Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe

From Academic Kids

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is a 1940 serial film about Flash Gordon. It was the last of three Flash Gordon serials made from 1936 to 1940. The serial was produced and copyrighted by Universal Pictures.

During the 1950s, the three serials were shown on television. To avoid confusion with a made-for-TV Flash Gordon series airing around the same time, they were retitled, becoming respectively Space Soldiers, Space Soldiers' Trip to Mars, and Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe. The re-edited television version, with the title card reading Flash Gordon - Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe, was used for some video and DVD releases of the serial.

The film starts on Earth. A deadly plague has been ravaging the planet, known as the Purple Death because it leaves a purple spot on the forehead of its victims. Ming the Merciless is suspected to be behind the plague, and Flash Gordon is sent with Dr. Zarkov and Dale Arden to the planet Mongo to find the cause of the plague, as well as a cure. Caused by Ming's spaceships dropping "Death Dust" into the Earth's atmosphere, they eventually find an antidote for it and Flash and Zarkov distribute it by the same method soon after the start of the series, while Dale Arden remains in the forest kingdom.

Soon reunited with her, the trio continue to battle Ming, his cohorts, and his underlings. Ming's Captain Torch is the "spearpoint villain" of this serial, a type of character which the previous two did not have. He takes tactical command of the efforts to stop them.

Before they leave, they destroy Ming by locking him in a tower and crashing a rocket ship into it. Prince Barin takes his rightful place as ruler of Mongo. In his rage, Ming said, similar to King Louis XIV of France, "I am the universe!" for nearly his last words. And so, with a simple metaphor, Flash Gordon is said by Zarkov at the end of the series to have conquered the universe.

Plot points taken from the immediately preceding serial, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars include the Rock People as derived from the Clay People of the former, and the bringing-back-to-life of people assumed by Captain Torch to have died. The chamber of the death dust experiments was previously used in the Buck Rogers serial. One money-saving gimmick used by Universal was to take some exciting mountain climbing catastrophe, search, and rescue scenes from the obscure German film White Hell of Pitz Palu, and its music as well.

This serial contains greater story depth than the others, though the plot is quite episodic: Flash goes from battling in ice, to fire, to rock. It is readily seen derived from the events of its age. Ming is a trope for the fascist dictators of the age. He has spies, secret police, military-technical laboratories, and kidnappers, and his agents fight a resistance movement. His rule of the few disparate regions of Mongo shown here is presented as just like the countries that Hitler captured. It is all exemplified when Ming dresses up just like an Earth dictator, except with a few more feathers in his cap, in the last episode.

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