Flash Gordon

From The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993): The film...was the nearest thing to PULP-MAGAZINE space opera to appear on the screen during the 1930s. Flash, Dale, and Zarkov go to the planet Mongo in Zarkov's backyard-built spaceship to find the cause of an outbreak of volcanic activity on Earth. Ming the Merciless...is behind it all and plans to invade Earth {or is talked into invasion rather than destruction--RDE} Our heroes spend the next 12 episodes surviving various exotic hazards before outwitting Ming in the final reel. Though more lavish than the average serial (the budget was a record $350,000), FG has the cheap appearance of most: unconvincing special effects, sets and costumes borrowed from a variety of other films, and plenty of stock footage. However, it remains great fun, romantic and fantastical.

From James Robert Parish and Michael R. Pitts, The Great Science Fiction Pictures (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1977) 126-27 {also for chapters}: Alex Raymond's comic strip first appeared in 1934, and Universal bought the rights two years later. It spend $500,000 in producing this thirteen-part cliffhanger.

Seen today, the serial still holds up remarkably well....Of course Crabbe made the perfect movie serial hero: intelligent, virile, and courageous. In contrast to the idealized heroics of Flash, there is virginal Jean Rogers as Dale Arden, with her slightly-attired body giving more than a hint of implied sexuality. In direct contrast is Charles Middleton, representing the apex of serial villains as the slick, culpable, ruthless Ming the Merciless, the ruler of the gypsy {i.e., wandering} planet Mongo. * * *

Although the scripting of this serial was rather commonplace, the individual thrills in each chapter kept audiences coming back week after week. Not only were there futuristic rocket ships, ray guns and the like, but the hero encountered such terrors as dinosaurs, monkey-men, a "saceograph" TV device, shark-men, a floating city...the tortures of the horrible atom furnace, a tournament between Flash and assorted monsters, a memory-restoring ray, and the horrible Gocko, Ming's dragon, which had lobster claws and other unpleasant assets.

From Michael Benson, Vintage Science Fiction Films, 1896-1949 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1985) 93-96:
Hollywood was shocked when Universal announced their allocated budget of over $1 million to produce the 13-episode chapterplay Flash Gordon (1936).

Flash, a blonde Yale graduate and famous polo player, along with friend Dale Arden, are taken to the planet Mongo in a rocket by Dr. Alexis Zarkov (Irish character actor Frank Shannon) as Earth faces total destruction from the approaching globe. There they meet evil Emperor Ming, tyrant of Mongo, who hates Flash and takes a lustful liking to Dale {immediately in both cases-- RDE}, At Ming's side is Princess Aura, hopelessly enamored of our hero.

In the comic strip Dale Arden was a brunette. For the serial, dark-haired Jean Rogers dyed her hair blonde, as Universal reasoned audiences would associate blondes with good and brunettes with evil For the same reason, Princess Aura had darker hair in the serial than in the comic strip.

Actor Larry "Buster" Crabbe also had to lighten his hair for the part, a facet of his role that made him ill-at-ease on the set. Crabbe donned a cap between takes, complaining that men whistled when he removed it.

Despite the big budget {whichever estimate you accept}, the studio went out of its way to save money during production. The windmill...in Frankenstein (1931) ends up on Mongo. The statue of the alien planet's "Great God Tao" {Tao = the Ground of Being in Chinese philosophy--RDE} was previously used as an Egyptian deity in The Mummy. Rocketships...were borrowed from Fox's Just Imagine (1930).... Yards of silent newsreel footage showed massive destruction. A dance sequence--erotically attired women writhing for Ming's amusement--was spliced from The Midnight Sun (1927)....

Further money was saved by shooting almost exclusively on interior soundstages or on back lots. The limited location filming was done in Griffith Park's Bronson Canyon, a bowl-like quarry....

