Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe (1940)

Flash Gordon

Directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor

Tagline: "Zooming Off the Earth!"

Run Time: 12 episodes for a total of c. 195 min


A movie walk-through for the Rogue Reviewers “Hunky Heart-throbs” Round Table, Feburary, 2005

Character Round Up:

Flash Gordon

Larry “Buster” Crabbe as “Flash Gordon”

Flash Gordon

Carol Hughes as “Dale Arden”

Flash Gordon

Charles Middleton as “Emperor Ming”

Flash Gordon

Anne Gwynne and Frank Shannon as “Sonja” and “Dr. Zarkov”

Introductory Thoughts:

Ok, I’ll say it: This movie was fun to see. Broken down into 12 “chapters”, one chapter was shown each week, ending of course in a cliff-hanger, so as to draw the crowd back again the following week. Keep in mind while watching this movie, that these “serial films” were not the main attraction, but rather shown before the main film, along with the news-reels and other odds and ends. The creators of the serial films were not out to win any Oscars. They had one clear goal in mind: Keep ‘em coming back for more! This goal was achieved by the aforementioned “cliff-hanger” endings, and lots, lots, lots of action: fist fights (sometimes 3 per episode!), monsters, ray-guns, space ships, and so on. Who cared about plot development? Just get to the next action sequence!

I must also admit that the episodes have a definite charm to them, and you learn to accept the massive, horse-choking wads of exposition as a matter of course, for each chapter had about 20 minutes to advance the plot to the next cliff-hanging ending. The characters themselves, mostly one-dimensional of course, began to grow on me, mostly because of their predictability, rather then despite it: The constantly clueless Emperor Ming and his inept Captain Torch, the exposition spouting Dr. Zarkov, and all the others. This particular Flash Gordon film was the third and last serial movie to feature Flash. By this time, the plots had gotten pretty thin, but all in all, things flow together pretty well in this story if you use your imagination and don’t examine the plot too closely.

The special effects were certainly on par with the technology of the time (this film was made 65 years ago!). After a while, I actually developed a strange affection for the spark-shooting, phallic space ships, the goofy pseudo-Oriental palace sets, the strange Peter Pan-esque uniforms of the Arborian soldiers. The sole monster in this series, the, *ahem*, “iguanathon”, is so patently bogus looking that I had to laugh out loud, yet back in 1940, there probably weren’t a lot of kids who had seen an iguana before (they didn’t have Discovery channel back then), so the effects were probably more effective than we give them credit for being. An interesting side note is the fact that the movie producers were able to loan a load of electrical equipment from the “Frankenstein” movie set and use pieces of it in Ming’s laboratory scenes.

It’s funny to note the huge plot holes which are glossed over from chapter to chapter. Remember that these serials came out before anybody had VCR’s, DVD’s or any other way to “go back” and see what happened in the previous chapter, so the producers used the scrolling summary at the beginning of each episode to remind the audience of what happened the week before (these “summaries” were also a golden opportunity for the script writers to mention the exciting plot elements and at the same time draw attention away from the plot holes).

The film’s star, Larry “Buster” Crabbe, was born Clarence Linden Crabbe in 1907. Buster grew up in Hawaii where he learned to be a skilled swimmer. Buster went on to graduate from the University of Southern California, before winning a gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle swimming event in the 1932 Olympics. He was also the only actor to play all 3 big action-hero roles of the 1930s: Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Tarzan. After World War 2, Buster’s career petered out and he went into business instead, forming his own swimming pool company. (In fact, a “Buster Crabbe Swimming Pool” was occasionally given away as a prize on “The Price Is Right” game show during the 1950’s and early 1960’s)

Later in his life, Buster made a few small appearances in low-budget films (“Alien Dead” for example), but he spent the majority of his time with his swimming pool business and running a boy’s camp. He also kept at his swimming and broke the 400 meter free-style swimming world record for the over-60 age group. In 1983, at the age of 76, Buster died of a heart attack in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Chapter 1 – “The Purple Death”

Flash Gordon

We open our universe-conquering journey by seeing our small planet in a state of chaos. People are dropping like flies from a mysterious plague called “The Purple Death”: called such due to the telltale purple spot on the deceased’s forehead. Nobody can find a cause or a cure! What are the world leaders to do? Does this mystery plague spell the end of the world? Not so fast! A message from Flash and Dr. Zarkov, high up in the sky in Zarkov’s space ship, informs the world that they have penetrated the stratosphere and will soon find the source of the “electrified dust” that is causing the plague.

In the ship, Flash, Zarkov, and Dale scan the skies for clues to the dust’s origin. Sure enough, they spot one of Emperor Ming’s ships sprinkling dust down upon the helpless denizens of Earth. I think Zarkov sums up everybody’s thoughts when he grumbles, “Only Ming could think of such a devilish scheme!” Ming’s soldiers spot Flash’s ship and try to destroy it with their heat ray, resulting in a space-ship dog-fight (complete with spark-and-smoke spewing space ships wobbling back and forth across the screen).

Flash Gordon

Zarkov’s space ship. Go, Flash! Go!

Flash’s “Rocket Gun” is destroyed, so he makes a fake crash landing on the planet Mongo in an effort to fool Ming’s patrols into thinking that he and his crew are dead. This deception will lead Ming’s warriors to report to the Emperor that Flash and his crew have been destroyed (or something…), thereby making it easier for Flash to stage an attack against him. (You’ll get used to this type of logic…just wait until chapter 12!) Flash realizes that Earth’s only chance of survival against the “fiendish dust” is to get to Emperor Ming’s kingdom, and acquire the help of Prince Barin and his rebel army in order to defeat Ming.

Flash makes a landing in Prince Barin’s forest kingdom, Arboria, and is warmly greeted by the bow-and-arrow wielding soldiers (who all look a lot like Peter Pan). They retire to Prince Barin’s palace in order to discuss their plans.

Back in Ming’s palace, the Emperor is enjoying an extravagant dance number…a huge idol, complete with moving arms, is surrounded by writhing women for his pleasure (and this was 1940!) (I also love the IMDB credit to Vivian Mason (who rings the gong in Ming’s chambers) as “Ming’s Gong Girl”)

Flash Gordon

Now that’s entertainment!

Ming’s pilots report that Flash’s ship was destroyed. Thinking that Flash is dead, Ming believes that the source of the dust is still a secret. One of Ming’s scientists reports the good news that he has perfected the “Death Dust”: It will now kill only those with intelligence enough to oppose Ming, and spare his slaves. (Wow!) This perfected dust is to be tested on one of Prince Barin’s captured generals, General Lupi, that very night!

Back in Arboria, Flash, Queen Fria (of the ice-bound country of Frigia), and Ming’s rebel daughter, Princess Aura, who has run away to Arboria to fight against him, are discussing a plan to rescue General Lupi from Ming’s clutches. (A lot of characters here, just go with the flow and enjoy!) The plan is to dress up as Frigians, attack Ming’s palace, and free Lupi (life was much simpler back then…). However, one of Barin’s spies inside Ming’s palace, reports that General Lupi is to be executed that night, so they no longer have the luxury of time!

Flash and his group of 5 men, dressed as Frigians, land next to the abandoned drain tunnels by Ming’s palace while Ming and his scientist perform various “Death Dust” tests on the prisoners. Spies inside the palace open the tunnel gates for Flash. Ming finds out that they let Flash in, and are placed in the “Dust Chamber”, but Flash breaks into the room before they can kill them. With a mad hand-to-hand combat scene, Ming’s laboratory is destroyed, General Lupi is rescued (and a swarm of guards get beat up). Flash however, gets into a struggle with one of Ming’s personal body guards and they both fall down into the “Energy Pit”, plunging into the unknown…Will they survive? Stay tuned for episode 2!

