zeph’s pop culture quiz #46
What is the tiny shiny artefact displayed by the hands? From which movie does the screencap stem, and what role in the plot of that movie does the artefact play?
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UPDATE and solution (25 October 2012):
Although Gutterflower had ↵a fine association, nobody seems fit to solve the riddle, so here it is: The screencap is taken from ‘↑Charlie Chan in London‘ (Forde 1934). The artefact depicted is an airgun projectile. As ↑Inspector Chan (↑Warner Oland) draws closer and closer to the solution of the story’s mystery the murderer gets ever more nervous and makes an attempt on Chan’s life using said airgun:
Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) examining the airgun with which an attempt on his life was undertaken in ‘Charlie Chan in London’ (Forde 1934)
The exotic weapon plays only a minor role in the movie, but I was struck by the design of its projectile. I can’t prove it, but I have a hunch that this design goes back to the very first science fiction comic strip.
The first installment of ‘↑Buck Rogers‘ was published on 07 January 1929—originally written by ↑Philip Francis Nowlan (1888-1940) and, from 1929 to 1947, pencilled and inked by ↑Dick Calkins (1895-1962). Early on in the story rocket ships appear which look quite similar to the projectile above. ‘Buck Rogers’ immediately got tremendously popular and was widely circulated. Even back then a merchandising industry already existed and soon matching toys were produced:
Ca. 1935 Buck-Rogers tin rocket ship toy manufactured by Louis Marx & Co.
Rogers developed into a full-fledged franchise from which spawned movie serials, feature films, a 1980s television series and much more. The early success of Buck Rogers inspired ↑Alex Raymond (1909-1956) to create his own sci-fi hero comic strip: ‘↑Flash Gordon,’ which had its debut on 07 January 1934. In it we already find ‘our’ rocketship design. For illustration I chose a later strip, the Sunday strip of 08 September 1940, showing off Raymond’s artistry at its peak:
In the panel at the far left there are several characteristic rocket ships. The tank in the middle panel at the top follows the very same design language. By the way, at the top right you can see the epic’s main heroes, from left to right: ↑Dale Arden, ↑Dr. Hans Zarkov and Flash Gordon himself.
‘Flash Gordon’ in no time reached and even surpassed the popularity of ‘Buck Rogers.’ Already in 1936 a first movie serial was made, starring ↑Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe as Gordon, ↑Jean Rogers as Arden, ↑Frank Shannon as Doctor Zarkov, ↑Priscilla Lawson as ↑Princess Aura, and ↑Charles Middleton as the Princess’ father, Emperor ↑Ming the Merciless (clearly inspired by ↑Sax Rohmer‘s evil genius, the sinister ↑Dr. Fu Manchu). In the serials of the time Crabbe played not only Flash Gordon, but Buck Rogers and ↑Tarzan, too. He was the ultimate hero icon, and, just like the soon to be iconic silver-screen Tarzan ↑Johnny Weissmuller, an Olympic swimming champion.
Here is a screencap from ‘The Planet of Peril’ (Stephani & Taylor 1936), the first episode of the first ‘Flash Gordon’ serial:
The rocket ship depicted is used by the soldiers of Emperor Ming who capture Arden, Gordon and Zarkov.
Here we can see the same rocket ship in full flight, bringing the captives to Ming’s citadel in the background. In the lower left corner, parked on the ground, is the ship in which our heroes travelled from Earth to the ↑planet Mongo. This ship was built in the USA by the earthling Dr. Zarkov but features the same design as Ming’s extraterrestrial ships. So the peculiar æsthetics were known on Earth, too. Little wonder then that the projectile meant for Charlie Chan looked alike.
FORDE, EUGENE. 1934. Charlie Chan in London [motion picture]. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox.
STEPHANI, FREDERICK AND RAY TAYLOR. 1936. The planet of peril. Episode 1 of Flash Gordon [movie serial]. Hollywood: Universal Pictures.