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Although various modern sources credit the 1936, 13-chapter serial Flash Gordon as the source for the feature length film Rocket Ship, Universal legal files reveal that Rocket Ship was a feature-length version adapted from the second serial, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, made in 1938. Rocket Ship was tentatively set for an April 1938 release, however, no official release date can be found in contemporary records, and the film was neither reviewed nor copyrighted. A credit sheet, dated April 18, 1938, that is contained in the copyright records for Mars Attacks the World, a feature compilation of footage from both Flash Gordon and Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, notes that its title was originally Rocket Ship. Later, scenes from the feature Rocket Ship appeared in Mars Attacks the World. The print viewed gave screenplay credit to Frederick Stephani, George Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Ella O'Neill, and also credited "Orig story and scr by Ray Trampe, Norman S. Hall, and Wyndham Gittens," who were the writers of Mars Attacks the World. According to studio publicity, the budget for the first Flash Gordon serial was about $350,000, a higher figure, according to modern sources, than most Universal features.
According to a modern interview, Buster Crabbe recalled that production on the serial began in October 1935 on a six-week schedule. Modern sources add the following information about the Flash Gordon serial: Eddie Parker doubled for Crabbe in some of his stunt scenes. Some scenes were filmed on location in Bronson Canyon in Hollywood. Many of the costumes, including those of "Flash," "Ming," "Barin" and "Torch," were exact reproductions of those in the comic strips. The "Orangapoid" was played by Ray "Crash" Corrigan in costume. Among the musical backgrounds are portions of many other Universal film scores, including Franz Waxman's score for The Bride of Frankenstein, which was released the previous year, and music by Heinz Roemheld and Karl Hajos from the 1933 film, The Invisible Man. Zarkov's rocket ship was a prop from the 1930 Fox feature film Just Imagine, from which some incidental footage was taken (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2833). Silent newsreel footage was used to show the effects of "Ming's" ray on the Earth, and a ballet segment was taken from Universal's 1926 film The Midnight Sun (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.3605). Electrical equipment was designed and operated by Kenneth Strickfaden. In the 1960s, two new and different feature versions were taken from the original Flash Gordon serial and were edited together for broadcast on television. They were titled Spaceship to the Unknown and Perils from the Planet Mongo. Flash Gordon was remade in 1980 by Dino Di Laurentiis productions with Sam Jones in the title role.