Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938)

FG Conquers the Universe (1940)

     The music cue information is provided for the 15-chapter movie serial, inclusive for every chapter in the film. The film source the music was recorded from, along with the name and time of the music cues and composers is listed. In some cases, if the music was public domain, the arranger is listed after the composer name. Example; Liszt/Roemheld. It is not clear if some of the classical music used in the films was actually recorded for them, so "classical" denotes these cues instead a film source name.

Chapter   1: New Worlds to Conquer
Chapter   2: The Living Dead
Chapter   3: Queen of Magic
Chapter   4: Ancient Enemies
Chapter   5: The Boomerang
Chapter   6: Tree-Men of Mars
Chapter   7: The Prisoner of Mongo
Chapter   8: The Black Sapphire of Kalu
Chapter   9: Symbol of Death
Chapter 10: Incense of Forgetfulness
Chapter 11: Human Bait
Chapter 12: Ming the Merciless
Chapter 13: The Miracle of Magic
Chapter 14: A Beast at Bay
Chapter 15: An Eye for an Eye

Author's Notes:
Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938)

     By 1937, Alex Raymond's comic strip, Flash Gordon, had taken a dramatic turn in its storyline. While the underlying motivation remained unchanged, the destruction of Ming the Merciless and the strip's fantasy element was toned down. Gone were the fanciful lionmen, sharkmen and hawkmen; the day's of unbridled imagination were over.

     The reason for the new policy was an act of self-censorship: the more lurid aspects of the strip (i.e. the underlying eroticism). The abolishment of these elements would make Flash Gordon less controversial and an easier property for King Features Syndicate to distribute merchandise. Raymond, who created the strip, but didn't own it, decided if he couldn't tell the type of stories he wanted, he'd at least make up for it in the artwork.

     With the possible exception of Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon was the best drawn comic strip of its time. As Raymond's technique improved, seemingly with each story arc, the strip's popularity continued to grow. Albeit the stories could have easily taken place on Earth, Mongo was still populated by the handsomest men and most gorgeous women of the galaxy; after Flash and Dale Arden, of course.

     Meanwhile, in mid-1937, Universal finally began working on a sequel to Flash Gordon, their wildly popular 1936 adaptation of Raymond's comic strip. Returning to the fold were stars Larry "Buster" Crabbe, Jean Rogers (this time as a natural brunette, the same as the comic strip Dale), Frank Shannon, Richard Alexander (Prince Barin) and Charles Middleton. The sequel was announced as Flash Gordon and the Witch Queen of Mongo, but for reasons now unknown, the locale was changed to Mars and renamed Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars. Wyndham Gittens, Norman S. Hall, Ray Trampe, and Herbert Dalmas, were assigned to write the screenplay, and serial veterans Ford Beebe and Robert Hill were hired to direct. Frederick Stephani, who helmed and co-wrote the first serial, had left Universal to produce films at MGM.

     While the comic strip's fantasy element was toned down, the screenwriters had no such restrictions. In spite if the first serial's hawkmen, sharkmen and lionmen, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars featured a race of tree-men (loosely inspired by Raymond's "Forest Kingdom" sequence that ran in the papers simultaneously to the serial being planned) and the Clay People, a totally original creation.

     Alex Raymond's Azura, Queen of Magic, made her one-and-only appearance in a 1935 sequence of the comic strip. Like Ming, Azura was an evil person, and like every other female on Mongo, was sexually attracted to Flash. A woman who usually got what she wanted, Azura drugs Flash and turns him into her loyal consort. The faithful Dale was relegated to kitchen drudge and, in a celebrated moment of comic strip history, was chained to a wall, stripped to the waist and viciously whipped by the jealous Queen. For the serial, a toned down Azura (Beatrice Roberts) begins ruthless, but comes around to Flash's way of thinking before departing.

     Probably the most important change from the first serial, however, was not so much in the storyline, characters nor creative talent, but in Universal's executive offices. In March 1936, studio founder Carl Laemmle was forced out and a cost-conscious new management took control. Assigned to replace Henry MacRae as producer was Barney Sarecky, who decided to make 15 chapters of Trip to Mars, two more than Flash Gordon, with a final budget of $182,000. Nevertheless, by increasing its pace, the filmmakers produced a product, while not as elaborate, even more entertaining than its predecessor.

