Priscilla Lawson

Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 11: In the Claws of the Tigron

Once again, the title refers to a finale item. In the Claws of the Tigron doesn’t have much tigron (a Mongonian tiger), but it does have a lot of invisible Buster Crabbe causing mischief around Charles Middleton’s palace.

The chapter’s a tad nonsensical–Crabbe, invisible, terrorizes Middleton’s guards while all his friends hang out in the laboratory. Only Priscilla Lawson comes up with a plan. Without her, Middleton would just be sitting around sputtering (between getting choked out by the invisible Crabbe).

Tigron is a fairly light chapter for the most part. Crabbe’s disembodied voice performance isn’t mixed well with the other actors’ dialogue, but he’s always going for fun with it. Crabbe doesn’t have a worry in the world since he’s invisible. And Jack Lipson is back, guffawing as he body slams guards. Poor Jean Rogers is reduced to worrying nonstop about Crabbe’s invisibility dependence.

Until the end, anyway, when the cliffhanger has her, you know, In the Claws of the Tigron.

It’s a good chapter, even with the logic holes.

CREDITS

Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), Jack ‘Tiny’ Lipson (King Vultan), Theodore Lorch (High Priest), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 10: The Unseen Peril

Once again, the chapter title doesn’t come into play until the very end–The Unseen Peril, or at least what seems like it, shows up in the last scene. The chapter skips a more dramatic cliffhanger, going on just a few seconds longer to do a puzzling one.

Most of the chapter involves Priscilla Lawson’s schemes to ensnare Buster Crabbe finally coming to fruition. She manages to brainwash him, which sends his friends in a delayed uproar. Only Jack Lipson freaks out at the time; Lipson’s now one of Crabbe’s allies. He doesn’t have any function in the chapter other than that initial uproar. It’s a narrative delay, nothing more.

There’s some more filler later on with Frank Shannon and Jean Rogers communicating with Earth. Despite Shannon’s ability to revive (though not de-brainwash) Crabbe, he can’t figure out how to make the interplanetary radio work. Once he gives up, it’s time to go back to the A plot. The writers shift focus entirely between the plot lines here; Flash is starting to feel heavy.

It’s a good bridging episode, though Crabbe’s expressions during the sword fights are beyond goofy.

CREDITS

Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), Jack ‘Tiny’ Lipson (King Vultan), Theodore Lorch (High Priest), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 4: Battling the Sea Beast

Battling the Sea Beast opens with Buster Crabbe fighting an octopus. Mostly it’s Crabbe–quite enthusiastically–feigning a struggle against one or two legs of the octopus, which shows no life once they’re battling. Before it was stock footage; with the fight, it’s a passive prop Crabbe has to get going.

And it’s the only fight scene in Sea Beast, with the exception of an off screen one between Crabbe and a guard while Priscilla Lawson stands by and plots her next move.

It’s a suspenseful chapter; Lawson’s duplicity leads to a catastrophic event, one Crabbe can’t fix. But he still tries to save the day, much to Lawson’s chagrin (and confusion).

There’s some plot development involving Frank Shannon trying to get in touch with Earth. Charles Middleton comes in and cuts it short. Middleton’s not really any better than usual, but for whatever reason he’s more tolerable. Maybe he just wears you down.

Jean Rogers gets nothing to do. She stands by while James Pierce and Duke York argue. They’re fine at it.

It’s a good Flash Gordon. Director Stephani does quite well with the tension.

CREDITS

Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), James Pierce (Prince Thun), Duke York (King Kala), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 3: Captured by Shark Men

There’s some good action in Captured by Shark Men, with Buster Crabbe rescuing Jean Rogers from Charles Middleton and then an undersea sequence with a giant octopus. The cliffhanger resolution is relatively decent, with Crabbe up against a giant lizard monster.

