caused by the approaching orb. They bail out and land near where Dr. Zarkov was about to take off. At first the Doctor was hesitant in allowing them to tag along but relented. They end up landing on the rogue planet only to find out that it was inhabited and under control of a ruthless dictator, Ming the Merciless, who was in fact deliberately steering his planet, Mongo, towards Earth with the intent of destroying our planet. What ensues are 13 installments of nail-biting, cliff-hanging adventure. In 1996, Flash Gordon was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". 

The basic theme of the Just Imagine posts and this post is that many props and even footage of earlier works were re-used in Hollywood which kept overall production costs down. Here's an example as cited by Wikipedia, "A lot of props and other elements were recycled from earlier Universal productions. The watchtower from Frankenstein (1931) appeared as Zarkov's base. The Egyptian idol from The Mummy (1932) became the idol of the Great God Tao. Shots of Earth from space came from The Invisible Ray (1936). The Rocket Ships were reused from Just Imagine (1930). Ming's attack on Earth used footage from old silent newsreels. An entire dance segment from The Midnight Sun (1927) was used A laboratory comes from Bride of Frankenstein. The music was recycled from several other films."


The rogue planet is spied approaching Earth

Professor Gordon, Flash's father, leads the cause for saving Earth

Panic and Mayhem grips every city on the planet

Flash and Dale's plane is pummeled by meteorites and it eventually crashes...

...but not before Flash and Dale bail out

As they land the spy a rocket ship. Our first glimpse of Dr. Zarkov's ship (look familiar?)

It's hard to see but Dr. Zarkov has a pistol in his hand. He's not yet convinced that Flash is friendly

In a matter of second's Flash convinces Zarkov to take him and Dale with him on the ship (in the serials, everything happens really fast!)

Notice the interior of the ship. Compare this to the interior as it looked in the movie Just Imagine and posted last week.

Blast Off!

Our first look at Mongo

In the early days of sci-fi it was totally plausible for alien planets to be populated by dinosaurs or dinosaur-like creatures. It was a common theme in literature and movies.

In the serials, rocket ships tended to circle down to their landing place. It allowed the cameras to remain stationary while simply moving the model round-and-round until it touched down.

Dale accosted by a giant lizard

One of Ming's ships approach and attack our heroes

Flash wants to be friends...

...but they're taken prisoner instead

The Court of Ming

The pre-eminant villain of filmdom: Charles Middelton as Ming the Merciless

Our heroes appear before Ming and plead their case

Zarkov is forcibly detained to work for Ming

Ming's daughter Aura is already enamored of Flash

Flash tries to escape...

...and is forced to fight for his life in the arena

Aura wants Flash for herself and rushes to his aid

"Stop her!"

The Orangapoids dispatched, Flash now faces an Imperial Soldier...

...who loses his pistol in the fight

Aura recovers the pistol... 

...and zaps a guard

Is this the first use of a ray gun in film?

...he falls while pushing down on the lever which activates...

...the trap door which Aura and Flash are coincidentally standing on

A shocked Dale

Aura and Flash fall into the tunnel to await their fate...

...which continues in the next nail-biting episode

Next week we take a look at one of the Flash Gordon space ships available on the market