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FLASH GORDON SERIALS

FLASH GORDON (1936)

Flash Gordon is a 1936 science-fiction film serial. Presented in 13 chapters, it is the first screen adventure for Flash Gordon, the comic-strip character created by Alex Raymond in 1934. It presents the story of Gordon's visit to the planet Mongo and his encounters with the evil Emperor Ming the Merciless. Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers, Charles Middleton, Priscilla Lawson and Frank Shannon portray the film's central characters. In 1996, Flash Gordon was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Universal hoped to regain an adult audience for serials with the release of "Flash Gordon" and by presenting it in many of the top or "A-level" theaters in large cities across the United States. Various newspapers in 1936, including some not even carrying the Flash Gordon comic strip, featured half- and three-quarter-page stories about the film as well as copies of Raymond's drawings and publicity stills that highlighted characters and chapter settings.

The film was the first outright science-fiction serial, although earlier serials had contained science-fiction elements such as gadgets. Six of the fourteen serials released within five years of Flash Gordon were science fiction.

The serial film was subsequently released in a 72-minute feature version in 1936, which was reissued in 1949 as Rocket Ship. A different feature version of the serial, at 90 minutes, was sold directly to television in 1966 under the title Spaceship to the Unknown. For syndication to TV in the 1950s, the serial was renamed Space Soldiers, so as not to be confused with the newly made, also syndicated TV series, Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon was Universal's second-highest-grossing film of 1936, after Three Smart Girls, a musical starring Deanna Durbin. However, the Hays Office objected to the revealing costumes worn by Dale, Aura and the other female characters. In the two sequels, most of the female characters were thus dressed more modestly.

In his review of the film in the 2015 reference Radio Times Guide to Films, Alan Jones describes Flash Gordon as "non-stop thrill-a-minute stuff as Flash battles one adversary after another", and he states that it is "the best of the Crabbe trilogy of Flash Gordon films".

Two sequels to Flash Gordon followed, also in serial form and starring Buster Crabbe. Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (15 chapters) in 1938 and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (12 chapters) in 1940.

CHAPTERS

1. The Planet of Peril

April 6, 1936

"[Lusting after Dale] Your eyes! Your hair! Your skin!
I've never seen one like you before. You are beautiful!"

- Ming the Merciless

"You keep your slimy hands off her."

- Flash Gordon

The planet Mongo is on a collision course with Earth and Dr. Zarkov believes that the planet rushing toward the Earth is inhabited - and if he can travel there in his rocket, he can divert the planet's course and save the Earth. Flash and Dale agree to act as Zarkov's assistants. Their ship lands on the planet Mongo and they are taken prisoners by the sinister Ming the Merciless. Ming is taken with Dale's beauty, while his daughter, Princess Aura, is interested in Flash and Zarkov is put to work in Ming's laboratory. Later Ming forces Flash to battle with three vicious Ape Men.

The costumes for Dale Arden and Princess Aura were daring for the time, sometimes attracting the attention of censors. Some scenes filmed for the first chapter needed to be reshot when the censors felt that Priscilla Lawson's top was too revealing.

Dale faints in Zarkov's rocket ship as the oxygen runs out. This is the first time in the serial that Dale faints. She would faint again in episode 2, "The Tunnel of Terror", twice in episode 3, "Battling the Sea Beast", and again in episodes 5, "The Destroying Ray", 6 "Flaming Torture), and 7, "Shattering Doom".

This opening chapter follows the story of Alex Raymond's original comic strip very closely, in some cases faithfully reproducing individual panels. In the comic, the story of this chapter played out over the first four Sunday strips, published from January 7th to the 28th, 1934. One major difference in the serial adaptation is that Dr. Zarkov accompanies Flash and Dale to Emperor Ming's palace, and is put to work in Ming's laboratory. In the comic strip, the rocket ship crashes on Mongo on January 14th, and Zarkov is forgotten. Flash caries Dale out of the wreck, and Zarkov isn't even mentioned. Zarkov makes a surprise return to the strip more than three months later, on April 24th.

The miniature used for Zarkov's rocket ship was recycled from an earlier production, the 1930 film Just Imagine. Flash Gordon also used other footage borrowed from Just Imagine, including the shot of Zarkov's rocket ship blasting off, and the scene of dancing girls worshipping a huge idol, used in the opening of each chapter.