Most of the chapter is either action or leading up to action, but when Crabbe and James Pierce break into the temple to rescue Rogers, there’s also some good crowd panic. Crabbe and Pierce ravage the idol–which is Egyptian–before fighting more of Ming’s henchmen–dressed in Roman garb. It’s a fun mix of contrary set decorations and costumes, with the biggest commonality being all the guys wearing shorts. Lots of men in shorts; including the Shark Men. They’re more men than shark–in swim trunks and swimming caps. They don’t even breathe underwater.

Once Rogers and Crabbe escape–and get into the Shark Men battle–it’s nice for Rogers have something to do, but it turns out not to be much. She, Crabbe, Priscilla Lawson, they’re all still appealing. Ditto Pierce, but a little character development would be nice. Flash Gordon is continuous action; director Stephani uses it to get all the thrills and suspense. But giving the appealing cast more to do wouldn’t hurt anything.

Especially in a chapter like Shark Men, which gets a little tiring after the fourth action sequence.

CREDITS

Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), James Pierce (Prince Thun), Duke York (King Kala), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 2: The Tunnel of Terror

The Tunnel of Terror opens with Buster Crabbe and Priscilla Lawson quickly escaping from the previous chapter’s cliffhanger. The unfortunate lizard monsters (real lizards standing in for giant monsters) make a brief return, but soon Crabbe and Lawson are just on the run from the guards.

Pretty soon, Crabbe is on his own and piloting a rocket ship to take out a force flying against Charles Middleton’s evil Ming. The sky battle is admirably executed; director Stephani, composer Clifford Vaughan, and the four editors work up some excitement, which makes up for the lacking special effects.

Meanwhile, damsel Jean Rogers is being held captive until she’s brainwashed into marrying Middleton and scientist Frank Shannon is goofing off in the futuristic palace lab.

Everyone’s appealing except Middleton. He’s really not getting any better. His costuming is great, his performance is all sorts of dreadful.

The cliffhanger involves another giant lizard, only this one is an actual practical special effect, not a real lizard ostensibly shot forced perspective. The resulting action scene is far more exciting. Even if Crabbe’s stand-in looks suspiciously like a little kid.

CREDITS

Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), James Pierce (Prince Thun), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 1: The Planet of Peril

In just around twenty minutes, The Planet of Peril, the first chapter of Flash Gordon, boldly defines itself. It establishes the ground situation–Earth is about to be destroyed by a collision with another planet and the world’s in panic. It establishes the leads–Buster Crabbe’s a blond, smart guy jock, Jean Rogers is his airplane co-passenger who thinks he’s swell, Charles Middleton is the emperor of whatever planet Crabbe, Rogers, and rocket scientist Frank Shannon have landed on.

There’s a narrative conciseness to Peril’s script, but the production design and visual effects don’t really aid it. The script aids them. Because Gordon is fantastical–there are fighting cave men, interstellar princesses, rocket ships, bad guys in tin suits, one bad guy in a suit of armor, everyone else doing a Roman thing. It’s a lot. Lots of costumes. Lots of special effects, usually miniatures, sometimes not great, sometimes great, always interesting, often cool. And everything seems directed to suport them.

Until the fight scene. Crabbe vs. cave men. It turns out to be this phenomenally edited, long action scene. Director Stephani, the four editors, they know how to shoot and cut action. There’s tension with the rocket take-off, there’s some good editing elsewhere, but the arena fight scene is something else.

And then it comes to a nice cliffhanger. There’s not much peril in the cliffhanger–Crabbe and now soft on him alien princess Priscilla Lawson are falling into something called “the pit,” but it’s just chapter one. There’s just going to be more amazing Flash Gordon.

Really, the only thing wrong with it so far is Middleton. He’s playing the role without a sense of humor. Meanwhile Shannon’s using humor (at least whenever he gets a real line or two), Crabbe is running with it, and Rogers hasn’t got anything to do. Except look scared.

Flash Gordon is awesome.

CREDITS

Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


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