47 FILMS: 18. FLASH GORDON

In our continuing series of ‘47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at the Dino De Laurentiis produced space opera Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon was the Saturday morning serial of choice. Buster Crabbe would forever be getting into scrapes and with the help with some dubious editing would manage to escape the next day. Everything was hokey but at the same time the special effects weren’t half bad. Certainly stand comparison with CGI circa 1994. 1995. 1996. You get the idea. The movie version has a long history of near misses with some of the most illustrious directors being attached at one time or another to an adaptation of the Alex Raymond comic strip. George Lucas was going to do it before basically doing it as Star Wars. Federico Fellini had bought an option to make it but never got round to it: he appears in the film as the name of Ornella Muti’s pet alien. Nicolas Roeg was hired and then fired and Sergio Leone was even asked to come in, but turned it down.

In the end Mike Hodges – most famous for the grim English noir Get Carter – was hired to film a script by Lorenzo Semple who had cut his teeth on the original Batman TV show. It aims for the same tone of camp comedy with Chaim Topol’s mad scientist Dr. Zarkof kidnapping amiable knucklehead Flash Gordon (Sam Jones) and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and flying them to Mars in a rocket ship. Here they encounter Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow’s best role ever) who sentences Flash to death and decides to marry Dale. Flash is saved because agreeable nymphomaniac Princess Aura (Ornella Muti) takes a shine to him. Uniting the birdmen and the woodland folk, led by Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed respectively, Flash is set to turn the tables on Ming, all to the sound of Britain’s best pub rock band Queen, thumping and camping away in the background.

The film is a glorious mess with no one taking it seriously. There was a porn parody Flesh Gordon (soon to be remade by Matthew Vaughn), but the risque humor on display here and the unbelievably sexy Ornella Muti really means it was surplus to requirement. Following Aura’s capture and whipping, Peter Wyngarde as Klytus purrs ‘She seemed to enjoy it!’

The special effects are cheesy and the dialogue so tongue in cheek that Sam Jones’ performance was almost entirely dubbed by another actor. There is an affection and nostalgia built into the film as well that makes it a pleasure to return to even if the film never quite makes up its mind to be an out and out comedy or an exciting action adventure.

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