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Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938)

7.4
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When a deadly ray strikes Earth, Flash and his friends return to space to battle Ming the Merciless and his ally the queen of Mars.

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, (as Robert Hill) , 1 more credit »

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(original story and screenplay), (original story and screenplay), 7 more credits »
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Title: Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Jean Rogers ...
...
Frank Shannon ...
Beatrice Roberts ...
Donald Kerr ...
Richard Alexander ...
C. Montague Shaw ...
Clay King (as Montague Shaw)
Wheeler Oakman ...
Kenne Duncan ...
Airdrome Captain (as Kenneth Duncan)
Warner Richmond ...
Zandar
Jack Mulhall ...
Bomber Captain [Chs. 4-5, 13]
Lane Chandler ...
Flight Commander [Chs. 2-3]
...
Ben Lewis ...
Professor [Ch. 1]
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Storyline

Flash, Dale, and Dr. Zarkov return from their former space adventures only to find that their enemy, Ming the Merciless of planet Mongo, has a new weapon: a deadly ray that crosses space to wreak havoc on earth. Earth's only hope is for our heroes to take off again and stop the ray at its source on Mars, where they (and a stowaway) must battle Ming's ally, Queen Azura, who turns her enemies into lumpish clay people. Can they survive 15 chapters of deadly perils? Find out next week... Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Your Favorite Newspaper Adventures Here On The Screen Again! See more »


Certificate:

Approved
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

21 March 1938 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Space Soldiers' Trip to Mars  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The serial debuted in March of 1938, just seven months before the infamous Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" Halloween broadcast. To cash in on the controversy caused by the radio show, the studio edited the serial into a feature film, Mars Attacks the World (1938), and released it to theaters in November of that year. See more »

Goofs

In a couple of scenes we hear Dale scream, but we don't see her mouth open. See more »

Quotes

Emperor Ming: Take him to the Disintegrating Room.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) See more »

Soundtracks

Romeo and Juliet Overture
(uncredited)
(Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky)
Heard in episodes 1 to 3 to introduce various characters
See more »

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User Reviews

Flash, Mars, and the Zeitgeist
1 December 2009 | by (Portland, OR, United States) – See all my reviews

From certain standpoints, this serial is superior to the 1st Flash Gordon chapter-play. The available prints are and photography are generally of better quality, some of the special effects are superior, there are certain exotic space novelties, like the Clay People's subway to the queen's palace and the light bridge, and there are some interesting and creepy visuals in the Forest Kingdom. Also, Flash and Dr. Zarkhov get to wear long pants. Dale Arden and Prince Barrin are played by the same fine actors as in the 1st serial. And one of the best highlights is the surprisingly effective special effect of showing the Clay People kind of 'ooze' out of the cave walls.

From other standpoints, however, this one is not quite as good as the 1st. This is one of the longer movie serials, and it could probably have been shortened by about 3 chapters, if some of the back-and-forth removed. Also, there are not as many fight scenes as in the 1st serial, and no sword fights. And apparently, the Hays Office must have finally gotten a look at Dale and Princess Aura's outfits from the 1st serial, because, to my dismay, Dale is fully dressed throughout every chapter. There are no bare midriffs and she appears have worn a bra in every scene. Just as sad, there is no Princess Aura, who was a wonderful character and helped amp up the sex in the 1st Flash serial.

Nonetheless, if you are one of those quirky or nostalgic types who enjoy movie serials, you will enjoy this. There certainly was no greater movie serial hero than Flash Gordon as played by Buster Crabbe, and there certainly was no greater villain than Charles Middleton's portrayal of Ming the Merciless. Besides top-notch heroism and villainy, this serial features plenty of fantasy and space opera, and something is always happening.

This serial premiered at the height of a zeitgeist peculiar to the 1930's. The concept of the super-hero had risen to the foreground of pop culture. Although the term super-hero had been coined around 1918, probably in reference to Tarzen of the Apes, the 1930's saw an explosion of super-heroes in pulp magazines, radio shows, newspaper funnies, film and serials, and finally comic magazines. The Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, the Shadow, Flash Gordon, Doc Savage, and of course Superman, all premiered in the 1930's and all were huge commodities at the time.

The opening chapter of this serial features a newspaper headline shot referring to Flash, Zarkhov and Dale as 'Super-Men of the Century.' The term 'superman' could still be used without fear of a lawsuit by DC comics; this serial was released in March 1938, about a month before the 1st issue of Action Comics, featuring the copyrighted Superman, hit the newsstands.

Also noteworthy: the Martians and our heroes sometimes utilize Martian 'flying capes,' which look a lot like a bat's wings. The comic book character Batman premiered a year after this serial, in 1939, looking very much like our hero wearing a flying cape and helmet. (Superman himself would not actually 'fly' until about 1942 or so; in 1938 he could only take prodigious leaps.) In this serial, Flash (along with many other characters), wears a shirt with a stylized lightning bolt across the chest. This lightning bolt looked very much like the symbol adorning the chest of the comic book character Captain Marvel, whose magazines outsold those of Superman, and who would premiere in 1940. A lesser character named 'The Flash' also premiered in 1940, and he also wore a shirt with a lightning bolt insignia (this 'Flash' character would not reach his real fame until the late 1950's, however).

A few months after this serial premiered, on Halloween 1938, Orson Welles broadcast his legendary 'War of the Worlds' radio play, which panicked half the country with a realistic tale of a Martian invasion. The infamy of this play helped draw audiences to see a re-released version of this serial, albeit cut and edited into a feature length movie, that was shown in late 1938.

The fact that this serial takes place on Mars is an anomaly: the original Alex Raymond Flash Gordon story upon which it is based took place entirely on the fictional planet Mongo, which is also the setting for the other 2 Flash serials. Indeed, as of 1938, the comic strip Flash had never been to Mars. Nothing survives to inform the modern film historian as to the reason for changing the setting to Mars.

However, it is known that virtuoso animators the Fleischer Bros. were, prior to this serial, working on a full color animated version of Edgar Rice Burroughs enormously popular space opera "John Carter of Mars." Some test footage for this project survives, and if the film had been completed, the final product would have indeed been immensely spectacular. I speculate that it is possible that Universal changed the setting of the Flash Gordon story to Mars so as to place themselves in advance into a position that might favor them should they start copyright infringement litigation against the Fleischers. Indeed, in the absence of good information, this potential threat might even be the reason the Fleischers abandoned the John Carter project.

Regardless of my speculation, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars remains a fun, interesting, well-crafted in its own way, and a fine trip into the popular consciousness of the late 1930's.


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