Ming's soldiers carry rayguns, but they seem reluctant to use them. When Flash kicks up a fuss, the soldiers all attack him with swords, instead of shooting him. At the end of the chapter, 3 soldiers enter the arena to bring Aura out, and only one of them seems to be carrying a gun - the others attack with their fists. As it turns out, Aura is the only person in the chapter to actually fire a gun.

2. The Tunnel of Terror

April 13, 1936

"You will never see Dale Arden again!"

- Princess Aura

In our last episode...

A mysterious world that came hurtling from the skies, threatening to destroy the earth, forced Flash Gordon and Dale Arden into a rocket plane with Doctor Zarkov, in a mad attempt to reach the planet and divert it from its course.

Hurled through boundless space, they land on the onrushing planet and fall into the clutches of the merciless Emperor Ming, who promptly imprisons Zarkov in his laboratory and then, determined to win the beautiful Dale for his bride, condemns Flash to fight huge ape-like man killers in the arena.

Now...

Aura helps Flash to escape as Zarkov is put to work in Ming's laboratory and Dale is prepared for her wedding to Ming. Flash meets Prince Thun, leader of the Lion Men, and the pair return to the palace to rescue Dale. The High Priest reports to Ming that Dale refuses to cooperate, and Ming orders that she be taken to the Dehumanizer, a hypnotic ray that will keep her docile during the marriage ceremony. Flash and Thun gain entrance to the palace and find Zarkov, who tells them that the planet's course has been changed, and will no longer crash into the Earth. He tells them that Dale is being forced to marry Ming in a secret underground chamber. Flash and Thun hurry through the tunnels to stop the wedding and run into a huge scaly Gocko monster.

This chapter closely follows the story of Alex Raymond's original comic strip. The events in this chapter played out over three Sunday strips, published February 2nd to the 18th, 1934. The faithful recreation of the comic strip includes the design of the gyroships and the Dehumanizer, as well as Flash's costume. The shot of Princess Aura leaning against the rocket ship's door and promising to keep Flash away from Dale is taken directly from a panel in the February 2nd strip.

The set for Ming's laboratory was borrowed from another 1936 Universal production, Dracula's Daughter. The footage of dancing girls worshipping the Oracle of Tao was borrowed from a 1930 film, Just Imagine.

At the end of the chapter, Thun and Flash come upon three soldiers. Thun has a raygun, and the soldiers each have swords - but Thun never fires his gun, and only one soldier draws his sword. Flash disarms this soldier, and from then on, it's a fistfight.

3. Captured by Shark Men

April 20, 1936

"Where are you taking us?"

- Flash Gordon

"To Kala, King of the Shark Men."

- Guard

In our last episode...

Flash, aided by Aura, was hiding in a rocket ship when the gyros of the Lion Men attacked Ming's palace, where Dale and Zarkov were held prisoners. Fearing for his friends, Flash attacked the gyros and brought down their leader, Prince Thun.

Finding Flash is an enemy of Ming's, Thun promised to help him, and through a secret passage they entered the palace and learned that Dale was being married to Ming. Flash, trying to reach the wedding chapel, runs headlong into the tunnel of terror and...

Now...

Flash stops the wedding ceremony, but he and Dale are captured by King Kala, ruler of the Shark Men and a loyal follower of Ming. Princess Aura hurries after Flash, desperate to save him. She finds Thun, and they follow Flash's trail to the river. Realizing that Flash has been captured by the Shark Men, she asks for Thun's help to save them. At Ming's order, Kala forces Flash to fight with a giant octosak in a chamber filling with water.

This chapter closely follows the story of Alex Raymond's original Flash Gordon comic strip, in this case, the five Sunday strips published between Feb 25th and March 25th, 1934. In the strips, Flash and Thun defeat the monsters in the tunnel, although there are several monsters, not just one, and they disrupt Ming and Dale's wedding by knocking over the idol of Tao. Flash and Dale are kidnapped by the Shark Men, and taken in a hydrocycle to King Kala. Flash mocks Kala's cowardice, and the pair fight, although in the strip, the fight takes place underwater, with both wearing air helmets.

King Kala's opening line is almost identical to his opening speech in the comic strip: "His supreme intelligence, Ming the Merciless, ruler of the Universe, has ordered that you, Dale Arden, shall be returned to him." In the comic strip Kala is green and scaly.

The major addition to the story is the octosak battle, in the comic, Flash is simply locked in a room that fills with water. Octosaks don't appear in the strip until a couple of months later, on May 27th, when Flash and Prince Barin are forced to battle an octosak in the test of the Torture Tank.

