Flash Gordon and Flesh,
and a few more films

The Flame of New Orleans (1941)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Marlene Dietrich plays a haughty Russian immigrant to America named Countess Claire Ledoux, and she's snagged a wealthy banker (Roland Young) as her soon-to-be husband.

She's not really a countess, though, and she's not wild about her fiancé. She's drawn instead to a New Orleans ne'er-do-well and monkey wrangler (Bruce Cabot). The story is convoluted, and Young as her fiancé is a weak link, but Cabot does a dashing Clark Gable impression, and Dietrich is Dietrich and that's a lot.

The plot moves slowly, which gave me time to notice that there are several black characters with speaking parts — slaves, presumably, since the film is set in 1840, but no whips are shown and they're treated with respect. (This is not me soft-pedaling slavery, it's me giving the 1941 production a compliment.) The Countess has a maid (Theresa Harris), and it's clear who's in charge, but it's also clear that they're friends and co-conspirators in whatever she's up to.

#270  [archive]
APR. 2, 2024

Somewhat more problematic are the gender politics, where a husband, fiancé, or boyfriend can simply claim ownership of 'his woman'. But it's an old movie, made under the old-time social rules. 

This was French moviemaker René Clair's first American film, so it makes sense that he'd set it in our Frenchiest state, Louisiana. It's not Clair's best, and intermittently sputters and sparkles, but it's a winner.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Flap (1970)
Streaming free at Amazon, if you have Prime

Flap is a comedic drama about three 1970s natives, led by Flapping Eagle, nicknamed 'Flap'. He envies the era's 'black revolution' and wants an Indian revolution, so Flap and his pals block construction of a new highway, because it'll cut through a sacred burial ground. It soon comes out that it isn't a burial ground; they just don't like highways.

Sign me up for that revolution.

There's a small surprise midway through the plot that warmed my icicle heart, but the big surprise is seeing a bunch of cinematic natives who seem sorta real, and aren't all mystical or talking in grunts. Only one of them wears a feather in his cap, and only once, to make a point. 

The casting is pretty progressive. Flap is played by Anthony Quinn, who was half-Aztec. His sidekick is Claude Akins, who was Cherokee. Akins' sidekick, though, is Tony Bill, who's whiter than me but wears a bandana to be 'native'. Shelly Winters runs the whorehouse, and Kenny Rogers and the First Edition perform the movie's dopey but catchy theme song.

The script seriously and repeatedly suggests that these three Indians might be able to enforce the terms of an 1800s treaty between the tribe and the US, which seems astronomically unlikely. And then without explanation, Flap is suddenly a political leader, rallying people to take the streets of what appears to be Mesa, Arizona.

Overall, sorry, Flap is always dangling loose and never comes together. 

Based on the novel Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian, by Clair Huffaker. Directed by Carol Reed (The Fallen Idol, Odd Man Out, The Third Man, etc.), but this isn't his best.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Flash Gordon (1936)
Streaming free at YouTube

This was a 13-part serial, shown one-episode-weekly before the main feature at theaters, and intended to reliably draw the kiddie crowd week after week. What I watched, though, is a feature-length re-editing and re-release, two hours long.

Flash and his pretty blonde girlfriend, Dale Arden, are on an emergency mission to the planet Mongo, which is on a collision course with Earth. Mongo is ruled by a merciless emperor named Ming, who sits in a large throne and sneers a lot.

It must've worked better as a serial, because shown all at once, it gets monotonous. Flash is always in peril, and faces a cliffhanger climax every 12-15 minutes, as Mongo's coming collision with Earth is forgotten for long stretches of the story.

There's zero character development, and the story's tone never wanders far from Flash-is-in-danger. Buster Crabbe is likable enough, with wisecracks once in a while. Dale Arden, his girlfriend, has little to do but be blonde. Ming's amply-bosomed daughter also takes a shine to Flash. My favorite bad guy (among  many!) is a beefy Brian Dennehy-type who laughs loudly.

Filmed on the Universal lot, money was saved by using leftover sets from Frankenstein, The Mummy, and probably a dozen other films. Costumes must've been recycled, too; that's the only explanation for a Roman soldier on planet Mongo. 

The effects never look convincing, but they're interesting, inventive, and often cool. There are several sword fights, and space aliens wearing winged helmets, like on the tails side of old dimes. None of it really makes sense.

Verdict: YES, but more as history than entertainment.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Flesh (1932)
Streaming free at YouTube

"Wallace Beery. Wrestling picture. What do you need, a roadmap?" That's a line from Barton Fink, which inspired me to find a wrestling picture with Wallace Beery. 

In Flesh, Beery plays Polokai (no first name, unless that's this first name, in which case no last name). He's a big-time wrestler in Germany, but there's no money in wrestling, so his real job is schlepping beer barrels at a bar.

After a sweaty match, he's on the job when he sees a pretty woman unable to pay her tab, and being a gallant gent, he pays for the dinner she'd eaten. 

The woman's name is Laura (Karen Morley), and when she confesses she has no home, Polokai invites her to stay at his boarding house. At this point I should mention that Polokai is more Foghorn Leghorn than Clark Gable. He's not making moves on her; he's so dumb I don't think the idea occurred to him.

