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ROBOT MONSTER (1953)

“Yes! To be like the hu-man! To laugh! Feel! Want! Why are these things not in the plan?”




  Director:
 
Phil Tucker

  Starring: 
George Barrows, John Brown, Claudia Barrett, George Nader, John Mylong, Selena Royle, Gregory Moffett, Pamela Paulsen

  Screenplay: 
Wyott Ordung

Synopsis:  While playing during a family picnic, Johnny (Gregory Moffett) and Carla (Pamela Paulsen) encounter archaeologists George (John Mylong) and Roy (George Nader), who are removing a cave painting to be taken away for study. The children are collected by their apologetic mother, Martha (Selena Royle), and sister, Alice (Claudia Barrett), and taken away for a nap. During this time, Johnny wakes and runs back towards the cave, but a sudden lightning blast throws him violently to the ground. Some time later, Johnny staggers to his feet. The cave now contains scientific equipment. Johnny picks up a small can of paint and begins to draw on the cave wall, but he is interrupted by the cave’s occupant: Ro-Man (George Barrows, John Brown). Johnny hurriedly hides outside the cave, from which vantage point he overhears Ro-Man reporting to his people’s leader, the Great Guidance (George Barrows, John Brown). Ro-Man relates that with the calcinator death ray, he has destroyed many cities and all of the world’s population. The Great Guidance corrects him brusquely, informing him that eight people still survive, and must be found and eliminated. Johnny runs back to his family, who live in an open enclosure surrounded by an electronic barrier. His mother, Martha (Selena Royle), and father, the Professor (John Mylong), greet him with relief, his father explaining that the barrier devised by his sister, Alice (Claudia Barrett), is what keeps Ro-Man from being able to find them; but that one word spoken outside it will give their position away. Alice and the Professor disagree over whether there could be any other human survivors. Alice points out that Ro-Man has not destroyed the space platform, on which there is a whole garrison of troops; and wonders whether they can devise some way of communicating with them. Suddenly, Ro-Man appears on the family’s viewscreen, telling them that they five are the last people on Earth. This terrible blow is exacerbated even further by the realisation that the Professor’s assistant, Roy (George Nader), must now be dead. Against her will, Alice starts to cry. Ro-Man shows footage of the destruction of the world’s cities, and tells them that there is no possible escape. Shortly afterwards, however, another human survivor finds his way to Ro-Man's cave: it's Roy, who He overhears Ro-Man reporting to the Great Guidance that he has only been able to detect five of the eight remaining humans – and that, as for some reason the death ray does not work on these people, he will use physical force to destroy them. The Great Guidance warns that he has one revolution of the Earth to complete his mission, otherwise he will be destroyed. Roy runs back to the family compound, reporting that there are two more survivors on Earth, Jason and McCloud, who also used to work with the Professor; and that the secret to their survival is the experimental serum the Professor and Roy devised and injected them all with, just prior to Ro-Man’s arrival. Roy explains that more serum is being loaded onto a rocket, which Jason and McCloud will pilot to the space platform, to immunise the garrison. Alice protests that without warning, the garrison will certainly mistake the rocket for one of Ro-Man’s, and destroy it. She embarks upon a desperate attempt to re-wire the family’s viewscreen, to allow it to communicate with Jason and McCloud without Ro-Man detecting the signal. She has only forty-eight hours....

Comments:  Well, I originally envisioned the monster as a kind of robot. I talked to several people that I knew who had robot suits, but it was just out of the way, money-wise. I thought, ‘Okay, I know George Barrows.’ George’s occupation was gorilla suit man. When they needed a gorilla in a picture they called George, because he owned his own suit and got like forty bucks a day. I thought, ‘I know George will work for me for nothing. I’ll get a diving helmet, put it on him, and it’ll work!’”

Thus, in later years, did director Phil Tucker account for the costuming decision that on its own was enough to win cinematic immortality for his magnum opus, Robot Monster. A number of films have, of course, found themselves in the Bad Movie Hall Of Fame purely on the strength of their monster. A good example of this – indeed, perhaps the best example – is The Giant Claw. In most other respects a perfectly serviceable little fifties science fiction effort, The Giant Claw achieved a whole new level of greatness when its corner-cutting producer, Sam Katzman, farmed out the special effects work to a firm in Mexico, whose – let’s see, how shall I put this? – whose imagination somewhat outstripped its abilities. As a result, B-movie stalwarts Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday spend the whole film cringing in terror from one of filmdom’s most endearingly ludicrous monsters, a boggly-eyed buzzard with immobile wings, a floppy rubber beak, flaring nostrils, hair on its head, and teeth.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr George Barrows.

