Flash Gordon or Blessed is He

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon

It should come as no surprise that the creative mind behind the 1960s Batman TV series also conceived this similarly kitsch and lurid intergalactic exploitation film. Sam Jones stars as the eponymous hero, Flash Gordon: wholesome, all-American, a little dim. He’s the type of man who has his name written in big red letters on his clothes and is incapable of any guile or deceit. He’s just the annoyingly-perfect Messiah figure the Earth is in desperate need of.

Strange meteorological disturbances are taking place. The sky is turning scarlet, boiling hail stones are rocketing down to earth, volcanoes are erupting, the ground is shaking; basically everything the Conservative backbench said would happen if gay marriage was legalised. All these disquieting events are being monitored by Dr Hans Zarkov (Topol) who looks at the evidence and jumps to the only logical conclusion: The Earth is under attack from outer space! After Flash crash lands through his conservatory, Zarkov kidnaps both him and journalist Dale Arden to investigate the nature of the unexplained phenomena. Handily Zarkov has a rocket ship already built to withstand the rigours of space travel. Soon the three of them are blasting out of Earth’s atmosphere and through a wormhole to the far flung planet Mongo.

Flash and the others initially believe that Mongo is a bizarre hallucination. They are captured and taken to the court of Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow). Ming is the wantonly cruel and camp megalomaniac in charge of an insidious empire intent on near universal domination. Ming’s fond of promoting suffering and craves regular tributes and sacrifices to be made by his oppressed subjects. He rules through fear, avarice and ignorance. Yes, he is the Pope.

Ming presides over a Papal Household that is one huge Mardi Gras, you name it, they have it. Dwarves with swords, Faberge eggs, Venetian masks, Brian Blessed (Prince Vultan) in a codpiece and everyone dressed like giant Quality Street chocolates. Ming sentences Flash to death and watches as our hero is seemingly executed in a gas chamber before being revived by Ming’s concupiscent daughter, Princess Aura. Whilst Zarkov undergoes forcible indoctrination and Dale is appointed head concubine to Ming, Flash and Aura flee to the leafy confines of Arboria, one of the many outer moons under Ming’s control. They witness an initiation ceremony overseen by Timothy Dalton’s Prince Barin. The ceremony is a cross between Russian Roulette and a Crystal Maze task. No stranger to camp and gaudy spectacles, Richard O’Brien is also on hand to watch a hapless Arborian fail the ritual by sticking his hand into a tree trunk and get stung by a poisonous scorpion inside.

Flash is able to survive the ritual before being kidnapped by Prince Vultan’s hawkmen and taken to their aerial headquarters, Sky City. There he is forced to do battle with Prince Barin while Dale and Zarkov watch. It’s a fight to the death, but even when Flash has Barin at his mercy, he does the honourable thing and spares his life. Inspired by this act of mercy, Vultan and Barin decide to join Flash in overthrowing Ming. They descend upon Ming’s palace which is in full celebration mode as Ming prepares to marry Dale. In the ultimate display of machismo and domination, Flash crashes a phallic-shaped battle cruiser through the palace, impaling Ming with the ship’s bow. A mortally wounded Ming disappears into the ether and Mongo is liberated!

Moderately successful upon release, Flash Gordon occupies a special place in the pantheon of cult films. How many so-called celluloid classics can boast a thumping Queen soundtrack, a cast including Brian Blessed, Richard O’Brien, Topol, Max von Sydow and a plot that includes oiled-up Hawkmen, pet midgets, pleasure moons and enough Freudian imagery to keep psychiatrists going until the End of Days? The only disappointment is that no sequel has been forthcoming, but as long as there is a need for men to kill other men by penetrating them with the bow of a space ship, as long as there is a need for men to duel other men with whips on a tilting platform in the middle of the sky, as long there is a need for men to stick their hands in the passages of tree trunks…then there will always be a need for Flash Gordon.