Chapter 2 – “Freezing Torture”

We open chapter 2 with a summary of the previous chapter (remember that these serials usually had a week or so between each chapter):

“Following the wake of dictators, war, and the rumors of war – a ravaging plague, the “Purple Death”, strikes the Earth. Flash Gordon and professor Zarkov, believing Ming The Merciless is behind the “Purple Death”, start with Dale Arden in Zarkov’s rocket ship for Mongo. Arriving in Arboria to enlist aid of Prince Barin, they meet Fria, Queen of the Ice Kingdom, also seeking Barin’s aid against Ming. Joining forces they break into Ming’s laboratory in time to halt a fiendish laboratory test. But Flash pitted against a giant of tremendous strength….”

(Wow! That’s a pretty good review! I should have just used that for this article…)

As you remember, we closed the last chapter with Flash falling down a pit into the “Energy Pit” (not a good place to fall, let me tell you). Flash manages to grab onto an outcrop of rock (or something) and is pulled back up to safety by Zarkov. Ming, seeing that they have escaped, sends out word to the planet Mongo’s populace that there is a reward of 100,000 Mingos (I’m smiling while I type this!) for the capture of Flash and Dr. Zarkov.

Through a helpful wad of exposition (hey, they only had about 25 minutes per episode back then, so they couldn’t waste a lot of time…the plot had to keep moving!), Ming figures Flash made a deal with Queen Fria to help her rescue General Lupi in return for the mining rights of Polarite, the only cure for the “Purple Death”! Prince Barin’s trusted friend, Captain Ronal, overhears Ming mentioning that Polarite is a cure for the “Purple Death” and takes this crucial information back to Arboria.

Back in Arboria, Captain Ronal tells the others what he overheard Ming saying about Polarite, and after another brief council, the forces of good head off into the frozen wastelands of Frigia to find the Polarite deposits (easy to do, since Polarite melts the snow above it!). However, the Lady Sonja, Princess Aura’s lady-in-waiting, is a Ming spy who sneaks off to inform the Emperor of their plans.

Flash Gordon

Lady Sonja, Ming’s spy…

On the flight to Frigia, Flash engages the “Transparency Screen” in order to hide his ship from Ming’s ever-present air patrols. Ming’s Captain of the Guard, Captain Torch, reports back to Ming that Zarkov cannot be found, but Ming insists that he and Flash be brought back alive and “..the others can be destroyed” (ouch!). Despite the stepped-up efforts of the patrols, Flash and the mining expedition manage to land near a Polarite deposit. Spraying their faces with Calaroid, and wearing Calaroid treated clothes to avoid freezing, Flash, Dale, Barin, Captain Roka, and a miner (hmmm, wonder if he survives…) head of into the frozen lands of Frigia in order to find the Polarite (while Zarkov waits in the nice, cozy, warm ship!)

Flash Gordon

Calaroid Fashion Design, 1940

Luck is not with them on this day, for they discover that they must scale a huge wall of ice which stands between them and the Polarite. Well, as expected in these things, Dale slips and falls off an ice ledge. Flash and the others manage to pull her up using the ropes tied to their waists. On their way again, Flash and the others are spotted by a Ming patrol ship. The ship bombs the face of the mountain, causing a massive avalanche to rumble down. The hapless climbers can only try to hang on as the wall of snow and ice engulfs them…find out what happens next week!

Chapter 3 – “Walking Bombs”

A recap of Chapter 2 greets us:

“Flash is rescued from the energy pit and escapes with Zarkov from Ming’s palace. Ronal, Barin’s captain, learns there is an antidote for the “Purple Death”, a mineral known as “Polarite”, found only in frozen unlivable [sic] Frigia. Flash and Zarkov promptly lead an expedition into Frigia, protected from the unlivable cold by a discovery of Zarkov’s. A Ming ship, sent to destroy them, sees Flash, Dale, Barin, Roka, and one of the miners climbing a huge mountain searching for the Polarite. They drop a bomb. It misses but starts an avalanche which…. “

Things looked pretty bad for Flash and the gang last time. Zarkov, back at the ship, sees the avalanche sweep Flash and the others away (How exactly do this tele-monitors work? They see everything!). Zarkov and the rest of the crew assume they are dead and head off to “..blast Ming’s men from the skies!” (Make them pay!!!). Luckily, if not unsurprisingly, Flash and the others are ok, except for Barin who was critically injured (or at least knocked out), and the “miner” who tagged along from the ship who has been conveniently swept away.

Flash Gordon

The USS Phallus lands in the frozen kingdom of Frigia

Back at the landing site, Zarkov and the others is forced to take to the air by an attacking Ming patrol. Zarkov, showing his superior piloting skills, fights off the Ming patrol, which limps back to the Emperor’s palace to report what happened. Zarkov (now forgetting that he gave Flash up for dead, I guess) turns the ship around and begins a search of the avalanche for any signs of survivors. Flash manages to radio Zarkov and, er, pinpoints his location as being at “..the bottom of the deep chasm by the Polarite peak”. Hearing Flash’s pleas for help, Zarkov sends a rescue party to find them.

Inspiring music, coupled with stock footage of mountain climbers, accompany the rescue of Flash and the others. Safely back at the ship, Zarkov insists that Flash and his crew be checked for signs of exposure before they are allowed to start mining the Polarite. The next scene shows Flash and Zarkov on the surface of Frigia, where Zarkov says that they’ve mined enough Polarite for him to begin working on an antidote to the “Purple Death”. (Wow! These serials move fast! Don’t blink your eyes! You’ll miss something!)

Meanwhile, Captain Torch is trying to figure out how they could have possibly survived on the “unlivable” surface of Frigia. Figuring that it is probably some invention of “…that genius, Zarkov”, they continue their search of the area. Unfortunately for Flash, Torch spots them from the air while they are mining the Polarite. The patrol ship lands, but since they can’t survive on the surface, they use robotic soldiers to attack Flash and the miners (make sure to see the cool way the robots march around! This is great stuff!).

Flash Gordon

“Atteennnn-hut!”

Flash sees the approaching robots and warns the others “..They’re not human! They’re mechanical! Probably operated by someone we can’t see!” He zaps them with a ray gun to no effect. Seeing that a ray-gun had no effect, the miners take the next logical action and attack them with their shovels (!). It turns out that the robots can be detonated from Torch’s patrol ship, blowing up everybody in the vicinity. Overpowered and outnumbered, Flash and the miners try to flee, but Dale slips and falls again (*sigh*). Flash jumps down to help her and is attacked by a robot which explodes right next to him. Does Flash survive?…

Chapter 4 – “The Destroying Ray”

Recap of chapter 3, thoughtfully provided for us:

“Emperor Ming, rejoicing in the belief that Flash and his party have been destroyed, intercepts a radio message from Flash to his father, saying he has discovered Polarite, an antidote for the “Death Dust” with which Ming is bombarding the Earth. Ming, enraged, and knowing his soldiers cannot survive the intense cold of Frigia, sends Torch against the expedition with an army of mechanical men charged with explosives, which Torch can control and explode from his ship. Deep in the frozen wastes, the “Walking Bombs” attack the expedition and….”

As usual, things aren’t looking so hot for Flash. Instead of killing him, however, the explosion sends Flash reeling back against the rocks. With Flash unconscious, the robots walk over and kidnap Dale (who was knocked out by her fall while trying to escape the robots in chapter 3). Zarkov tries to save Dale, but is unsurprisingly knocked out too, and he himself is also taken hostage.