The idol of the Great God Tao was recycled from a previous Universal production, 1932's The Mummy. The scene of people rioting that is seen on the Spaceograph is borrowed footage from a 1930 film, Just Imagine.

4. Battling the Sea Beast

April 27, 1936

"Doctor Zarkov speaking... from Mongo. The Planet Mongo..."

In our last episode...

Flash interrupted the marriage ceremony by hurling the great idol into the midst of the astonished wedding group, and then grabbing up Dale, and with Thun covering his retreat, they escaped.

As they fled, Ming precipitated them through a trap into the undersea city of the shark men and spaceographed Kala, king of the shark men, to return the prisoners to him. Flash, trying to prevent this, fought with and defeated Kala, who retaliated by trapping Flash in a tank and...

Now...

Dale Arden faints as she watches Flash Gordon struggling for his life with an enormous octosak. Princess Aura and Prince Thun arrive just in time and rescue Flash. Aura uses her ray gun to destroy the control mechanism that supplies the palace with air and keeps water out. She plans to escape with Flash, leaving Dale and Thun behind but Flash runs off to save his friends as water rushes into the palace. Back at Ming's palace, Dr. Zarkov uses the laboratory equipment to signal to Earth. Lawrence Gordon and Professor Hensley receive the signals, and try to decipher them.

The first three chapters of the serial followed the story of Alex Raymond's original comic strip very closely; this is the point at which the serial begins to diverge. In the strip, Flash and Aura escape from Kala's city easily, followed separately by Thun and Dale. The city is then destroyed Thun's father, using a gigantic ray. This story plays out in three Sunday strips, published from April 1st to the 15th, 1934.

5. The Destroying Ray

May 4, 1936

"My rocketship is waiting to rescue your friends."

In our last episode...

Leaving Dale with Thun, who was guarding King Kala in the throne room, Princess Aura released Flash from the tank and then attempted to deceive Flash into believing Thun and Dale had escaped and preceded them to Ming's palace.

But when the vengeful Aura deliberately destroyed the control board which by magnetic attraction kept Kala's palace safe under water - controlling the air supply and water pressure - Flash, suspicious, rushed to the throne room to satisfy himself of the safety of Dale and Thun and...

And now...

Flash, Dale, Aura and Thun escape from the underwater city, but are captured by King Vultan and the Hawkmen and taken to the Sky City. Dale is delivered to King Vultan, and Flash and Thun are put to work, shoveling fuel into Vultan's Atom Furnaces. Dr. Zarkov befriends Prince Barin, and they race to the rescue. Vultan is notified that Barin's ship is approaching, and he orders his underlings to destroy the ship with the Melting ray. Barin desperately tries to avoid the Ray, before it destroys the ship.

The model of the Sky City is very faithful to the comic strip's design, but at this point, the serial breaks away from the continuity of Alex Raymond's original comic strip. In the strip, after Flash and his friends escape from Kala's city, they're captured by Prince Barin and his men, who are also holding Dr. Zarkov prisoner. (This brings Zarkov back into the strip; he was presumed lost in the rocket ship crash three months earlier.) In the following strips, Flash and Barin become friends, and are captured by Ming and forced to fight for their lives. The Hawk Men first appear later, on July 8th, 1934, kidnapping Zarkov and Thun and carrying them off to their flying city. Flash, Dale and Barin are captured three weeks later, and brought before Vultan. Aura, who has allied herself with Vultan, has Flash tortured as revenge for spurning her.

The fourth chapter of the third serial, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, was also titled "The Destroying Ray".

6. Flaming Torture

May 11, 1936

"AHHHHHHHHH!"

- Dale Arden

In our last episode...

With a powerful electrical force, Ming raises the doomed shark city above the water, saving Flash, Dale, Thun and Princess Aura, who attempt to reach the kingdom of Thun's father, but are attacked by hawkmen who carry Dale and Thun prisoners to their city in the sky.

Meantime, Zarkov and Prince Barin have formed an alliance and, after rescuing Flash and Aura, are flying in Barin's rocket ship to the city in the sky, where Thun is being forced to feed radium to the mighty atom furnaces, and Dale is being terrorized by the boisterous King Vultan.

And now...

