Buster Crabbe was a big, good-looking guy who could act. The Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s used several big guys (most of whom really weren't actors) to bring to life the characters of a serialized cartoon. This TV movie condenses the first series. If you have a choice, watch the serial as it was originally made, and avoid this. the serial was hectic enough, but compressed into this format, the entire drama is rushed - like a string of fight scenes with some vaguely important dialog in between.
Flash starts out as a young man on a plane who is preoccupied about the planet which is about to slam into the earth, destroying everything, and the very pretty girl sitting next to him (Jean Rogers). The passengers bail out and the plane crashes. Flash saves the girl and lands near a rocket ship designed to solve the interplanetary problem by a seemingly deranged but very brilliant scientist (Frank Shannon). And the adventures have just begun.
We meet Ming the Merciless - self-proclaimed Emperor of the Universe; an enormous jovial winged king with the attention span of a chickadee; an honorable and huge prince clad in Roman armor with a sword and a fleet of rocket ships; a conniving princess who wants to possess Flash, a despicable high priest, and a tribe of enslaved space hippies who Flash will eventually inspire to great deeds.
Some of the dialog is predictably corny, but overall, the main story arc is cleverly plotted. The special effects are good for their time, and the costumes are terrific. Most of the acting is surprisingly good, but there are a few glaringly bad exceptions. These little problems don't really reduce the entertainment value of the film.
There are no great philosophical points you can take home from this film, but they do exactly what they were intended to do quite well - they entertain and stimulate the imagination. Good enough for me!
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