Vengeance is Ours!

Sexton Blake Library (5th Series / Book 10)
Author: Peter Saxon
Publisher: Mayflower Dell
Release Year: 1965

Of all the hundreds of stories featuring master sleuth, Sexton Blake, I have only read but a small handful, and the majority of these have been from (or set in) the 1940s and ’50s. This is the first time I have encountered a swinging sixties Blake, and while I wouldn’t quite go as far as to say that the character seems out of place, I would say that the publisher has made a concerted effort to modernise Blake and make him appealing for the sixties generation. Therefore he often seems like a different character – rather than an out of place character. In this novelette he doesn’t even do any detecting. He is hired as a bodyguard, but I am getting ahead of myself. First here’s a brief overview of the plot.

The story opens in Africa, in a small country called Lubanda. The people of the Nbanda Valley have gathered to listen to a speech by a political animal named Joseph Dingala. Dingala’s specialty is manipulating audiences and whipping his crowds in mass hysteria. In this instance, his speech encites the poor black villagers to revolt against the white settlers in the area.

Conveniently, the white settlers have gathered for a party at the Kilinzana Club. Not that they have much to celebrate, as they are in the middle of a drought, and the country is dogged with civil unrest.

When a large bush fire is spotted to the south, the men from the club rush off to fight it before it burns down the whole district. The women and children are left at the club until their menfolk return. Well that’s the plan. However, encited by Dingala’s speech an army of native storm the club and kill all the women and children.

A year passes, and Dingala has moved onto become the Minister of Home Affairs of the newly formed Republic of Lubanda. Requiring financial aid, Dingala plans a visit to London for government talks.

In the interim, the men from the Kilinzana Club have sold up their properties in Africa and have moved back to London. When they hear that Dingala is coming to London, they all meet together once again to plan his assassination.

Dingala is set to stay at the very exclusive Golden Towers Hotel, and as Sexton Blake is retained by the insurance company that cover the Hotel, he has no choice but to act as bodyguard during Dingalas visit. So as I mentioned earlier, no detecting from the great detective. He knows what the crime will be – assassination. And he knows the men who will attempt it – the men from the Kilinzana Club. The entertainment comes in the form of reading as Blake outwits each of the twenty men from the Club as they take their turn to kill the Africa Leader. The story also takes a few shortcuts on the way, and a few of the assassins are rounded up by the police, so in effect maybe only eight to ten assassination attempts take place.

The central premise of this story, as you have no doubt gathered, is that Blake has to protect the thoroughly reprehensible character of Dingala. The conflict arises out of the fact that the members of the Kilinzana Club are not necessarily villains, just men who have experienced (and are experiencing) extreme grief and loss. To rub salt into the wound, the man that caused that grief is not only free, but living the high life of an international jet-setter. The men from the Kilinzana Club simply want a modicum of justice and it just so happens that Sexton Blake is standing in their way.

One of the more interesting elements of the book, remembering that it was published in 1965 are the reference and allusions to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Even down to the choice of weapon that one of the Kilinzana Club snipers chooses – a Manlicher – which is alegedly the same rifle that Lee Harvey Oswald used.

The story, Vengeance is Ours!, while being fairly brisk and providing a few small thrills, is pretty poor. There are typos (that maybe the typesetter’s fault), and poor phrasing throughout. It actually reads like a first draft, but where the author was never given the opportunity to revise and correct his story. Then again, the Sexton Blake Library may have been a real ‘bang ‘em out’ proposition and spending time honing and crafting the story may have never really been a consideration.

From the back:

There was blood on the hands of the Right Hon. Joseph Dingala, the blood of women and children massacred in the Kilinzina Club in the confused years before the African state of Lubanda emerged into independence.

And now Dingala was coming to England for Government talks, coming to an England which housed menfolk of the Kilinzina Club, men who had sworn to avenge their families’ deaths.

To Sexton Blake the task was given to save Joseph Dingala from assassination by these fanatical and determined men.

Could even Blake guard an African Statesman in his luxurious penthouse suite – with twenty determined men sworn to killing him – or perishing in the attempt…

Please note: Inside the book, the white settlers club is referred to as the Kilinzana Club. On the cover, it is referred to the Kilinzina Club. I guess that sums up how much care was taken in the preparation of this book.

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Vengeance is Ours!

