Flash Gordon (1938)

Because “Why not?”, and as it makes picking viewing easier, Trash Or Treasure is going through every movie in “Science Fiction – Double Feature”, the opening song for that trash culture classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

This week 

And Flash Gordon was there
In silver underwear

“But Doctor Zarkov; what do you mean “the fucking ships fucking fucked”??”

The full, four-hour version of Flash Gordon is part of the US National Film Registry, due to its 13 episodes being a cultural landmark in both cinema and science fiction. But that’s way too much time to invest in a single series, especially when a large portion of each chapter is taken up with gaslighting recaps. Thankfully Sherman S. Krellberg made the worlds first super-cut in 1949; the 72-minute-long “Rocket Ship”, and that’s what is discussed below. So, what’s it like nearly a century later?

Giant fighting lizards, the unsung victims of early Hollywood

“Unrelenting” is the simple way of putting it, as the bold decision was kept to keep the bulk of the story and cut out extraneous things like establishing shots, extended fight scenes, or gaps to breath. It’s impossible to get bored with this film, as it doesn’t give you any time to think. It also doesn’t give the actors that much time to talk, occasionally even cutting words at the top-and-tale of a line because the audience is smart enough to work it out for themselves. So be ready for an unstopping barrage of ideas, plot points, and action ACTION ACTION!!!

“And don’t stare at my arse this time!”

It’s also surprisingly horny, both intentionally and through the fate of time. Princes Aura leads the charge, played by Priscilla Lawson in a style that can only be described as “heaving”, who clearly can’t find anything decent on Space Tinder as she instantly lusts for Flash as soon as he turns up. Dale Arden is presented by Jean Rogers as a restrained, All-American lady, but even then, Charles B Middlet’s Ming instant, probably somewhat racistly caricatured (although time has mellowed out that aspect) desire to marry her, along with some exciting robes, makes her an instant object or desire/intergalactic lamp.

…no, I’m not saying it. I’m leaving this caption to your own filthy imaginations.

None of this is helped by the fellers running around in a selection of booty-shorts, figure-hugging armour, and frequently oiled bare chests. Flash has the advantage of being played by Olympic swimmer Buster Crabbe, who can actually act as well as have a heroic, manly figure. Prince Barin is best described as “huggable”, but it’s nice to see Richard Alexander getting the role based on his willingness to dress like a camp centurion and say the most ridiculous lines imaginable, rather than on having chiseled abs. The rest of the cast range in size and aptitude, with everyone doing an equal job of remembering their lines and offering various levels of valiant camp.


Speaking of camp, fans of the 1980 Dino De Laurentiis should be in for a treat, as the sets and costumes in that epic, have a clear lineage to those found here. The look for this version is, obviously, a lot simpler but you get an absolute sense of this being where the language of space operas started to form. You also get a clear sense of how the series became so popular and why it inspired so many of the people who would build modern sci-fi, even if the decorations and dressings are a mashup of various historical periods and rayguns are old rifles with large wires hanging off them.

“Did I leave the gas on?”

If a view is a determined kill joy then they will be sure to find some problems with the movie, but why the hell they would give it a try in the first place is a mystery in itself. Yes, you could watch it as a piece of history and try to digest its importance, but you’d be missing the joy of it: from its sparkler-driven spacecraft to it’s desert query sets, from its overacted villains to it’s clearly fake monster, it’s fun. This isn’t art, this is entertainment and a willing suspension of disbelief on your part will get you wrapped up into the excitement in no time at all. It is, with no sense of kitsch or ironic pseudo-enjoyment, a Treasure.

The Raggedyman

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