Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is a 1940 twelve episode serial film about Flash Gordon. It was the last of three Flash Gordon serials made from 1936 to 1940. The serial was produced and copyrighted by Universal Pictures.
During the 1950s, the three serials were shown on television. To avoid confusion with a made-for-TV Flash Gordon series airing around the same time, they were retitled, becoming respectively Space Soldiers, Space Soldiers' Trip to Mars, and Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe. King Features Syndicate had acquired the rights for showing and eliminated the original Universal Pictures titles. In the mid-1970s, all three serials were shown by PBS stations across the US, bringing Flash Gordon to a new generation, a full two years before Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind re-ignited interest in the science fiction genre. The re-edited television version, with the title card reading Flash Gordon - Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe, was used for some video and DVD releases of the serial.
Plot summary Edit
The film starts on Earth. A deadly plague has been ravaging the planet, known as the Purple Death because it leaves a purple spot on the forehead of its victims. Ming the Merciless is suspected to be behind the plague, and Flash Gordon is sent with Dr. Zarkov and Dale Arden to the planet Mongo to find the cause of the plague, as well as a cure. Caused by Ming's spaceships dropping "Death Dust" into the Earth's atmosphere, they eventually find an antidote for it and Flash and Zarkov distribute it by the same method soon after the start of the series, while Dale Arden remains in the forest kingdom.
Soon reunited with her, the trio continue to battle Ming, his cohorts, and his underlings. Ming's Captain Torch is the "spearpoint villain" of this serial, a type of character which the previous two did not have. He takes tactical command of the efforts to stop them.
Before they leave, they destroy Ming by locking him in a tower and crashing a rocket ship into it. Prince Barin takes his rightful place as ruler of Mongo. In his rage, Ming said, similar to King Louis XIV of France, "I am the universe!" for nearly his last words. And so, with a simple metaphor, Flash Gordon is said by Zarkov at the end of the series to have conquered the universe.
Production Information Edit
Plot points taken from the immediately preceding serial, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars include the Rock People as derived from the Clay People of the former, and the bringing-back-to-life of people assumed by Captain Torch to have died.
The chamber of the death dust experiments was previously used in the Buck Rogers serial. One money-saving gimmick used by Universal Studios was to take some exciting mountain climbing catastrophe, search, and rescue scenes from the obscure German film White Hell of Pitz Palu, and its music as well.
This serial contains greater story depth than the others, though the plot is quite episodic: Flash goes from battling in ice, to fire, to rock. It is readily seen as derived from the events of its age. Ming is a trope for the fascist dictators of the age. He has spies, secret police, military-technical laboratories, and kidnappers, and his agents fight a resistance movement. His rule of the few disparate regions of Mongo shown here is presented as just like the countries that Hitler captured. It is all exemplified when Ming dresses up just like an Earth dictator, except with a few more feathers in his cap, in the last episode.
Donald Curtis, playing Ronal, Flash's right-hand-man throughout the serial, inexplicably is omitted altogether from the screen cast despite the primary nature of his character. At the same time, co-star billing is given to Anne Gwynne, Universal ingenue whose role does not actually develop until the middle of the serial, but is retroactively enhanced through periodic, clumsy intercut shots from these later episodes into the first episodes, as well as her replacing, in the finale, Victor Zimmerman's henchman character, Thong, as Captain Torch's chief aide.
Cast list Edit
- Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon
- Carol Hughes as Dale Arden
- Frank Shannon as Dr. Zarkov
- Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless
- Roland Drew as Prince Barin
- Shirley Deane as Princess Aura
- Donald Curtis as Captain Ronal
- Lee Powell as Roka
- Ron Rowan as Officer Torch
- Victor Zimmerman as Officer Thong
- Anne Gwynne as Lady Sonja
- Edgar Edwards as Captain Turan
- William Royale as Captain Sudan
- Sigurd Nilssen as Count Korro
- Luli Deste as Queen Fria
- Michael Mark as Professor Karm
- Byron Foulger as Professor Druk
- Ray Mala as Prince of the Rock People
Episode list Edit
- The Purple Death
- Freezing Torture
- Walking Bombs
- The Destroying Ray
- The Palace of Terror
- Flaming Death
- The Land of the Dead
- The Fiery Abyss
- The Pool of Peril
- The Death Mist
- Stark Treachery
- Doom of the Dictator