This is not the first time I have written about Flash Gordon on this board, nor, I suspect, will it be my last. Every couple of years I read through Alex Raymond’s comics strip, and when I do, I am usually inspired to watch the serials starring Buster Crabbe, too. There are three: the first is most often referred to as “Space Soldiers” (to differentiate it from the later television series), the second is “Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars” and the third is “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe.” When we last discussed these serials on these boards, someone (and I don’t recall who, I’m sorry) opined that they make more sense if you watch the third one second and the second one third. Whereas I can certainly see the logic behind that order, I have another solution: skip the second one entirely.

SPACE SOLDIERS: This one is very enjoyable, one of the best serials I have ever seen. The special effects are good (for the day), the sets are suburb, the costumes are first rate and the story itself is adapted directly from the strip.

TRIP TO MARS: For whatever reason, they abandoned the strip as a source, abandoned the planet Mongo as the setting in favor of Mars, added an unnecessary character for comic relief, and generally ignored everything that made the first one so good. I remember now: the last time I watched my way through these serieals, this one slowed me down and I never did get to “Conquers the Universe.”

CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE: This one goes back to Mongo (and the strip) for source material, and is as entertaining as the first.

I’ll be back I a week or so to discuss the 1980 theatrical movie.

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By coincidence, I borrowed a DVD of the first serial from the library recently.

I'm interested in your take on the 1980 movie. I haven't seen it since, and only have vague memories of not being terribly impressed.

The 1980's movie suffered from the same problem that the Dark Shadows remake movie did, it couldn't decide whether or not to be a straight remake or a parody.

WGN used to run these on Sunday mornings when I was a kid, so I saw a lot of them. One of the things I noticed was how frequently Flash was in some situation where swimming was involved, probably because Buster Crabbe was a swimmer.  They were fun, however.

I have five or six more episodes of the last serial to watch before I get to the movie.

Loved the first one. The second disappointed me. Didn't make sense why they were on Mars, but at least Barin and (I think) Dale were the same. The last one puzzled me. Everybody except Flash, Zarkov, and Ming were different actors, the costumes were different, and Flash mentions he's happy to have his old uniform and sword back, even though we didn't see either in the other serials. Didn't realize at the time I was first seeing them that the last serial was more closely following Alexander Raymond than the other two.

I'd like to make comments about the endings of the movies and how they can't possibly be in order, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone that hasn't seen all three yet.

 

Barin was played by the same actor in the first two, but there were three different Dales.


Jeff of Earth-J said:

Barin was played by the same actor in the first two, but there were three different Dales.

Sorry, my friend, but there were only two Dales. Jean Rogers portrayed Dale Arden in Flash Gordon and Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars.  There might be some confusion there because, in the original film, Miss Rogers' hair was bleached blonde, while in Trip to Mars, she reverted to her natural brunette locks.

In the last serial, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Dale was played by Carol Hughes.

Strange she was blonde in the first film when Dale was a brunette in the comics. Perhaps the director liked blondes. Looking through covers of old Planet Comics, I noticed invariably if the hero was blonde his girl was brunette, and vice versa. I always assumed Ming wore that thing on his head in the second and third serials because Charles Middleton didn't want to shave his head again.


Ron M. said:

Strange she was blonde in the first film when Dale was a brunette in the comics.

It's not definitive, because these kind of things become "truth" through frequent repetition though they're only supposition---but the most common reason I've come across for making Dale a blonde in the first serial was that the studio, Universal, wanted to capitalise on Jean "the Platinum Blonde" Harlow's popularity.

As for why Miss Rogers reverted to her natural hair colour for Trip to Mars. I've seen a couple of reasons proffered.  One insists that, with the phenomenal popularity of the first Flash Gordon serial, Universal figured it didn't have to resort to gimmicks to ensure the sequel drew an audience.  The other reason I've heard bandied about was that, with the success of the first film, Miss Rogers had the clout to insist on keeping her natural hair colour.