     Flashback footage from the first serial saved money, as well as recycling the music from Destination Unknown (1933), Bombay Mail (1934), The Black Cat (1934), Great Expectations (1934), The Great Impersonation (1935), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), East of Java (1935), The Werewolf of London (1935), and Dracula's Daughter (1936). Miniature photography started on November 15th, 1937. Filming of the acting started on November 19th and concluded on December 24th, 1937. The remainder of miniature photography was completed on December 30th and the post-production followed and concluded in January of 1938.

      Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars opened on March 21, 1938. Many aficionados consider the serial film as the best in the Flash Gordon trilogy. To give the film an otherworldy look, the original release prints were tinted an eerie green. A critical and financial success, the serial concluded its run by the summer. A month after the serial was released, the studio shut down because of a labor strike. Film editor Joe Gluck needed a few weeks of work and edited the serial's five-hour running time to a feature length of 67-minutes. It was titled Rocketship, but Universal shelved it. The music tracks closely follow the selections tracked in the serial, but some cues by Vaughan and Waxman originally composed for Sutter's Gold (1936) were tracked in. Also, one of Roemheld's cues from East of Java (1935) was tracked in the feature and some cues from Diamond Jim (1935).

     The infamous Orson Welles' broadcast of War of the Worlds took the nation by surprise on October 31, 1938. The country believed an alien invasion was going to destroy America. It turned out to be a publicity stunt and producer Sarecky was listening that night. He decided it would be a good idea to capitalize on the publicity for Universal's benefit. In less than a week, the studio hastily retitled the film to Mars Attacks the World. The 1936 feature version of Flash Gordon was retitled to Rocketship and it served as a running mate for double-bill areas. Both films were released on November 2, 1938. Mars Attacks the World was very popular and easily outgrossed several of Universal's high-profile films that year.

      Subsequent feature condensations such as Spaceship to the Unknown, Rocketship, Atomic Rocketship, The Deadly Ray from Mars, The Purple Death from Outer Space, The Peril from Planet Mongo and Destination Saturn were abridged cut-downs that were edited from the composite prints for distribution to televison and later for VHS and DVD video. More serial footage was edited in and the abridged features' running time was increased to 90 minutes or so.

     Just as a note, in the 30's, the minimum feature length was around 60 minutes for films. The feature version of Flash Gordon was edited down to 72-minutes for a November 1936 theatrical release. The same practice was applied for the feature version of Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, titled as Rocketship, edited down to 67-minutes and re-titled Mars Attacks the World for theatrical release in 1938.

     His popularity unabated, Universal once again planned for Flash Gordon's imminent return.

     Jean Rogers was a brunette with light to medium brown hair. For the 1936 serial film, her hair was bleached and dyed platinum blonde to portray Dale as a heroine and the Jean Harlowe look was popular at the time. In January 1937, Jean was choosen to play Joan Mallory in Night Key, with Boris Karloff. Once again, the studio had ordered the same hair color for the role. The filming of Night Key began on January 18 and wrapped on February 16, 1937. Her next role was as Helen Conlon in The Wildcatter. Production began on February 22 and she retained the blonde look in the film.

     She was contracted to play Jean Clayton in Reported Missing and was ordered to dye her hair dark brown to play the character. The filming began in early May of 1937 and after the shooting wrapped, Jean decided to keep her hair this color. Filming of Trip to Mars began in November of 1937 and she didn't have to dye it again to play the role. The change from Dale being a blonde to brunette may have been a departure for some audience members, but Jean was a very happy lady who was pleased.

     Buster Crabbe had to get his hair bleached and dyed again to play Flash Gordon and it was curled this time around for a more fuller look. He didn't seem as affected by the change to platinum blonde hair color and he was used to it this time around when making the sequel film.

