Earth is on the brink of destruction as the planet Mongo rapidly
approaches it, threatening to crash it any day now - and nobody seems to
know wht to do except professor Zarkoff (Frank Shannon), who wants to fly
to Mongo in a rocjketship of his own design - but the science community
has deemed Zarkoff crazy ...
As it happens, all-American hero Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe) and
all-American sweetheart Dale Arden (Jean Rogers) exit a crashing plane by
parachute and come down right next to Zarkoff's rocketship ... and in the
couple, Zarkoff finds his ideal travelling partners to Mongo, so before
long he takes them with him on his trip to the planet.
On Mongo, Zarkoff, Flash and Dale are welcomed by evil emperor Ming the
Merciless (Charles Middleton), who takes them prisoner and almost
immediately makes Zarkoff his head-scientist and Dale his bride-to-be.
Only for Flash he has no real use, so he throws him into the arena in
hopes of having him killed by one of his subhumans ... but Ming's daughter
Princess Aura (Priscilla Lawson) interferes and saves Flash's life (and
will do so repeatedly during the serial). But Aura is not to be trusted
since she wants Flash for herself and will do anything to get Dale out of
the way ... without any success though.
Soon, Flash and his friends can escape Ming's palace, first to the
underwater city of the Sharkmen, then the floating city of the Hawkmen,
where they find allies in Prince Thun (James Pierce) of the Lionmen,
Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen (Jack 'Tiny' Lipson), and Prince Barin
(Richard Alexander), the rightful ruler of Mongo who is deeply in love
with Princess Aura. But their adventures also have our heroes fight Ming's
minions, dragons and an Orangopoid (Crash Corrigan), before their
trail sends them back to Ming's palace.
There, Aura makes one final attempt to win over Flash with a drug
that induces amnesia, but Zarkoff can counteract the drug and give Flash
invisibility instead, and soon enough Flash and company storn Ming's
throne room and take him hostage - but Ming wasn't unprepared and soon our
friends' cause seems a lost one ... when Prince Thun and his Lionmen
attack the palace and end Ming's evil rule for good, with Ming escaping
into the Sacred Palace of the Great God Tao "from where there
is no return" - Ming did however return for two sequels.
The very end shows Flash, Dale and Zarkoff returning to earth with a
timebomb placed in their rocket ship by the evil high priest (Theodore
Lorch) ... but they happen to toss it out just before it goes off ...
Flash Gordon is one of the two serials that would determine what
science fiction would look like at least the next one to two decades - the
other serial was the earlier, lesser known and maybe even more influential
Phantom Empire -, and is
beautiful evidence for what an overboarding imagination can do even with a
limited bdget (despite the fact that the serial cost thrice as much as
Universal's usual serials it was still cheap). It offers a beautiful mix
of wild sci-fi-ideas and hands-on adventure, some for its time quite nice
and effective special effects, and a great mix of sets,
props and costumes from many different eras (thanks to Universal's
vast stock of used sets, props and costumes), where it would be no
contradiction to fight with futuristic rayguns and old-fashioned swords
side by side and several characters dress like soldiers from ancient Rome.
It offers weird rocketships (which circle around endlessly before they
land), dinosaurs (actually dressed up lizards), fire-breathing dragons, an
orangopoid (Crash Corrigan in an apesuit with a horn), and loads and loads
Quite simply put, one of the best serials ever.