Espionage Cinema & Television in the 21st Century

Here’s a little piece I wrote earlier this year for Wes Britton’s Spywise website, where he invited spy fans from all around the world to look back at the most influential spy films, television shows and books of the first decade of the 21st Century. Due to the format the final piece took, this article had to be broken up to fit in with the other contributions – which worked well. If you haven’t checked out the series, you should head over to Spywise and read the articles.

None-the-less, breaking the article down into smaller segments did diminish the theme I was putting forward, and thought it was worth re-posting here in its entirety.

The spy film has changed quite substantially over the last ten years. Genre conventions that were established in the ‘60s have made way for a new style of spy thriller where the trusted Walther PPK has been replaced by the Motorola, Nokia, or whichever phone company has paid the most for product placement.

I would suggest that the mobile phone is the most powerful espionage tool ever. Think about some of your favourite spy films. Maybe they include Dr. No and Where Eagles Dare. They are two of mine. Remember the opening to Dr. No? After the title sequence, Strangways and his secretary were scheduled to make their regular radio transmission back to England, when Dr. No’s three blind mice assassinate them. In a world with mobile phones, routine transmissions are unnecessary. Sure Dr. No’s ‘hit’ may have still happened, but it wouldn’t have been a missed radio transmission that alerted London to the fact there was a problem. In Where Eagles Dare, during the mission, Richard Burton’s character, Major Smith reports that the radio isn’t working (Broadsword calling Danny Boy). Imagine if each of the operatives had been armed with a Blackberry. In fact, Smith’s whole ruse would have fizzled rather quickly with modern technology. The Nazi hierarchy could have ascertained the identities of the foreign agents in minutes.

Now think of all the films you have seen with enemy agents tracking down a piece of micro film. With phone technology that’s completely redundant. Now the images can be sent almost instantly. Video footage too. There’s no need to smuggle film out of a country. Just email it, or upload it. Poor old Henri Bark died for nothing at the start of The Eiger Sanction – remember that icky bit, where he swallowed the film so the bad guys wouldn’t get it – and then they cut open his throat to retrieve it? If he had emailed it, he would have lived. I have laboured the point somewhat, but you can see the argument I am presenting about phones, technology and why spy films have had to change.

Another detour before moving into the twenty-first century, I first thought it was worth revisiting three key films from the 1990s – building blocks if you will – that were instrumental in laying the foundations for the evolution of the modern spy film.

Firstly, we have Phil Noyce’s Patriot Games (1992), in which there is a small sequence where Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is in a command centre watching via satellite, images of an incursion on a terrorist base in the dessert. This small section, at the time, was quite groundbreaking, setting the foundations for a new style of spy thriller. Ones where logic and information are the tools for power, rather than guns or gadgets.

peaceThis small snippet of hi-tech mayhem was expanded upon in Mimi Leder’s The Peacemaker (1997), wherein the use of ‘intel’ and satellite imaging is quite frightening in its depiction. There is almost a ‘Big Brother’ aspect to the military’s use of technology in tracking down their subjects.

And finally, the new age of hi-tech intelligence gathering reached its logical evolution in Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State (1998). Enemy of the State’s influence has built in momentum and filtered through the spy films and television through the whole first decade of the twenty-first century. While, Patriot Games and The Peacemaker were telling films in they both presented the use of modern technology, like satellite surveillance, as a potent tool in modern espionage; they still played out as relatively conventional spy thrillers. Enemy of the State was the first film to build the whole story around that technology. And while you can argue that Enemy of the State isn’t a really great spy film (it works better as a paranoid thriller in the style of The Pallalax View), its influence has affected the way people approach making spy films.

Now you are probably wondering what is the key difference between these three films and the spy films that went before them. The answer is simple – two words – ‘Real Time’.

The Bourne films, the Daniel Craig Bonds, Body of Lies, the television show 24 all owe their continuous intelligence style to Enemy of the State. In spy films you no longer need the briefing scene. Communications and intel gathering have evolved so much, there is no need for direct contact. It’s now done via laptop, through an earpiece, and/or a mobile phone.

Let’s look at some of the more successful espionage filmed entertainments of the ‘noughties’ and see how they played out.