Beatrice Roberts

     Beatrice Roberts portrayed the beautiful and elegant Queen Azura in the 1938 serial film. She was born in 1905, a native of Belton, Texas. Her nationality was of British descent. Brown-haired, blue-eyed, slender and very beautiful, she rose to become a prominent dancer. In the early years, she moved to Manhattan, New York, and became a teenage fashion model. Her face was commonly seen on billboards that she was called, "the most photographed girl in the world." Beatrice was a finalist in the Miss America Beauty Pageant as Miss Manhattan in 1924 and Miss Greater New York in 1925. She was the winner of "The Most Beautiful Girl in Evening Dress" award in the Miss America Beauty Pageant in 1924 and 1925 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She was also the Coca-Cola girl in the 1920's and appeared in the company's advertisements and merchandise.

     During the time of the beauty contests, she was married to Robert J. Ripley. He was a cartoonist and writer for The New York Globe. They were married on October 31, 1919, but it was short-lived, and they separated three months later. Robert and Beatrice divorced in the aftermath of her Miss America days in 1926. Ripley never mentioned the marriage and preferred to call himself a "confirmed bachelor." She held a university diploma in business and in 1926, she had a brief stint in the Broadway musical-comedy, Oh, Please, with Beatrice Lillie. In 1927, she met William Van Rensselaer Smith, a Los Angeles attorney and they got married. In 1930, she became pregnant and gave birth to William, Jr. In 1931, the newlyweds moved to Hollywood, California.

     Her new husband was a rich man, who came from an old money family. In the 17th century, they owned a large piece of what is now New York state. They made a fortune in the colonial pearl and diamond trade in the previous century. In the 20th century, the descendants' main occupation appeared to have been suing each other for the shares of the masses of cash that were circulating around.

     This was Beatrice's second marriage and it didn't work out. In 1933, the Hollywood gossip columnists discovered William was having a secret affair with an actress named Nancy Carroll. Beatrice was unaware of the situation and was raising their 3-year-old son. A divorce followed and Beatrice had to support herself and the boy. She began appearing in pictures as an extra in attractive roles with no screen credit; a passenger on a cruise ship, a guest at a glamorous party, a mannequin and so on.

     In 1936, she was working at M.G.M. Studios in Culver City. The studio boss was Louis B. Mayer at the time. He noticed her when she appeared in a party scene in the film San Francisco (1936). A short time later, he began dating her. Mayer fell in love with her and she became the love of his life. She shared his passion for operettas and Viennese waltzes. Beatrice was an accomplished pianist and this appealed to him very much.

     In 1937, Beatrice starred in Park Avenue Loggers and Love Takes Flight. They were low-budget films made by M.G.M. But after these two starring roles, Beatrice fell down in the cast list with just a few support roles and disappeared from the credits. Instead, Mayer kept her under contract, loaning her out for picture after picture. When his old friend, Conrad Nagel directed a feature, Mayer made sure Beatrice was in it. He had an under-the-table agreement with Universal and placed her on a semi-permanent loan-out. She would appear as nurses, maids, and secretaries in quick glimpses in films. A fascinating and beautiful dark presence, living out a ghostly career on the sidelines.

     In November 1937, she was cast as Queen Azura in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars. She played second with Charles Middleton in the 15-chapter space serial. The filming encompassed eight weeks. It wrapped on December 24th, 1937. The role as Queen Azura became the opus in her career. It was released in March of 1938 and became the highest-grossing film of the year. The condensed feature version of the serial was titled Mars Attacks the World and the 1936 feature version of Flash Gordon was retitled as Rocketship, and it served as a running mate in double-bill areas on November 2, 1938. Mars Attacks the World easily outgrossed several of Universal's high-profile films that year.

     How could Louis B. Mayer, the highest-paid executive in America and influential studio boss in Hollywood, not get his mistress decent roles in the hundreds of films produced at his studio at the time? Beatrice didn't get any high-profile roles because he didn't want her to work in high-profile roles in film. In Mayer's case, the last thing he wanted, as head of the studio whose reputation was based on "family value" pictures, with a strong moral tone, was a high-profile mistress that could ruin his career. It was common knowledge to Hollywood insiders that Mayer used the contract list for his own private harem of women. He saw to it that someone he could trust went ahead of him with a starlet, just so the girl could never claim he had corrupted her. It was his way of putting the women in the category of what is called fair game.

