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FLASH GORDON(director: Michael Hodges; screenwriters: Lorenzo Semple Jr./Michael Allin/based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; cinematographer: Gilbert Taylor; editor: Malcom Cooke; music: Queen; cast: Sam J Jones (Flash Gordon), Melody Anderson (Dale Arden), Chaim Topol (Doctor Hans Zarkov), Max von Sydow (The Emperor Ming), Ornella Muti (Princess Aura), Timothy Dalton (Prince Barin), Brian Blessed (Prince Vultan), Peter Wyngarde (Klytus), Mariangela Melato (Kala ), John Osborne (Arborian Priest), William Hootkins (Munson); Runtime: 115; Universal; producer: Dino De Laurentiis; 1980-UK)
“An irrelevant campy sci-fier.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An irrelevant campy sci-fier from the producer Dino De Laurentiis. But, at least, as directed by Michael Hodges (“Get Carter”-1971) it’s lively. Its liability is that its stars, Melody Anderson as Dale Arden and Sam J Jones as Flash Gordon, can’t act. But there’s some fun to be had in this bad flick through its bouncy musical score by Queen, its glossy sets arranged by Danilio Donati, its unintentional comedy through its trite dialogue, its exotic costumes, and most of all by Muti’s sexy evil portrait of Princess Aura.

Flash Gordon is set in the gaudy Art Deco world of the planet Mongo, where the color red decorates the palace walls as if it was a bordello. The evil guards proudly flash their crystal swords as if they were as valuable as diamonds from Tiffanys, while the evil Emperor Ming (Max von Sydow) has at his disposal gadgets that kill in unique ways and allow him to read minds and attack the Earth with all kinds of weather disturbances.

The film opens as Flash and Dale meet on a plane in Dark Harbor, where the Blond Bomber is going back to quarterback the NY Jets after his vacation and she’s a NYC travel agent afraid of flying who is going back to work after getting her head together from a relationship breakup. The plane experiences an unprecedented solar eclipse disturbance, actually caused by Ming playing with the Earth. The turbulence causes the novice pilot Flash to crash-land the plane in the lab area of Doctor Zarkov (Topol). He’s a mad scientist dismissed by NASA, who believes the Earth will be attacked by outer space. When his assistant Munson informs him of the unusual turbulence on Earth, Zarkov says this proves he was right and they must both get into his home-made rocket and save the Earth from the space attackers (it is interesting to note that their plan of action is never presented). Zarkov says the rocket needs another person along so that there is someone to put their foot to the pedal. Munson refuses to go, and flees undetected. Luckily the scientist has Flash and Dale nearby, who have by now become lovebirds. He tricks them into stepping into his rickety rocket to make a phone call and then pulls a gun on them. He starts the rocket and they’re soon in Mongo.

They are immediately captured by Ming’s guards and taken to his palace. They realize that Ming is a psychopath who has conquered outer space by getting his subjects to war against each other. They have 12 hours to save Earth from his attack.

Flash gets into a football game with his more than eleven captors, using a large metal egg as a football. He is soon tackled, but not before he gets Ming’s daughter all hot. Even though she’s dating Prince Barin (Dalton), a subject of Ming’s from another planet and the enemy of Prince Vulcan (Blessed), she’s horny enough to want the lunkhead Flash in her boudoir and feels confident she can afterwards soothe Prince Barin’s hurt feelings. But Ming orders Flash executed. This causes Aura to get one of her dad’s doctor scientists to resurrect him with an injection after the execution, and then she escapes the planet with Flash in her rocketship. Meanwhile Dale is held captive in Ming’s bedroom, as he decides to force her to marry him; meanwhile Zarkov is brainwashed and his mind is emptied (sort of like what could happen if you are on a steady diet of watching films like this one).

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

Flash becomes the hero of the hour, as he travels through the outer kingdoms of Mongo to unite the people of the Tree Kingdom and their enemies the Hawkmen to stop Ming. Prince Vulcan and Barin unite, and the trio stops the forced marriage and Ming’s diabolical plans against the Earth just in the nick of time. Ming, supposedly, dies as a spaceship stabs him right through his heart.

If you have an nostalgia for those Saturday matinee Flash Gordon serial chapters starring Buster Crabbe you watched as a kid, which were just as unsophisticated as this film, then you might feel up to seeing this version. The film is adapted from a comic strip by Alex Raymond and was scripted by Lorenzo Semple Jr..


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”