In January 1934, newspaper readers were introduced to the adventures of Flash Gordon, an athletic Yale graduate who is kidnapped by Doctor Zarkov and taken in a rocket to the planet Mongol along with the lovely Dale Arden.
In 1935, Hearst brought Flash Gordon to radio a 26-part adventure starring Gale Gordon as Flash Gordon in The Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon. Radio serials from this era are relatively rare, so I was surprised to find the whole 26 part story is available for listeners.
The serial is actually not all that good to start with. While it’s a faithful adaptation of the comic strip, the writers seemed to struggle with being faithful while transitioning Flash Gordon from a visual to an aural medium. One big thing was that very important scenes were skipped over in the early going, so you felt someone was giving highlight of the story rather than you listening to it.
The serial got much better around the sixth episode as the scene shifted to Flash’s goal of taking over the Blue Magic land from the witch Queen Azura. What followed over the next eighteen episodes was a dazzling display of imagination and plot twists with hypnosis potions, invisibility machines, angry dwarfs and a wide variety of reversals of fortune. This was radio fantasy for kids with all its gusto.
The series did break with continuity in the comic books, so it could bring listeners another program. Episode 24 ended with Flash, Dale, and Zarkov accidentally heading back towards Earth in a rocket ship and in Episode 25 they crashed in the Jungle near long time radio character Jungle Jim. In Episode 26, the two were finally wed to wrap up the series, so that Jungle Jim could take over its time slot. This wouldn’t be the last Flash Gordon was heard on the radio, but it would be the last complete program.
Overall, the serial was good. Some people might be offended by Flash’s active conquest, but in the end it’s just fantasy. While the beginning was rushed, and the end while good was a little out of place, the middle chapters are packed with great story. The acting quality varies quite a bit from character to character and there are a fair share of hams on the story, but the series works.
It particularly works as a promotion for the Flash Gordon comic strip. Characters like the Blue Magic Men, Hawk Men all sound exciting, fun, and worth seeing as well as hearing.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0
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