Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Life After Flash: Sam J. Jones is Still Flash Gordon

Sure, Sunday was a big night for the band Queen when Bohemian Rhapsody won several Oscars, including Best Actor, but there is no question their finest cinematic moment came when they composed and performed the soundtrack to the 1980 fan favorite Flash Gordon (but their songs for Highlander would also be an acceptable answer). It released after Star Wars and reaped a disappointing box-office take, but it has a special place in the hearts of genre fans who grew up in the 1980s. For those of us, Sam J. Jones will always be Flash Gordon. That typecasting has been a curse and a blessing for Jones, who takes stock of his life and career in Lisa Downs’ Life After Flash, which releases today on VOD platforms.

It is only vaguely alluded to in the film (most likely out of respect to Jones’ Evangelical faith), but his first claim to fame was a pictorial in Playgirl. Somehow, this brought him to the attention of larger-than-life producer Dino De Laurentiis, who eventually cast him as the lead in his ambitious Flash Gordon reboot. Their relationship would be . . . rocky. Jones still had plenty of career ahead of him, so it would be unfair to compare Klinton Spilsbury who crashed and burned in The Legend of the Lone Ranger from 1981, but some parallels could be drawn between Jones and George “One-and-Done-James-Bond” Lazenby, except Jones very definitely wanted to continue playing Flash.

As you would hope, there are a lot of behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the film, with extended reminiscences from Melody Anderson, Brian Blessed (who really came to play), Topol, Peter Wyngarde, Richard “Rocky Horror” O’Brien, and Brian May from Queen. Not surprisingly, Timothy Dalton and Max von Sydow are missing in action, but that was a real mistake on their part, because nobody likes a snob. In fact, the participating cast-members and other assorted talking heads make a compelling case for the film, especially Blessed, who argues: “its not camp, its cartoon strip.”

However, the real surprise is how interesting Jones’ life after Flash Gordon has been. He has done plenty of low budget movies and guest appearances on episodic television, but viewers will really want to hear more about his second career as a personal security specialist (bodyguard), specializing in escorting VIPs across the Mexican border.

Jones also talks quite a bit about his family and his Christian faith. He always sounds sincere, largely because he so readily admits his past shortcomings and transgressions. Frankly, given his military background, Jones definitely sounds like he is out of step with most of his Hollywood colleagues (or at least everyone of them not named Gary Sinise or Clint Eastwood).

All things considered, Jones’ post-Flash survival story is downright inspiring. It isn’t just him. Anderson and Topol have also gone on to contribute to society in ways beyond their acting careers. Yet, there is no question Life After Flash serves up generous helpings of nostalgia for fans of late 1970s and early 1980s science fiction. Revisiting Flash Gordon puts us in the mood for retrospectives of Jones, Topol, and director Mike Hodges. It all makes for unexpectedly engaging viewing. Highly recommended for the Eighties generation, Life After Flash releases today (2/26) on VOD.