Flesh Gordon (1974)R

CapeHalf a cape

I miss the seventies. I was cynical and dismissive of them at the time, and then the eighties came along and I quickly realized that I’d been a fool — I hadn’t known when I was well off. The seventies were the one time when I felt like I was living in a free country... and one sign of why it felt that way is that only then could something like this have been made. It started out as an X-rated farce combining a parody of Flash Gordon with (by the standards of the time) hardcore pornography. This plan didn’t quite work out: between distributor pressure and police harrassment, they ended up having to drop all the hardcore footage and convert it to an R rating. (Some astute viewers might notice that they missed a spot or two — there are occasional scenes where extras in the background do something that wouldn’t be allowed on Skinemax. And at least one apparently softcore scene is actually hardcore, except that we don’t see the hard parts. Ahem.)

But where that ordinarily should have killed the film, it left the result nearly unscathed, because they put such surprising care and effort into the nonsexual parts of the film. The result is an extremely silly science-fiction spoof that plays sex more for laughs than for fap fodder.

The sci-fi stuff actually has a budget, or at least the appearance of one, and plenty of real talent went into implementing some parts of it. Some of the effects and design are as good as the Dino DeLaurentiis Flash Gordon made six years later! Occasionally it’s better — there’s one sequence where Flesh fights a stop-motion metal bug thing, for instance, that’s as realistically executed as any Ray Harryhausen fight scene of the time. And the ending where the evil Wang’s fortress goes up in multiple explosions is almost James Bondian in thoroughness.

Not only that, but it actually does a halfway decent job of giving us a satisfying adventure story along with all the farce, and the acting is not as bad as you might expect, and some of the jokes are funny. There were other softcore sex farces, but few still hold an audience in the midnight movie crowd as well as this one does. In most old X-rated movies, the plot is an afterthought to the sex, getting minimal attention and effort... in this one, it’s the other way around: the erotic action seems thrown together with perfunctory attention while the spoof adventure story gets all the care and enthusiasm.

As erotica, of course, it’s just a curio... even the typical late-night cable TV fare of 15 years ago would show you better fake fucking — better presented, at least, if not quite as realistically performed — let alone what’s readily available online today.

I don’t want to oversell this too much... it’s still only “good for what it is”, rather than “good”. But I found it a blast. It’s fun! If you’re not uptight about the naughty stuff, I do recommend it, especially if you’ve ever watched any of the original Flash Gordon serials from the thirties. (I would also recommend the serials in their own right, at least for those who think they might be able to enjoy that sort of stuff. I believe they’re now in the public domain, and shouldn’t be hard to find.)