FLASH GORGON Trilogy Update

Quick update on the FLASH GORDON Trilogy:

Just finished all three of the Flash Gordon serials. While I praised the first one FLASH GORDON (from 1936, renamed FLASH GORDON SPACE SOLDIERS), and was kind of luke-warm on the sequels (1938, 1940), I have to say re-watching the last two, they are rocky (dressed as Robin Hood’s Merry men in a Space Opera?? Really?), but you get past the shaky openings and they really get pretty darn good. Well the third one gets pretty darn good, the comedy bits of the 2nd one, FLASH GORDON CONQUERS MARS still do not work for me, and it is the weakest of the trilogy, lacking the sexiness or action/intensity of either the first one or the third one, FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE.

But that last one, FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE, really builds to a kick-ass finale, every bit as good as the first film and a fitting end to the trilogy. A highly recommended box-set!

Flash Gordon: Box Set (Space Soldiers/Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars/Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe) (3DVD)

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2013: DAY 48 – FIVE BEST CLASSIC MOVIE SERIALS!

2013: DAY 48 – FIVE BEST CLASSIC MOVIE SERIALS!

Well one of my passions in these first 50 days of the new year, has been classic movie serials. The inspiration for filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, to name a prominent two, movie serials were the pre-television answer to moving pictures’ sequential entertainment. Inspiration for films such as STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES.

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Unlike a standard big budget film,that offered a big complete story, the serials were about giving viewers bite-sized and tasty morsels of thrills and adrenalin inducing entertainment to keep viewers coming to the local movie-house on a weekly basis. And the hallmark of the serial’s formula of thrills was the cliffhanger. A formula that has only relatively recently been put to good effect on television in shows such as 24 and BREAKING BAD.

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But to see this formula at its best you have to experience it via the best of classic movie serials. Unfortunately given the formulaic nature of serials, and the challenges of strict deadlines, and limited budgets, movie serials could often fall into the rut of inane writing, insipid direction and repetitive and sloppy cliffhangers.

The majority of serials I have so far tried, fall victim to the foibles outlined above. However five that do not, that stand out as GREAT serials of the 20th century, that I find incredibly entertaining being introduced to them here in the 21st, are….

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ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL -Wow. Just wow. This is not your father’s Superman. This dude has no compunction about killing bad guys. And it is just a plain entertaining thrill ride.

SPY-SMASHER- Add World War II, A masked crimefighter against the Axis, and add some of the best fight scenes and most energetic cliffhangers and you have this serial. The best of the best.

MYSTERIOUS DOCTOR SATAN- How cool is this villain? So cool that he gets top billing in this serial over the costumed hero?!! A great serial.

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THE CALL OF THE SAVAGE- Tarzan eat your heart out! Some jaw dropping animal stock footage highlights a fun serial that imagines a different kind of jungle boy. Fun and entertaining with great cliffhangers!

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FLASH GORDON:SPACE SOLDIERS- The original 1936 serial (originally just called FLASH GORDON, followed by two sequels the 1938 MISSION TO MARS, and the 1940 FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE) has everything that later versions aspired to but never quite achieved. It is imaginative, fun, audacious, manic, sexy, thrilling and generally balls to the wall good.

Despite the limitations of the day as it relates to special effects, men in suits, lizards with bits added to stand in as dinosaurs, wobbly ships on strings, this serial has something that transcends all these glaring flaws, it is just popcorn chewingly fun! With Flash and his compatriots racing from one hair-raising, adrenaline inducing adventure after another. A combination of insanely imaginative and compelling writing, married to breakneck direction, and whole-heartedly embraced performances adds up to a whole that transcends the admittedly suspect sum of its parts.

And did I mention sexy? Flash at any given time has at least three gorgeous and scantily clad females vying for his attention. The most gorgeous of who appears but briefly in the abode of the Shark Men. Latin and clad in white, you’ll know her when you see her.

And getting back to the jab about men in suits. This serial has one of the scariest men in a monkey suit ever put to film! (and I’ve seen my share!:)) It really is awesomely impressive, and a hugely thrilling and memorable cliffhanger. If there was an academy award given for monkey acting, this guy should have got it. :).

All in all, I have to say one of the best things I’ve seen in this two thousand and thirteenth year of our lord, is this throwaway weekly serial from 73 years ago!! I highly recommend it!

So there you go. In no particular order five of the greatest movie serials ever!

These 12 to 15 part serials are some of the best examples of a medium, of a type of cinematic entertainment that the ascension of the age of television in the 50s brought to an end. However, much like Old Time Radio of the same period,the late 30s to the early 50s, these shows may be past, but thanks to the digital age they are not forgotten and more… are readily available (if you know where to look) so the lucky newcomer is able to sample these treasures of a bygone age at their leisure.

Sample yours today… here:

Flash Gordon: Box Set (Space Soldiers/Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars/Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe) (3DVD)

Adventures of Captain Marvel

2013: Day 1 – Reflections on SPY SMASHER serial

Random discoveries, oddities, recommendations:

I spent a portion of the first day of 2013, getting acquainted with a serial from 70+ years earlier. namely 1942s 12 part serial SPY SMASHER.

