Monday, December 23, 2013

Flash Gordon (1936)

As part of my pursuit of Continued Next Week!, I decided to rectify a longstanding oversight on my part. You see, in all my years, I have never actually watched the first FLASH GORDON serial in its entirety. I know, what? Doing a movie serial blog, and I hadn't even bothered to check out the quintessential serial? Like I said, an oversight.

Well, I am happy to report that I corrected this oversight earlier this year. And for the record? FLASH GORDON move than lives up to its legendary reputation. Yeah, the FX are corny and often obvious, and that's not even just a function of the passing years. However, you have to give them credit for even trying. There is a concerted effort to realize Alex Raymond's comic strip on the screen, and that must have been absolutely daunting in 1936. That they succeeded as well as they did is laudable.

Also worthy of praise is the characterization in the film. This is not a sentence that can be applied to most serials, but here, it absolutely does. Most memorable is, of course, Charles Middleton as an utterly flawless Ming the Merciless. Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers, and Frank Shannon are wonderful (even if Rogers gets precious little to do other than faint, be captured, or be a lust object), and the supporting players cut fine figures. But for me, the highlight of the film is Priscilla Lawson as Princess Aura.

Simply put, Priscilla Lawson is absolutely FABULOUS in this serial. She is alluring and sensual in a way I find a little shocking for 1936. She is also very amoral for a good portion of the story - her actions turn on her whims and desires rather than what she thinks is "right." And as you may have gathered, it's all but explicitly stated that what Aura wants is to jump Flash Gordon's bones. She's a marvelous character, and it's just a shame that Lawson never got the chance to reprise the role. (And even more of a shame she died so young, but that's another story.)

If you're on the fence about movie serials, I can definitely recommend FLASH GORDON as one to try. It is compelling throughout, and never boring even if you watch multiple chapters in one sitting.

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