Flash Gordon

Dale and Zarkov, Torch’s newest prisoners…

Instead of destroying Zarkov’s ship before returning to Ming’s palace, Captain Torch insists that since he is the only pilot capable of flying it (??), they can just leave it behind and retrieve it later (Hmmm…. I wonder if Flash is going to use it to get to Ming’s palace…). Flash sees Ming’s patrol ship fly off with Dale and Zarkov and charitably decides to take the Polarite to Earth first, then come back to Mongo to “settle the score” with Ming later.

Back on Earth, Flash’s father announces to the world that the “Purple Death” fatality rate has dropped due to the efforts of Flash and Zarkov. Behind closed doors however, he admits that he is simply trying to “keep up moral”. The other world leaders in the conference room berate Flash’s father for misleading the public, but his paternal faith in his son is rewarded when Flash calls to confirm that they have in fact found massive deposits of Polarite, which will cure the “Purple Death”.

Flash Gordon

Flash delivers the good news about the Polarite

Flash informs them that he will drop the Polarite on top of Mt. McKinley (!?) where it will “…attract all the Death Dust to that particular spot and destroy it.” (!!) (Too bad for anybody living in the Mount McKinley area I suppose….) Flash flies circles around the mountain while Roka sprinkles the Polarite over the mountain, using a hand-scooper, one scoop-full at a time (this is going to take awhile…)

After successfully neutralizing the “Death Dust” (and probably killing everybody in the Mt. McKinley metropolitan area), Flash informs his father that he is going back to Mongo where Dale and Zarkov are being held prisoner. (Wow, things move fast!)

Back on the planet Mongo, Flash is spotted and attacked by Captain Torches patrol ship yet again. (Where exactly is Mongo? They travel back and forth to this planet like it was the corner grocery store…) Flash needs the patrol ship in order to sneak into Ming’s palace, so he turns on the “Smoke Screen” in order to make the patrol think his ship has been hit. (For some reason the smoke also fills the cockpit…but anyhoo…)

By use of the smoke screen, Flash feigns damage to the ship, and lands back on the frozen wastes of Frigia. Torch lands his ship next to Flash’s and runs over to investigate. Meanwhile, Flash and Roka hide behind some lockers and jump Torch when he enters the ship, taking him prisoner. Torch is forced to give the password to the palace ‘flight control’ so they can land and enter the palace grounds.

When they land at Ming’s space port, guards approach the ship to welcome Captain Torch’s return. However, it is not Captain Torch who comes out of the ship: it is Flash in disguise (Torch and his XO are tied up in the ship, stripped of their uniforms). Flash and Roka knock the guards unconscious and make their way into the palace.

In the palace, a gloating Ming informs Dale that Zarkov has refuse “his terms” and must now face the consequences (this can’t be good…)

Flash Gordon

Zarkov about to face the consequences…

Zarkov is told that he still has a few moments to reconsider, before the “automatic clock” releases Ming’s Destroying Ray upon him. Zarkov refuses (…I’m still not sure what Ming’s “terms” are, but can they be that bad?)…and Dale insists that she wants to die along side Zarkov. Ming refuses her request, saying that he will not lose “…the bride he has waited for so long…”. (yech!)

While this magnificent drama is playing out in Ming’s death chamber, Flash and Roka, disguised in guard uniforms, are making their way through the palace…

Flash Gordon

Shhhh….they’re in disguise!

Flash and Roka hide behind some stone columns as a couple passing guards helpfully exposit that Ming is about to kill Zarkov with the “Destroying Ray”. Flash and Roka jump the guards as they walk by, just as the “automatic clock” strikes the hour, thus starting the ray. As is typical in these movies, the ray does not instantly strike Zarkov and kill him, rather it hits the floor on the other side of the room and slowly makes its way towards the bound Zarkov, inch by inch….accompanied by a strange buzz-saw sound.

Flash jumps into the room from a convenient alcove and attempts to free Zarkov. Ming laughs as Flash struggles with Zarkov’s bounds…the death ray approaches and strikes Flash right in the chest…is this the end?!!!

Chapter 5 – “The Palace of Terror”

Chapter 4 summary:

“Flash and Roka capture a Ming ship and force its crew to fly them to Ming’s palace, hoping to rescue Dale and Zarkov. Disguised as Ming guards, they make their way to the palace corridors. Overhearing a guard saying Zarkov is about to meet death in the arena, Flash races up the stairs leading to the arena, and through a window sees Zarkov standing manacled between two pillars. As Ming’s voice sentences Zarkov and the “Death Ray” starts toward the helpless victim, Flash leaps through the window and….”

The Destroying Ray focuses on Flash’s heaving chest while Roka runs up the stairs and into the same alcove that Flash jumped through (Hmmm…maybe Ming should seal that one up?). Roka fires a ray gun into the “Automatic Clock”, thus destroying the death ray. (I have to admit that I’m not too impressed with the potency of the death ray…it has been burning right into Flash’s face for several seconds now with no effect, despite Flash’s grimacing to convince us of the contrary.)

Flash Gordon

Ming’s, *ahem*, Death Ray

Unable to free Zarkov before Ming’s guards can seize them, Zarkov tells Flash and Roka to head for the palace caverns and leave him behind. Taking Zarkov’s advice, Flash and Roka rush out of the arena and into the caverns. Dale is ushered out of the viewing area by a gaggle of Ming’s handmaidens, while Ming commands that Zarkov is to be brought to him at once (Huh? Why has he suddenly decided not to kill him?)

Dale is brought to her cell, and upon being released, turns around and smacks the guard right in the face! Great stuff! This cat-fight is unfortunately broken up by a male guard (*sigh*) and Dale is left to await her fate.

Ming, in the meanwhile, offers Zarkov his life if he meets certain conditions (Didn’t he already turn down this offer? Isn’t this why he was put in front of the “Destroying Ray” in the first place?) The deal is this: Zarkov will use his scientific knowledge to develop inventions for Ming. Zarkov agrees as long as “…it will benefit humanity..” (Doesn’t this seem in direct contradiction with working for Ming? I mean, he is the source of all the “Death Dust” isn’t he? How can developing other weapons for Ming to be used against humanity, be to the benefit of humanity? This ethical paradox is not explored…) Zarkov is taken to Ming’s laboratories where he will work with “…great scientists from other planets… “, where they will all work for Ming’s conquest of the universe. (Once again, Zarkov, I can’t see how you can justify taking this job by saying it’s for the benefit of humanity…)

Flash and Roka find their way to the cavern entrance, of course beating up a couple of guards on the way and taking their uniforms. While this is happening, Zarkov is accustoming himself to his new surroundings in Ming’s laboratories, chatting with the other “great scientists”, and recruiting them to help him fight against Ming’s power

Tricking a guard (…what is the IQ requirements for working as one of Ming’s Imperial Guards anyway…?), Flash and Roka rescue Dale and her unnamed cellmate from their rather luxurious prison cell. Dale successfully rescued, release papers in hand (huh?), Flash and Roka, still in disguise, now head to the laboratories in order to save Zarkov. (Why do the guard uniforms have face coverings so that Flash won’t be recognized? Just a little thought for you, Ming, get rid of those masks so you can recognize intruders right away.)

Flash Gordon

Flash, Dale, Roka, and Zarkov in Ming’s laboratory

Instead of leaving with Flash, Zarkov considers it wiser that he remain as a prisoner in the labs where he can work to “counter-act Ming’s defenses…”, thus leaving Ming open to attack. (How Zarkov will accomplish this feat with a bunch of test tubes and beakers is not explored.) Flash agrees and gives Zarkov a “radiophone” so that they can stay in contact.

Before they can leave, a guard comes in and discovers Flash’s identity. Thinking that the disguised Roka is one of Ming’s soldiers, he leaves Flash under Roka’s “guard” and heads of to get Captain Torch. As soon as they leave, Roka and Flash leave the lab along with Dale, with Zarkov remaining behind. Understandably, Torch is a little confused when he arrives in the lab and sees that Flash is gone. With a round of discussion between Torch and Zarkov that sounds a lot like Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine, Torch gets fed up and runs off to report to Ming that he thinks a conspiracy is afoot (Gee, Torch, you really think so?!).

