Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars

Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars is a 1938 Universal Pictures 15–chapter superhero movie serial, based on the syndicated newspaper comic strip Flash Gordon. It is the second of the three Flash Gordon serials made by Universal between 1936 and 1940. The main cast from the first serial reprise their roles: Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon, Jean Rogers as Dale Arden, Frank Shannon as Dr. Alexis Zarkov, Charles B. Middleton as Ming the Merciless, and Richard Alexander as Prince Barin. Also in the principal cast are Beatrice Roberts as Queen Azura, Donald Kerr as Happy Hapgood, Montague Shaw as the Clay King, and Wheeler Oakman as Ming's chief henchman.

Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars
Directed by
Written by
Based onFlash Gordon
by Alex Raymond
CinematographyJerome Ash
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • March 21, 1938 (1938-03-21)
Running time
15 chapters (299 min)
CountryUnited States

The serial was followed by Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940).


When a mysterious beam of light starts disrupting and destroying the Earth's atmosphere, Flash Gordon (Larry "Buster" Crabbe), Dr. Zarkov (Frank Shannon), and Dale Arden (Jean Rogers) - accidentally accompanied by wisecracking reporter Happy Hapgood (Donald Kerr) - swing into action in Zarkov's rocketship, believing that it could be coming from the planet Mongo. Once in space, however, they discover that the ray is originating from Mars.

Journeying to the fourth planet, they discover that their old enemy from Mongo, Ming the Merciless (Charles B. Middleton), whom they had believed dead, is still alive, and has formed an alliance with Azura (Beatrice Roberts), the Witch Queen of Mars. From Azura's planet, and under her protection, he is operating a gigantic Nitron ray that is destroying Earth's atmosphere. Azura's powers include the ability to transmute people into figures of living clay, condemned to live in darkened caves, and she is hated and feared by most of the population. Conversely, the Clay People, led by their King (C. Montague Shaw), know the secret of how to eliminate Azura's power, but lack the means of escaping the caves to which their ruined bodies restrict them, in order to battle her.

Gordon and his party would seem to hold the answer to their problem, except that the Clay People don't trust them at first, and end up holding Dale Arden hostage. Ultimately the Earth visitors and the Clay People become allies in the tandem quest to defeat Azura and stop Ming from destroying the Earth. Flash, Dale, Zarkov, and Hapgood do battle against Azura's magic and her Martian space-force, Ming's super-scientific weaponry, the treacherous Forest People, and other dangers on the Red Planet. Finally, they win by the classic strategy of divide-and-conquer, showing Azura that Ming has been plotting behind her back to take power from her.

Azura's alliance with Ming is broken, at the cost of the Queen's own life, but the Clay People are freed from their curse. And the evil emperor of Mongo, his Nitron ray destroyed and his escape cut off on all sides by the now hostile Martian forces, is finally destroyed by the accidental result of his own machinations and treachery.



This serial, the first sequel to Flash Gordon, was based on the 1936 "Big Little Book" adaptation of the strip "Flash Gordon and the Witch Queen of Mongo". According to Harmon and Glut, the location was changed to Mars to capitalise on Orson Welles' famous War of the Worlds broadcast.[1] According to Stedman, this serial preceded that broadcast, which made Universal hastily release a feature version of the serial as Mars Attacks the World to capitalize on the publicity. The film was a box office success.[2]

Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars was less expensive than the first Flash Gordon serial.[2]

Mars Attacks the World

Universal Pictures also prepared an edited to feature-length version of this serial, which was already in print and ready for release in October 1938 when Orson Welles astounded the country with his Mercury Theatre on the Air radio production of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. Universal then quickly had the feature's title changed to Mars Attacks the World, and a week after the Welles broadcast, opened it at a Broadway theater as a major premiere event. The original title for this feature had been Rocket Ship, which was subsequently used for reissues of the first Flash Gordon serial's feature version, which had been originally released under its source serial's title in 1936 in the United Kingdom.

Television broadcasting

In the 1950s, the three serials were broadcast on American television. To avoid confusion with a made-for-TV Flash Gordon series airing at the same time, they were retitled, becoming respectively Space Soldiers, Space Soldiers' Trip to Mars, and Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe.

They were shown by PBS U.S. stations, and by the BBC in the United Kingdom (where they aired as Flash Gordon serials, under their original titles), bringing Flash Gordon to a new generation, two years before the films Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind re-ignited interest in science fiction.

Boosted by their having been part of the inspiration behind Star Wars, in the UK the serials continued to enjoy sporadic reruns on the BBC into the mid-1980s, mostly at Christmastime.

Critical reception

Time magazine in 1938 declared the serial to be "a Grade A cinemedition of the famed King Features strip."[3]


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



  1. Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "2. "We Come from 'Earth', Don't You Understand?"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9.
  2. Stedman, Raymond William (1971). "4. Perilous Saturdays". Serials: Suspense and Drama By Installment. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-8061-0927-5.
  3. "Also Showing". Time. March 28, 1938. Retrieved 2009-03-23.
  4. Cline, William C. (1984). "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 220. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
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