Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe

Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov return to the planet Mongo for an antidote to the Purple Death, which wreaking destruction on Earth. However, Ming the Merciless has other plans for them.

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is a 1940 American black-and-white science fiction movie serial from Universal Pictures, produced by Henry MacRae and co-directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor. The serial stars Buster Crabbe, Carol Hughes, Charles B. Middleton, Frank Shannon, and Roland Drew. It 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 from King Features Syndicate. Shown theatrically in 12 separate weekly “chapters”, it was the last of the three Universal Flash Gordon serials made between 1936 and 1940.

During the 1950s, all three Flash Gordon serials were syndicated to television by Motion Pictures for Television, along with many of Universal’s other serial output. To avoid confusion with the imported 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 edited down by King Features Syndicate into two feature-length films for television syndication: Purple Death from Outer Space and Perils from the Planet Mongo. In the early 1970s, a third feature version was re-edited for the 16 mm home movie market, using story material taken from the entire serial. It bore the title Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe and later appeared on television during the 1980s. Afterward, all three edited feature-length versions became available through various public-domain video sellers, first on VHS videotape and later on DVD.

In the mid-1970s all three complete Universal Flash Gordon serials were shown chapter-by-chapter by PBS stations across the U.S., bringing them to a new generation of science fiction fans, two years before Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. From the late 1980s onward, all three serials became available on the home video market under their original theatrical release titles, chapters, and running times.

A deadly plague is ravaging the Earth, known as the Purple Death because of a purple spot left on victims’ foreheads. Flash Gordon learns that Ming the Merciless is behind the plague when he spots one of Ming’s spaceships spreading the “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, first seeking the assistance of their old friend Prince Barin. The trio continue to battle Ming and his allies, led by henchman Captain Torch, who has been charged with stopping the Earthlings by any means.

The three eventually find an antidote, called Polarite, in Mongo’s remote northern Kingdom of Frigia. They must now get the cure back to Earth in sufficient quantities to stop the ravaging plague. Ming sends in an army of robot bombs, and he succeeds in capturing Zarkov and Dale. After their capture, Flash must return to Earth to distribute the antidote by rocketship, the very same way the original Death Dust was first spread.

Upon his return to Mongo, Flash is able to free Zarkov and Dale. They continue their struggles against Ming, Captain Torch, and his men through a series of close encounters, deadly escapes, and rescues, all the while continuing to thwart Ming and his allies.

Ming and his minions are eventually locked away by one of his men in the high control tower of his castle. Unknown to them, Flash is piloting a rocketship that is speeding directly toward that tower. He parachutes away just in the nick of time, and in a daring aerial maneuver Flash is successful in boarding Barrin’s nearby rocketship, which has Dale and Zarkov aboard. Flash’s unmanned spaceship is actually a flying bomb, having been loaded with highly volatile Solarite. Its rapid forward momentum carries it directly into the castle’s control tower, where the large explosion that follows ends Ming’s tyrannical reign forever. Prince Barin soon takes his rightful place as the peaceful 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”.

Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon
Carol Hughes as Dale Arden
Frank Shannon as Dr. Alexis Zarkov
Charles B. Middleton as Ming the Merciless.
Roland Drew as Prince Barin
Shirley Deane as Princess Aura
Donald Curtis as Captain Ronal (uncredited)
Lee Powell as Radio Officer Roka
Don Rowan as Captain Torch
Victor Zimmerman as Lieutenant Thong
Anne Gwynne as Lady Sonja
John Hamilton as Professor Gordon
Edgar Edwards as Captain Turan
William Royle as Captain Sudan
Sigurd Nilssen as Count Korro
Luli Deste as Queen Fria (uncredited)
Michael Mark as Professor Karm
Byron Foulger as Professor Druk
As-yet unidentified player as Radio Officer Tekla
Ray Mala as Prince of the Rock People (uncredited)

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