Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe

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Flash Gordon
Conquers the Universe
Flash Gordon 3.jpg
DVD cover
Directed by Ford Beebe
Ray Taylor
Produced by Henry MacRae
Written by George H. Plympton
Basil Dickey
Barry Shipman
Alex Raymond (comic strip)
Starring Buster Crabbe
Carol Hughes
Charles B. Middleton
Frank Shannon
Roland Drew
Cinematography Jerome Ash
William Sickner
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • March 3, 1940 (1940-03-03)
Running time
Brazil:220 min / UK:195 min (12 episodes)
Country United States
Language English
Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter 1

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is a 1940 American twelve chapter black-and-white science fiction serial film from Universal Pictures, produced by Henry MacRae, directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor, that stars Buster Crabbe, Carol Hughes, Charles B. Middleton, Frank Shannon, and Roland Drew. The serial was written by George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Barry Shipman and was adapted from Alex Raymond's syndicated newspaper comic strip of the same name. It was the last of the three Universal Flash Gordon serials made between 1936 and 1940.

During the 1950s, all three of these Flash Gordon serials were directly syndicated to television, by Motion Pictures for Television, along with many of Universal's other serial output. To avoid confusion with the Flash Gordon TV series airing around the same time, they were retitled Space Soldiers, Space Soldiers' Trip to Mars, and Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe.

In 1966 Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe was then edited into two feature-length films for television syndication, Purple Death from Outer Space and Perils from the Planet Mongo, by King Features Syndicate. In the early 1970s, a third feature version was edited for the 16mm home movie market, using material from the entire serial, bearing the title "Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe": this later appeared on television during the 1980s. All three feature versions afterward became available, through various public-domain video sellers, on videotape and DVD.

In the mid-1970s all three Universal Flash Gordon serials were shown by PBS stations across the US, bringing its iconic hero to a new generation, a full two years before Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind re-ignited interest into a waning science fiction film genre. During the late 1980s, they all became available on videotape, and later DVD, in restored versions (including the original titles) from commercial sources.


A deadly plague is ravaging the Earth, known as the Purple Death because of a purple spot left on victims' foreheads. Ming the Merciless is suspected to be behind the plague, and it is discovered that his spaceships have been spreading "Death Dust" in the Earth's atmosphere.

Flash Gordon, along with Dr. Alexis Zarkov and Dale Arden, return to the planet Mongo to find a possible cure. The trio continue to battle Ming and his allies, led by henchman Captain Torch, who is charged with stopping the Earthlings by any means.

They eventually find an antidote, called polarite, in Mongo's remote Kingdom of Frigia. Now they must get it back to Earth in sufficient quantities to stop the plague.

Flash and Zarkov are able to distribute the antidote the same way the original Death Dust was spread. Ming sends in an army of robot bombs after the three, and he succeeds in capturing Zarkov for a short time before Flash is able to free him.

Before Flash, Zarkov, and Dale leave Mongo, they are finally able to triumph over Ming and his henchmen, who become locked by accident in the highest tower of Ming's castle. Flash is able to parachute away from the rocketship he is piloting, just in the nick of time. The spaceship is loaded with volatile Solarite, and as the spaceship's rapid momentum carries it forward directly into the tower, a large explosion ends Ming's tyrannical reign. Prince Barin takes his rightful place as the ruler of Mongo.

Ming's last words to Flash were "I am the universe!" Zarkov observes that with Ming's death Flash Gordon has conquered the universe.


Publicity still with Carmen D'Antonio and Charles Middleton

Chapter titles[edit]

  1. The Purple Death
  2. Freezing Torture
  3. Walking Bombs
  4. The Destroying Ray
  5. The Palace of Horror
  6. Flaming Death
  7. The Land of the Dead
  8. The Fiery Abyss
  9. The Pool of Peril
  10. The Death Mist
  11. Stark Treachery
  12. Doom of the Dictator



Plot points were taken from the preceding serial, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars.

The "chamber of the death dust experiments" was previously used in Universal's Buck Rogers serial. One money-saving device also used was inserting in the serial some exciting mountain climbing search and rescue scenes from the German film White Hell of Pitz Palu (1930),[1] as well as using its music score.

Co-star billing was given to Anne Gwynne, a Universal ingenue, whose role does not develop until the middle of the serial. This last-minute change in billing resulted in the complete elimination of Donald Curtis, as Ronal, from both versions of the screen credits, despite the fact that he, unlike Gwynne, is in every episode as Flash's primary aide, a major role.

Jean Rogers, who had played Dale Arden in the two previous Flash Gordon serials, was under contract to 20th Century Fox at this point, and neither she nor Fox wanted her to repeat the Dale Arden role; it was given instead to a recent Universal contract starlet Carol Hughes.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

According to Jim Harmon and Don Glut, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe "was the most picturesque of the trilogy but surrendered much compelling charm for its cinematic sophistication."[1]


Les préludes by Franz Liszt

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "2. "We Come from 'Earth', Don't You Understand?"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9. 
  2. ^ Cline, William C. (1984). "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 226. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X. 
  3. ^ Fitzgerald, Michael A View from the Cliff: Anne Gwynne Interview Serial Report

External links[edit]

Download or view chapters online[edit]