The Bourne Identity (2002)
bourneRobert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity had been filmed before as a TV mini series starring Richard Chamberlain, and while it was fairly faithful to the book, it unconsciously highlighted some of the clichés inherent in the story. When Doug Liman remade it as a movie, he dumped a lot of the contrived spyjinx and turned the story into a tight, cohesive and intelligent spy drama. One of the key elements to the film is ‘knowledge’. From the moment Jason Bourne arrives at the Bank in Zurich, he is being watched. Street cameras, satellites, phone records, past associations; everything and anything is at Treadstone’s fingertips, for use in their hunt for the elusive Jason Bourne. Equally Bourne is adept at gathering intel. He may not have the resources of those hunting him, but he thinks on his feet.

One of my favourite sequences in the film occurs as Bourne tries to escape from the US Embassy in Zurich. First he obtains a radio and earpiece from one of the security guards on site, so he can listen as security teams search the building trying to locate him. Secondly as he makes his way through the corridors, he takes a fire evacuation map off the wall, so he actually knows where he is going. It seems so simple, yet it once again highlights the importance of knowledge.

Casino Royale (2006)
The high tech, real time style has been slowly been drip fed into the Bond series. The first noticeable sequence was in Goldeneye (1995), where Bond, Tanner and M, watch in real time, satellite images from Sevrenaya, where General Ouromov has just stolen the ‘Goldeneye’ satellite. But despite this high-tech modern opening, it is just a precursor to the usual hands-on, Bond style mission. Equally, in the pre-credit sequence of Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), M and staff watch on as Bond completes a mission at an arms bizarre in the Kyber Pass. Once again, after having established a high tech, modern approach to espionage, it is then tossed aside for a traditional Bond style adventure.

Casino Royale was the film that revitalised the Bond series. I won’t waste too many words on the plot, as I am sure you’ve seen it and have your own opinion. Prior to Casino Royale, most Bond films had in place a formula wherein Bond met with M and received his mission instructions, and then once the mission was declared, he’d set about the task presented. But in Casino Royale, – and this is continued in Quantum of Solace (2008) – the mission is never really declared. M, who used to appear only at the beginning (and at the end, usually as a comic signoff), now appears throughout the whole film, working in real time alongside Bond. Each piece of information he gathers is passed onto to HQ, and equally each bit of new information gained by HQ is passed onto Bond. M and Bond are now working alongside each other. Once upon a time, Bond’s most trusted weapon was his Walther PPK. Now, in the 21st Century, it is his mobile phone and laptop.

Body of Lies (2008)
bolI’ll admit, I didn’t really warm to Body of Lies as a piece of entertainment, but I admire the films professionalism, and once again, presented front and centre is intel and communications. It is interesting to note, that Ridley Scott, the brother of Tony Scott, who directed Enemy of the State, directs this film.

Throughout Body of Lies, during key scenes in the film, in Jordan and the Middle East, field agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is in constant contact with his controller, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crow), who is located in the United States. It almost seems comically incongruous, if it the events portrayed weren’t so serious, as Hoffman goes about his normal life, with family and kids, all the while there is micro receiver, transmitter in his ear. In real time, at home or at work, Hoffman is virtually in the field – in another continent – alongside Ferris.

24 (2000-2009)
Leaving films for just a moment, the television series 24 fully embraced the real time scenario, but in many instances as far as the modern spy story goes, let itself down by not embracing the new technology and live-feed intelligence gathering that went with it. Instead, the time is filled with differing story threads, which play out in real time, but the stories themselves are pretty much in the old-school tradition. In fact, much of the drama in this series is achieved by the characters being out of contact with HQ.

Both Body of Lies and 24 offer a nice segue into the other major influence that has affected spy films in the 21st century — the ‘War on Terror’ in the wake of 9/11. One of the first cinematic responses to the attack on the United States was the film United 93, which was directed by Paul Greengrass. Now United 93 cannot really be considered a spy film, but one of it strengths was that it was played out in real time in an almost documentary style. There was no attempt to flesh out the characters. These were not characters – they were real people, as you would see people on a street. You do not know them, and you don’t know what is going on inside their head. If you walk past them you may hear a piece of conversation but unless you’ve been near them for some time and eavesdropping, the snippet of dialogue is meaningless. Watching the film was almost like a being a fly on the wall – most likely a wall that you were glad that you weren’t really on.

It is interesting to note that director, Greengrass’ technique would be adjudged to be suitable for cinematic espionage material, and he would go onto helm the Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum, where in which, he applied his unique directorial style.

