Tuesday, September 30, 2014


The following is excerpted from film historian Charles Lee Jackson II's ebook, The Story of the Making of the Flash Gordon Movie Serials, expanded from his classic Filmfax article.
   Plans for a sequel to 1939's Buck Rogers were scrapped when the public cried out for Buster Crabbe, who had also played Buck, to resume his "proper" role, and MacRae soon began work on the third and last in the series, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, to be released in late winter 1940.
  With MacRae back in charge, authenticity was again in the ascendant. In four years the strip had matured into one of the most beautifully drawn features on the comics pages, and this was reflected in the designs of the serial, making it one of the most opulent chapter-plays ever. Each of the main protagonists got several changes of wardrobe, with Dale seeming to get a new outfit every couple of chapters. Ming exchanged his robes for a tailored military uniform, and the Arborians all wore snazzy Merry Men cast-offs.

   Writers Plympton and Dickey returned, joined by Barry Shipman. Possibly to avoid mentioning "Trip to Mars", the script contains no direct references to earlier adventures, just a few general remarks. Ray Taylor also came back, to officially co-direct with Ford Beebe. The two teamed much in the same manner as Republic's Bill Witney and Jack English, alternating shooting days.

Standing sets from Green Hell and Tower of London, recently vacated, were pressed into service, and an assortment of movable wall flats were juggled and augmented with lighting effects to provide corridors. The impressive cliffs of Red Rock Canyon, just north of Mojave, and various back-lot areas were used for exteriors. One section of studio hillside was silvered up to match stock footage from the German The White Hell of Pitz Palü (which Universal had released in 1930, with an added sound and music track) for an arduous trek into forbidding Frigia, the polar land on Mongo. Jerome Ash and Eddie Keyes' miniatures rounded out the landscape, as well as the skyscapes with an assortment of new and old rocket ships.
Another lavish element is the sound track, with its variety of ray-gun blasts, explosions, and rocket motors. And the music – beginning with a rousing excerpt from "Les Preludes" by Franz Liszt behind the Main Titles and including newly orchestrated pieces originally heard in features such as Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, and Tower of London – makes the film as delightful to the ears as to the eyes.
A MacRae innovation that had previously seen service in Buck Rogers and other titles was the receding roll-up foreword, in which paragraphs of re-capitulation scroll up the screen and angle away from the viewer toward the upper frame line. George Lucas liked this so much that he later used an animated version for the "Star Wars" series.

To see Chapters 6-10 and read more of How the Serial "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe" Was Made click here.


The following is excerpted from film historian Charles Lee Jackson II's ebook, The Story of the Making of the Flash Gordon Movie Serials, expanded from his classic Filmfax article.

Casting was mostly easy: the principals returned, though Jean Rogers, who was by then at 20th Century-Fox, was unavailable (She later moved to M-G-M, where she attracted the eye of Louis B. Mayer [sound familiar?], whose advances she rebuffed). Pretty Carol Hughes, an ingénue from RKO and Warners, assumed the part of Dale Arden, and acquitted herself well, looking as much like Dale as Buster did Flash. Society-type player Roland Drew replaced Richard Alexander as Barin, who had slimmed down after settling into married life with Aura, now Shirley Deane. Republic cliffhanger star Lee Powell appeared as back-up hero Roka, and Donald Curtis (later of films such as It Came from Beneath the Sea) was Frigian Captain Ronal. William Royle, about to step into the shoes of Nayland Smith in Drums of Fu Manchu, played a Barin sympathizer in Ming's guard. Stocky Don Rowan was Torch, who had been (as Earl Askem) a mere officer in Flash Gordon, now Ming's trusted Captain. Veterans Byron Foulger, Michael Mark, Ben Taggart, Tom Chatterton, and Herbert Rawlinson, and comparative newcomers like Edgar Edwards and Jeanne Kelly (who was re-christened “Jean Brooks” at RKO Radio – as though someone might confuse her with a certain Metro dancer), as well as favorites Ernie Adams, Ray Mala, and Roy Barcroft in the fairly large cast.

