When a deadly Nitron ray strikes Earth, Flash Gordon and his friends travel to Mars to battle Ming the Merciless and his new ally Queen Azura.When a deadly Nitron ray strikes Earth, Flash Gordon and his friends travel to Mars to battle Ming the Merciless and his new ally Queen Azura.When a deadly Nitron ray strikes Earth, Flash Gordon and his friends travel to Mars to battle Ming the Merciless and his new ally Queen Azura.
From other standpoints, however, this one is not quite as good as the 1st. This is one of the longer movie serials, and it could probably have been shortened by about 3 chapters, if some of the back-and-forth removed. Also, there are not as many fight scenes as in the 1st serial, and no sword fights. And apparently, the Hays Office must have finally gotten a look at Dale and Princess Aura's outfits from the 1st serial, because, to my dismay, Dale is fully dressed throughout every chapter. There are no bare midriffs and she appears have worn a bra in every scene. Just as sad, there is no Princess Aura, who was a wonderful character and helped amp up the sex in the 1st Flash serial.
Nonetheless, if you are one of those quirky or nostalgic types who enjoy movie serials, you will enjoy this. There certainly was no greater movie serial hero than Flash Gordon as played by Buster Crabbe, and there certainly was no greater villain than Charles Middleton's portrayal of Ming the Merciless. Besides top-notch heroism and villainy, this serial features plenty of fantasy and space opera, and something is always happening.
This serial premiered at the height of a zeitgeist peculiar to the 1930's. The concept of the super-hero had risen to the foreground of pop culture. Although the term super-hero had been coined around 1918, probably in reference to Tarzen of the Apes, the 1930's saw an explosion of super-heroes in pulp magazines, radio shows, newspaper funnies, film and serials, and finally comic magazines. The Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, the Shadow, Flash Gordon, Doc Savage, and of course Superman, all premiered in the 1930's and all were huge commodities at the time.
The opening chapter of this serial features a newspaper headline shot referring to Flash, Zarkhov and Dale as 'Super-Men of the Century.' The term 'superman' could still be used without fear of a lawsuit by DC comics; this serial was released in March 1938, about a month before the 1st issue of Action Comics, featuring the copyrighted Superman, hit the newsstands.
Also noteworthy: the Martians and our heroes sometimes utilize Martian 'flying capes,' which look a lot like a bat's wings. The comic book character Batman premiered a year after this serial, in 1939, looking very much like our hero wearing a flying cape and helmet. (Superman himself would not actually 'fly' until about 1942 or so; in 1938 he could only take prodigious leaps.) In this serial, Flash (along with many other characters), wears a shirt with a stylized lightning bolt across the chest. This lightning bolt looked very much like the symbol adorning the chest of the comic book character Captain Marvel, whose magazines outsold those of Superman, and who would premiere in 1940. A lesser character named 'The Flash' also premiered in 1940, and he also wore a shirt with a lightning bolt insignia (this 'Flash' character would not reach his real fame until the late 1950's, however).
A few months after this serial premiered, on Halloween 1938, Orson Welles broadcast his legendary 'War of the Worlds' radio play, which panicked half the country with a realistic tale of a Martian invasion. The infamy of this play helped draw audiences to see a re-released version of this serial, albeit cut and edited into a feature length movie, that was shown in late 1938.
The fact that this serial takes place on Mars is an anomaly: the original Alex Raymond Flash Gordon story upon which it is based took place entirely on the fictional planet Mongo, which is also the setting for the other 2 Flash serials. Indeed, as of 1938, the comic strip Flash had never been to Mars. Nothing survives to inform the modern film historian as to the reason for changing the setting to Mars.
However, it is known that virtuoso animators the Fleischer Bros. were, prior to this serial, working on a full color animated version of Edgar Rice Burroughs enormously popular space opera "John Carter of Mars." Some test footage for this project survives, and if the film had been completed, the final product would have indeed been immensely spectacular. I speculate that it is possible that Universal changed the setting of the Flash Gordon story to Mars so as to place themselves in advance into a position that might favor them should they start copyright infringement litigation against the Fleischers. Indeed, in the absence of good information, this potential threat might even be the reason the Fleischers abandoned the John Carter project.
Regardless of my speculation, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars remains a fun, interesting, well-crafted in its own way, and a fine trip into the popular consciousness of the late 1930's.
- Dec 1, 2009