Ming doubles the reward for Dale’s capture (now it’s 200,000 Mingos!), and notes that Flash should be taken too, “…but not necessarily alive!” (?) With the threat of death if he should fail again (a rather empty threat at this point, since he has failed so many times already), Torch stomps off to find the fugitives.

Back at the lab, Zarkov uses a Television-thingee to see a fleet of Prince Barin’s ships approaching Ming’s palace. Zarkov escapes the laborotry-prison with the use of an escape “device” (?) that his fellow prisoner, Professor Karm, gives him. Zarkov radios Flash and tells him that he will meet them in the “space court” where they can all escape from Ming’s palace using the ship that Flash parked there when they arrived. (Whew! Did you get all that?).

Torch, assuming that they will try to use that same ship, sabotages the ship with a “Fire Chemical” bomb. Flash and Roka beat up some more useless guards who try to stop them getting onto the ship. Roka is knocked out trying to get into the ship and falls onto the ‘launch’ lever. The ship takes off automatically with only the unconscious Roka on board. After a few seconds, the hidden bomb explodes and sets the ship on fire. Flash, Dale, and Zarkov (who has just showed up) take another ship and try to catch up with the helpless Roka. (What they plan to do once they catch up with his ship…I’m pretty eager to find out…).

In a most incredible rescue (even for this movie), Flash ties a rope to his ship and rappels down to Roka’s burning rocket ship while they are both flying through the sky! Flash lowers the unconscious Roka down to his ship (which Dale has maneuvered underneath the burning ship) and then climbs down himself just as the rocket ship explodes.

Mistaking Flash’s stolen ship as a Ming patrol, Prince Barin’s ships engage him with their “Destructo Rays” (the radio is unfortunately out of order, so Flash can’t tell them to hold their fire). Outgunned, Flash’s ship takes a direct hit and plummets towards the ground…

Chapter 6 – “Flaming Death”

Flash Gordon

Greeted with the chapter 5 summary:

“Flash and Roka, after escaping from the arena, and while frantic search was being made for them, ambush two guards and, disguised in their uniforms, return to Ming’s palace to rescue Dale and Zarkov. After a further encounter with guards, and a hazardous mid-air rescue of Roka from a burning ship, Flash and his party are congratulating themselves on escaping in one of Ming’s ships, when suddenly an approaching Barin ship opens fire on them. Flash, realizing Barin is mistaking them for his enemy Ming, tries desperately to signal Barin’s ship but…..”

We see that the shot to Flash’s ship was not fatal, but merely severely damages the craft. Flash uses the ship’s guns to shoot rockets in a “dot-dash” signal that he and Barin had previously worked out! Barin recognizes the signal and tells his ships to hold their fire. (It’s pretty funny to see Barin interpret the “code”…He looks out the window and for each “bang” of a rocket going off, he translates one word of the message…so it’s like:

<Bang!> Barin: “This”

<Bang!> Barin: “is”

<Bang!> Barin: “Flash”

<Bang!> Barin: “Gordon”

(That’s a pretty concise code!)

Using the “Grapple and Transfer” method (I’m not making that up), Flash and his crew, well, grapple and transfer over to Barin’s ship just as the crippled ship explodes. They head back to Barin’s palace in order to discuss a way to combat Ming’s new weapon of destruction that Zarkov learned about while being held prisoner.

Back at the palace, we learn through good-old-exposition, that Ming’s new weapon is “Ultranilium”, a metal that explodes upon contact with air. Before attacking the Earth, Ming wants to test the weapon on the Prince Barin’s kingdom of Arboria. Captain Torch objects, noting that the forests of Arboria are the source of “…all the fine timber in Mongo” (!) Ming consoles him by saying that they will only fire warning shots into barren sections of the forest to serve as a warning to Barin. (Boy, Captain Torch is environmentalist!) Despite the fact that Princess Aura, Ming’s daughter has fled to Arboria, the cruel Ming insists on continuing the test firing. Ming reconsiders and sends a secret message to his spy, Lady Sonja, commanding her to contrive a way to get his daughter out of the palace and thus out of danger.

We cut to a scene with Sonja and Aura out riding unicorns (?) in the Arborian forests, so we can only assume that Sonja has managed to get Aura out of the castle, as per Ming’s instructions. The treacherous Sonja, leads them into a unicorn-ambush and Princess Aura is taken prisoner again.

Flash Gordon

Meanwhile, back in Barin’s labs (which look suspiciously like Ming’s labs…), he reads aloud a message he has received, warning him of the upcoming display of Ultranilium’s destructive power. Zarkov will have a machine ready to defend against the missiles in a couple of days (good old Zarkov!). Barin insists that Ming is bluffing because he would never fire at Arboria as long as his daughter was there. At that second, a survivor of the ambush, limps in and reports that Aura has been abducted and taken back to Ming’s palace. (Doh!). With Princess Aura out of Arboria, Ming is now free to release his attack.

Flash Gordon

Chateau d’ Ming

Back at the palace, Ming finds out that Zarkov has developed a defense against his “fiery projectiles”. This defense requires Zarkov to radio to Flash the locations where the missiles hit. Angry at being stymied yet again, Ming orders his feisty daughter to be taken to the “women’s quarters”. (Oo-la-la!) In a flash of brilliant inspiration, Ming commands Torch and Sonja to go back to Arboria, find Barin’s radio transmitter and destroy it, thus preventing Barin from being able to send the missile-hit coordinates to Flash.

In the meantime, Zarkov explains to Flash how he can use a new device to cloak his ship in “contra-thermal waves”, rendering it immune to heat, thus Flash can fly up to the conflagrations causes by missiles and emplace the devices that will render them inert (or something…you get the idea).

Ming fires the first projectile, and it lands in the Arborian wastelands as planned. Zarkov has to calculate the coordinates and radio them to Flash (which seem odd since Flash watched it land from his space ship…). Coordinates received, the ship lands and Flash dons a silver anti- flame suit, jumps out of the ship, and proceeds to set in place one of the anti-conflagration devices. However, the “contra-thermal wave” generator doo-hickey fails, and Flash is exposed to the full brunt of the heat….he faints….something-or-other explodes…and we fade to black.

Chapter 7 – “The Land of the Dead”

Flash Gordon

Chapter 6 recap:

“Ming has his daughter, Princess Aura, removed from Barin’s kingdom, which he is going to destroy with a fiery projectile. Flash, to defeat Ming’s purpose, takes off with Dale and Ronal in a ship equipped with Zarkov’s untested Thermal Control, constructed to combat the effects of Ming’s fiendish invention. Dale and Ronal, operating the Control from the ship, watch Flash, in a fireproof uniform, fighting his way into the blazing inferno as the first projectile falls. The Thermal Control resists the terrific temperature, but suddenly the intense heat melts a connection, the Control fails and ….”

Somehow, amazingly, the Thermal Control seems to fix itself (indicated by a big light that turns back on), and Flash struggles back to the ship. Flash radios back to Zarkov to inform him that the anti-fire devices (or whatever) work perfectly and they will be waiting for the next set of coordinates. Just as Zarkov is about to tell Flash the coordinates to where the other projectiles have fallen, a Ming bomber flies over Barin’s palace, drops a bomb, and blows up the radio transmitter (hasn’t Prince Barin heard of anti-aircraft defense?)

Barin’s ships scramble to face the threat (umm…a little to late for that, isn’t it?) of the single bomber. They drive off the bomber and Zarkov fixes the radio (Zarkov! You go boy!) and transmits the next set of coordinates to Flash. The Ming bomber, piloted by Captain Torch, makes a fake crash landing (hey, it seems like everybody uses that trick around here…), tricking Barin’s fighters into thinking that the bomber was destroyed.

