Country: United States
Starring: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topol, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Mariangela Melato.
Writer: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Director: Mike Hodges
Music: Howard Blake & Queen
Producer: Dino De Laurentiis
This version of Flash Gordon, while being faithful to it’s comic book roots and being primarily a science fiction film, has many connections with James Bond. Let’s look at the cast. Max Von Sydow, who plays the bald villain of the piece, Ming The Merciless, turned up four years later playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Sean Connery’s Never Say Never Again. Next we have Topol, whose very next film role was a Milos Columbo in For Your Eyes Only. And that brings us to the big one – yes, Timothy Dalton, who would inherit the throne of James Bond from Roger Moore and appear in two Bond films, The Living Daylights, and Licence To Kill.
While this 1980 version of Flash Gordon is hardly the inspiration for the spy films that were to follow throughout the 1980’s, it is interesting to see that old stereotypes die hard. It is almost as if the characters that the actors inhabited in this film, had a celluloid memory.
The movie opens with Ming The Merciless (Max Von Sydow), and evil space tyrant who rules the universe, proclaiming that he is bored. The chief of Ming’s armies, General Klytus (Peter Wyngarde) draws Ming’s attention to a small planet called Earth. Ming, using an advance weapon of some kind, amuses himself be visiting upon the Earth a battery of storm and other ‘un-natural’ disasters.
Back on Earth, waiting for a flight is Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones). Gordon is a professional American football player for the New York Jets. Also waiting for a flight is Dale Arden (Melodie Anderson), who is a travel agent. As they wait, the Earth is bombarded with ‘hot hail’, which are actually chunks of moon rock raining down on the planet. Once the plane is ready, Gordon and Arden board and then take off.
With all the unexplained weather patterns tearing up the world, I guess it was pretty stupid for Flash and Arden to get into a plane, and in the end they pay for their folly. A giant chunk of moon rock hits the cockpit and the pilots mysteriously vanish. As the plane spirals out of control, Flash rushes to the cockpit and tries to land the plane. He has been taking flying lessons, so he knows a little bit about aircraft. Unfortunately his lessons hadn’t gotten as far as landing, and Flash crashes down, the plane sliding on it’s belly for hundreds on metres and finally coming to rest in the laboratory of Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol).
Zarkov is a mad scientist, and was kicked out of NASA for his outlandish theories. One of his outlandish ideas was that people from another galaxy would attack earth. In response, Zarkov has made his own rocket with which he intends to travel to the aggressor’s planet and negotiate a truce. Well now it seems like Zarkov’s crackpot theory has become a reality and he wishes to travel to the aggressor’s planet. The only problem is that he needs a second person to help pilot his rocket. When Flash and Dale crash in his laboratory, it appears that he has a volunteer. At gunpoint, he orders Dale into the capsule because she is lighter. Flash, naturally doesn’t want to see Dale kidnapped by a mad scientist, so he rushes into the capsule and wrestles with Zarkov. In their struggle, Gordon knocks the launch button and the rocket begins to lift off. It seems that all three of them will make the journey to the aggressor’s planet.
The aggressor’s planet happens to be Mongo, and when Flash, Dale and Zarkov arrive they are not treated warmly. They are taken prisoner and marched before Ming The Merciless. Their arrival coincides with a tribute ceremony, where delegations from the planets under Ming’s rule have come to pay tribute to the evil tyrant. Among the delegations, there are representatives of the Hawkmen, ruled by Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed); and the Treemen of Aboria, ruled by Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton).
Zarkov’s mission of peace immediately fails. Ming The Merciless is not interested in saving the Earth. His only interest is in Dale Arden who he wants to add to his own personal harem. This doesn’t sit too well with Flash who has quickly formed an attachment to her. Gordon openly defies Ming and begins to fight with Ming’s guards. Flash, despite being heavily outnumbered puts up a good show, using his American football skills to good use. But eventually, he is captured and Ming orders that he be executed for his defiance.
Flash Gordon is a fantastic film. Sure, the special effects aren’t on a par with some of the other science fiction extravaganza’s that where being made at the time, but this film owes more to it’s comic books origins rather than some kind of futuristic reality. In keeping, the colour levels in this film are pumped up to the maximum, falling a fraction short of day-glo. From the outrageous costumes to the grand sets, everything is lavish and lurid. The dialogue is so stylised you can almost see the ‘speech bubbles’ when the character’s speak.
