Flash and company return to Mongo yet again in the third, and weakest,
Flash Gordon serial.
Buster Crabbe stared as Flash Gordon in three serials for Universal.
The first, Flash Gordon (1936), was one of the most expensive and
lavish serials ever produced. Boasting lavishly large sets and high
quality (for a serial) special effects, the serial was a hit with viewers.
The second serial, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938) had a smaller
budget, but it more than made up for that handicap with a good story that
flowed well, better dialog, and more exciting action scenes.
Then there is the third serial, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe.
In addition to being saddled with a horrid title the budget was even smaller,
and this time the producers didn't have a good script to rely on.
In this series the Earth is suffering from a mysterious plague, the
Purple Death. While doing research in his rocket, Dr. Zarkov, discovers
a space ship from Mongo dumping dust carrying the disease into Earth's
atmosphere. Once again it is up to Flash, Zarkov, and the plucky
Dale Arden to travel to Mongo and foil Ming the Merciless' plans to conquer
When they arrive they meet up with their old friend Prince Barin of
Arboria, and with his help they travel to the cold region of Frigia to
obtain a supply of Polorite, the cure for the Purple Death. Ming,
however, won't let them spoil his plans so easily, and he throws many traps
and distractions in their way.
While this isn't a bad serial, it simply doesn't stand up to its two
predecessors. This series has a generic feel too it. The situations
are things that we've seen in the previous serials. Just how many
times can Flash sneak into Ming's castle via a secret underground passage
before Ming decides to post more guards anyway?
There is a lot of recycled footage too. The first serial is mined
pretty thoroughly for film which gives this serial a padded feeling.
Not only that, but the first couple of chapters are filled with grainy
mountain scenes culled from the 1930 Leni Riefenstahl film The White
Hell of Pitz Palu.
While Buster Crabbe continues in his role as Flash, and Ming is played
once again by the deliciously wicked Charles Middleton, the other supporting
roles (Barin, Dale, and Aura,) are not played by the same actors that were
featured in the first two serials. These new actors don't bring
the same feel to the roles and are generally more wooden.
The script to this series is very tired. Gone is the flare of
the dialog from the second series and production values from the first.
In its place is a fairly standard story for a serial, with some really
atrocious dialog at times. There isn't any imagination or creativity
in this serial, it is just recycling many of the scenarios from the earlier
While this serial does have its moments, the sets generally look very
good, it just doesn't compare with the two that came before.
The mono soundtrack sounds good overall, with minimal hiss. There
isn't any distortion and the dialog is easy to understand. A solid,
if average, sounding disc.
The full frame black and white image looks very good. There is
some print damage, the occasional speck or scratch, but it looks rather
clean for a film of this age. The contrast is good, though the picture
is a little too bright, washing out some details especially in the snow
scenes at the beginning. There are some compression artifacts, mainly
aliasing, that are fairly minor. A very good looking disc.
VCI has put out a version of this serial as a two disc set. The
VCI print has more spots and general print damage, but isn't as bright
as the Roan disc, making some details easier to see. There are fewer
compression artifacts on the VCI disc, but some more digital noise reduction
after effects. Overall the VCI disc is slightly superior.
There is also an Image release, but I have not seen that.
The only extras are text bios on Buster Crabbe and director Ford Beebe,
and a short text page about the serial.
Unfortunately the script in this serial wasn't as strong as its predecessors.
While this is the weakest Flash Gordon serial, it is about average when
compared to chapter plays in general. Fans of the genre should
have fun watching this in any case. Recommended.