The 9/11 attacks, not only emphasized the importance of hit-tech real time intel, but also, due to the people who carried out the attacks, made us question that attacks were no longer mounted from across the sea, but now possibly from within our homeland. The phrase ‘Sleeper Cell’ suddenly entered our vernacular. The sleeper agent is nothing new to espionage cinema. One of the best films utilising the ‘Sleeper’ plot device is The Manchurian Candidate (1962), where Lawrence Harvey plays Raymond Shaw, the son of a prominent politician, who was captured during the Korean War and brainwashed in Manchuria. Other examples include Don Siegel’s Telefon, which featured numerous Russian agents scattered across the United States. Hearing a passage of poetry by Robert Frost could trigger each agent. Even On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had Blofeld’s Angels of Death, and presented at the denouement in The IPCRESS File, where Harry Palmer has to fight to overcome his programming; he too is in fact a sleeper agent.

But all the examples cited above have one thing in common. Each of the ‘Sleepers’ has been brainwashed. They actually do not want to carry out their tasks. But what made the 9/11, and subsequent terrorist attacks, so chilling is that the ‘Sleepers’ had not been brainwashed (well, not in the traditional sense – that’s a debate for another time). Here the ‘Sleepers’ lived among us and where prepared to kill the very people that they lived and worked with every day. Of course, such a potent psychological concept – and the resultant paranoia that it brings with it, would make its way into films and television.

Of course, this can manifest itself in two ways. The innocent, who is suspected of being a sleeper agent as we find in the film Rendition. Or alternately, featuring the person, or cell that is functioning with the community, such as Showtime’s amazing television series Sleeper Cell.

Rendition (2007)
rendRendition received quite a cool reception from some quarters upon release. Many people questioned its factuality and it’s depiction of realism. The truth is that Rendition is not intended as a ‘realist’ piece of cinema. It is a morality tale, questioning the path that the West was taking in its ‘War on Terror’ campaign. If you look at the characters played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep; their character names hint that this is simply a fable to make you ‘think’ about what is going on. Incidentally, Gyllenhaal’s character is named ‘Freeman’ and Streep’s is ‘Whitman’. When you consider that the story is about the arrest and removal of an Egyptian born American, to a foreign country under suspicion of terrorist acts, then names like Freeman and Whitman almost slap you in the face with their blatant symbolism.

The film is a morality tale, and what makes it work, and not make it a ‘fairy tale’ is the central performance of Omar Metwally as Anwar El-Ibrahimi; the aforementioned Egyptian born American. El-Ibrahimi’s journey as a harrowing one, and while at times that may make the film hard to watch, it also makes this film, one of the most powerful in the last ten years.

Sleeper Cell (2005-2008)
Showtime’s Sleeper Cell – the first series anyway – was an amazing piece of television, presenting, as it did, maybe not a balanced, but a unique and different view of terrorism. In the show, each terrorist is presented as a fleshed out human. Why they have chosen the path they have is explored, and how they fit in to US culture is depicted rather chillingly. One moment a character maybe teaching math at a local high school’ the next he is planning a deadly anthrax attack on the local shopping centre.

sleepThe series is bound together by two central core performances. The first is Michael Ealy as Darwyn Al-Sayeed, a deep cover CIA agent whose mission is to stop the terrorist attack the sleeper cell is planning to perpetrate. Ealy’s character is dragged through the wringer over the course of the series, and each emotional bump in the journey packs a wallop. It doesn’t hurt that Ealy is a good-looking guy with piecing green eyes. Then there is Oded Fehr as the utterly charming, charismatic and deadly Faisal Al-Farik, the leader of the terrorist cell. Farik maybe the most evil character in the series, but there too is much duality to his character. Whilst not planning terrorist attacks he is seen as the coach to a junior baseball team. That in essence is Sleeper Cell’s major coup; it makes evil men, at times seem rather likeable and normal. If you met some of these characters in the street, you may even like them and consider them friends, without knowing what atrocities they may be planning.

In some ways, Sleeper Cell presents an explanation as to why and how the events on 9/11 happened. It’s a question many of us asked – ‘How!’ and ‘Why?’ Sleeper Cell is one of the few shows to address these questions, and as such makes it possibly one of the most important shows of the last decade.