...According to film historians Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut..."Raymond's comic strip was virtually a movie storyboard for whole sequences and the costumes, which Hollywood's Western Costume Company fashioned with the most meticulously accurate detail. One major difference between the strip and the serial was the Mongonians' skincolor. In the strip they were Oriental yellow, but no mention of this pigmentation appears in the film. Later the aliens were presented as Caucasians in the newspapers as well. * * *

[Plot of full serial starts with Mongo] hurtling toward Earth.... Flash and Dale are on an airplane struggling through atmospheric disturbance when [the plane goes] into a tailspin and [the passengers] bail out in the nick of time. Landing by parachute near the lab of Dr. Zarkov (whose name is Hans in the comic strip and Alexis here), they are shown the scientist's missile, which he hope to pilot to Mongo and then prevent the catastrophic collision.... They land [on Mongo], evade the deadly breath of giant iguanas [in Mongonian "garb"], and are captured by...Officer Torch...and two robot soldiers who hold them at bay with scientifically-advanced rifles. They are taken to Ming....Ming is completely bald. His Fu Manchu mustache droops....

His daughter Aura...falls for Flash at first glance--a common malady among screen villainesses--but will kill him if she can't have him for herself.

Mongo is a combination of the futuristic and the primitive. Though their technology is advanced, their Hollywood costumes resemble those of the Roman Empire. Mongonian soldiers, despite their superior arsenal, would prefer to draw swords for battle.

Ming, deciding Dale will be his wife, drugs [her] into subservience. Flash is hurled into the "Arena of Death" for Ming's entertainment.... Flash is saved from doom by Aura.... Dr. Zarkov convinces Ming...to preserve Earth so it can be conquered, setting up the framework for 12 more episodes....

.. Ming's empire is attacked by Mongonian dissidents known as The Lion Men. ... whose gyro ships pepper Ming's palace with fire. After evading Aura's seductive nails and escaping from a giant reptile pit, Flash battles Thun [King of The Lion Men] and subdues him. Realizing their common enemy, they join forces and head to save Dale. First they must battle Ming's army and survive the "tunnel of terror," the residence of a dinosaur monster with lobster claws (Glen Strange). The monster is about to super-pinch Flash when Thun zaps him with his ray gun.

Before the serial was through, Flash was forced to defeat a menagerie of grotesque monsters. When he is captured by The Shark Men . . . he is thrown in[to] a tank with the tentacled Octosac. Flash encounters winged Hawkmen who live in

 Sky City, a floating community supported by light rays. During Ming's "Tournament of Death," flash battles a horned hairy ape, the Sacred Orangapoid.... Again he is saved by lovesick Aura...Etc.

Buster Crabbe

Called King of the Serials, he starred in nine, Crabbe first came to the public's attention for his 1932 Olympic Gold Medal victory in swimming. Wanting to earn money for law school he decided to parlay his Olympic fame into film work. His first official film was a Tarzan inspired movie about a man raised in the jungle by lions, "King of the Jungle", for Paramount. The next year he was loaned out to independent Principal Pictures to play the real thing in the serial "Tarzan the Fearless" (1933). Through twelve chapters Crabbe, as Tarzan, had to save a scientist father and the man's pretty daughter from Arab raiders and an angry tribe out to recover jewels stolen from their sacred idol by a pair of crooked guides. He spent the next few years in supporting roles in films, like W. C. Fields' "Your Telling Me" (1934), when he was offered the lead role in the serial that he would forever be identified with, Universal's "Flash Gordon" (1936). Dying his hair blond Crabbe fought to save both the earth and his true love, Dale Arden, from the machinations of Ming the Merciless. It is considered by many to be the best serial ever made. So successful was it that Crabbe reprised the role in "Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars" (1938). Flash and Friends had to save the earth from both Ming and his ally Martian Queen Azura. They were destroying our planet by stealing nitrogen from the atmosphere.
That same year he also starred in the comic strip adaptation of "Red Barry" (1938) as a cop in Chinatown on the trail of stolen bonds. Then it was back to outer space for "Buck Rogers" (1939) with Crabbe playing a twentieth century pilot put in suspended animation for five hundred years. When thawed out he fights to save Earth from gangster Killer Kane with some help from the planet Saturn.
Crabbe's last serial for Universal was "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe" (1940), in which Ming develops a purple death dust to destroy the Earth. Crabbe spent most of the forties making Billy the Kid westerns for PRC. He also appeared in "Swamp Fire"(1946) with fellow swimming Olympic Gold Medallist Johnny Weismuller.
He returned to serials with Columbia's "The Sea Hound" (1947). It was based on a popular radio show about dashing Captain Silver who battles the villainous Admiral in a search for hidden Spanish treasure. Columbia next cast Crabbe in the similar "Pirates of the High Seas" (1950), his only serial not based on a character from the comics or radio, where he once again searched for buried treasure.
Crabbe's last serial was "King of the Congo" (1952) about a pilot chasing fifth columnist spies who crash lands in the jungle and becomes a lost tribe's champion, Thunda. Crabbe then moved to TV for "Captain Gallant", a show set in the French foreign Legion that featured Crabbe's own son, Cuffy. Crabbe invested in a hotel during the sixties and became it's athletic director.
He continued to act periodically, appearing in "The Comeback Trail" (1971) and making a much publicized appearance in the 1980 TV series "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" starring Gil Gerard. His last film was "The Alien Dead" in 1981.