But even the The Giant Claw’s Anti-Matter Turkey has a tough time trying to out-do Robot Monster’s Ro-Man, a presumably robotic space invader that manifests as an obese gorilla with a diving helmet on its head – and with the occupying human attempting to disguise his own features, not entirely successfully, by pulling some panty-hose over his face.

However, what lifts Robot Monster up from a position in the Bad Movie Hall Of Fame into the more rarefied atmosphere of the Truly Great Bad Movie is not merely that it gives us a space robot in the form of an obese gorilla with a diving helmet on its head, but rather that it gives us a space robot in the form of an obese gorilla in a diving helmet who (i) gets the hots for a human female and (ii) spouts existentialist philosophy at the drop of a hat.

It is, indeed, the script of Robot Monster, written by our old friend Wyott Ordung, that separates this film from the herd, and sees it rubbing shoulders with the few, the proud, the utterly incomprehensible, like Plan 9 From Outer Space. Despite this, I will not be including an Immortal Dialogue entry for this film – hmm, I actually haven’t done that for a while, have I? – for the simple reason that if I started, I’d probably end up transcribing the whole damn screenplay.

It is entirely possible that, word for word, this is the funniest film ever written: there is barely a line of dialogue here that, for one reason or another, isn’t pure comedy gold. That all of this was unintentional goes without saying – and this is why, for sheer entertainment value, the smug, smirking, self-referential movies of today cannot for a moment compete with films like this. When Phil Tucker and Wyott Ordung set out to make Robot Monster, they were, as Ed Wood Jr would be some six years later in creating his own masterpiece, profoundly sincere.

Of course, the very sincerity of these works does tend to put a wrinkle in your evil enjoyment of them. Laughing and jeering at a modern two hundred million dollar monstrosity is one thing; treating Robot Monster the same way is rather like, well, kicking a puppy. A blind puppy, with one leg shorter than the others. The only defence I can offer for this conduct is to say that if we laugh, we do so with the most sincere affection; as sincere as that which creators put into the film’s production. And that if offered the choice between watching the latest multi-squillion dollar blockbuster, or Robot Monster yet again, I would choose the latter without the slightest hesitation.

"Who wrote this shit!?" wondered Gregory Moffett.

So--- Robot Monster. The opening credits play over images of fifties comic books, an artistic choice which is perhaps a little too on the mark. Even the credits of this film are entertaining, containing as they do the notorious acknowledgement to the “N.A. Fischer Chemical Products” company for its “Automatic Billion Bubble Machine”. The other moment that invariably provokes a whoop of laughter these days is that for the score, which is credited to – ulp! – Elmer Bernstein. Ah, well. Name me anyone working in film over the long haul who doesn’t have at least one skeleton in his cupboard?

However, to my mind the most important credits here are those for “George Barrows as Ro-Man the Monster” and “Robot voice....John Brown”. For one thing, this severely underestimates the contribution of George Barrows to this production: apart from starring as Ro-Man, Mr Barrows ended up doubling as his boss, the Great Guidance. As for John Brown, an actor with a reasonably extensive resume, here he becomes no-one less than the James Earl Jones of low-budget film-making – which is to say, while George Barrows was doing the physical acting for Ro-Man and the Great Guidance, John Brown was providing both voices. (Yeah, that’s right: never mind The Hidden Fortress; this was the film Lucas really ripped off.) One of Robot Monster’s many absurdist pleasures is its utter inability to match George Barrows’ extravagant gesticulations with John Brown’s voice-acting. On the other hand, I have to give genuine credit to Mr Brown for many of his line readings, which indicate that he, at least, saw the comic potential in Wyott Ordung’s screenplay. One of my favourite such moments is Mr Brown’s shift in tone as Ro-Man agonises over how far he is prepared to go in following the Great Guidance’s orders:

Ro-Man [anguished]:  “I cannot kill the girl!” [more cheerfully] “But I will kill the boy!”

