FOOTBALL PLAYERS, ITALIAN ACTRESSES, SCI-FI NOBODIES & DWARVES: NOW WE'RE TALKING
Ten to twenty years before Hollywood caught the bug for making semi-campy to completely-campy comic book hero films, Flash Gordon came and went in a blink of an eye. As seems to be the case for most of these Friday flicks, this was a complete bomb when it came out, but has reached "cult movie" status in the ensuing 27 years. Now I'll admit I didn't see it when it was in theaters. But I caught bits and pieces on cable during the 80's, and I figure I've seen the entire movie in some piecemeal way. More importantly, I know I saw the coming attractions when it was in release, and this is an essential point: because, without question, I recall this line, when Flash introduces himself to whichever villain he faces:
Flash Gordon, quarterback, New York Jets.That's right. Thaaaaaaaat's right. New. York. Jets. And with that, let's set the stage: 1980. I was a Jet fan, a big one, with a capital J (and an E-T-S, if you're so inclined). The real Jets quarterback that season was none other than the Human Pick-Off, Richard Todd, a big, blonde goofball who tossed a whopping 30 interceptions as he led the Jets to a 4-12 record, including a shameful loss to the New Orleans Saints. The same 1980 Saints who sported an 0-14 record before coming into Shea Stadium, one day after my 13th birthday, to earn their sole victory of the season.
(And who quarterbacked the 1980 Saints? Of course, none other than Archie Manning, father of "Super Bowl" Peyton and "Back Foot" Eli. Incidentally, for anyone who cares, the following week saw my Jets beat the hated Dolphins at the Orange Bowl in the famous No Announcers game. And with that mind-numbing array of trivial trivia, that ends the sports portion of our programming.)
Flash Gordon should have been behind center on that squad. So you can imagine why I was excited seeing a coming attraction featuring a big, blonde goofball introducing himself as the Jets quarterback. I was psyched. I was impressed. Yet I still didn't see the movie. Why? I have no idea.
And too bad I didn't, as it actually featured Max von Sidow as Ming the Merciless, and the gorgeous Ornella Muti as his daughter, Princess Aura. It was campily funny, with some cheesy-good lines, and the crazy plot you'd expect from a 1980 remake of a classic movie-adventure series from the 30's, with Flash as a football player. As I said, I never saw it in one sitting, and even then I don't remember thinking much of it either way.
Oh, and did I mention that Queen composed & performed the score? Like I said, it's under the definition of "camp" in the movie dictionary.
And, as always, what an odd cast. Let's get to it:
I mentioned Max von Sidow. I also mentioned Ornella Muti (she'd be the gorgeous one -- I'm serious, do a google image search. Even when she has clothes on, you can see that she's got just an exquisite face. And the rest of her ain't too shabby either). She appeared mostly in Italian films, but somehow she found herself in 1991's ghastly Oscar, as the preposterously-named Sofia Provolone, mother of Lisa Provolone, played by Marisa Tomei. And who directed that disaster? FSMOMYOTD regular, John Landis.
Timothy Dalton, better known as James Bond #4, also appeared in Flash Gordon as Prince Barin. To my surprise, Dalton's acting career extends back to 1967, when he played the King of France in The Lion In Winter. He actually continued in a bunch of classically-themed films right into the early-70's, before branching out. And by the late 70's, the branching was successful as he appeared in an episode of "Charlie's Angels." Following Flash Gordon, he spent the next 7 years doing fussy BBC shit until he somehow got cast as Bond for 1987's The Living Daylights. I'm perplexed.
And so were viewers, apparently, as he did only one more 007 movie, before returning to the Masterpiece Theater-ish gar-bage.
Mariangela Melato, who played "Kala" in Flash Gordon, is best known as the rich bitch who's "tamed" & seduced by Giancarlo Giannini's working-class manliness in Lina Wertmuller's 1974 production of Swept Away. It's an odd movie, with nearly Marxist class-consciousness. It also exhibits a swaggering machismo, best exemplified by the positive view of the way Giannini slaps, hair-pulls, bullies, and fucks Melato into the "real" woman she always wanted to be, underneath her aristocratic trappings. And, as you may have noted, it was directed by a woman. Issues anyone?
It's actually a quality piece of work, even though some of the scenes where Giannini abuses Melato are pretty disturbing. I can't imagine it being on the list of films in a Feminist Theory 101 class. (As we know, Guy Ritchie remade it in 2002 with his wife Madonna in the Melato role, and Giannini's son Adriano as the working-class hero. And that's all I have to say about that.)
In this week's "No Fucking Way!" casting entry, award-winning playwright and screenwriter John Osborne, famous as one of England's "Angry Young Men," and author of Look Back In Anger, somehow managed to find himself in Flash Gordon as "Arborian Priest."
I have no idea.