After the simulated crash, the wily Captain Torch radios to Ming that they were forced down. Ming, quick on his feet as usual, tells Torch and Sonja to infiltrate Barin’s palace and find what Zarkov is planning to do next…

In Barin’s lab, Zarkov is showing off his new weapon to use against Ming. It’s a gun that shoots a “neutralizing cartridge” (?) that will disable all of Ming’s guns and ships. However, due to a minor design flaw, when the gun fires it destroys itself and releases a poisonous gas in the resulting explosion (!) (Sorry, Zarkov, I’m not too impressed with that design…). To overcome these, um, ‘shortcomings’, they will place the gun in a desolate area called “The Land of the Dead”, and fire it at Ming’s castle via remote control.

Flash Gordon

Zarkov dons a Peter Pan hat and convinces the others that a self-destructing, poison-gas spewing gun is a useful weapon.

Meanwhile, Sonja and Torch, still wearing the uniform of Ming’s forces (ever heard of a ‘disguise’?) overcome the single guard watching the entrance to Barin’s castle. Ahh, nevermind, Torch has taken the uniform of the unconscious guard and made his way into the laboratory. He takes Roka and another scientist prisoner and tries to destroy the gun. Roka manages to throw some sort of exploding powder in Torch’s face and drives him from the room.

Back in Ming’s palace, the Emperor is talking with his daughter, Princess Aura, and dutifully exposits that Flash and the others are heading into a trap in The Land of the Dead. (cue evil laughter).

On the way to the Land of the Dead (LOTD), Flash finds out that this area was once inhabited by a race of “Rock Men”, but they passed into “oblivion” a long time ago, so no need to worry (yeah, sure!). Flash and his crew are spotted by a Ming ship, but decide to evade it by turning on the “Disappearing Screen”, so as not to endanger the one-of-a-kind weapon that they have on board. (Why haven’t they use these defensive mechanisms before?)

Torch reports to Ming that they have disappeared, but Ming is sure of their destination. He commands Torch to use his “Speed Ship” to get to the LOTD before Flash, and plant his blasting mines by “Giant Dome Rock”. After landing, Sonja volunteers to keep watch on a ledge as Torch sets the mine in place. Unfortunately, the Roc Men (one of the more bogus looking special effects so far, and that says a lot!) attack and capture the treacherous Sonja.

Out of nowhere, comes a giant lizard, of the rare species that looks like a normal iguana with extra dorsal fins glued onto it. (This rare species of giant lizards also has a roar that sounds like somebody screeching into an empty tin can.)

Flash Gordon

The horrible "Iguanathon"

The rock men avoid this terrible beast by clumping together and standing still, thus appearing as rocks, until the ‘monster’ walks past them. (I’m not trying to pick on this film here, I realize that this was made in 1940, but these last effects where so hokey, they deserved special mention!) The rock men take Sonja deep into their underground lair where the Rock King dismisses them. (Can’t help but notice that rock-man language sounds incredibly like a recording of somebody talking being played backwards…)

Torch, oblivious to the fact that Sonja has been captured (not to mention that they didn’t even see the giant lizard walk by), dutifully continues implanting the mines. He also fails to notice the group of Rock Men sneaking up to attack them. Well, needless to say, Torch and his men are also captured by the Rock Men (maybe if Torch’s men would have fought back with their ray guns instead of shovels, they would have stood a better chance of escape…).

Flash lands his ship in the LOTD, and they decide to scout around before getting the gun into position. They too come under attack by the Rock Men, and in the struggle fail to see Torch’s mine which detonates with ear-shattering explosion. Does Flash come out of this alive…we’ll see in chapter 8!

Chapter 8 – “The Fiery Abyss”

Recapping as usual:

“Ming’s attack on Barin’s kingdom prompts Zarkov to perfect an “N”-Ray, to be discharged from a powerful Nullitrion, to neutralize and render useless Ming’s power plant. Barin tells Flash the Nullitrion can best be directed against Ming’s palace from the Devil’s Dome, in the Land of The Dead. Ming leasrns of their plans, and his soldiers plant a powerful time bomb on the Devil’s Dome, but are promptly captured by Rock Men. Flash and his party land, unaware of the bomb and the Rock Men who are watching and….”

The time bomb’s (yes, I know I refer erred to it as a ‘land mine’ before, but that’s what Captain Torch called it) explosion somehow knocks everybody unconscious without killing them, making Flash and the rest easy pickings for the Rock Men that rush over and take them captive. Flash and his unconscious companions are carried over to a wall of rock, while Torch and his soldiers watch from under guard. A Rock Man bangs on the rock with a stone, and a gas comes out of a crack, wafting over the motionless forms of Flash, Dale, Zarkov and Roka. We learn from Torch’s never ending exposition, that this is how the Rock Men find out if somebody is dead or not. (!). As imagined, Flash and the rest revive and Zorkav begins talking with the Rock Men (you see, Zarkov is fluent in the Rock Man language, which Zarkov informs us is “…an ancient language, spoken by the Lost Tribes, that once inhabited the Gobi desert on Earth” (!!!))

With the help of Zarkov’s translation, Flash and the others find out they are being taken to the Rock King. Flash asks why they have been taken prisoner, to which Zarkov replies that they Rock Men blame them for the explosion. (But didn’t the Rock Men attack them first, before the bomb went off, with no provocation?)

On the way to the Rock Men’s lair, they encounter the giant lizard from chapter 7 (How do I know it’s the same one? Because they show the exact same footage!). Zarkov, master of biology, tells them they are safe if they stand still, but the breath is deadly poison (huh?). In a scene of utter horror, one of Torch’s guards breaks free, runs off and gets eaten by a lizard. (Duh!) This scene over, the Rock Men take their prisoners under ground to meet the king.

Flash Gordon

Sonja and Dale, prisoners of the Rock Men!

The king’s son, the Rock Prince (I’m not making this up!), has not come back since the explosion, and the king is laying the blame at the feet of Flash Gordon. Furthermore, their lives will be forfeit if his son does not soon return. Despite Zarkov’s attempts to blame the whole mess on Torch, the group is marched off to their stony cells to wait while a search party looks for the Rock Prince. (Dale and Sonja are of course sent to a women’s cell!)

To kill some time, Zarkov and Flash exchange some silly dialog regarding the origins of the Rock Men, then retire to the bunks to try to come up with an escape plan. While this is going on, Dale and Sonja, are sharing a cell together (I wonder if there is going to be cat fight!). Dale thinking that Sonja is asleep, pulls out a hidden radio and radios Zarkov’s friend, Professor Karm, who is still being help prisoner in Ming’s laboratory. Karm has to call her back because Ming is coming, and hangs up. Sonja, overhearing the whole thing, demands that Dale hand over her radio. A cat fight ensues (yes!), and the Rock Man guards are compelled to enter the cell and break it up. However, during the struggle, Sonja has somehow taken the radio, and knowing that Ming is in the room with Karm, transmits a fake message thanking him for all of his assistance to Flash.

Ming overhears this, and becomes upset to say the least. Instead of killing him on the spot, he commands the guards to lock Karm in a cell until he can think of a good way to execute him (and to provide time for him to be rescued).

Flash, Roka, and Zarkov have come up with an ingenious plan. Roka pretends to be poisoned (!), and when the guards come in to investigate, Flash and Zarkov run out. (Hey, this is a serial film, just go with the flow, ok?). They escape from the lair of the Rock Men (should have called them Rock Heads, I mean, despite the cool way they talk, they really aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, if you get my drift…).