The idea that she was now in a position to make demands has also been given to explain why her wardrobe in Trip to Mars was not as revealing as in the original film.  (Those who haven't seen Flash Gordon, made in 1936, might be surprised at the overt sexual allure in the brevity of Dale Arden's off-Earth wardrobe and the fact that the temperature of the set must have been cold in a few of her scenes and it was still allowed to see print.)  That's possible, but it's not put forth by Miss Rogers herself.  I've read a couple of interviews with her, conducted in the '80's; though the questions of her hair colour and wardrobe were addressed, she did not state that it was a matter of her own preferences.  In fact, Miss Rogers approached the matter of bleaching her hair and the revealing outfits as two of the many things which were routine for actresses of the day.  This opinion was best illustrated in this exhange during her interview with Jim Sulski for Filmfax magazine:

MR. SULSKI:  How much of yourself did you put into the Dale Arden character?

MISS ROGERS:  As much as the director told me to.

That Filmfax interview also included Miss Rogers' opinion of why Dale Arden's wardrobe was so revealing in the first film---in view of the Motion Picture Production Code, which really began to crack down on films in 1934, after Joseph Breen took over as head of the office---and so modest in the second.

"I don't think the Hays Office [a metonym for the Production Code, after its first chief, William Hays] paid much attention to what went on in serials," was her conjecture on how Flash Gordon got away with the suggestive wardroom for both her and Priscilla Lawson ("Princess Aura").  However, she assumed, by 1938 and Trip to Mars, the Production Code was looking at serials, too; thus, Dale was "buttoned up".

Her making demands might be why she wasn't in Conquers the Universe. I know George Lucas was a huge fan of the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials. He might have been thinking of Jean Rogers' outfits in the first serial when he came up with Carrie Fisher's slave girl outfit. Saw them back about third or fourth grade and didn't think anything of her outfits. Perhaps there were also complaints about Flash, Barin, and Thun in the furnace room. I read once Elmo Lincoln got a lot of complaints about not wearing a shirt while playing Tarzan in the silent era. Buster Crabbe's outfit in Tarzan the Fearless was also much briefer than what Johnny Weismuller wore and I've heard people say Crabbe looked vulgar as Tarzan.  

Mae West and Betty Boop contributed a lot to the Hays Office becoming so restrictive. Betty sometimes seemed to have a problem remembering to wear a top during her musical numbers. And people were probably freaked out by the scenes where Cap Calloway sang "Saint James Infirmary" and "Minnie the Moocher", not to mention when they actually listened to the lyrics.


Ron M. said:

Her making demands might be why she wasn't in Conquers the Universe.

Jean Rogers not appearing in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe was her own choice.  At least, according to her.

Besides the two Flash Gordon serials for Universal, Miss Rogers also appeared in four other cliffhangers, all by Universal, as well:  Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery (1935), The Adventures of Frank Merriwell (1936), Ace Drummond (1936), and Secret Agent X-9 (1937).

In her interview with Jim Sulski for Filmfax, the one that I referenced before, there was this exchange between Sulski and Miss Rogers:

MR. SULSKI:  You appeared in the first and second "Flash Gordon" serials, but not the third.

MISS ROGERS:  Yes, because Universal wanted to make me a serial queen.  I did so many of them that I said to myself, "I'm not going to improve my acting career if I stay in serials."  I wanted to get out of serials, to do something else, and the studio people were nice enough to let me do that. 

This seems to be borne out by other references I've found on the web.  I haven't come across even a suggestion that Universal was unhappy with either her performances or her behaviour.  

According to her filmography at IMDb, Miss Rogers appeared in nine feature films for Universal in the time frame between Flash Gordon and Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars.  In most of these appearances she was the female lead.  So there doesn't seem to be an issue with her suitability for feature films.

But going on . . . after Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars was released in 1938, Miss Rogers did only feature films from then on; however, none of them were produced by Universal.  Her first dozen pictures after Trip to Mars were produced by Twentieth-Century Fox.  After which, she jumped over to MGM.  She never worked for Universal, again.

So maybe their studio people weren't so nice, after all.

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