Feb 19, 2013

Sam Jones as Flesh/Flash Gordon

During the early 1980s, movie producers were just beginning to realize that man-mountains like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Swarzenegger sold tickets, but they didn't know exactly why.  Maybe women were having romantic fantasies about them?  So they hired a cadre of musclemen to play iconic heroes who eventually save the day, but mostly stand around getting looked at by a woman.

Christopher Reeves as Superman. 
Miles O'Keeffee as Tarzan.

And Sam J. Jones in a rather peculiar choice,  Flash Gordon.  

In the 1930s comic strip, Flash Gordon was an American polo player who crash-landed on the planet Mongo, along with his love interest Dale Arden and the know-it-all scientist Dr. Zarkov.  They explore the planet, solving the problems of many local potentates, while trying to keep the main bad guy, Emperor Ming the Merciless, from conquering or destroying the universe. It was still running in the 1980s, but only in a few newspapers, and the radio series, comic books, Big-Little books, and cereal premiums were long forgotten.

The 1980 film version was jokingly called Flesh Gordon (coincidentally, there really was an X-rated Flesh Gordon in 1974).  The star, Sam J. Jones, had posed nude for Playgirl, so his penis was nearly as familiar to audiences as his biceps.  Playgirl reran his pictures, retro-dying his hair blond to look more like Flash.

The movie was played for naughtiness and camp, sort of like Buck Rogers on tv, so the beefcake was nonstop.

And everyone Flash encounters, without exception, wants to tie him up, rip his shirt off, and have sex with him: Dale Arden, Princess Aura, Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton), Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed),  even Ming himself (Max Von Sydow).

The gay subtexts completely overwhelm the hetero romance, and Flash doesn't fall in love with anyone (Barin and Aura provide the fade-out kiss.)

Gay audiences were astounded.  Heterosexuals, not so much.  The film wasn't a big box office success in the U.S., maybe because no one knew who Flash Gordon was, but it became a cult classic, propelling Sam Jones into a career as an action hero:

Code Red (1981-82): a family of firefighters.
Jungle Heat (1985): a man-mountain saving people in Vietnam
The Spirit (1987): the comic book hero of the 1940s.
The Highwayman (1987-88): a trucker solves crimes.
Jane and the Lost City (1987): Indiana Jones meets Tarzan
L.A. Takedown (1989): things explode
75 movies and tv series to date.

And when he's tired of jumping out of burning cop cars and having women comment on the size of his...um, gun, Sam and his wife Ramona run a side business in hostage negotiation.

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