Tobor the Great

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(4/10) Known for its impressive, if clunky, robot, this 1954 independent film is pure kiddie fare. It was adapted from a more serious draft about using robotic test pilots for space flight, but as the budget went down, it became a juvenile ”boy and his robot” movie with a tacked-on communist spy subplot for enchancing the action. Contrary to popular belief, the robot was not designed by Robert Kinoshita. A mildly entertaining run. William Schallert and Lyle Talbot make brief appearances.

Tobor the Great (1954, USA). Directed by Lee Sholem. Written by Philip MacDonald & Carl Dudley. Starring: Charles Drake, Karin Booth, Billy Chapin, Taylor Holmes, Steven Geray, Franklyn Farnum, William Schallert, Lyle Talbot. Produced by Richard Goldstone for Dudley Pictures Corporation. IMDb rating: 5.2/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

Taylor Holmes as Prof. Nordstrom follows Tobor carrying Billy Chapin.

Taylor Holmes as Prof. Nordstrom follows Tobor carrying Billy Chapin.

In his splendid fifties sci-fi bible Keep Watching the Skies, Bill Warren points out that boys and robots have gone hand in hand since the fifties. We do heartily agree, though we hope that Hollywood would soon realise that there are plenty of girls who like robots as well. But gender issues aside, Tobor the Great is really the starting point for films about boys and their robots, a subgenre that has been getting mauled with steadily declining Transformers movies in the last years. Where robots had primarily been depicted as threats in the few instants they had appeared on previous movies, Tobor the Great was one of the first to be used for good. Continue reading

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Them!

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(8/10) The first true giant bug movie, Them!, was released in 1954 and set the template for years to come. However, few, if any, giant insect films have come close to the cinematic quality of the original. Giant mutated ants appear in New Mexico and threaten to wipe out humanity. Only Science and the American Way can stop them! Good acting, a smart script, well-held suspense, well-placed comedy, superb full-size giant ant puppets and a fifties Ellen Ripley. Watch out for Leonard Nimoy’s cameo.

Them! (1954, USA). Directed by Gordon Douglas. Written by George Worthing Yates, Russell S. Hughes, Ted Sherdeman. Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, Sandy Descher, Fess Parker, Leonard Nimoy, William Schallert. Produced by David Weisbart for Warner Bros. IMDb rating: 7.3. Rotten Tomatoes: 100% Fresh. Metacritic: N/A.

Joan Medford flees the giant ant in Them!

Joan Medford flees the giant ant in Them!

On the site Gary Westfahl’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Films, the author writes: ”Although there were several strange and striking films in the early 1950s that demonstrated in various ways what science fiction films of that era might have become /…/ there was one film that precisely exemplified what science fiction film in the 1950s actually became, and that was Them!” And I would agree. While there were quite a few noteable exceptions, like George Pal’s ambitious space film Conquest of Space (1955), the claustrophobic social drama Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and the Shakespearean space opera Forbidden Planet (1956), Them! set the template for the latter part of the fifties. This was the first actual giant bug film, and, many would say, the best. Continue reading

Gog

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(5/10) Ivan Tors’ third OSI film was hugely influential on sci-fi writers such as Michael Crichton, who basically ripped the film off in his book The Andromeda Strain. Extremely ambitious, the film ticks so many boxes of ”first time ever on film” that I can’t fit them all into this introduction. The script doesn’t live up to its ideas and director Herbert Strock fails to create a claustrophobic suspense drama. The viewer forgets that the protagonists are trapped in an underground lab because of the bright Eastman colours and the seemingly spacious science lab, where a giant computer runs amok and killer robots stalk the corridors. Quintessential cold war drama with communist infiltration, nuclear threat, space race science and casual sexism.

Gog (1954, USA). Directed & edited by Herbert L. Strock. Written by Ivan Tors, Tom Taggart, Richard G. Taylor. Starring: Richard Egan, Herbert Marshall, Constance Dowling, John Wengraf, Philip Van Zandt, Michael Fox, William Schallert, Billy Curtis. Produced by Ivan Tors for Ivan Tors Productions. IMDb rating: 5.5/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

Killer robots on the loose: Gog and Magog!