As longtime fans of the FSMOMYOTD know, there's never been a shortage of midgets & dwarves here. From Charles Silvern in The Warriors, to Felix Silla in The Kentucky Fried Movie, we make sure to save a seat (at the children's table) for the little people. Why? Well, for a lot of reasons, but mostly for shits & giggles, because if you can't laugh at a 3-and-a-half foot tall guy, what can you laugh at?
Well, guess what? Playing "Princess Aura's Pet, Fellini," in Flash Gordon, was none other than Deep Roy, who ended up playing every goddamn Oompah-Loompah in Tim Burton's 2005 version of Willie Wonka. And though -- amazingly -- he didn't play one of those fucking Ewoks, he was in Return of the Jedi, as "Droopy McCool."
Three observations, then we'll move along: (1) Deep Roy would pretty much have to be the name for porn's first dwarf star, wouldn't it?; (2) Playing Ornella Muti's pet doesn't sound like a bad gig at all; and (3) anyone who tries to argue that the 2005 version of Willie Wonka deserves to be MENTIONED in the same sentence as the 1971 original is hereby banned from this site.
(And yes, I'm aware that I just mentioned it in the same sentence, but I can't ban myself from my own blog, now can I? CAN I??? Ok, and since we've settled that, no more on it.)
And you know what? We're not even done with the dwarves! Because in addition to Deep Roy's star turn as Princess Aura's pet, there were ten more dwarf actors who played . . . uhhhh "Dwarves" in Flash Gordon. Among these dwarves? Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2. And the other nine managed to share screen time in Time Bandits, the original Willy Wonka, Jedi, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Roger Rabbit, History of the World, Part I, and just about every other film Hollywood has made that foisted eternal, celluloid humiliation upon these unfortunates.
As I said a few months ago about Felix Silla: it's gotta suck being a dwarf.
And, guess what? It gets even weirder. Richard O'Brien was in Flash Gordon as "Fico." Richard O'Brien, you ask? Ohhhh, you know him. Think of a hump. And a strange way of walking. And maybe just a jump to the left. And then a step to the righ-igh-igh-igh-igh-ight. Put your hands on your . . . yup, Riff Raff. And you may know that O'Brien not only played Frankenfurter's handyman in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but he wrote its script & music!
I also see that O'Brien made his way into 1998's Dark City, which has a pretty impressive little cast of its own. I didn't see it, but it seemed to be well-received. Anyone? Nevertheless, that's not important here. What is important is that O'Brien played "Mr. Hand" in that one. And as any FSMOMYOTD fan knows, there is only one Mr. Hand, and he was played by Ray Walston, goddamn it!
Aloha, Mr. Hand, indeed! The man's a screen legend, can we let him rest in peace? Jeez, next thing you know some modern-day football player not named Lawrence Taylor is gonna start calling himself LT.
John Morton, who played "Airline Pilot," had the kind of acting career we've come to love & embrace in these posts. He was in a mere six movies, but those included Superman II, The Empire Strikes Back (as Dak, Luke's gunner), A Bridge Too Far (a film that included every actor in the history of film, which is 12 actors less than appeared in 1941), and even a FSMOMYOTD, The Gumball Rally.
Meanwhile, Morton's "Airline Co-Pilot" in Flash Gordon, Burnell Tucker, was also in Empire Strikes Back, as a Rebel Officer, plus the original Star Wars, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odessey, Rollerball, The Omen, and Superman. Oh my.
And, as if we weren't already prepared to drop to our knees in honor of that resume -- uncredited roles & bit parts notwithstanding -- I'd like to point out that he was in Lifeforce. So he got to see Mathilda May walk around naked in person.
Ok, now we can drop to our knees and meditate upon this career. Ohhhhhmmmmmmm.
Wait! Maybe too soon. Get up. Because John Hollis -- Klytus Observer No. 2 in Flash Gordon -- was also in Empire Strikes Back, Superman, and Superman II. But he's dead, unlike Tucker, so maybe Hollis can get a moment of silence as Tucker gets the genuflection. Oh whatever, do whatever the hell you want: kneel down, stand up, touch your toes, remain silent, scream from the rooftops, I don't care. You don't even have to wait for me to say Simon Sez.
(Just don't call anyone other than Lawrence Taylor "LT" and we're cool.)
Finally, we have Derek Lyons. He was uncredited as "Arborian Priest Assistant," meaning he acted with John Osborne in this one. Lyons was a true film nobody who nonetheless seems to have built an entire career playing uncredited parts in a bunch of movies we've all seen: Star Wars, Superman II (of course; that's the recurring theme of the day), Gandhi, The Shining, Quadrophenia, Top Secret!, and 47 others.
And as far as I can tell, he's not even a dwarf. Maybe he even got to play Ornella Muti's "pet" between scenes, without having to be three-foot-six. Who needs "credits" in that case?