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FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO MARS (1938)
[aka The Deadly Ray From Mars aka Mars Attacks The World]

"What fateful mission sent you hurtling through space to our planet Mars?"

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Director: Ford Beebe, Robert F. Hill

Starring: Larry "Buster" Crabbe, Jean Roberts, Frank Shannon, Charles Middleton, Beatrice Roberts, Richard Alexander

Screenplay: Ray Trampe, Norman S. Hall

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Synopsis: A deadly beam from space is threatening the Earth. Believing that the beam emanates from Mongo, Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe), Doctor Zarkov (Frank Shannon), Dale Arden (Jean Rogers) and stowaway reporter, Happy Hapgood (Donald Kerr), leave Earth in a spaceship to combat the attack, but find that the beam is coming from Mars. Landing on Mars, the team discovers that the wicked Queen Azura (Beatrice Roberts) has formed a partnership with Ming the Merciless (Charles Middleton), who plans to destroy the Earth by extracting all of its nitrogen. Azura is planning a war against the Clay People, with whom the Earth people form an alliance. Azura keeps her people in subjection by using magic powers bestowed by a white sapphire. Flash and his friends must battle the fierce Forest People to obtain the black sapphire which can neutralise Azura’s powers, and find a way to destroy Ming’s nitron lamp before the Earth is doomed.

Comments: This feature film version of the fifteen chapter serial, Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars, the first follow up to the enormously successful Flash Gordon (1936), fails to reproduce the naive charm of the original. The gang’s all here, though: Flash himself, looking more like a glass of milk than a super-hero; Dr Zarkov, the "scientific genius" (i.e. bearded and boring); and a brunette Dale Arden.

As the latter, Jean Rogers is worthy of comment: her Dale may well be the most useless and irritating "heroine" in the history of science fiction. There is simply no point to her; she barely even needs rescuing. She spends the whole film either being told that she’d "better stay here" or bursting into the room, opening her eyes wide, and exclaiming "Flash!" (You could easily turn this latter characteristic into a drinking game, like the "Hi, Bob" game for "The Bob Newhart Show"). It is a relief when the Forest People drug her with "the incense of forgetfulness" so that "her mind belongs to the great god Kalu". It makes no difference at all to her actual performance, but it does shut her up.

Much more interesting than this set of bores are the bad guys (ain’t it always the way?), Ming the Merciless and Queen Azura, the former carrying on his war against the Earth, and the latter planning to exterminate the Clay People, just because she feels like it. It’s a great disappontment when, inevitably, she falls for Flash and gets reformed.

As for the rest of the film, its greatest pleasure is probably its set design: what a boon for the cardboard industry these serials must have been. The costumes are a hoot, too, and there’s an odd minor detail in the choice of "Land Of Hope And Glory" as the theme music for Ming the Merciless. One can only speculate that, with war looming in Europe, this was a dig at the British by the isolationist Americans.

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB