Thursday, May 14, 2015

Flesh Gordon (1974)

Flesh Gordon (1974) was the first film with any erotic content which we saw at the cinema, back in October 1979.  In those days before home video, if you missed a film at the cinema or (as in this case), it wasn't released in the country at all, your chances of seeing it were minimal, unless it appeared on TV  At the time Triple P was a big fan of science fiction and, in the days before Star Wars, you could, conceivably, have seen nearly all the big science fiction films released since the fifties on TV at some point, because there weren't that many of them.  We owned a number of books about SF films and it was through one of these that we read about the Flash Gordon spoof Flesh Gordon.  It was also mentioned in another book we owned Cut: The Unseen Cinema (1975) by Baxter Phillips. It seemed to get good reviews for a low budget film but we knew our chances of ever seeing it (given that, due to its content, it was unlikely to appear on TV) were minimal.  However, wandering through Oxford one day we saw that it was being presented in a matinee double bill, at the Odeon George Street, with the new British low budget spy film The Golden Lady (1979); a failed attempt to create a female James Bond franchise. Unfortunately, we had to endure this dreadful thriller before Flesh Gordon came on, although the Golden Lady was somewhat redeemed by the appearance of the first full-frontal women we had seen on the big screen; none other than Hungarian model and actress and now sex-therapist, Dr Ava Cadell.   There were only two other people in the cinema that dreary wet October day and they left after the main feature, leaving Agent Triple P to watch Flesh Gordon alone.  Our new girlfriend, who was having an essay crisis at the time, so was not free, was disappointed she had missed both films as she was a fan of any sort of erotica. 

Now this was just before the appearance of Mike Hodges Flash Gordon (1980) (which, coincidentally, we did see with the girlfriend who missed Flesh Gordon)  and Triple P was only vaguely aware of Flash Gordon as a comic book character, as we had never seen any of the old serials on TV.  It wasn't until later that we realised how close the opening of Flesh Gordon must have been to the original story, as the 1980 film had an almost identical opening.

Indeed, as we move on to the film itself, this was the reason for an opening introduction explaining how the film is a parody of and is "respectfully dedicated" to the old adventure films.   This wording was added at the last minute because Universal Studios were threatening to sue the producers, due to the opening of the film being too similar to the original 1936 serial.  Posters had the words "Not to be confused with the original Flash Gordon" added to them for the same reason.

The film starts with an attack on the earth via the use of terrible optical effects on the pavement outside what is really the historic Park Plaza hotel in Los Angeles.  The costumes and car demonstrate that the film was set in the late thirties period of the original serials.

At a press conference, Professor Gordon (John Hoyt, a proper actor) reveals that the Earth has been under attack for twenty four hours by a ray from space which is driving some people to commit unbridled acts of lust in public.  His son, ice hockey player Flesh Gordon, has identified the source of the sex ray as coming from a new planet which has just appeared in the skies.  He is on his way back from Tibet with more news.

We cut to  a model Ford Trimotor (more period kudos) and meet, on board, our hero, Flash Gordon, played by Jason Williams. Williams appeared in a number of B movies from the early seventies until the mid-nineties and latterly has been a successful TV documentary producer. At this point the credits roll, using some rather splendid paintings accompanied by Ralph Ferraro's authentically pulp sounding music; the recording of which, with a full orchestra, was funded with Canadian money.  The score was recorded on the same Universal sound stages that the original Flash Gordon serials were shot on in the thirties.  We get our first glimpse of heroine Dale Ardour played by Suzanne Fields, more on whom, later.

A little later on, we can glimpse what would become some very well known names in the technical crew.  Seven times Oscar winner Rick Baker would go on to be a top effects make-up artist on Star Wars (1977), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Michael Jackson's Thriller (1983), Greystoke (1984), Men in Black (1997), Hellboy (2004), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and many, many more.  Mij Htrofnad is an anagram for Jim Danforth, stop motion animator and matte painter whose animation work work encompasses When Dinosaurs Rule the Earth (1970), Diamonds are Forever (1971), Clash of the Titans (1981) and whose matte paintings can be seen in Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Thing (1982) and dozens of others. Model maker and special effects technician Greg Jein worked on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Star Trek the Motion Picture (1979), The Hunt for Red October (1990) and The Scorpion King (2002).  He also worked on every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Although released in 1974, the film was actually shot in 1971.

After the titles we are back on board the plane with Flesh when it is hit by the dreaded sex ray.  Immediately, the passengers start to strip off their clothes and start writhing around, although Flesh doesn't seem too effected by it.

No sooner has Flesh introduced himself to fellow passenger Dale than she pulls off her not very thirties looking jacket to reveal her perky pair and a decided lack of underthings.   It's typical of the better than usual attention to detail in the film that the set used authentic Ford Trimotor passenger seats.

While the passengers continue to romp they are joined by the flight deck crew.  Flesh struggles to the cockpit to save the plane and Dale fights her way through the orgy to join him.  In the end, as the control stick comes away in his hand, they jump from the doomed plane using a parachute, from which Dale hangs with her mouth conveniently at Flesh's groin level.

On the ground they find a lonely model cottage and head towards it only to be intercepted by Dr Flexi Jerkoff (Joseph Hudgens) who is convinced that they are trying to steal the plans to his rocket ship.   Eventually recognising Flesh, as his friend Professor Gordon's son, he invites them inside his cottage.

Hudgens, whose over the top acting is still better than Topol's in the 1980 film, amusingly, doesn't take his hands off Dale's breasts for the whole sequence, to which she reacts not one bit.

He reveals his ludicrously phallic rocket ship to them, explaining that he got most of the parts from the Sears catalogue. Dr Jerkoff persuades Dale and Flesh to join him on the ship (which is started by a car ignition key having a Volkswagen key ring) so they can travel to the source of the sex ray and save the Earth. 

Unfortunately, the ship is hit by the sex ray in mid flight and Dale gets all of her clothes ripped off this time, revealing that she is not, in fact, a natural blonde..  Flesh (obviously now susceptible to the ray) and Dr Jerkoff chase her around inside the splendidly pulpy rocket interior before having an implied three way with her, although this scene is mostly obscured by part of the rocket ship interior's structure.

Escaping the ray they are shot down by another craft and crash land on a planet.  Trying to escape their pursuers they enter a cave only to be attacked by a trio of stop motion penisauruses.  Eventually, they are captured by the crew of the other spaceship.

They are taken to the palace of Emperor Wang (William Dennis Hunt, the best thing in it, who, since 1990, has had a proper career as a character actor in TV and films).  In fact, the whole idea of a porn parody Flash Gordon was Hunt's idea.  He floated the idea to Michael Benveniste who was working for Howard Ziehm and told him about it.  Benveniste wrote the script and he and Ziehm directed it jointly between them with Benveniste working with the actors and Ziehm doing the technical set ups and directing the sex scenes.  Ziehm has started his film career making cheap 400 foot 16mm "beaver" films of solo girls.  By 1970 he had shot a full length erotic film Mona -the virgin nymph (1970), America's first haredcore theatrical feature.  This film and a documentary he made on the new porn film industry helped provide some of the capital for Flesh Gordon, which the producers intended as the biggest budget porn film to that date.

Flesh, Dale and Jerkoff are taken to Wang's throne room and discover they are on the planet Porno.  Surrounding the throne is an ongoing orgy.  This scene was one of several that reveal that the film originally included hardcore scenes.  The copulating couples are actually copulating.

However, the producers cut the hardcore scenes out themselves as, at that time, it was illegal to shoot hardcore in Los Angeles and it would have opened them to charges of pandering; essentially promoting prostitution.   There are stories of an uncut version being shown on its original release but there seems some confusion as to whether a hardcore version ever really was circulated.  Certainly no such footage has subsequently appeared and it is believed that the hardcore footage may have been taken by (or voluntarily given to) the authorities.

In this scene the man at the bottom right shows a quick glimpse of his erection but that is about as strong as the film gets, as although the couples are depicted being engaged in conventional and oral sex nothing else explicit is shown.

Dr Jerkoff is sent away to the laboratory, Dale is sentenced to be Wang's bride and Flesh is sentenced to the arena.  He is attacked there by a trio of hermaphrodite vampire-like women sporting dildos.  He defeats them and is then rescued by Queen Amora who takes him away from the planet on her swan shaped spaceship.

Amora and Flash have the first real sex scene in the film, some 38 minutes in, as she rides on top of Flesh.  Amora was played by Nora Wieternik, a porn star who had made a number of hard core features and shorter loops.

Interestingly, a still from this scene appeared in the October 1971 issue of Playboy in their The Porno Girls feature.  This was several years before the film's release and Playboy confirmed that the producers themselves had changed their mind about the hardcore nature of the film during filming.  In the finished film you only get to see Wieternik's bust in the sex scene; there is no equivalent shot of this still.

Likewise, in this still, Wieternik is giving Williams a toe job but the scene isn't in the finished production.  This was also one of the scenes that was originally shot as hardcore for the film.

Wieternik in hardcore action

Wieternik appeared in a number of features from 1970 until 1972 with titles like: Dr Dildo's Secret (1970), Look, no Panties (1971) and Sex Spa (1971).  Flesh and Amora's idyll is interrupted by the appearance of Wang's rocket ship which shoots them down, leaving Amora to ascend to a higher plane and reappear as a vision in exactly the same way that Obi-wan Kenobi does in Star Wars a few years later.  Perhaps George Lucas was inspired by Flesh Gordon.  It is not beyond the bounds of possibility!  It was Lucas' failure to acquire the film rights to Flash Gordon that led to him making Star Wars.

Back on the planet, Flesh meets up with Dr Jerkoff who has escaped from Wang and they head off to rescue Dale from her wedding armed with Amora's silver power pasties which can fire laser beams and power machines.  Flesh and Jerkoff's rescue does not go well, however and they end up in one of those classic cliffhanger serial moments.

Meanwhile, Dale has been dragged away into the presence of Queen Nellie, played by a cigar chomping, hook wielding, metal leg wearing Candy Samples (credited as Mary Gavin) in an eye patch.  Subsequently a porn legend, this was one of thirty-one year old Samples' earliest roles.

She tells Dale that she leads the planet Porno Amazon underground who are dedicated to overthrowing Wang.  Dale can join her followers, a lot of underdressed woman, but first she has to be initiated and is tied down.

Queen  Nellie then chooses one of her handmaidens to ravish Dale; selecting a strapping girl (Dee Dee Dailes) with  a splendid seventies Afro.

Meanwhile, we discover that Flesh and Dr Jerkoff, just as in the original series, have managed to inexplicably escape from the impossible situation they were in earlier.  They can hear Dale's cries for help and we cut back to her as the girl squirms on top of her and thrusts her really rather superb breasts into her face.

Dr Jerkoff uses the power pasties to blast them out of their trap and they rush to help Dale who, by this time, has the girl sitting on her face and grinding her hips while Queen Nellie and her girls watch.

Flesh and Jerkoff burst in to rescue Dale but one of the handmaidens summons an insect like stop-motion creature that then has a fight with Flesh.  The fight and the creature really are worthy of the work of Ray Harryhausen and must have been done by Danforth.  

Jerkoff comforts Dale while Flesh fights the squawking monster, fighting up and down a flight of stairs worthy of 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Speaking of Robin Hood, eventually, the creature is felled by the incredibly camp Prince Precious (Lance Larsen).  Precious takes our three principals off to his Forest Kingdom.

There is then the infamous brief scene where the Prince seems to be fellating Flesh while Dr Jerkoff fights off the attentions of one of Precious' merry men on the ladybird-like spaceship that is taking them all to the Prince's Forest Kingdom.

The Kingdom itself is a matte painting of a giant tree with a live action naked girl in the foreground, combing her hair.

While Flesh disports with Precious and gives us William's only full frontal shot in the film, Dale is having all her clothes removed, yet again, by some of the ladies of the Forest Kingdom.  Again, this was, originally followed by another hardcore scene.

Meanwhile Dr Jerkoff has developed a ray gun designed to destroy Wang's sex ray generator which they mount in a rocket.  The attack doesn't go to plan, however, and we get another cliffhanger moment, this time complete with intermission card.

The film then does the classic trick of showing the previous few seconds of action again, this time with the solution to our heroes seemingly inescapable situation as they parachute safely to Wang's palace using umbrellas for parachutes.

The model for the palace had parts which were designed to match the Griffith Observatory building in Los Angeles, which was used for the external shots of our heroes fighting off Wang's guards.  Unfortunately, they end up outwitted by Wang and in another perilous situation.

Wang celebrates what he thinks is his victory by doing the conga and building a pile of naked women in his throne room, as you would if you were ruler of the universe.

His minion returns with one of the power pasties but, while he caresses one of his girls pussy's with it, it gets stuck up inside her.

Our heroes return, having got out of yet another impossible scrape and with Wang escaping Flesh pursues the girl in order to retrieve the power pasty.

Flesh tries to extract the power pasty from the girl's vagina with little success.

Meanwhile Wang summons his three robots with their rotating screw penises to threaten Flesh's companions.  The design of the men-in-suits robots is brilliant, like all the creatures in the film.

They are remarkably ineffective, however, although they do manage to remove Dale's top once more.

While Wang escapes, Jerkoff, Precious and Flesh bounce the girl, rather revealingly, up and down in order to dislodge the power pasty which eventually pops out.

Wang unleashes a wonderful Harryhausen-type stop motion monster who immediately grabs Dale before climbing to the top of one of the towers of the city in  a King Kong like scene.

The creature's droll observations were voiced by an uncredited Craig T Nelson, who, many years later, would voice Mr Incredible in the Pixar film The Incredibles (2004)

Needless to say, most of Dale's clothes are ripped off again as our heroes attempt to rescue her.  Flesh attacks the creature from a flying machine and Wang and the creature end up at the bottom of the tower.

So our hero and heroine have saved the day!  Although the film was low budget it manages to be a very good parody of the old Universal serials indeed.

 Flash Gordon (1936)

Flesh Gordon (1974)

The retro set designs and deliberately flaky looking effects were, given the talented team of future technical stars involved, indeed good enough to justify dropping the idea of a hardcore feature  in favour of something more commercial.  As a sex comedy (or, more accurately a comedy with some sex) it does actually have its funny moments too.

Jean Rogers as Dale Arden in Flash Gordon (1936)

As for the erotic content, it is really subsidiary to the plot and while the very many naked ladies are delightful the only real sex scene that remains in the film is the one between Flesh and Amora.  In fact the original serials had quite a lot of scantily clad girls in too.

The naked girls aren't that out of place given the original comic strip drawn by Alex Raymond, either.  Raymond was a superb interpreter of the female form and his scantily clad lovelies adorn the pages of the original strips.

The acting can be best described as variable but some of it is rather good.  Suzanne Fields as Dale Ardour does well and looks lovely in a part that really only calls for her to lose her clothes on a regular basis.  Fields shot a number of hardcore films in the early seventies and appeared in magazines as well but usually with her naturally dark hair (above).

So is Flesh Gordon worth watching?  Triple P would certainly say yes, especially if you are a science fiction fan and enjoyed the 1980 Flash Gordon.  Overall we give it:

Film: 6/10 
Women: 6/10 
Explicitness: 6/10

Overall: 6/10