by: Todd Gault

Biography from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia:

Actor. (b. Feb. 17, 1907, Oakland, Calif., as Clarence Linden Crabbe; d. Apr. 23, 1983.) Right up to the day he died-literally-Buster Crabbe was still getting fan mail from all over the world, most of it commenting on his portrayal of interplanetary adventurer Flash Gordon, the comic-strip crusader he brought to life in three memorable movie serials: Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938), and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). Born in California but raised in Hawaii, Crabbe became a top swimmer and even won a gold medal in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. He initially worked in movies as a stunt double (swimming for Joel McCrea in 1932's The Most Dangerous Game to begin with) and was signed by Paramount the following year. Topbilled in King of the Jungle (1933) as an imitation Tarzan-he played the Ape Man himself later that year, on loan to indie producer Sol Lesser, in the serial Tarzan the Fearless-Crabbe gave a good accounting of himself but was sent to the B-picture units for seasoning. Over the next six years he played in Westerns (1933's To the Last Man 1935's Nevada 1936's Arizona Raiders comedies (1934's You're Telling Me with W. C. Fields), crime dramas (1937's King of Gamblers 1938's Tip-Off Girls and collegiate yarns (1935's Hold 'Em Yale 1936's Rose Bowl 1939's Million Dollar Legs He was loaned to Universal for the first two Flash Gordon serials and two other chapterplays, Red Barry (1938) and Buck Rogers (1939).

The handsome, brawny Crabbe spent most of the 1940s at the PRC studios, churning out dozens of ultra-cheap Westerns (playing an overage Billy the Kid in 1941-43 oaters) and occasional B's, such as Jungle Man (1941) and Queen of Broadway (1942). Leaving PRC in 1946, Crabbe played heavies in various lowbudgeters, including Swamp Fire (1946, opposite fellow Olympic swimming star and former Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller), Last of the Redmen (1947, as Magua in this "Last of the Mohicans" remake), and Caged Fury (1948). At Columbia he starred in three serials: The Sea Hound (1947), Pirates of the High Seas (1950), and King of the Congo (1952).

No stranger to the small screen, Crabbe hosted an early 1950s kiddie show, "Buster's Buddies," and starred in the 1955-57 series "Captain Gallant of the French Foreign Legion," which was filmed in and around Morocco. Back in the States, he made a few more movies-including Badman's Country (1958), Gunfighters of Abilene (1960), and The Bounty Killer (1965)-before getting involved in the swimming-pool business and taking a post as athletic director at a New York summer resort hotel. He was surprisingly effective-and even touching-in a lowbudget improvisational comedy, The Comeback Trail (made 1971, but never officially released), playing a former Western star persuaded to come out of retirement by unscrupulous producers who insure him heavily and then try to kill him during shooting of a new film.

