One of the first things I watched when I signed up for Netflix was a suspense serial from the silent film era called Phantomas, and while it was very enlightening to see this first step in the evolution of recorded crime dramas, ultimately it… wasn’t very good. Maybe that’s not fair—it had its moments, but I would have a hard time recommending it to anyone but the most curious film archivists.
Thanks to the growth of streaming services, a vast archive of antique entertainment is now easily accessible to the public, though whether it should be or not is a matter of personal opinion. In the case of the Flash Gordon serials that Universal created from 1936 to 1940, the debate over such material’s worth is a significant matter to science fiction fans. The serials, starring Larry “Buster” Crabbe as Flash (a character who had first appeared in newspaper comic strips a few years prior) made a powerful impression which is evident in much of the sci-fi films and shows that followed. You can see a clear impact on EC comics like Weird Science, on the original Star Trek, and of course the 1980 Flash Gordon film. George Lucas acknowledged the influence of the serials on Star Wars—a film he made when he was unable to acquire the Flash Gordon film rights.