Dale Arden resists the lusty King Vultan's advances, and the king is interrupted by the arrival of Flash Gordon, Barin, Princess Aura and Dr. Hans Zarkov - now captured, and in chains. Vultan sends Zarkov to his laboratory, and orders Flash and Barin to work as slaves in the Atom Furnace, which power the city's gravity-resisting rays. Aura tells Dale that she can save Flash by pretending that she loves Vultan. At Ming's palace, Ming the Merciless learns that his daughter is being held in the Sky City.

The dance number during the banquet scene is footage borrowed from a 1926 Universal movie, The Midnight Sun. This film is now lost, and the footage in Flash Gordon is the only surviving sequence from the movie.

The Midnight Sun is a silent drama film directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki and starring Laura La Plante, Pat O'Malley and Michael Vavitch. The film is set in pre-Revolutionary Tsarist Russia. It is based on a novel by the French writer Pierre Benoit. The film includes a brief scene shot in Technicolor.

Zarkov is put to work in King Vultan's laboratory, just like Ming had done earlier. It would seem all the rulers on Mongo have well equipped laboratories but no scientists to staff them.

7. Shattering Doom

May 18, 1936

"Zarkov, where's Dale? What happened to her?"

- Flash Gordon

In our last episode...

Scarcely had their rocket ship landed in the sky city, when Flash, Barin, Zarkov and Aura were taken prisoners by King Vultan, who promptly put Zarkov to work in his laboratory, while Flash and Barin were compelled to join Thun feeding radium to the atom furnaces.

Princess Aura, determined to wed Flash, deceives Dale into believing that Flash's life depends upon her giving him up and professing to love King Vultan. Heartbroken, Dale consents. Vultan, to test Dale and prove she no longer cares for Flash, leads her to the static room where...

And now...

To keep King Vultan from killing Flash, Dale continues to pretend that she's interested in Vultan. Aura tries to convince Flash that Dale has betrayed him, and she promises to make him a king. Flash is captured and sent back to the Atom Furnace, put to work again, shoveling radium into the furnaces. Vultan orders Zarkov to attach a wire to Flash's manacles so if he tries to escape, he'll be electrocuted. When the shift ends, Zarkov secretly attaches the wire to a shovel, and tells Flash to throw it into the furnace.

Aura's top comes unclasped by accident and nearly drops off in a scene where she threatens Flash with a flaming torch. She immediately runs out of the shot with her elbows pinning the loose garment in place.

8. Tournament of Death

May 25, 1936

"What might that be, mighty Ming?"

- Flash Gordon

In our last episode...

When Dale at sight of Flash being tortured betrayed her love for him, Vultan prompty sent Flash back to the atom furnaces, and ordered Zarkov to connect a high voltage wire to his wrist. But Zarkos connected the wire instead to Flash's shovel, hoping to help him escape.

Meanwhile Emperor Ming has arrived with his air fleet in Vultan's kingdom, and is demanding the return of his daughter, the Princes Aura, and his affianced bride, Dale Arden, when Flash, acting on Zarkov's instructions, throws the charged shovel into the atom furnaces, and...

And now...

Flash Gordon throws his shovel into the Atom Furnace creating an explosion in the furnaces. Flash, Prince Thun and Prince Barin use the confusion to try and escape. However, the explosion in the furnace has disrupted the gravity-defying rays that keep the Sky City aloft, and it begins to fall. Zarkov tells King Vultan that he's discovered a new force that will keep the city in the air, but he'll only use it if Vultan promises to free his friends. But Ming refuses to honor Vultan's promise and invokes his right to arrange a Tournament of Death between Flash and the Masked Swordsman of Mongo. Flash wins the swordfight, but Ming says that he's simply won the right to move on to the next ordeal - a fight with "the Great Beast of Mongo", a huge furry one-horned creature called an Orangopoid.

Vultan's character changes significantly at this point in the serial. He forced himself on Dale in chapter 5, tortured Flash in chapter 6, and enslaved Flash, Barin and Thun in chapter 7; but now that Zarkov has saved his city, Vultan becomes honorable and merciful. Over the next few chapters, Vultan becomes a loyal friend, and even goes to jail and prison on Flash's behalf in chapter 10. Aura makes a similar decision in chapter 12.

9. Fighting the Fire Dragon

June 1, 1936

"I know my father plans the Earth mans death."

- Princess Aura

In our last episode...

Flash and Thun were condemned to death and facing a firing squad, when Zarkov discovered an emergency ray that would support the dangerously tipping sky city, and he agreed to divulge the secret and save Vultan's city, if Vultan would liberate his friends.