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Don’t let the cheesy poster art dissuade you. Generally regarded as one of the best of that since mothballed type of film, SPY SMASHER is filled with great action, superb stunts and fight scenes, wild and imaginative plots, and Sci-fi tinged weaponry, gadgets and of course… cliffhangers.

Indeed its first cliffhanger is regarded as one of the best, complete with a solution that does not disappoint. Though later cliffhangers did suffer from the bait and switch effect. That aside, a genuinely exciting and despite a plot that goes all over the map (from gold theft, to ships being mined, to pre-helicopter batplanes, and pre-EMP death rays, to name a few) enthralling and smart serial with a crackerjack ending!

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Unfortunately this historic serial is not available on any studio pressed DVD. Only a VHS was released, and that currently goes for relatively high prices. But thankfully you can get an excellent print of this serial pressed to DVD on the collector market. People who for the love preserve and share these joys from yesteryear.

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However be aware not every collector mom and pop shop is the same, nor is the quality of the DVDs they produce. Finding a good one can be a bit of trial and error. Thankfully for you when it comes to the SPY SMASHER serial I found a great one.

If you’re a subscriber to this blog, hit me up with a request for details in the comments section (they come right to me, and won’t be posted) and I’ll get that info to you. And you too can be enjoying a great DVD copy of SPY SMASHER complete with DVD art, Box Art, and chapter stops.

Okay that’s my first quirky item mention of 2013! 🙂

ADVENTURES BY MORSE (OTR) Old Time Radio Serial

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I’ve been listening to ADVENTURES BY MORSE today.

It is an oft cited series from the golden age of radio, that took me a while to finally sample. But I have to say, it earns its praise.

ADVENTURES BY MORSE, was the brain child of writer/director/producer Carlton E. Morse and a followup to his earlier and much lauded I LOVE A MYSTERY serial. ADVENTURES BY MORSE being a fun, exciting, thrill a minute serial, that regales the listener with the adventures of Capt. Bart Friday, a private investigator who travels the globe, unraveling the world’s greatest mysteries.

The series has been defined as a high adventure serial, and you would be hard pressed to disagree with that. This was written between 1944 and 1945, and is not just more exciting and worldly and informative and erudite, than most anything produced today (movies, tv, etc) it’s also far less formulaic. It has all the trappings of the formulaic, but Carlton E. Morse’s writing and situations and share inventiveness, sets these shows apart.

And thankfully all 52 episodes (as well as 2 audition episodes) are still around to wow, and impress, and entertain… a new generation.

You can pick these up a couple of places online, but be aware some of the episodes on Archive.Org are missing parts of the cliffhanger endings. Most notably in THE COBRA KING STRIKES storyline.

Thankfully Radio Lovers.com has complete episodes. Now onto reviews of the first 3 storylines:

THE CITY OF THE DEAD- The first 10 part serial is THE CITY OF THE DEAD, and introduces us to a great cast of characters, and a deep intriguing mystery, of a bell that rings where no bell is, a shrieking thing, a weeping man, and bodies that don’t stay buried. The show is too convoluted for its own good, you need a scorecard to make sense of the wrap up episode, but the awkwardness of the conclusion and some logic issues aside, the build up is fantastic. I couldn’t stop listening. An addictive, fun, and at times spooky serial. Great serial, well performed. Introduces Elliott Lewis as Captain Bart Friday. B+/A-.

A COFFIN FOR THE LADY- Is a little more conventional mystery, as compared to the fantastic and ghoulish elements of THE CITY OF DEAD, but the 3 part A COFFIN FOR THE LADY is gripping, and entertaining in its own right. It’s the little things that Morse does so right, the weight he gives to people’s injuries, or the ‘you are there’ richness of his storytelling. I’ve seen and listened to so many shows about people getting tied up, but none has expressed it as the near crippling experience that Morse does in these few episodes.

A lot of times in entertainment, there is no weight to the perils. Someone is stabbed in one episode, and is climbing mountains in the next, not so with Morse, he’s ever aware, ever making you aware, of the strains of flesh, and the demands of nature, which gives his plots a gravity, and his characters a reality, they would otherwise lack. A great little serial. B+.

THE COBRA KING STRIKES- Returns to the ten episode format, and it’s a doozy. A new actor plays Captain Friday, David Ellis, but he does it effectively. Took me a couple episodes to get into his leaner, less gruff interpretation of Capt Friday, but his take quickly becomes perfect for this camaraderie rich storyline. And the sizable cast is fully realized and fleshed out, in this tale of a Cambodian odyssey to uncover the remnants of a once and perhaps future Asian empire. Captain Friday is onboard to put down any such uprising. While the Captain is the agent of suppression, there’s enough differing perspectives here to make the episode surprisingly rich, and surprisingly elaborate. This is the one that archive.org has butchered copies of, but it’s worth getting the full episode, as this one is every bit as engaging as THE CITY OF DEAD, and does it one better by having a great final episode. A recommended listen. A-.

Well that’s our review for this installment. Head over to RadioLovers and Archive to check these shows out for yourself. And tell them HT sent you! 🙂