FLASH GORDON TV SERIES: 1953 – 1954
By Steve D. Stones
Recently, Mill Creek Entertainment has released another excellent box set of classic Sci-Fi TV programs from the golden age of television. The set contains such classics as: Rocky Jones Space Ranger, Flash Gordon, Tales of Tomorrow, Captain Z-Ro, Space Angel, and One Step Beyond. Over 40 hours of DVD entertainment is contained in the set. For collectors of all things sci-fi, this is a real treasure trove of TV programming to have in your collection. It is perhaps the best $30.00 I have ever spent on any box set.
A particular favorite of mine in the set is the Flash Gordon TV series made in West Berlin, which aired from 1953 – 1954. Since I was a boy, the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s, and the 1980 feature length film with Sam Jones have been favorites of mine.
Fourteen episodes are contained in this box set. The TV series does not have the same non-stop action and adventure that made the classic Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe so great, but fans of the genre will not be disappointed in this series. Crabbe was certainly born to play the role of Flash Gordon, with his chiseled good looks and boy like charm that every young boy living in the 1930s could relate to. Actor Steve Holland plays Flash in this TV series. He may not be Buster Crabbe, but he still has the athletic agility and boyish good looks that
made Flash Gordon the hero he is meant to be. Holland does not possess the same naive charm that made Crabbe so famous in the role.
The beautiful Irene Champlin plays Dale Arden, Flash’s lovely sidekick. Although Champlin is a brunette (I have a soft spot for brunettes), Jean Rodgers from the original Flash Gordon serials will remain the greatest Dale Arden of all time. Melody Anderson from the 1980 film comes in second place, in my opinion.
A favorite episode of mine is entitled The Brain Machine. Viewers will notice immediately that all the villains and aliens of the series have a German accent, while the heroes, such as Flash, Dr. Zarkov and Dale Arden, are American. In The Brain Machine, Dr. Zarkov and Commander Paul Richardson of the Galaxy Bureau of Investigation are blamed for an explosion that kills hundreds of people on the planet Neptune. The explosion releases methane gas, causing breathing difficulties for the inhabitants of Neptune.
Flash and Dale Arden arrive on Neptune to help in the recovery effort and to install an air converter. They only have 48 hours to complete this task.
An agent of Zyderine named Prostar is sent to Neptune to destroy the air converter. Zyderine is also known as the Mad Witch of Neptune. She is a grouchy middle-aged woman in a funny costume containing a glittered headpiece and a magic wand.
Speaking of funny costumes, Prostar wears an outfit that looks like a child’s bee costume for Halloween, minus the pipe cleaner antennae on the top of his head. Pretty cheesy stuff. This is what watching old TV shows and movies is all about.
Zyderine, The Mad Witch of Neptune, kidnaps Commander Richards and Dr. Zarkov. She wants to drain their minds of their memory and intellect to learn of the defense secrets of the galaxy. Richards and Zarkov learn that it was Zyderine who forced them to release the explosion of methane gas on Neptune. She places them under the brain machine, which looks like giant metal hats in the shape of the tip of a fire hose nozzle. Again, pretty cheesy stuff, as I mentioned before.
Eventually Flash and Dale come to the rescue of Richards and Zarkov, but it is too late. Both have had their memories and intellect completely drained. To be continued in next week’s episode. If you can get past all the cheap looking props and costumes and just enjoy the Flash Gordon TV series as low budget sci-fi fun, then you won’t be disappointed. I always enjoy watching these old TV shows to pick out all the bad dialogue, costumes, props, environments and other mistakes that make the viewing experience fun.
One other funny mistake in The Brain Machine episode shows a scene of Flash and Dale in an interior shot of their spaceship. The shadow of the boom microphone can be seen on the wall behind them. It’s kind of like viewing an Ed Wood movie. It may be cheap, but it’s sure a lot of fun to watch!