Thursday, February 25, 2021

Retro Space Opera Watch: Flash Gordon (1936) - listed as "Rocketship" on Amazon

Watched:  02/14/2021
Format:  Amazon Prime
Viewing:  First all the way through
Decade:  1930's
Directors:  Frederick StephaniRay Taylor 

So, this was a truncated film that cut together the story from the famed Flash Gordon serial from 1936 into a single film.  For whatever reason, it was called Rocketship on Amazon Prime.  

And, frankly, I really can't recommend it enough.  

The Flash Gordon strip by Alex Raymond in newspapers starting in 1934 was part of the wave of incredibly beautifully illustrated that featured bold, illustrative styling, dynamic storytelling, exotic locations and adventure, and basically set the table for sci-fi and fantasy as popular culture.  And, of course, was what everyone wanted to be doing instead of comic books when Superman showed up in a magazine in 1938.  

Up until about 1999, one of the things comics (strip and book) had over live-action movies was the ability to tell a story with no budgetary or technical constraints.  CGI has changed all of that, of course, and these days, well, we get Avengers: Endgame.  

But in 1936, only about 40 years into the movie-making business and less than ten years into sound, 2 years after the debut of the strip and 2 before Superman would show up on newsstands, Flash Gordon made it to the big screen in a serial that seems to have had the budget of a community theatre production, and leans on Raymond's designs (which already borrow from familiar wardrobes) as an excuse to throw viking armor on Hawkmen (with added gigantic wings and winged helmets on Falstaffian actors), roman centurion armor on Prince Barron and drape all the women in harem girl outfits.  

My working theory on Vulten is that - note the metal boobs - this is supposed to be the armor for Brunnhilde in some version of Die Walkure.  

it makes as much sense as anything else

The men, curiously, are never in *pants*.  Everyone's in tiny trunks and microskirts with long sleeve shirts and boots, and I can't help but think that someone misunderstood the trunks + leggings memo and decided "eh, they can all go barelegged.  It's cheaper."  

Vulten looks skeptical, and maybe like he'd like a hoagie

While you can certainly draw a direct line from movie-inspired wardrobe to influencing comics characters (Captain America and Martian Manhunter wear pirate boots for some reason), the clashing outfits and half-assed attempts to make the Moons of Mongo appear on film - especially when pulled altogether into one scene, look bananas.  

And, of course, next to Crabbe and his notable physique, we get the grim reminder that maybe working out was a lot more selective of an activity in 1936.  

Maybe the craziest bit in the whole movie, though is NOT when they somehow got two iguanas to fight for the camera (I suspect they were thrown at one another) - it's when two of the actors wander into frame with a REAL tiger on a leash - and this tiger does NOT want to be there.  This is why actors have unions, people.

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