Back on the surface, Flash and Zarkov run around looking for their ship, when Zarkov notices a “..strong gravity pull from the left…”. Well, as Zarkov expected, this part of Mongo is composed of “..highly magnetic particles!” Flash notices a Rock Man trapped in the magnetic field, high up on a ledge (I wonder if that’s the Rock Prince…whoops! I hope I didn’t give anything away!) They realize that the explosive has uncovered an “lode stone” which has created a massive magnetic field. (Which also effects flesh, rocks, and Styrofoam boulders that roll towards the lode stone, nearly crushing Flash.) Zarkov hurries to tell the Rock King that his son has been found, while Flash attempts to rescue the Rock Prince.

Things are heating up back in the Rock Men’s lair, as Dale and Roka are taken to the execution chamber along with Torch and his guards. The Rock Men toss a guard into a flaming pit for good measure, while Dale screams, cowering in Roka’s arms. They choose Dale as the next to be tossed into the flames, pick her up and…and…we’ll see what happens next!

Chapter 9 – “The Pool of Peril”

A friendly summary of last week proceeds as normal:

“The Land of The Dead, inhabited by Rock Men, becomes the battleground of a scientific war against Ming. Flash and his party are captured by the Rock Men, who also capture Ming’s soldiers. The Rock King condemns all to death, blaming them for the disappearance of his son. Flash and Zarkov escape by a clever ruse and discover the Rock Prince helpless in the grip of a powerful lodestone. Flash attempts his rescue while Zarkov hurries to the Rock King but…..”

Flash pushes a boulder onto the loadstone causing it to explode (!), thus negating the magnetic field. In the execution chamber, Roka picks up a rock and throws it into the head of one of the Rock Men who is pushing Dale towards the flaming pit. The guard is stunned by the blow, thus allowing Dale and Roka to run from the room, with Rock Men in hot pursuit. This time the Rock Men manage to save some face and capture them after a short trot through the caverns. Taking Dale and Roka back to the chamber, they proceed to shove Dale towards the ledge again. Zorkav, runs in and halts the execution, explaining that the Rock Prince has been found! The Rock Prince, being rescued by Flash, pledges his lifelong service in return. (Nobody can accuse the Rock Men of being ungrateful!)

Taking advantage of this joyful reunion, Torch, Sonja and his only remaining guard, Lt. Thong (!) break free and escape back to the surface (but not without the mandatory fist-fight with the rock guards). Torch discovers that his ship was destroyed when the mine exploded, so they decide to hijack Flash’s ship instead (which is still being guarded by Prince Barin. As they are sneaking up on the ship, Sonja sees some stock footage of the same lizard from a couple chapters ago, and screams (brother!). Barin, hearing Sonja screaming, looks out the porthole and spots Torch . (Torch chides Sonja for screaming to which she defends herself by saying, “I couldn’t help it! That iguanathon scared me!”)

Flash Gordon

Sonja, Torch and Lt. Thong

Inside the ship, Barin sounds some sort of alarm in order to warn Flash that Torch is near. Heeding the alarm, Flash and the Rock Men split up in order to surround Torch (or something). Torch and the others make a stand and start tossing improbably large boulders down on Flash and Roka who are making their way up the mountain side. Having successfully outflanked Torch, a Rock Man attacks from behind, Flash and Roka join the fray while Sonja stands to the side and makes worried faces. As you can probably guess, the bad guys get knocked out and Sonja is recaptured. Flash thanks the Rock Prince and tells them that they are now “square” (so much for a lifetime of service!).

Together again, Dale suggests that Ming might exchange Princess Aura for Sonja, Torch, and Thong, so they all pile into the ship and take off back to Arboria. On the way back, Barin exposits his plan to free Princess Aura. He warns Flash that the plan is “…a risky one at best, and may not succeed…”, (Gee, is that different from any other plan in this movie?!). In a nutshell, they will enter the dungeon caverns under the palace where Barin still has a guard loyal to him, Captain Sudan, and with his aid, they will find Aura and rescue her. Wow! That sure is a hell of a plan!

Flash radios Professor Karm, under Ming’s arrest for his treachery, and informs him of their plans (Why does Karm still have a radio?). Captain Sudan, agrees that the plan is a good one (I’m seriously doubting his judgement…) and promises to open the gates at midnight, when he will be on duty in the control room. (Don’t ask what Sudan is doing in the prison cell with Karm, who knows…).

Landing at the gates, at midnight I guess, Flash and the others make their way to the cavern entrance (Dale has to help Ronal guard the prisoners in the ship, “Good Girl!”, says Flash in appreciation of her duties.). Captain Sudan comes through, and opens the gates. Entering the caverns, Flash, Roka, Barin, and Zarkov (I’m getting pretty good with these names, I must say!) see a group of four guards coming their way. In the ensuing fist fight, an alarm is raised, and Ming comes to the control room to investigate. Seeing Flash and his party on some sort of TV-thingee, he tells Sudan to open the flood gates and fill the caverns with water. Sudan, having no choice, is forced to comply. The water roars into the caverns, and washes everybody away….can this finally be the end of Flash?

Chapter 10 – “The Death Mist”

Summary of chapter 9 ensues:

“Emperor is holding his daughter, Princess Aura, as a hostage in his war against Prince Barin, Flash Gordon and Doctor Zarkov. Leaving the Land of the Dead, and with Torch, Sonja and Thong prisoners, Flash and his friends accompany Barin in his ship to Ming’s palace in a daring attempt to rescue the Princess. Through the co-operation of Captain Sudan, of Ming’s guards, they enter the tunnels beneathe the palace, but they are attacked by a party of Ming’s guards who sound an alarm and ……”

Things were looking pretty grim last time, the water rising, threatening to drown everybody in the tunnels. Ming, satisfied that Flash is as good as dead, leaves the control room, allowing Sudan the opportunity to rush back over open a door leading into a side tunnel, thus preventing Flash and the others from being washed into “…the bottomless pit…”

Flash Gordon

Captain Sudan in the palace Fun House, er, Control Room

Swept out into a side tunnel, the soggy band of heroes run back to their ship in defeat and take off from the wastelands (using a scene from an earlier chapter where they take off from the space port!).

In the palace, Ming gloats about the deaths of Flash and his party to Princess Aura and Karm. (Why would he care what Karm thinks about the whole thing? Wasn’t he locked up with a death sentence for treachery?) Upon hearing the news of his friends supposed deaths, Karm loses his temper and starts choking Ming (not without saying a “…Why you..!” before charging the throne). Karm is, predictably, knocked unconscious and carried back to his cell by some guards, (once again…just kill him!!!) At that very moment, Barin calls on Karm’s radio, which Ming has confiscated and carries around with him now.

Barin is unaware, of course, that Ming has the radio and hears everything. Ming has one of his guards imitates Karm’s voice over the radio in order to feed Barin false information. The guard, pretending to be Karm, tells Barin that Ming has no plans to attack Arboria at the moment. Lulled into a sense of security, Barin decides to pull in his patrols and go on the offensive: To mass his forces and attack Ming in an effort to finally free Princess Aura once and for all.

Down in Barin’s prison cells, Flash and Dale ask Torch about the size of Ming’s forces, to which Torch understandly refuses to give out any information.

Flash Gordon

Flash exposits that it’s too bad Lt. Thong escaped (What?!! When?!!), because he certainly would have rolled over on Ming. Since Thong has escaped, they decide to ask Sonja some questions. The cunning Sonja will talk only if she can talk to Flash alone. Dale reluctantly leaves, allowing Sonja to take Flash’s hand through the cell door, trying to woo her way out of the cell. She even goes on to say that if Flash will release her, she will show him how to overthrow both Barin and Ming, then they could rule the universe together. Flash wisely declines, and goes off to talk to Zarkov.

