As my exploration of the pulp heroes of science fiction continues with the Sci-Fi Chronicles book, I thought I should have a look at one of the original Flash Gordon serials starring Buster Crabbe. And let me tell you this… It was so much more fun than I thought it would be!
I grew up with the film from the 1980s (though not until a little later in the 80s… We were supposed to go see it when it originally opened, for a family movie night, but when I went to go get the money for my ticket, from my red plastic piggy bank, it wasn’t there… So I had to wait on that one for a while.) and I had no idea how faithful it was to the original Alex Raymond comic strip or these serials. So imagine my surprise when it ended up being a great ride full of fun moments, some unintentionally funny dialogue and some great designs and costumes (which the 80s version paid perfect homage to).
Joining Crabbe is Jean Rogers as Dale Arden, Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless, Priscilla Lawson as his defiant daughter, Princess Aura, and Frank Shannon as Professor Zarkov.
Earth is in some serious trouble, it seems there is another planet hurtling towards it across the vast infinities of space. It is the planet Mongo, and while no one will believe Zarkov, the professor is convinced he can travel to the approaching planet and find some way to divert it off its disastrous course.
When their plane is forced down by a meteor storm, Dale and Flash, a polo champion, find themselves in the midst of Zarkov’s land and plan. Figuring they have nothing to lose, the pair throw in their lot with the scientist, and the trio launch in Zarkov’s rocket in a last-ditch effort to save the world.
Arriving on Mongo, the 13 part serial kicks into high gear with chases, fights, escapes, battles, monsters, shark men, bird men, and presiding over it all, Ming! The emperor wants Dale for his own, Aura wants Flash, and the two earth people simply have eyes for one another.
There are politics of a sort, most people hate Ming’s rule, but none of them seem willing to do anything about it, so Flash is literally the flash point of a planetary rebellion. And it seems Flash does nothing but find himself in trouble and life threatening danger every 20 minutes or so, as he punches, kicks and blasts his way across the planet Mongo, saving the Earth, and Dale countless times along the way.
Say what you will about the pacing and style of story-telling, these serials are undeniably fun, and are melodramatic space opera at its best!