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In the 1930s and 1940s, three film serials were made based on the Flash Gordon comic strip. They starred Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon, Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless, Jean Rogers as Dale Arden, and Frank Shannon as Dr Hans Zarkov.
The three serials were:
- Flash Gordon (1936)
- Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938)
- Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)
The serials were syndicated on US television during the 1950s, under the title Space Soldiers to distinguish them from the 1954 Flash Gordon TV series starring Steve Holland.
The 1930s film serials provide examples of:
- Cat Fight: Aura and just about every other female character at some point.
- Clothing Damage: Certainly close to an Ur Example for Sci Fi. It happens in the very first installment to Flash, leading to him Dressing as the Enemy.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Thun the Lionman joins forces this way.
- Deflector Shields (in 1936!): The "Resistoforce" on Barin's ship.
- Detective Mole: Ming tasks his High Priest of Tao with uncovering a traitor who provided Flash information. Of course, the Priest is the one who did so.
- Dramatic Unmask: Ming's masked champion swordsman is revealed to be Prince Barin.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Flash.
- Electric Torture
- Everything's Worse with Bears: Vultan's pet Urso.
- Freud Was Right: The rocketships are largely remembered for their phallic similitude these days.
- Go-Go Enslavement for Dale... and Zarkov.
- Love Potion: Ming tries one on Dale.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Flash single-handedly decimates a Lionman fleet... that was en route to assault Ming.
- Non-Indicative Name: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. The final installment features a tortured rationalization of the title that does not involve any actual universe-conquering.
- Opening Scroll: Invented it.
- The Other Darrin: Carol Hughes took over as Dale in Conquers the Universe.
- People in Rubber Suits: Almost twenty years before Godzilla.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: Besides music cribbed from various previous Hollywood films, the score includes pieces by Brahms, Chopin, Elgar, Liszt, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Richard Wagner.
- Shark Pool
- Slurpasaurs are the first of Mongo's denizens Flash faces.
- Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Flash and Thun crash Ming's wedding to Dale before the gong is sounded the requisite 13 times. Which amounts to the same thing.
- Syndication Title: In the 1950s the serials were syndicated on TV under the title Space Soldiers (there being an actual made-for-TV Flash Gordon series also airing at the time).
- Trap Door Fail: Inverted, as the door works fine on Flash, only Ming's daughter is inadvertently dropped, too.
- We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future