But Ming disputed Vultan's right to free the prisoners, and insisted that Flash earn his freedom in combat with a hooded gladiator. When Flash unmasked his opponent and discovered he was fighting his friend, Prince Barin, the enraged Ming ordered Flash to the arena to fight a huge orangopoid and...

And now...

Flash survives the tournament with Aura's help, after she discovers the weak point of the orangopoid. Still determined to win Flash, Aura has him drugged to make him lose his memory and then takes Flash to the palace of Tao through the Tunnel of Terror. As Aura and her guards carry Flash into the tunnel the treacherous High Priest bangs the sacred gong, awakening the Fire dragon.

The sequence with Professor Gordon receiving signals from Zarkov is partially recycled from chapter 4. However, in this chapter, the scene on Earth continues further.

Lane Chandler, who played a Shark Man in chapter 4, plays one of Ming's soldiers in this chapter.

10. The Unseen Peril

June 8, 1936

"And now my pretty Earth woman I have a message for you."

- Ming the Merciless

In our last episode...

Furious over Flash's conquest of the orangopoid, and seeing a chance to get Flash, Vultan and the others in his power, Ming promised to declare a feast day at his palace, at which Flash and Barin would be given their freedom and the bride of their choice.

Notwithstanding this promise, Ming ordered the High Priest, under penalty of death, to rid him of the earth man. The crafty High Priest conspired with Princess Aura, and after giving Flash drops of forgetfulness and ordering the guards to carry him through the Tunnel of Terror to the abode of the sacred Fire Dragon...

And now...

Flash is brought back to Ming's palace, where he is offered his reward for winning the Tournament of Death. Ming asks Flash to choose his bride, but Flash is confused - he's lost his memory, and Prince Barin realizes that Flash was given the Draught of Forgetfulness. Later Zarkov tells Barin that he may be able to counteract the drug. Flash has his memory restored, just in time for Torch and his guards to bust in and announce Flash's execution.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Lawrence Gordon sets up a more powerful radio receiver, which he hopes will allow them to receive the signals from Mongo. They manage to make contact with Zarkov.

11. In the Claws of the Tigron

June 15, 1936

"I don't like it. Bring him back again Doctor. I want to see him alive!"

- Dale Arden

In our last episode...

Carrying out Ming's disbolical scheme to get rid of Flash, the high priest, concealing from Aura his real purpose, conspired with her to give Flash "drops of forgetfulness". Aura then reported to Ming that now, while Flash was unable to remember, was the time for her to marry him.

Ming ordered Flash brought before him to chose his bride, and in his dazed condition, unable to remember Dale, he went away with Aura. Vultan accused Ming of treachery and was imprisoned, but Zarkov, Dale and Barin rescued Flash from Aura, and Zarkov had just restored his memory when...

And now...

Zarkov invents a machine that makes Flash invisible. Flash torments Ming and his guards while invisable. Back in the laboratory, Zarkov gets more signals from Earth. He broadcasts back to Lawrence Gordon and Professor Hensley the news that Flash and Dale are on Mongo.

Princess Aura eavesdrops on the laboratory as Zarkov, Flash and Vultan prepare to carry fuel cells to their rocket ship. Barin realizes that they've been overheard, and hurries Dale into hiding in the catacombs. Aura arranges for Dale to be hunted by a trained tigron, who follows her scent through the catacombs and jumps up on her to attack.

12. Trapped in the Turret

June 22, 1936

"You are right, Ming is not to be trusted."

- King Vultan

In our last episode...

After playing havoc with Ming, the invisible Flash released Vultan from his dungeon prison and hurried with him to Zarkov in the laboratory. Zarkov, meantime, had contacted the earth, and the earth people, eager to escape Mongo, decided to undertake the return venture.

Leaving Barin and Dale to guard the invisibility machine, Flash and Zarkov, aided by Vultan, started loading their rocket ship. Aura notified Ming, who sent soldiers to prevent their departure. Barin, fearing for Dale's safety. hid her in the catacombs under Ming's palace, and when the invisible Flash and his friends returned to the laboratory....

And now...

Aura realizes the error of her ways, and falls in love with Barin. She tries to help Flash and his friends to return to Earth. Ming offers mercy to everyone, and says that he has no reason to delay the departure of the Earth people, although Flash confides in Zarkov and King Vultan that he's not sure if Ming can be trusted. Zarkov contacts Earth again, and reports the news to Lawrence Gordon and Professor Hensley. The friends decide to visit Vultan's kingdom before they leave Mongo.

