One of the things I love about the Flash Gordon serials are the wipes. I’ll be pointing out some cool ones in this recap.
Same as before, but now followed by a recap of the previous chapter and a repetition of its last minute or so. Each serial takes a different approach to the recap: Trip to Mars
uses illustrations (presumably in the style of the comic strip by Alex Raymond that inspired the films) with captions, while Conquers the Universe
has an expository scroll that, years later, was
lovingly re-imagined by George Lucas. For this, the first Flash Gordon
serial, we get two title cards set in the classic silent film font. (For the record, Flash’s opponents in the arena were “huge ape-like man killers.”)
We pick up with the guards entering the arena to retrieve Princess Aura. They fight Flash, she grabs the gun and shoots a minion, the trapdoor opens and...
“The net! Save my daughter!”
Lo, a net opens at the bottom of the shaft, saving Flash and Aura from the clutches of the giant iguana monsters.
Once Ming has verified that Flash and Aura are alive he orders that they are to be held prisoner, while Dale is to be sent to the palace. (Wait, aren’t we in the palace?)
Flash shakes Aura, now sans tiara, awake. She opens a secret door — Mongo is riddled with hidden doors and secret passages; it’s a miracle the buildings don’t collapse — and leads Flash into a network of caves. During a pause in their spelunking she fondles his bicep and asks, “You like the Earth woman?” He is spared from answering by the passage of the guards sent to take them prisoner.
Lightning bolt wipe to Zarkov’s lab, which has all the standard equipment: bubbling beakers emitting vapor, giant glass bulbs, coils, generators, and gadgets throwing sparks. Zarkov — now kitted out in a dark long-sleeved top, shorts, and boots with V-stripes — says to Ming, “This is a scientist’s paradise. But what has become of my friends from Earth?” “Do not worry. They are being cared for.”
Diamond wipe to handmaidens attempting to wrestle Dale out of her Earth clothes as an old man in a headdress (soon identified as the High Priest) observes. She begs for news of Flash, but the man merely smiles and leaves her to the attendants’ ministrations.
Quintuple iris wipe (five expanding circles) to Zarkov’s lab, where the scientist marvels that Ming commands enough “radioactive energy” to conquer the universe. “Which I intend to do with your aid, Zarkov,” a prospect Zarkov appears to find troubling.
An iris wipe reveals Flash and Gordon entering a canyon containing one of Ming’s rockets. Aura urges Flash to wait inside until she can talk to her father. Flash wants to come with her so he can rescue Dale, but she demurs. Once he boards the rocket, Aura kicks away the gangway and gloats, “You will never see Dale Arden again.” Inside, Flash finds clothes in a locker and decides to change. Hey, nice pecs.
I have to transcribe the following exchange between Ming and the High Priest because I’m impressed they got through it with straight faces.
High Priest: The Earth girl refuses to obey your royal commands.
Ming: She refuses to become my bride?... High Priest, you know what to do.
HP: You mean, the Dehumanizer?... But there is grave danger!
M: Not if you see to it that the hypnotic spell lasts only long enough for you to perform the marriage ceremony.
Football wipe — I’m sorry, but that’s the shape it’s in — to Flash, now in a long-sleeved top, snug trunks, and a studded belt. (Apparently, Ming likes his fighting men in shorts.) He starts fiddling with the rocket’s controls.
In the palace, a guy in a monk’s robe and skullcap manning a viewscreen informs Ming that the gyro-ships of the Lion Men are approaching.
Flash also sees the intruders through a scope in the rocket. He takes off, approaches the gyro-ships (spinning tops that give off wisps of smoke) and engages them in a dogfight. He shoots down at least one before ramming another. The fused ships crash, and a Lion Man — big hair, beard, fish-scale patterned breast plate, leather skirt, sword; add a helmet and he could join GWAR — staggers out, followed shortly by Flash. Flash quickly disarms the Lion Man, who asks, “Why do you not slay me?” Flash tells him he just wants to rescue his friends from Ming…which doesn’t explain why he was shooting at the Lion Men in the first place, but never mind. Flash’s erstwhile opponent introduces himself as Thun, Prince of the Lion Men, and the fact that Flash (a) didn’t kill him when he had the chance and (b) says he is Ming’ enemy is enough to persuade him to help the Earth man. “Ming is merciless and all powerful. He can only be taken by surprise,” Thun says, but luckily he knows of a secret passage (yes, another one) to the palace.
A left to right wipe reveals Dale, once again pleading with the High Priest for news of Flash. “You will never see the Earth man again. But you will not miss him. Soon you will forget him forever.” She cries.
Outside the palace. Flash and Thun get the jump on a guard and force him to lead them to Zarkov’s lab.
X-wipe to Dale’s room, where the High Priest is activating the Dehumanizer. It’s a big coil that lights up. After it blinks on and off a few times, Dale sits up and goes wide-eyed. Assured of her compliance, Ming orders a ceremony to determine if a local god approves of his wedding plans. Cue the four-armed statue from the credits. Scantily clad dancers writhe as the High Priest watches the production number on a monitor.
Flash and Thun enter the lab with their captive and are greeted by Zarkov, who tells Flash that Mongo is no longer on a collision course with Earth. “That’s fine! Where’s Dale?” “Ming has ordered her prepared for some ordeal…I believe that Ming is going to force Dale to become his wife.” Flash, freaked out, hears a noise like a blown conch shell and asks the guard, “What’s that mean? WHAT’S THAT MEAN?!? TELL ME!” The guard leads Flash to a monitor showing the Matrimonial Interpretive Dance Troupe twirling and dropping in unison before the idol. He explains it is an oracle for Ming’s nuptials, which will be held in a secret underground chamber guarded by a monster. Thun and Zarkov both offer to accompany Flash, but he tells the scientist to stay behind.
Aura sashays into Ming’s throne room just as a guard is announcing Flash’s escape. The princess refuses to reveal Flash’s location until her father has promised to spare his life. She’s also figured out that she’s way sexier when she keeps her voice pitched low. When the High Priest announces that Ol’ Four-Arms has blessed the marriage, Ming tells Aura that first he’ll get hitched, “Then we will see about your Earth man.” Zarkov unexpectedly enters the throne room and offers his congratulations, so Ming invites him to the ceremony.
We cut between the hypnotized Dale being dressed and led into the wedding chamber while Flash and Thun fight their way past guards in the caves. Dale and Ming have great costumes — I especially dig the emperor’s ermine-trimmed cape — but the set designer must have gone home early, because the altar is flanked by a pair of sphinxes and topped by an Egyptian sarcophagus. As the High Priest conducts the ceremony, a gong is struck at intervals; a witness explains to Zarkov that the thirteenth stroke will signal the rite’s completion.
Flash, separated from Thun, approaches big, wooden double doors. He can’t open them until he realizes that the pull ring is decorative; the doors, which are motorized, are actually opened by a lever set into the cave wall. He enters and finds...A ROARING LIZARD TWICE HIS HEIGHT WITH LOBSTER CLAWS! It grabs Flash and begins squeezing the life out him. Meanwhile, I’ve lost track of how many times that damn gong’s been rung...
Teeth wipe to the teaser...See
“CAPTURED BY SHARK MEN”
Chapter Three of “FLASH
GORDON” serial to be
shown at this theatre next