It appears as if Hollywood is gearing up for another adaptation of Alex Raymond’s classic comic strip, Flash Gordon. Flash Gordon has all the elements of a huge Hollywood blockbuster: a handsome hero, beautiful, and frightening alien vistas, and beautiful alien princesses. Most Gen-Xers have fond memories of the campy Dino DeLaurentis’ movie adaptation from the early 1980s, but I think technology has finally caught up with Alex Raymond’s imagination to more accurately bring Flash Gordon and the world of Mongo, with its lion-men and winged hawk-men, to vibrant, moving life. Flash Gordon is part of the American collective unconsciousness; pieces of it remain in the tapestry of American pop culture from properties like George Lucas’ Star Wars to the animated Jimmy Neutron, to James Cameron’s Avatar. Nonetheless, as popular as Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon is, his final creation, Rip Kirby is largely unknown by today’s audiences.
Rip Kirby may be Alex Raymond’s lesser known creation among the general public, it is arguably his more highly regarded work among fans of comics, and particularly artists. Although Flash Gordon is obviously rooted in 1930s Futurism, as evidenced by the Art Deco-inspired cityscapes that dot the planet Mongo, the basic story of a two-fisted action hero fighting an evil dictator on an alien world, could be updated to any time period. Rip Kirby might be a less desirable property for Hollywood today, because the strip was such a product of its time, that it would be difficult to remove it from its post-World War II setting and still maintain the elements that made it unique. It probably should have been adapted in the late fifties with Cary Grant as Rip and Doris Day as his adoring sidekick, Honey Dorian. If adapted today, I could almost see a Rip Kirby movie as something like the Peyton Reed-directed film Down With Love (2003), starring Ewan McGregor and Rene Zellweger, by way of the Coen Brothers. But who could you get to star in such a film? I’m glad you asked. Let’s start with a celebrated alumni of the Coen Brothers filmography:
George Clooney as ‘Rip Kirby’
For years, I’ve said that George Clooney is the Last Great Hollywood Movie Star. As a celebrity, George Clooney seems like he’s from a different era. He’s always impeccably groomed and although he jets around the world, he does so in a relatively low-key manner, free of the entourages, spectacle and “candid” paparazzi shots courted by most modern celebrities. As an actor, in most of his roles, Clooney plays similarly low-key, but clever, urbane and dapper gentleman. Clooney The Celebrity and Clooney The Actor would inform the role of Rip Kirby, a scientist/sleuth/gentleman adventurer who prefers deductive reasoning and a quiet night at home playing the piano, but still packs a nice right hook. If you slap a pair of horn-rimmed glasses on George Clooney, and he would be a perfect Rip Kirby. If you ever saw his verbal sparring with Catherine Zeta-Jones in Intolerable Cruelty, you know that Clooney can skillfully channel the whiz-bang snappy banter of a 1950s-era film.
Reese Witherspoon as ‘Honey Dorian’
In Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon demonstrated that she could bring depth and intelligence to a character like Elle Woods, who probably would have remained a breezy, lightweight character in the hands of a lesser actress. Witherspoon could transform Honey Dorian, the moony-eyed, love-struck part-time model/part-time sidekick to Rip Kirby into a plucky, smart, clever partner for Rip, and still maintain the character’s sunny innocence and charm.
Stanley Tucci as ‘Desmond’
I’ve been a fan of Stanley Tucci since I saw him in the 1996 film, Big Night. He’s a brilliant actor, who is good at playing a man with something to hide. Rip Kirby’s British manservant, Desmond, was supposed to be a reformed criminal, but the way he was written, I never bought it. He just seemed too proper and stuffy. Tucci could bring out those undertones and be an able, sarcastic foil to Rip Kirby’s all-too perfect gentleman detective.
Dita Von Teese as ‘Pagan Lee’
Pagan Lee was a classic femme fatale. In her first appearance, the sultry, raven-haired beauty was a moll for the The Mangler, a gangster with his eye on the Hicks Formula, a weapon of mass destruction that was potentially more devastating than the atom bomb. By the end of the story, she grew tired of The Mangler’s cruelty and decided to turn on him. Over the course of subsequent Kirby adventures, Pagan eventually became a successful actress and songstress, who hid from her past (and the aggrieved Mangler) under the assumed name of “Madelon.” I’m not sure if Dita Von Teese can act, but with her cold, dark, vintage beauty and her own history with self-styled anti-authoritarian bad boys I think there really wouldn’t be much acting involved. Pagan Lee is a part she was born to play. (Besides, she could provide her own wardrobe.)
Benecio Del Toro as ‘The Mangler’
The Mangler was probably the closest thing that Rip Kirby had to an arch-nemesis. Rip Kirby was described in his very first strip as a “famed athlete, scientist, amateur sleuth, marine reservist,” and although The Mangler lacked the academic training and resume of the Renaissance man Rip Kirby, he made up for it with an atavistic cunning and penchant for casual violence that made him a match for the detective. Benecio Del Toro has played sinister, but charming characters before, most notably in Sin City, and I could easily see him playing the cruel, pin-striped gangster with the scarred face and a missing finger. He has the acting chops to seem an able threat to Clooney.
That’s my take. What do you think?