what is this?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #46
What is this?
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?
    Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE and solution (25 October 2012):
Title card of 'Charlie Chan in London' (Forde 1934)
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)

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.

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:
The 'Flash Gordon' Sunday strip of 08 September 1940 by Alex Raymond
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:
Screencap from 'The Planet of Peril' (Stephani & Taylor 1936)
The rocket ship depicted is used by the soldiers of Emperor Ming who capture Arden, Gordon and Zarkov.
Screencap from 'The Planet of Peril' (Stephani & Taylor 1936)
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.
  • Alhambra Monday, 15th October 2012 at 13:19

    Looks like a mix of round and rocket …

    • zephyrin_xirdal Tuesday, 16th October 2012 at 19:33

      That’s somewhat close …

  • 風露 Monday, 15th October 2012 at 14:56

    Highend suppository :D

    • zephyrin_xirdal Tuesday, 16th October 2012 at 19:34

      Ha ha ha ha :) but I am afraid, no, not at all ;)

  • Alexander Rabitsch Tuesday, 16th October 2012 at 08:33

    Must be from an Matrix prequel … ya know, the bug the agents put into Neo´s stomach xD remeber that nasty little thing? http://content6.flixster.com/question/39/73/00/3973008_std.jpg

    • zephyrin_xirdal Tuesday, 16th October 2012 at 19:36

      That association I didn’t have, and I do like it. Nevertheless it’s completely off the mark ;)

  • Alhambra Tuesday, 16th October 2012 at 20:59

    Hmmmm …a round you can shoot outta space?

    • zephyrin_xirdal Wednesday, 17th October 2012 at 15:17

      It’s a projectile to be fired by a weapon, indeed. I guess you could shoot it in outer space, too, but outer space is no issue at all within the plot of the movie in question. Here is a hint: We already had the hero of the movie in an earlier instance of zeph’s pop culture quiz …

  • Alhambra Wednesday, 17th October 2012 at 16:05

    I see … no, sorry, the light bulb moment didn’t come yet. Can I please have a better hint? Thx!

    • zephyrin_xirdal Wednesday, 17th October 2012 at 16:30

      Well, what for are weapons usually used in black and white movies? And the people of which profession are interested in this?

  • Alhambra Wednesday, 17th October 2012 at 16:36

    Er … 1# to kill people, 2# murderers. A Peter Lorre movie???

    • zephyrin_xirdal Wednesday, 17th October 2012 at 16:38

      #1, yes, to commit murder, #2, I’d say detectives are interested in murder. But no, it’s not a Peter Lorre movie.

  • Alhambra Sunday, 21st October 2012 at 08:48

    … more hints? Thx :-)

  • Gutterflower Sunday, 21st October 2012 at 21:11

    … just to please me … it is – of course – flash gordon! Who or what else?! Best cleverness ever :ooo)

    • zephyrin_xirdal Monday, 22nd October 2012 at 17:03

      To be honest, I had the very same association when I saw the thing first. It definitely looks like the spaceships from the Flash Gordon comic strips and the old serials with Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe. But the screencap is not from Flash Gordon. As time has progressed, here is a definitive hint: It’s from a Charlie Chan movie.

  • Alhambra Tuesday, 23rd October 2012 at 12:33

    ‘City in Darkness’ or ‘… at the Opera’?

    • zephyrin_xirdal Thursday, 25th October 2012 at 16:38

      I am sorry, but no. It’s from ‘Charlie Chan in London’ (Forde 1934)—I updated the post with the solution and more ;)

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