In later years Crabbe made frequent appearances at nostalgia-oriented film festivals. As a lark he took a supporting role in a 1979 episode of the "Buck Rogers" TV series, and appeared in The Alien Dead (made 1981, released 1985), directed by a longtime fan.

Copyright 1994 Leonard Maltin, used by arrangement with Signet, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc.

Birth name
Clarence Linden Crabbe

Date of birth (location)
7 February 1908,
Oakland, California, USA

Date of death 
23 April 1983,
Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. (heart attack)


Filmography from imdb.com

  1. Comeback Trail, The (1982) .... Duke Montana
  2. Alien Dead (1980) .... Sheriff Kowalski
    ... aka Alien Dead, The (1980) (UK: video title)
    ... aka It Fell from the Sky (1980)
    ... aka Swamp of the Blood Leeches (1980)
  3. Swim Team (1979)
  4. Buck Rogers (1977)
    ... aka Planet Outlaws (1999) (USA: video box title)
  5. Deadly Ray from Mars (1966) (TV) .... Flash Gordon
  6. Destination Saturn (1966) (TV)
  7. Peril from the Planet Mongo (1966) (TV) .... Flash Gordon
  8. Purple Death from Outer Space (1966) (TV) .... Flash Gordon
    ... aka Purple Death from Outer Space 1940 (1966) (TV) (promotional title)
  9. Spaceship to the Unknown (1966) (TV) .... Flash Gordon
  10. Bounty Killer, The (1965) .... Mike Clayman
  11. Arizona Raiders (1965) .... Capt. Tom Andrews
  12. Tarzan the Fearless (1964) (TV) .... Tarzan
  13. Gunfighters of Abilene (1960) .... Kip
  14. Badman's Country (1958) .... Wyatt Earp
  15. Lawless Eighties, The (1957) .... Link Prescott
  16. Gun Brothers (1956) .... Chad Santee
  17. "Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion" (1955) TV Series .... Capt. Michael Gallant (1955-57)
    ... aka "Foreign Legionnaire" (1955)
  18. Planet Outlaws (1953) .... Col. Buck Rogers
  19. King of the Congo (1952) .... Thunda/Roger Drum
    ... aka Mighty Thunda, The (1952)
    ... aka Thunda (1952)
  20. Captive Girl (1950) .... Barton
    ... aka Jungle Jim and the Captive Girl (1950)
  21. Pirates of the High Seas (1950) .... Jeff Drake
  22. Caged Fury (1948) .... Smiley
  23. Code of the Plains (1947)
  24. Raiders of Red Rock (1947)
  25. Sea Hound, The (1947) .... Captain Silver
  26. Last of the Redmen (1947) .... Magua
    ... aka Last of the Redskins (1947) (UK)
  27. Outlaw of the Plains (1946) .... Billy Carson
  28. Swamp Fire (1946) .... Mike Kalavich
  29. Overland Riders (1946) .... Billy Carson
  30. Prairie Badmen (1946) .... Billy Carson
  31. Ghost of Hidden Valley (1946) .... Billy Carson
  32. Terrors on Horseback (1946) .... Billy Carson
  33. Gentlemen with Guns (1946) .... Billy Carson
  34. Shadows of Death (1945) .... Billy Carson
  35. Fighting Bill Carson (1945) .... Billy Carson
  36. Border Badmen (1945) .... Billy Carson
  37. Rustler's Hideout (1945) .... Billy Carson
  38. Stagecoach Outlaws (1945) .... Billy Carson
  39. Gangster's Den, The (1945) .... Billy Carson
  40. His Brother's Ghost (1945) .... Billy Carson
  41. Lightning Raiders (1945) .... Billy Carson
  42. Prairie Rustlers (1945) .... Billy Carson/Jim, his outlaw cousin
  43. Drifter, The (1944) .... Billy Carson/Drifter Davis