After 11 episodes of scheming, Aura's character makes an about face and becomes a loyal friend. Barin chides her in the tunnel, and she decides that he's right. Barin tells Flash and Dale that she's promised, and they agree to trust her, even though it's only moments after her latest attempt on Dale's life. This is an even more pronounced 180-degree turn than the one that Vultan made in chapter 8.

13. Rocketing to Earth

June 29, 1936

"Flash... Dale... we're home. We are about to land!"

- Doctor Zarkov

In our last episode...

When Ming ordered the earth people seized and Barin and Aura defied him, the crafty Ming changed his tactics and declared the earth people free to return to earth. Flash and Dale hurried to Zarkov with the good news, but found him dejected beside his wrecked invisibility machine.

Not trusting Ming, Vultan invited the earth people to his sky city, and Barin offered to take them in his rocket ship. Spies reported this to Ming, and when Flash and his friends, including Aura, hurried to meet Barin at the agreed place, a rocket ship circling low....

And now...

Ming orders that the Earth people be caught and killed, but Flash and his friends escape from the Emperor's clutches, and Ming is apparently killed in the flames of the "sacred temple of the Great God Tao". Flash, Dale and Zarkov make a triumphant return to Earth.

To some it's not clear what Ming's intentions are at the end of the chapter, or what happens to him. Is he trying to escape or is he committing suicide by walking into a flaming corridor below his palace? We think the interaction between Ming and the High Priest seems to indicate that Ming is trying to get away, and the High Priest is helping him, though others have speculated that the High Priest facilitated Ming's death in the tunnel. If so why does the High Priest plant a bomb in Zarkov's rocket ship? We think he helped Ming escape and then went on and tried to kill Flash, Dale and Zarkov just as Ming wanted. Of course since Ming does return in the next serial the case for helping Ming escape makes perfect sence.

It is estimated Flash Gordon had a budget of $350,000 though other sources put the figure at over a million dollars. Sitill many props and other elements in the film were recycled from earlier Universal productions to save money. The watchtower sets used in Frankenstein (1931, pictured left) appear again as several interiors within Ming's palace. One of the large Egyptian statues seen in The Mummy (1932) is the idol of the Great God Tao. The laboratory set and a shot of the Moon rushing past Zarkov's returning rocket ship from space are from The Invisible Ray (1936). Zarkov's rocket ship and scenes of dancers swarming over a gigantic idol were reused from Just Imagine (1930). Ming's attack on Earth is footage from old silent newsreels, and an entire dance segment is from The Midnight Sun (1927), while some of the laboratory equipment came from Bride of Frankenstein (1935). The music was also recycled from several other films, notably Bride of Frankenstein, Bombay Mail, The Black Cat (both 1934), Werewolf of London (1935), and The Invisible Man (1933).

Buster Crabbe had his hair dyed blond to appear more like the comic-strip Flash Gordon. He was reportedly very self-conscious about this and kept his hat on in public at all times, even with women present. He did not like men whistling at him. Jean Rogers also had her hair dyed blonde prior to production, "apparently to capitalize on the popularity of Jean Harlow". Brunette was actually the natural hair color for both actresses.

According to the 1973 reference The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury by Jim Harmon and Donald Glut, Ming's makeup and costuming were designed to resemble Fu Manchu, a fictional "supervillain" popularized in earlier Hollywood films and in a series of novels first published in England in 1913. Richard Alexander, as Prince Barin, helped to design his own costume, which included a leather chest plate painted gold. Crash Corrigan, who would later star in other serials, wore a modified gorilla suit to portray the "orangopoid" seen in chapters 8 and 9. During filming, Eddie Parker served as a stand-in and stunt double for Buster Crabbe and Glenn Strange in uncredited roles wore the "Gocko" lobster-clawed dragon costume and also appears as one of Ming's soldiers.

Exterior shots, such as the Earth crew's first steps on Mongo, were filmed at Bronson Canyon.

Early film fan historians have claimed that actor Lon Poff, playing the first of Ming's two high priests, died shortly after production began and so was replaced by Theodore Lorch. In fact, however, only Poff's character died, or rather was killed by Ming in an act of fury and replaced by Lorch's High Priest; but the scene was cut from the final print. Poff did not die until 1952.

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