Polokai is a big schlub with a thick accent and a thick brain, and looks about twice Laura's age, but he's sweet, and eventually they're sweet on each other. She doesn't want him to know that she's an ex-con fresh from prison, released because she's pregnant, and her baby-daddy is still in the picture. And baby-daddy wants Polokai to intentionally lose his next wrestling match.

Will Laura run off with her baby-daddy? Will Polokai throw the match? What do you need, a roadmap? If you've ever seen a movie, you know where this one's going, but it'll hold your interest.

It also features Ricardo Cortez and noted humanitarian Jean Hersholt. IMDB thinks John Ford directed Flesh, but he's not credited on screen — nobody is.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Flesh and the Devil (1926)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Leo and Ulrich have been best friends since childhood, and John Gilbert and Lars Hanson play them as such close buddies, with hugs and long gazes, I briefly wondered if they were gay.

Greta Garbo plays Felicitas, the woman who answers my question by coming between them. She's thoroughly and wondrously wicked. Had to check with Google, and yeah, she'd been in earlier movies, but this is the one where Garbo became 'Garbo'.

She's already married when she brings Leo into her bedroom, but when he joins the military to escape charges after a duel with her husband, Felicitas marries Ulrich. When Leo returns, the melodrama is anything but mellow, and also in the mix is Ulrich's underage sister Hertha (Barbara Kent), who has a crush on Leo.

This is soap opera stuff, but the delivery is quite sharp and effective, especially when Garbo and Gilbert are sizzling on-screen together. The three-way toast to eternal friendship between Leo, Ulrich, and Felicitas is unforgettable, as is the staging of the duel between Leo and Felicitas' husband. And there's a preacher in the story, whose eyeballs go completely blank when he gets especially preachy.

Directed by Clarence Brown (National Velvet). 

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Flesh Gordon (1974)
Flight to Fury (1964)

The Flim-Flam Man (1967)

Flipper (1963)

Flower Drum Song (1961)

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
'Movie reviews' that that recount the plot, paragraph after paragraph, suck. My pledge to you: I'll only give the basics of a movie's premise, with no spoilers after that.  
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. "Tony Bill, who's whiter than me"

    He later directed My Bodyguard, which is not great but which I love for Chris Makepeace and Matt Dillon (your fave!) and later still a flick called Untamed Heart, which is not great but which I've probably watched 50 times because of, uh, Marisa Tomei.

    Like Gorge Costanza, I have no shame.

    1. Tony Bill became a director and producer when he grew tired of being an actor, and I knew he'd made My Bodyguard, which as you say is not great but sure is good. I had not known that he was behind Untamed Heart, which I've only seen once but liked for the same reason. Goes on the list for a rewatch.

      I try to learn something every day, and now I've learned something, so I can relax and have a good bowel movement, maybe a nap.

  2. Doug, your writing is never bad, frequently good, and occasionally sensational. Your description of wardrobe and effects in Flash Gordon . . . "The effects never look convincing, but they're interesting, inventive, and often cool. There are several sword fights, and space aliens wearing winged helmets, like on the tails side of old dimes." Dashiell Hammett would shake your hand for that description, and he didn't shake many hands.

    There wasn't room for you to explain that serials were a big business for theaters in the suburbs as those suburbs were created immediately after WWII and through the 50s to accommodate the GI Bill homebuyers. The serials were almost gone by the time I was old enough to go to the movies without my parents, but in 1957 we went and visited shirttail relatives in central Canada and every kid in town must have been at the local theater to catch the "latest" serial from the States (which must have been nearly a decade old). Those old serials kept a lot of movie theaters open by selling out several times on Saturday at a quarter apiece. Popcorn and a drink took it closer to a dollar, and the economics worked for the theater owner. Getting the kids out of the house for a couple of hours for a buck each was a bargain for Canadian (and American) parents.

    I think the producers' motto was, "Fuck production values; we have a 15 minute episode to make."

    Thanks for the reviews and the fine writing.


    1. Thanks for such kind words, Feel free to compliment me any time. :)

      Serials were over long before I could attend, and maybe I missed the concept, not just the show. Were the serials among the shorts and cartoons before every screening of the regular movie at a theater, or were they shown on Saturday morning shows just for the kiddies, with a serial chapter plus maybe some cartoons?

      Spent a solid two minutes Googling and couldn't get an answer, so I'm asking you, old-timer.

      Even as a kid, I would've hated going to a kids-only show...

    2. Do you happen to remember what serial you saw?

    3. There was a cartoon, the feature movie (it was a second run theater) and finally that week's installment of the 15 or 20 minute episode that ALWAYS ended in a cliff-hanger. I remember it was a western involving a train, but that's all. The children of the relatives my folks were visiting went EVERY Saturday. I don't recall whether they had a TV set or not, but I don't think so. The male relative was an RAF pilot who didn't go anywhere without his mechanic, professionally or socially. I think the mechanic's name was Shorty. This was before fighter pilots were the super-cool branch of the military. I do remember the guys had nearly identical polished mustaches.

      That was more than you asked.


    4. Answered my question and triggered my gaydar. Those mustaches, man. Sexy even to a straight guy like me.

      TV must've been the end of serials. When every home had a television, the idea of cliffhangers would seem quaint. They'd expect every episode to be complete, like Gunsmoke or The Rifleman.


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