As soon as Flash leaves, Sonja and Torch begin communicating by some sort of code, tapping on the bars and cell walls (which the prison guard amazingly manages not to hear). Through a series of about 12 taps, they arrange a plan (this code must be based on the incredibly concise Gordon-Barin Rocket-Boom code used in chapter 6…). Sonja pretends to hang herself, letting off a scream, which the (only) guard reacts to by running into her cell, untying her, and getting shot by his own gun (sigh). Sonja frees Torch and they run off into the palace to raise havoc.

In the lab, Flash confers with Zarkov, asking about Karm’s exact words (remember that it wasn’t actually Karm, but one of Ming’s guards ‘imitating’ his voice…)

When Flash hears the exact words, he tells the others that it was in fact NOT Karm that had radioed in the information about Ming’s plans. He goes on to tell them that he and Karm had worked out code words to avoid a situation like that. (Well, Flash, maybe you should have told the others about these code words, eh?). They deduce that Ming is actually planning an immediate attack! (Once again, Flash, thanks for sharing those code words with us, so we could know that it was a fake message!)

We next see Sonja and Torch running through the halls of Barin’s palace. They hear some of Barin’s guards coming so they duck into a side passage until they pass. In a highly amusing shot, Torch pulls down his face mask when the guards walk by, then puts it back up after they have passed. Why does he bother to do that? So they don’t recognize him? Well, he is still in his full Ming’s Army uniform. For protection in case he has to fight? Maybe, but judging by the way everybody knocks everybody else out pretty regularly, I haven’t seen any evidence that this face shield does any good at all.

Flash, in the mean time, goes to the palace radio room and tells the radio operator to warn all the patrols that an attack from Ming is on the way. Little does he know, Sonja and Torch are hiding in the radio room too (how many back doors and little hiding spots do these rooms have?!!). When Flash leaves, Torch runs over and, you guessed it, knocks out the radio operator. With Sonja watching the door, Torch radios Ming’s palace. Ming tells Torch that he is sending gas bombers to bomb Barin’s palace. Ming commands Torch to use the radio to broadcast a bogus recall order to Barin’s ships so that the gas bombers can attack without resistance. Torch complies and starts to call in Barin’s patrols (Hey, Torch, you realize that Ming is going to gas bomb the very palace that you are sitting in, don’t you?) Receiving the orders to return to base for repairs (!!), the patrols turn back and leave the way open for Ming’s gas bombers.

Dale and Roka finally see that Sonja and Torch have escaped. Dale tells Roka to warn the guards, while she will sound the alarm from the radio room. (Why on Earth the alarm is in the radio room and not the cell block is not discussed.) As expected, a showdown ensues in the radio room, resulting in Torch taking Dale hostage and running off with her. (Not before a nice little cat-fight between Dale and Sonja). Not only that, but Torch has disabled the radio so the Barin can’t countermand the bogus orders to return to base! Fiends!

Trying to flee the palace but cut off from the main exit, Torch and Sonja take Dale and head up to the roof, with Flash and the others in hot pursuit. Just as Torch and Sonja reach the palace roof, Ming’s gas bombers begin dropping their deadly payload. Torch tries to signal the bombers by waving his jacket, so that they won’t bomb him too (didn’t he think of this before?!!), but to no avail. As the bombs fall, Flash climbs up over the top of the wall and starts beating up Torch. This of course allows Dale the chance to start clawing and punching Sonja (ahhh..wonderful to watch those two fight, I must say). The gas bombs continue to fall, and finally Dale and Sonja are overwhelmed by the poison and fall unconscious to the ground. Flash and Torch, however, somehow manage to scramble up and over the edge of the tower and plummet over the side…This must be the end of Flash this time…How can he survive this terrible turn events? Tune in next time and find out!

Chapter 11 – “Stark Treachery”

Here we go! Chapter 10 summary:

“Torch and Sonja, Ming’s agents, confined in prison cells in Barin’s palace, escape to the radio room, overpower the operator, and communicate with Ming. Ming instructs Torch to send out a false order grounding Barin’s space ships, in order to clear the way for the Ming bombers, and to then destroy the radio to prevent Barin countermanding the order. Dale overhears the order and is captured by Torch and Sonja, who flee with her to the roof of the palace. Flash pursues and corners them, and is battling with Torch when Ming’s bombers…”

Flash and Torch fall from the tower and into the palace moat (which, sigh, knocks Torch unconscious (!)). Flash grabs the motionless Torch and swims with him to the edge of the moat. Meanwhile, Roka, seeing the gas, tells the others to “…cover their noses…” (?), then they head of to the “gas control valves” (??).

Mission completed, one of the Ming’s gas bombers lands beside the palace to, uh, investigate I guess. The crew dons their, *ahem*, gas masks, and leave the ship to see the results of the attack. Somehow, the reach the palace roof, and take the unconscious Sonja, Dale, and Ronal back to their ship and take off back to Ming’s palace.

Back in Barin’s radio room, with the aid of some exposition, we learn that Ming’s bombers were driven away and the attack was a failure. Through some incredibly illogical dialog, Torch himself suggests that Flash keep him hostage in an effort to get Dale back. (How do they know Dale is hostage? Because Torch says he saw a ship fly away with her, (while he was unconscious in the moat?))

Back in Ming’s palace, Thong and Sonja report what has happened. Ming, wanting to speak to Thong and Sonja in private, dismissed his entire court (about 20 or 30 people!). This should be pretty good…

Flash Gordon

Lt. Thong reporting to Ming

Alone at last, Ming starts chewing out Thong and Sonja for the failure of the mission, pointing out that his ablest captain and adviser, Torch (he is his ablest?) is taken prisoner, and that he has lost 2 ships in the attack. (It would appear to me, that if a loss of 2 ships is a heavy blow to your military forces, maybe you aren’t quite in the position to try and conquer the universe…but what do I know?) Ming initiates a hostage exchange with Prince Barin and the excitement builds.

The exchange takes place, Torch in return for both Dale and Ronal. However, Dale has been poisoned before she left the palace and quickly lapses into, yes, unconsciousness…With a note tucked into Ronal’s belt before he was exchanged, they learn that in order to save Dale, Zarkov must personally take her back to Ming’s palace.

Zarkov complies and flies to Ming’s palace with the ailing Dale, with Flash, Barin, and Ronal tagging along, discussing various plans as to how to best rescue them once they turn themselves over to Ming. Roka suggests that they can gain entrance to the palace via the “Abandoned Tunnel”. Ok, really now. How many friggin’ tunnels are under this palace? Hasn’t he ever heard of concrete? You know, block them up? Sheesh!

Ming, true to his word, revives Dale once Zarkov shows up, and escorts her back to her cell that she shares with Princess Aura. Zarkov is left to labor in the labs again. (That doesn’t seem like such a great idea, considering what happened last time.) Back in Ming’s chambers, we find out that Sonja is to prepare Dale for her wedding with Ming in the morning! Yeah, there’s a match made in Heaven!

At the entrance to the so-called “abandoned tunnels”, Flash and Barin start beating up a couple of Ming’s guards who happened to be at the entrance. As luck would have it, the guards are in fact Captain Sudan’s men, who cheerfully give them one of their uniforms (I say cheerfully, because Barin just beat the crap out of him and barely apologized). Prince Barin, dressed in the uniform, will pretend to be an “official escort” in case they are stopped on the way to where Dale and Princess Aura are being kept.

Flash, Barin, and Roka begin winding their way through the tunnels, stumbling across dusty skeletons and the like, just so we remember that the tunnels are in fact abandoned. After what appears to be quite a short trip through the tunnels, they blast open a locked door and, voila, they are in the North wing, just a few feet from the door to Dale’s chambers.

