Monday, August 29, 2011

Television: Flash Gordon and Struggle to the End

With this questionably-grammatical title, we bring a close to this three-part Flash Gordon epic.  And looking at the title card makes me wonder, who is this Marie Powers whose name is proudly emblazoned upon two of the episodes (and probably would be on three if the original opening of "The Brain Machine" survived) as Guest Star?  According to Wikipedia, she was "an American contralto who was best known for her performance as Madame Flora in Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium, a role that she played on stage, screen and television....  Later Broadway work for Powers included the 1957 revival of the musical Carousel and the original 1960 production of Becket, where she played the Queen Mother. She died in New York City in 1973."  According to IMDb, she appeared in one movie and five television episodes, and these three were her last screen work.

While we're on the subject of actors...  It strikes me I've been somewhat negative in these posts, so I'd like to talk about my favorite part of the Flash Gordon series, which is the three regulars: Steve Holland (Flash Gordon), Irene Champlin (Dale Arden), and Joseph Nash (Dr. Zarkov).  None of them has much in the way of screen credits (in fact, this series is the only one for Nash), but they all put in solid, believable performances.

Steve Holland makes a good successor to Buster Crabbe in the role of Flash, with a somewhat different approach to the role.  I always like the slightly worried look that Crabbe carries through the serials, as though even he is wondering how long his luck is going to hold out.  And that was appropriate for a man from Earth, constantly thrown against the vast resources of a planetary dictator.  Holland is a more confident Flash, in keeping with the series Flash's position as pretty much literally a galactic FBI officer.  Crabbe's Flash fought the law; Holland's Flash was the law.

Champlin, similarly, helped sell a role somewhat rethought from the comics and serials.  The Dale Arden of the series is an intelligent, capable professional.  Note the first episode of this story, where there is absolutely no question but that she's qualified to repair the atmosphere converter.  And, watching her, I can believe it.

Of course, it also helps the regulars to stand out when most of the guest characters in this series, shot in France and Germany, have to be local actors.  And many of them spoke little English, if any.  According to sometime director Wallace Worsley, Jr., "The use of German actors who could not speak English required us to use a lot of close-ups.  I would stand behind the camera, correctly positioned for the actor's look, and read his or her line; the actor would then repeat the line, mimicking my pronunciation and emphasis."

It's a pity they couldn't add the Netherlands to this French-German-American co-production.  They could have claimed Steve Holland counted against requirements for Dutch content.

Next week: Jack Benny and Ernie Kovacs go to prison, while I get to run around free after making jokes like that Steve Holland one.  There's no justice in the world.

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