     In 1943, Beatrice was 38-years-old and Mayer was 60-years-old. He fell in love again and lost interest in Beatrice. Mayer had been introduced to a client, Ginny Simms, who was under contract at M.G.M. as a leading lady. She was dark, attractive, good-natured, popular with the GIs and favorite of veterans' hospitals. At 26-years-old, Simms was a big radio star in 1943, had a natural voice with two octaves and a magical glissando. She was perfectly suited for the 1940's, with that era's emphasis on pizzazz, energy, the razzle-dazzle of swing and bebop. Like Beatrice, she was Texas-born. The nurse and secretary roles kept coming in with other bit roles for Beatrice. In the fall of 1948, she worked in two final features for Universal; Family Honeymoon and Criss Cross. They were released in January and February of 1949. Beatrice left the Hollywood business that year to resume her family life and continue raising her only son.

     She resided in Hollywood Hills, right above the town of the same name. Beatrice met a Los Angeles businessman whose last name was Lutz. They married in the period after she exited the film business. In her later years, she was known as Beatrice Lutz. In 1970, Beatrice died of natural causes in her Hollywood Hills home. She was 65-years-old. The only living link is her grandson, William Van Rensselaer Smith III. He is a friend to this site and heir to Beatrice Roberts.

Beatrice Roberts

Scarlet Street (1945)

The Killers (1946)

     In Filmfax #79, Buster credits the success of the special effects in the serials to Eddie Keyes, who was director of special effects at Universal. One of his most unique and memorable special effects was the melting of the statues in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars:

     "He introduced to motion pictures such phenomena as ray guns, flying rocket ships, fire-breathing dragons, bridges of light that actors could walk across, and walls that Clay men could walk through. His was a world of making the unbelievable believable. While monsters and dragons and death-ray demolitions were part of the scenes we actually worked among, much of Eddie's magic was done in the film processing and editing rooms, where the effects were often added in the post-production stages.

     In one of the Mars episodes where Flash witnessed the disintegration of a stone idol when Ming blasted it with his ray gun, it was Eddie Keyes who developed the method of making the statue melt on cue. For the melting of this idol, Keyes made a plaster of Paris mold from an original clay sculpture. Once hardened, he lined the inside surfaces of the mold with tiny steel shavings that were held together by electromagnetic current running through a steel plate. When the shavings had been sprinkled to the desired thickness in each half of the mold, he closed the two halves to form a whole structure, then removed the mold. Each particle of steel clung to the other by magnetic force. With a non-metallic knife and tweezers, he removed all traces of the joining seams and touched up the detail. Finally, a light coat of paint was sprayed over the hollow, steel idol to make it resemble stone.

     On cue from the director, Eddie pressed a switch to cut the magnetic current and the hollow steel statue collapsed, making it appear like a stone statue melting. He even had a fail-safe mechanism built into the table, in case the paint on the statue set too firmly or residual magnetism lingered in the metal shell: a vibrator jiggled the table with enough force to make the statue melt. Even today, in an age of space exploration, I find Eddie's technique fascinating. It doesn't seem likely that any other effect, short of an actual ray gun melting real stone, could produce a more convincing illusion that was developed by him in 1937."

     "When Universal borrowed me to make a second Flash Gordon serial in 1937, using the same cast of supporting characters as the original, I was pleased. Pleased because, even though it wasn't a class-A film, Flash lent me a degree of identification; fans knew me as Flash Gordon. It was like a family reunion when we gathered on the set for the pre-production staff meeting. I had my hair bleached again, but I didn't mind so much this time. Chuck Middleton, Jean Rogers, and Frank Shannon were back in their original roles, although Jean played Dale as a brunette.

     We started the routine of long days and short nights again, to grind out what would become a lesser product than the first had been, quality-wise. The producer took short-cuts, such as reusing some of the rocket ship footage filmed earlier, and replaying some of the landscape shots, assuming that audiences wouldn't know the difference. It was released that same year, and I never attempted to learn how well it did for Universal. Judging from the fact that, two years later, I would be called back for a third Flash Gordon serial, I assume it was almost as successful as the first had been."

     Click the film titles on to read a comprehensive listing of the musical contributions heard in the serials:

Flash Gordon | Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars | Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe
Buck Rogers