In the room, Flash sees Dale and Princess Aura sleeping. Flash suspects a trap and goes in alone (funny how he senses a trap now, when he has fallen into every other trap for the last 10 episodes…), leaving Roka and Barin in the hallway. (He takes Barin’s sword with him, why not the ray-gun that Barin just used to blast open the tunnel door?) As he approaches the slumbering Dale, she awakes and warns him to stop, but it’s too late. A flash, an explosion, and fade to black. Are you ready for the final chapter in this saga?

Chapter 12 – “Doom of the Dictator”

Our final summary begins:

“Ming’s air attack on Barin’s palace is beaten off and Torch recaptured by Flash Gordon, but the escaping enemy ships carry off Dale Arden. Zarkov is tricked into Ming’s power and, with Dale and Princess Aura already his prisoners, Ming now holds the whip hand over Flash and Barin. Flash leads a rescue party into Ming’s palace, by means of an abandoned tunnel, and locates the room where Dale and Aura are held. Unaware that the room is protected by a death-dealing electrical trap, Flash, sword in hand….”

Flash is merely stunned by the trap (maybe they should have called it a “stun-dealing electrical trap” in the introduction…), and Barin begins to rush into the same trap before Aura warns him that the rug is electrified. Barin finds the switch to turn off the current and the happy pair are finally reunited.

Flash Gordon

The Women’s Prison Quarters (…looks pretty damn swank to me!)

Ming finds out yet again that Flash has broken into his palace and rescued his prisoners (about time for a review of your Royal Security Measures, I would say, eh Ming?). A full search is begun, with a special guard put on the laboratory where Zarkov is being kept. Good idea. Just at that moment, Flash and the others reach the lab and a fist fight ensues with the guards watching over the entrance to the lab. As usual, the guards are knocked out and the uniforms stolen. Unfortunately, an alarm has been sounded and Flash, Roka, Barin, Dale, and Aura (whew!) barricade themselves in the lab along with Zarkov and another of Ming’s cadre of imprisoned interplanetary professors: Professor Druk. Captain Torch reaches the lab, tries unsuccessfully to open the locked door, and leaves a guard to watch the lab while he goes back to report to Ming.

Inside the lab, Zarkov says that Karm discovered the source of Ming’s power and exposits a dubious explanation for the source:

“The power is derived from a strong beam of light, reflected from pure Thilinium, a new element, which gives the light great properties, and permits it to be transformed into other forms of energy……and it is this Thilinium that energizes the Purple Death dust, the Great Fire Projectile, and all of Ming’s weapons of death and destruction.”

Back in Ming’s chambers, or something, Torch reports that the escapees are barricaded in the lab, and that he is prepared to attack them. Ming explicitly orders him not to attack, saying that “…with Dr. Zarkov in possession of my laboratory, he is more powerful than I am in my own kingdom!” (?). I must ask you this, oh great Emperor Ming: Why the hell did you imprison him there in the first place!!! Ming decides that Zarkov must be lured out of the laboratory with some sort of ruse; a ruse which he of course will come up with.

Ming contacts Zarkov via the Imperial intercom system and says that he has loaded a spaceship with enough Solarite to destroy “…the principle cities of the Earth” if Zarkov does not surrender. (Could this be the same legendary “Solarbenite” that Eros mentioned in “Plan 9 from Outer Space”??!!) Zarkov says that this is “…a serious matter…” (Gee, you think?) and must consult his “associates” (?) before taking a course of action. Ming generously gives them 5 minutes to decide.

With a quick discussion laden with exposition, Zarkov and Flash come to the conclusion that Ming is not bluffing about the ships, but will launch the ships even if they do surrender, so they might as well try to break out. The only solution, in Flash’s opinion, is to somehow take control of the Solarite laden ship and destroy Ming withit. This plan can only be realized if Zarkov can control the Space Port defenses from the laboratory. Zarkov says it can be done (What the hell?! Ming imprisoned Zarkov in a lab that offers him complete control of the palace defenses? That’s like the FBI capturing a terrorist cell and keeping them prisoner in an ICBM silo!). Flash volunteers to hijack the Solarite ship, set it on a crash course with Ming, and jump out at the last moment. The others will take Zarkov’s ship (presumably easily accessible in the Imperial Impound Lot) and escape.

Whew!

Well, the plan starts of reasonably problem free. Zarkov and Flash make it to the Solarite ship, and the others make it back to Zarkov’s ship by the abandoned tunnels. Professor Druk, still back in the lab, turns off the death rays surrounding the ship that Flash is to hijack. Flash mentions that he “…hopes there’s a parachute on board…”. (Duh!) Zarkov comforts him by saying, “I’m sure there is…it’s an essential part of the equipment…well, good luck, Flash!”, and runs back to his own ship.

As usual, Ming finds out what has happened and becomes outraged, but he knows that Gordon won’t destroy the palace as long as Zarkov and the others are still being held prisoner. Doh! A message comes in at that very moment informing Ming that the prisoners have escaped. Sensing that his goose is about to be cooked, Ming heads to his control tower where he can control the Solarite ship via “auxiliary control”, but first Captain Sudan must enable the controls from the guard room. (Captain Sudan is loyal to Flash remember? Remember? Can you see this all coming together now?)

Flash Gordon

A be-feathered Ming discusses plans with the ever-incompetent Captain Torch

Up in the control tower, we have what appears to be a Ming family reunion: Ming, Sonja, Torch, Thong, and a host of guards (I can’t see how their presence is required…oh, wait a minute…maybe it’s so they can all be killed at the same time in one gigantic explosion…oops! Hope I didn’t give anything away!). Torch tries to raise Sudan on the intercom to tell him to enable the auxiliary controls. Sudan, of course, ignores these orders and instead radios Zarkov to inform him that Ming “…has taken refuge in his tower control room.” (Ming, buddy, during an air attack, maybe an underground bunker would make a better shelter than the top floor of a giant tower …just a thought).

Flash steers the Solarite ship at the tower, parachuting out at the absolute last moment. He floats down and incredibly (yet predictably) is picked up mid-air by Zarkov’s ship.

Seeing the Solarite ship speeding towards him, Ming suddenly realizes that he better haul ass out of there and get down to the caverns. Captain Sudan, however, has locked the doors by pulling a lever in the control room (who the hell designed this palace?). Trapped like the rat he is, Ming can only stare in helpless frustration as the ship crashes into the tower, killing him and his evil entourage.

Flash GordonFlash Gordon

Zarkov declares that by defeating Ming, Flash Gordon has saved the Earth, and by some inexplicable jump in logic, saved the universe. The triumphant trio, Flash, Dale, and Zarkov, head home to Earth, conquerors of the universe.

Flash Gordon

Dennis Grisbeck (Feb 2005)

Read more about Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe at

IMDB

5 comments to Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe (1940)

  • guts3d

    Whoa! Nice review… Or should I say reviews! I remember seeing a few of these episodes somewhere a long time ago. Also, there was a movie done in the same vein as this with music by Queen, I thought that it was pretty good.

  • Powermom

    Watching part of this series with my husband and daughter has given rise to our “silly hat” rating. This series is the pinnacle of “silly hats” in film. I wish I could have seen those costumes in color!

  • c.s.auaeginal

    If you like this sort, then do also see the splendid spoof/homage to these old serials: “J-Men Forever” (1979). Keep eyes open for Leonard Nimoy in a teeny bit.

  • Douglas

    Vivian Mason was just gorgeous in this. The dress, the hair, fantastic figure… Ring my gong sweetheart!

  • My question is why Donald Curtis (Ronal) was not given screen credit. He appeared in every episode, yet others who appeared in only one or two episodes were listed.

    Anyway, when I first saw this serial as a kid it was my favorite of the three that were made. Although the writing was absolutely terrible and some scenes made no sense at all.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>