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Rare poster for 1936 feature version of the serial (note tagline), reissued as "Rocketship" in 1949.
|Directed by||Frederick Stephani|
|Produced by||Henry MacRae|
|Screenplay by||Frederick Stephani|
George H. Plympton
(as George Plympton)
|Based on||Flash Gordon|
by Alex Raymond
Charles B. Middleton
|Edited by||Saul A. Goodkind|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
Flash Gordon is a 1936 science fiction film serial. Shown in 13 chapters, it was the first screen adventure for the comic-strip character Flash Gordon that was invented by Alex Raymond only two years earlier in 1934. It tells the story of Flash Gordon's first visit to the planet Mongo and his encounter with the evil Emperor Ming the Merciless. Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers, Charles Middleton, Priscilla Lawson and Frank Shannon played the central roles. In 1996, Flash Gordon was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Early film fan historians have claimed that actor Lon Poff, playing the first of Ming's two high priests, died shortly after production began and so was replaced by Theodore Lorch. In fact, however, only Poff's character died, or rather was killed off by Ming in an act of fury and replaced by Lorch's High Priest; but the scene was cut from the final print. Poff did not die until 1952.
A lot of props and other elements were recycled from earlier Universal productions. The watchtower sets from Frankenstein (1931) appeared as several interiors within Ming's palace. The Egyptian statue from The Mummy (1932) became the idol of the Great God Tao. The laboratory set and a shot of the Moon rushing past Zarkov's returning rocket ship from space came from The Invisible Ray (1936). Zarkov's rocket ship and scenes of dancers swarming over a gigantic idol were reused from Just Imagine (1930). Ming's attack on Earth used footage from old silent newsreels. An entire dance segment from The Midnight Sun (1927) was used. and much laboratory equipment came from Bride of Frankenstein (1935). The music was recycled from several other films, notably Bride of Frankenstein, Bombay Mail, The Black Cat (both 1934), and The Invisible Man (1933).
Flash Gordon was intended to regain an adult audience for serials. It was shown in 'A' Theaters in large cities across the United States. Many newspapers, including some not carrying the Flash Gordon comic strip, contained half and three-quarter page feature stories in their entertainment pages with Alex Raymond drawings and stills from the serial.
Flash Gordon was the first outright science fiction serial, although earlier serials had contained science fiction elements such as gadgets. Six of the fourteen serials released within five years of Flash Gordon were science fiction.
The serial film was subsequently released in a 72-minute feature version in 1936, which was reissued in 1949 as Rocket Ship. A different feature version of the serial, at 90 minutes, was sold directly to television in 1966 under the title Spaceship to the Unknown. For syndication to TV in the 1950s, the serial was renamed Space Soldiers. so as not to be confused with the newly-made, also syndicated TV series, Flash Gordon.
Flash Gordon was Universal's second-highest-grossing film of the year, after Three Smart Girls, a musical starring Deanna Durbin. However, the Hays Office objected to the revealing costumes worn by Dale, Aura and the other female characters. In the two sequels, most of the female characters were thus dressed more modestly.
Reviewing the film for the Radio Times Guide to Films, Alan Jones described Flash Gordon as "non-stop thrill-a-minute stuff as Flash battles one adversary after another" and stated that it was "the best of the Crabbe trilogy of Flash Gordon films".
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