Anne Gwynne, a rising starlet, got the bad-girl role as Lady Sonja. Sonja, carried over from the strip, had been a minor character who had loved Flash, but when rebuffed, allied herself with Ming. She aided the emperor in an escape in exchange for a promise of marriage. He made good his promise – but promptly had the new empress executed. That’s Ming for you. She fared little better on screen, though Gwynne went on to a career in Universal programmers, and still made an attractive star as late as 1958’s Meteor Monster.

Shooting commenced at the end of November 1939, with location work at Red Rock Canyon, the popular shooting location north of Hollywood. Delayed by bad weather, the unit never did quite catch up, even with the prodigious amount of scenes made back at the studio (and even with a second unit added to the picture), and MacRae’s continued efforts to trim the picture’s sequences. The picture closed $8000 over its $165,000 budget.

But the public knew nothing of these trials and tribulations; in fact, they got an added bonus in the "Flash Gordon" daily strip, which began while the serial was playing in theatres.


The following is excerpted from film historian Charles Lee Jackson II's ebook, The Story of the Making of the Flash Gordon Movie Serials, expanded from his classic Filmfax article.

When the Earth finds itself the victim of a mysterious plague, the "Purple Death", Dr. Zarkov, suspecting interplanetary foul play, ascends once again like Little Eva to the heavens, accompanied of course by Flash and Dale. On Mongo, Flash learns that Ming has again seized power, and is indeed responsible for the Purple Death – which kills only intellectuals, leaving the Great Unwashed Masses ready for enslavement.

Zarkov determines that a mineral found only in the frozen north of Mongo can be used to make a cure, and, with Queen Fria's blessing, the adventurers and their new friends rocket to icy Frigia. Without protection (of course invented by Zarkov), Ming's men cannot venture there, so they send "annihilatons", walking bombs, to destroy the good guys.

Ming's forces fail, and Zarkov saves Earth, but Flash and company must return to Mongo to foil additional plans of their enemy. After a sojourn in the Land of the Dead (home of the aboriginal Rock Men), and despite the counter-plots of the evil Sonja, posing as one of Aura's courtiers, Flash eventually corners Ming in his tower. When Captain Sudin, supposedly Ming's trusted guard, locks him in, the emperor is helpless as an explosive-laden rocket homes in on the tower. (A line of dialogue was included to indicate that there was another way out, if only Ming weren't too terror-stricken to think of it – in case a fourth serial was made.)

Patting each other on the backs, the heroes prepare to return home. Told that he's saved the universe, Flash reminds his friends that Ming claimed in his mad ambition to be the universe. So Zarkov decides he'll radio Earth, "Flash Gordon conquers the universe". Wow.

Friday, September 26, 2014


The initial The Three Mesquiteers film was adapted from the novel of the same name by western author William Colt MacDonald, the story of a trio of cowpokes who take up ranching in the 1920s West, but find their survival more dependent on their success with colts than cattle.
The movie was a hit, and the studio followed up with fifty more sequels each as popular as the first.
The series lasted so long, that the actors who played the leads changed several times over the years, as one star or the other was injured, lured away with bigger paychecks by a rival studio, or graduated to bigger budget films.

As a result the list of actors who were featured in the title roles reads like a roster of B-movie stars, including Ray "Crash" Corrigan, Bob Steele, Ralph (Dick Tracy) Byrd, Bob Livingston, Tom Tyler, and the Duke himself, John Wayne.

Below you will find five of the most exciting Three Mesquiteers movies. We hope you will enjoy them. Included are Frontier Horizon, The Trigger Trio, Range Defenders, Roarin Lead, Riders of the Whistling Skull.


 If you like the Three Mesquiteers films,  you might want to check out Charles Lee Jackson II's homage, the brand new novel Trail Riders. Only 99 cents for this full-length western novel at Amazon Kindle.