  44. Oath of Vengeance (1944) .... Billy Carson
  45. Thundering Gun Slingers (1944) .... Billy Carson
  46. Wild Horse Phantom (1944) .... Billy Carson
  47. Fuzzy Settles Down (1944) .... Billy Carson
  48. Contender, The (1944) .... Gary Farrell
  49. Valley of Vengeance (1944) .... Billy Carson
  50. Frontier Outlaws (1944) .... Billy Carson
  51. Nabonga (1944) .... Ray Gorman
    ... aka Girl and the Gorilla, The (1944)
    ... aka Gorilla (1944)
    ... aka Jungle Woman, The (1944/II) (UK)
  52. Western Cyclone (1943) .... William 'Billy the Kid' Bonney
    ... aka Frontier Fighters (1943) (USA)
  53. Devil Riders (1943) .... Billy Carson
  54. Blazing Frontier (1943) .... Billy The Kid
    ... aka Billy the Kid in Blazing Frontier (1943)
  55. Renegade, The (1943) .... Billy the Kid
  56. Cattle Stampede (1943) .... Billy the Kid
    ... aka Billy the Kid in Cattle Stampede (1943)
  57. Fugitive of the Plains (1943) .... Billy the Kid
    ... aka Billy the Kid in Fugitive of the Plains (1943)
  58. Kid Rides Again, The (1943) .... William 'Billy the Kid' Bonney
  59. Law and Order (1942) .... Billy the Kid
    ... aka Billy the Kid's Law and Order (1942)
    ... aka Double Alibi (1942) (UK)
  60. Mysterious Rider, The (1942) .... Billy the Kid
    ... aka Panhandle Trail (1948) (USA: reissue title)
  61. Sheriff of Sage Valley (1942) .... Billy the Kid/Kansas Ed
  62. Wildcat (1942) .... Mike Rawlins
  63. Queen of Broadway (1942)
  64. Jungle Siren (1942) .... Captain Gary Hart
  65. Billy the Kid's Smoking Guns (1942) .... Billy the Kid
    ... aka Smoking Guns (1942) (UK)
  66. Billy the Kid Trapped (1942) .... Billy "The Kid" Bonney
  67. Billy the Kid's Roundup (1941) .... Billy the Kid
  68. Jungle Man (1941) .... Dr. Robert "Junga" Hammond
  69. Billy the Kid Wanted (1941) .... Billy the Kid
  70. Buck Rogers (1940) .... Buck Rogers
    ... aka Buck Rogers Conquers the Universe (1940) (USA: video title)
    ... aka Buck Rogers: Destination Saturn (1940) (USA: recut version)
    ... aka Planet of Outlaws (1940) (USA: cut version)
  71. Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940) .... Flash Gordon
    ... aka Perils from the Planet Mongo (1940) (USA: recut version)
    ... aka Purple Death from Outer Space (1940) (USA: recut version)
    ... aka Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe (1955) (USA: TV title)
  72. Sky Patrol (1940) .... Buck Rogers
  73. Sailor's Lady (1940) .... Rodney
  74. Colorado Sunset (1939) .... Haines
  75. Million Dollar Legs (1939) .... Coach Baxter
  76. Unmarried (1939) .... Buzz Kenton
    ... aka Night Club Hostess (1939)
  77. Call a Messenger (1939) .... 'Chuck' Walsh
  78. Hunted Men (1938) .... James Flowers
    ... aka Crime Gives Orders (1938)
  79. Illegal Traffic (1938) .... Steve
  80. Red Barry (1938) .... Red Barry
  81. Mars Attacks the World (1938) .... Flash Gordon
  82. Tip-Off Girls (1938) .... John A. "Red" Deegan
  83. Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938) .... Flash Gordon
    ... aka Deadly Ray From Mars (1938) (USA: recut version)
    ... aka Flash Gordon: Mars Attacks the World (1938) (USA: video title)