Another positive is the soundtrack by rock group Queen. Although these days, it may be considered pretty uncool, I rate Queen’s soundtrack to Flash Gordon very highly. I bought the vinyl record when the film was first released, and now have even updated to CD – and I play it more often than any normal man should. I know – it’s a sickness! Apart from the heart thumping title song – hey, we all know that one – the rest of the score is quite brilliant – from the rough and tumble rock of the football fight – to delicate lilting moments when Flash and Princess Aura (Ornella Muti) fly over the planet of Fridgia. This soundtrack contains it all. It even has a guitar driven version of the bridal march – you know, ‘Here comes the bride…’ – I once met a guy who actually used this at his wedding. It’s a shame that Queen never really did anymore movie scores because this is very good – Highlander doesn’t really count, as Queen just wrote songs that complimented the themes in the movie – I am talking about an actual musical score, which follows the plot and generally doesn’t have lyrics.
For me, at least, Flash Gordon is one of the greatest movies of all time – or more correctly – one of the most entertaining movies of all time. Yep, it’s camp, it’s cheesy and it looks incredibly fake, but that is its charm. This is not art – if you want that go to a museum. This is pure and simple, comic book story telling, and in that sense this film works on nearly every level.
I have never ordered a Vodka Martini – Shaken not stirred – at a Bar. I have always thought that mouthing those lines would make me come off sounding like some kind of Bondian geek boy. I am – you and I know that – but there’s no need for the whole world to know. So what do you do, when you want to live the Bond lifestyle, but not come off as a geek. Well, Keith, my colleague at Teleport City has provided the answer. He has started a series of posts called Bond’s Bar where he looks at some of beverages that have washed across Bond’s palate in the books by Ian Fleming. Here’s a snippet:
So, what does the discerning Bond fan — the one who feels “a martini, shaken not stirred” is just a little too gauche a reference — need to know in order to control the bar like Bond? Why don’t we take a quick journey through the literary Bond’s favorite drink: whiskey.
According to the indispensable website Make Mine a 007 (007.atomicmartinis.com), Bond drinks no fewer than 317 drinks (the cinematic version lags behind at a paltry 114). 101 of those are whiskies or whiskey cocktails, with Bond heavily favoring bourbon over scotch — not an accident that Bond champions the American drink over his closer-to-home companion, really, since Bond also rails against the vileness of tea and expounds at length about why he prefers coffee. But scotch need not worry. Bond’s usual drinking buddy, the American CIA agent Felix Leiter, seems to have two functions in the novels: to slap his forehead and exclaim, “James, you’re right! Why didn’t I think of that?” and to order Haig and Haig scotch whiskey.
To head across to Teleport City and pull up a stool at Bond’s Bar, click here.
After a somewhat self-destructive and unproductive weekend, I find myself short of completed material to post today. I had planned a post on Peter Wyngarde’s hand prints (hence the title of this post – Jason King being the character that Wyngarde is most closely associated with). In the early 1970’s Wyngarde came to Melbourne, and left his imprints in a block of wet cement in the city (with many other celebrities of the day). Allegedly, after many years of wear and tear, the slabs were lifted up, and mounted on a wall inside McEwans Department store. Over the years, McEwans evolved in Bunnings Warehouse – which is a chain of hardware stores.
So on Saturday, armed with a digital camera, I made the pilgrimage into the city to find Wyngarde’s handprints.
Well it looks like the store has been demolished. I don’t know if the concrete imprints were removed and taken elsewhere – or they were demolished with the building – or sold off to private collectors. It looks like I am going to have to do more research.
Next, I thought I’d drop into the Sherlock Holmes on Collins Street. I figured they may have some interesting Holmesiana on the walls that may have slotted in with my current series of posts. But when I got there, it was closed.
So I moved on…on to the Casino. Thankfully, I had blown most of my money early in the week, so when I lost all the money I had remaining, well it wasn’t too much. But hardly a weekend of Bondian proportions.
In the end, all I have to offer are 2 James Bond album covers from Japan. The albums themselves were a disappointing hotch-potch of cover versions. Out of the two, the Moonraker album is the best, as it has a few cuts performed by the John Barry Orchestra.