As we move into the second decade of the Millennium I can only speculate as to what we’ll see in espionage cinema and television, and the most likely tact will be to continue as it is going, embracing new technology and surveillance techniques as it goes. But then again, much of this is cyclical. Maybe people will become fed up with realism and crave escapism once again and with it we will get outrageous fantasy stories. Or maybe around the corner there is an emotional character piece that will influence films for years to come. Whatever transpires, espionage cinema will continue to do what it has always done – thrill, inspire, disgust, amuse, horrify, question our morality, unite people, cause conflict, tell the truth, spread lies, analyse the politics of the day, and most of all ‘entertain’.

smallbugDavid Foster lives in Melbourne Australia where he works as a Graphic Designer. In his spare time he studies Film and Communication at the University of New England and writes for his espionage themed blog, Permission to Kill.

Espionage Cinema & Television in the 21st Century

Flesh Gordon (1974)

Country: United States
Director: Michael Benveniste, Howard Ziehm
Starring: Jason Williams, Suzanne Fields, Joseph Hudgins, William Dennis Hunt, Lance Larsen, Mycle Brandy, Candy Samples
Music: Ralph Ferraro

Of course no look at the world of Flash Gordon would be complete without looking at the smutty sci-fi sex comedy Flesh Gordon, so without further ado…

Flesh Gordon is a soft core porn version of the Flash Gordon movie serials of the 1930’s and 40’s; and it would be simple enough to leave the review at that. But that wouldn’t be fair. Some of the stop motion special effects in this film are pretty good. This film was obviously made with affection for the old matinee series as well as the creature features of Ray Harryhausen, and even has an ending reminiscent of King Kong.

The film opens with a dreaded sex ray being fired upon the earth from the planet ‘Porno’. People affected by the sex ray lose all inhibitions and sate their carnal desires with whoever and whatever is around. This ‘filth’ and ‘moral decay’ must be stopped.

Travelling back to the US from Tibet on a plane is Flesh Gordon (Jason Williams). During the journey, Flesh makes the acquaintance of Dale Ardor (Suzanne Fields), and as they chat, the horrible, horrible sex beam hits the plane mid flight. The passengers on board remove their clothing and an orgy takes place in the aisles. The pilots, who are also affected by the beam, believe they are missing out on the fun, and abandon the controls to join in. As the plane begins to spiral out of control, Flesh makes his way to the cockpit (no joke there) and tries to pull the plane up out of it’s dive. The controls break in his hands. There is nothing he can do – the plane is going down. Flesh grabs a parachute and Dale, and leaps from the plane just before it crashes.

Flesh and Dale land on the property of scientist Flexi Jerkoff (Joseph Hudgins). Jerkoff has ascertained where the sex beam is coming from and has built a space ship to travel up to the planet and save the earth. Flesh and Dale agree to help Jerkoff and get into the giant golden, penis shaped rocket ship, and fly off to the planet ‘Porno’.

‘Porno’ is under the dictatorship of Emperor Wang, The Perverted (William Dennis Hunt). Wang instructs his minions, who are dressed like Roman gladiators, to shoot down Jerkoff’s ship and bring the occupants before him.

I mentioned earlier, that Flesh Gordon features some better than should be expected stop motion animation. The creatures on display are some Penisaurus’ – it doesn’t take much imagination to guess what they look like! – a metallic sword fighting insect, – and finally a giant stone god that comes to life. It’s no exaggeration that the creatures and human choreography / interaction with the stop motion effects is equal to what Harryhausen was doing right up until Clash Of The Titans.

Flesh Gordon was so successful that a belated sequel was released in 1989, entitled Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders. I haven’t bothered to chase this one down.

I guess a word or two about the pornographic nature of the film is in order. The film is softcore, but let’s be honest; despite decent special effects for this kind of film – a science fiction comedy spoof – the film is still a porno, and if that puts you off, then I’d stay away from this film. On the other hand, if you want a smutty science fiction parody then I guess this is worth a look.

Flesh Gordon (1974)

Flash Gordon: Race Against Time (1955)

Flash Gordon

Television Series – Race Against Time

Country: United States
Director: Gunther V. Fritsch
Starring: Steve Holland, Joe Nash, Irene Champlain
Music:
Roger Roger
Theme: Kurt Heuser
Based on characters by Alex Raymond

In the year 3063, after years of interplanetary war, the planets are now a ‘Galaxy of Peace’ thanks to the Galactic Bureau of Investigation (or the G.B.I.). The G.B.I., which is a democratic organization, is very select in its dissemination of knowledge and weapons to ensure that this peace lasts. But certain planets want to breakaway and rule themselves. The ambassador from Pluto is very vocal about this, and plans to vote for independence.