Killer robots on the loose: Gog and Magog!

If science fiction enthusiast bemoan the exclusion of visionary producer George Pal from discussions about pioneers of the film genre, then they should be doubly as wronged over the fate of the now almost forgotten Ivan Tors. If Tors is remembered today, it is mainly as creator of the Flipper franchise and other family-friendly animal shows. But in his own way, Ivan Tors was just as visionary a science fiction producer as Pal in the fifties, albeit working with significantly lower budgets. His main claim to fame within sci-fi is his movie trilogy about the fictional OSI, or Office of Scientific Investigation, a sort of precursor to the X-Files, without the new-age mumbo-jumbo and lacking in aliens. Gog was the final film in the OSI series, and probably the most ambitious one. Continue reading

Invasion U.S.A.

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(1/10) In a nutshell: One of the true bottom-feeders of the cold war propaganda films, this movie depicts five people who oppose the universal draft seeing USA invaded by the Soviet Union. Despite good talent both behind and in front of the camera, this startlingly dumb movie is singularly boring and consists to a large part of military stock footage and five people talking in a bar. Worth watching perhaps only because of Dan O’Herlihy of Robocop fame and the fact that it features two Lois Lanes.

Invasion U.S.A. (1952). Directed by Alfred E. Green. Written by Robert Smith & Franz Shulz. Starring: Gerald Mohr, Peggie Castle, Dan O’Herlihy, Robert Bice, Tom Kennedy, Wade Crosby, Phyllis Coates, William Schallert. Produced by Robert Smith & Albert Zugsmith for American Pictures. IMDb score: 2.5

New York City getting bombed in Invasion U.S.A.

New York City getting bombed in Invasion U.S.A.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant is one of the most brilliant film critics on the internet. But sometimes I am completely flabbergasted by his judgement – like when he uses words like ”well-handled”, ”neatly structured”, ”clever” and ”excitingly assembled” about a film that the rest of humanity agrees is a big giant pile of turds. This film is Invasion U.S.A. To Erickson’s defense, he also calls it ”one of the weirdest political films ever made”, writes that it reaches ”the heights of camp hilarity” and that it is hard ”to be sillier than this movie”. Continue reading

The Man from Planet X

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(6/10) In a nutshell: Director Edgar G. Ulmer turns this low-budget movie about an alien visitor to a small village into a visually atmospheric, retro-tinged, intelligent expressionist moral tale. Hollywood brings the first alien invasion film to the big screen with a borrowed castle set and lots of mist and obvious matte paintings. Good acting from sci-fi stalwarts Robert Clarke and William Schallert, but unfortunately the low budget, six-day shooting schedule, a mediocre script and expositional dialogue hamper the end product.

The Man from Planet X (1951). Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, Written by Audrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen. Starring: Robert Clarke, Margaret Field, Raymond Bond, William Schallert, Roy Engel, Pat Goldin, Tom Daly, Harold Gould. Produced by Audrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen for Mid Century Films. Tomatometer: 100 %. IMDb score: 5.7

Margaret Field and Pat Goldin meet up by the space pod.

Margaret Field and Pat Goldin meet up by the space pod.

The Man from Planet X is to 1951 what Rocketship X-M (review) was to 1950 – the low-budget quickie that beat the big budget innovators to the finish line. In 1950 George Pal’s costly space adventure Destination Moon (review) was supposed to be the first serious American space film, but Kurt Neumann took advantage of the film’s lengthy production period and massive marketing, and slapped together the surprisingly good Rocketship X-M in 18 days and beat the bigger brother to cinemas by a month. At the end of 1950 The Day the Earth Stood Still (review) was in pre-production, and the producers of The Thing from Another World were all ready to start filming, but were waiting for the much needed snow to fall. Sensing that alien invasions were going to be all the rage in 1951, the producer/writer duo of Jack Pollexfen and Audrey Wisberg quickly cobbled together the production company Mid Century Productions, whipped up a script and hired cult director Edgar G. Ulmer, who shot The Man from Planet X in six days, which was released in late April 1951, a month before The Thing from Another World and nearly half a year prior to The Day the Earth Stood Still. Continue reading