    ... aka Space Soldiers' Trip to Mars (1938)
  84. Daughter of Shanghai (1937) .... Andrew Sleete
    ... aka Daughter of the Orient (1937) (UK)
  85. King of Gamblers (1937) .... Eddie
    ... aka Czar of the Slot Machines (1937)
  86. Sophie Lang Goes West (1937) .... Steve Clayson
  87. Thrill of a Lifetime (1937) .... Don
  88. Forlorn River (1937) .... Nevada
    ... aka River of Destiny (1937) (USA: TV title)
  89. Murder Goes to College (1937) .... Strike Belno
  90. Flash Gordon (1936/I) .... Flash Gordon
    ... aka Flash Gordon: Rocketship (1936) (USA: recut version)
    ... aka Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (1936) (USA: video title)
    ... aka Space Soldiers (1936) (USA: TV title)
    ... aka Spaceship to the Unknown (1936) (USA: recut version)
  91. Flash Gordon (1936/II) .... Flash Gordon
    ... aka Atomic Rocketship (1936)
    ... aka Rocketship (1936)
  92. Rose Bowl (1936) .... Ossie Merrill
    ... aka O'Riley's Luck (1936) (UK)
  93. Arizona Mahoney (1936) .... Kirby Talbot
    ... aka Arizona Thunderbolt (1936)
    ... aka Bad Men of Arizona (1936)
  94. Lady Be Careful (1936) .... Jake
  95. Arizona Raiders, The (1936) .... Laramie Nelson
    ... aka Bad Men of Arizona (1951) (USA: reissue title)
  96. Desert Gold (1936) .... Moya
  97. Drift Fence (1936) (as Larry (Buster) Crabbe) .... Slinger Dunn
    ... aka Texas Desperadoes (1936)
  98. Hold 'Em Yale (1935) .... Hector Wilmot
    ... aka Uniform Lovers (1935) (UK)
  99. Nevada (1935) .... Nevada
  100. Wanderer of the Wasteland (1935) .... Big Ben
  101. Badge of Honor (1934) .... Bob Gordon
  102. Search for Beauty (1934) .... Don Jackson
  103. You're Telling Me! (1934) (as Larry 'Buster' Crabbe) .... Bob Murchison
  104. She Had To Choose (1934) .... Bill
  105. We're Rich Again (1934) (as Larry 'Buster' Crabbe) .... Erp
  106. Island of Lost Souls (1933) (uncredited) .... Beast
    ... aka Island of Dr. Moreau, The (1933) (USA)
  107. King of the Jungle (1933) .... Kaspa the Lion Man
  108. Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (1933) .... Bob North
    ... aka Girl of My Dreams (1933) (UK)
  109. To the Last Man (1933) .... Bill Hayden
  110. Man of the Forest (1933) .... Yegg, a henchman
    ... aka Challenge of the Frontier (1933) (USA: reissue title)
  111. Tarzan the Fearless (1933) .... Tarzan
  112. Thundering Herd, The (1933) .... Bill Hatch
    ... aka Buffalo Stampede (1934) (USA: reissue title)
    ... aka In the Days of the Thundering Herd (1933)
  113. Hollywood on Parade (1932)
  114. Movie Town (1931) (uncredited)
  115. Maker of Men (1931) (uncredited) .... Football Player
    ... aka Yellow (1931)
  116. Good News (1930) (uncredited)

TV guest appearances

  1. "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" (1979) playing "Brigadier Gordon" in episode: "Planet of the Slave Girls" (episode # 1.3) 9/27/1979
  2. "Star Tonight" (1955) in episode: "Night, Be Quiet" (episode # 2.10) 11/3/1955
  3. "Star Tonight" (1955) in episode: "Murderer, The" (episode # 1.7) 3/17/1955
  4. "Philco Television Playhouse, The" (1948) in episode: "Cowboy for Chris, A" (episode # 4.16) 5/18/1952


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