But Pluto is not alone. It seems that half of the planets no longer want G.B.I. control. A special G.B.I. council meeting has been called to resolve the issue, and the vote is to take place on Mars. As half of the planet want G.B.I. control, and half don’t it appears that the deciding vote will be the Earth’s vote. Commander Richards has been selected to announce Earth’s intentions. To make sure Richards get to the meeting safely and on time, he is to be accompanied by Flash Gordon and Dale Arden.

Meanwhile, the Pluto Ambassador has joined forces with an intergalactic villain named Melton to ensure that Richards never arrives at the council meeting.

I know that Flash Gordon is only a kids show, but if you look at the political overtones of this episode it could do your head in. If you see the G.B.I. as an all-powerful single ruling body; ruling to keep everybody equal and then you could say the galaxy is a communist society and those who want independence are trying to break free of their oppressive communist shackles. But as the G.B.I is a democratically elected governing body that only intervenes against planets that are corrupt, then I guess the G.B.I. could be a mirror of how America saw itself in the mid 1950s — watchdog of the world — or in this case ‘universe’.

Flash Gordon: Race Against Time (1955)

Flash Gordon: In an Alternate Universe


As this current series of posts would indicate, I am a fan of the character Flash Gordon, and this affection stems from the Dino De Laurentiis film from 1980. However, as much as I love the film, I am intrigued by what it may have been if other hands had been guiding the production. Following is an excerpt from the book S-F 2 by Richard Meyers, published by Citadel Press – 1984.

Plausibility was also in short supply during Flash Gordon. Having done over King Kong, producer Dino De Laurentiis turned his sights on the character who had inspired George Lucas in the first place. While the young filmmaker hadn’t the money to secure the rights to the comic-book hero created in 1934 by Alex Raymond, the Italian entrepreneur did.

Although his presentations sometimes leave a lot to be desired, the producer’s original vision can rarely be faulted. At first, he gave the project to screenwriter Michael Allin and director Nicholas Roeg, whose Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, and The Man Who Fell to Earth were all stunning visual achievements. With them in control, the new version of the old hero was bound to be as challenging as it was dazzling.

In retrospect, it wasn’t surprising that pre-production stalled with creative differences between director and producer. Soon Roeg and Allin were out and a more pedestrian concept was offered. Michael Hodges was the new director with King Kong scripter Lorenzo Semple Jr., doing the writing honors. What De Laurentiis seemed to be looking for was not an update, but a big budget remake of the 1930s serials starring Buster Crabbe. This way, the crew didn’t have to strive for realistic effects – everything could be high-class camp.

The mind truly boggles at what Nick Roeg would have come up with. I must admit it’s been quite a while since I have watched his films (I went through a phase in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s – but I think a lot of that was to do with a youthful infatuation with Theresa Russell), but when I think back, the thing that I recall is the dream-like quality of Roeg’s films. Even the misfires like Eureka and Track 29 had this ethereal quality that made them downright watchable – but admittedly not for everyone.

The other thing that Meyers alerted me to, was that Dayle Hadden was originally cast as Dayle Arden, but later replaced because it was deemed that she was too similar in looks to Ornella Muti who played Princess Aura. Hadden was a top model in the 1970s, but her film career didn’t really take off – most of her work appears to have been done in Europe. For me (and this is really sad), I know her best for her small role as Pearl Prophet in Albert Pyun’s Cyborg, starring Jean Claude Van Damme (America readers may know the film as Master’s of the Universe 2: Cyborg). In Cyborg, she was ‘the Cyborg’, and the Muscles from Brussels was some kind of futuristic sheriff called a ‘Slinger’. As for Hadden as Dale Arden – I can’t really see it, particularly in the almost cartoon-style romp the film ended up being. Can you picture any other actress other than Melody Anderson mouthing the words ‘Go Flash, Go!’ I think not.

I already proclaim that Flash Gordon is one of the greatest films ever made. But I appear to be in a small minority who appreciate the film for what it is. But under the guidance of Nicholas Roeg what would have Flash Gordon been? Maybe something more akin to Jean-Luc Goddard’s Alphaville. Alphaville mined a very fertile pop culture character in Lemmy Caution – and a series of films. Goddard twisted that about into something new. What would have Roeg done? Would it have been one of the greatest films of all time?

Flash Gordon: In an Alternate Universe