The film proper opens with Johnny and his little sister Carla wandering over a patch of land that any experienced watcher of fifties or sixties science fiction should instantly recognise as Bronson Canyon. Johnny proves himself to be a true boy of his times by wearing a space helmet and carrying a ray-gun, and “disintegrating” his sister; while Carla proves herself to be a true girl of her times by carrying a doll around and demanding incessantly that people “play house” with her. She demands it now, citing a promise that Johnny made to her; and Johnny goes on to prove himself a boy for not just this, but for any time, by breaking his promise and doing instead exactly what he wants. The kids wander off, following the sound of hammering to a cave in the rock wall....and mercy if it isn’t the very cave occupied by Gor the Evil Space Brain in The Brain From Planet Arous some five years later. This time around it’s occupied by two, ahem, “archaeologists”, whose declared purpose is to “chip out” a cave-painting that somewhat improbably decorates the rock right at the opening of the cave, despite what must have been centuries of exposure to the elements. We note that the, ahem, “archaeologists” are using tiny hand-held hammers and chisels to accomplish this task. My bet is, they’re being paid by the day.

The elder, ahem, “archaeologist” and his younger assistant play along as Johnny captures them. The elder makes an impassioned plea for all of them to live in peace, and Johnny reluctantly acquiesces. This prompts Carla to exclaim, “Does that mean we can play house now?”

You know....the more time I spend with Carla, the more I am put in mind of the opening “Birth” sketch from Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life, in which a new mother, having inquired whether her baby is a boy or a girl, is reproved with, “I think it’s a bit early to start imposing roles on it, don’t you?” I get the feeling no-one ever had that concern about Carla. In fact, I’m pretty sure the brain-washing must have started in utero.

The, ahem, “archaeologists” then account for their presence, leading to the following exchange:

Johnny:  “Gee, whiz! Are you scientists?”
Roy
[chuckling]:  “That’s even better than being cowboys, hey, Professor?”
Johnny:
  I’ll say!”

You know, there are some aspects of the fifties that I miss---

Okay, there’s one aspect of the fifties that I miss.

The kids’ mother, Martha, and their older sister, Alice, appear, scolding them for running off instead of napping. Roy immediately gives Alice one of those leering up-and-downs that passed for a high compliment in 1953, and naturally she gives him a grateful simper in return. The kids get hauled away to their picnic site, and one wonders if, with a monumental effort, they could possibly have found an uglier, rockier, remotely less picnicky place for their picnic?

Tonight, on CSI: Bronson Canyon...

Some pointed dialogue from Johnny reveals that his father is dead; he follows this casual remark up with a hope that if and when his mother re-marries, she’ll bag a scientist, preferably one who “makes rocketships”. The four of them then hunker down for their nap – although before long Johnny wakes and runs off back to the cave. As he gets there, a bolt of lightning explodes from the sky, and Johnny is knocked to the ground....

Arguments still rage over whether Robot Monster or Plan 9 From Outer Space is, in fact, “THE” Truly Great Bad Movie. For a time Plan 9 had the running all its own way, but in recent years Robot Monster has undoubtedly made up a great deal of ground. Here I must reveal myself a traditionalist, and vote for Plan 9, chiefly because while its mind-boggling story line is evidently meant to be taken at face-value, Robot Monster provides far too cogent an explanation for its bewildering events. In short, everything we’re about to see is just Johnny’s dream.

Which means that the bizarre dialogue, the jaw-dropping plot, the glaring continuity errors and the obese robot gorilla wearing a diving helmet were all deliberate artistic choices, and not evidence of film-making in extremis at all. So there.

(Of course, since the “bump on the head” that Johnny suffers here is ultimately deemed responsible for his “dream”, that means the lightning bolt was real – in which case Johnny should have ended up with rather more serious injuries than a mere “bump”....)

The lightning bolt is followed by a fire-ball hurtling towards Earth, and then---

Oh, crap. Nose-wrestling.

By which I mean this film steals, and plunges right into, that horrible sequence from the 1940 version of One Million B.C. in which a young alligator and a monitor lizard are dressed up in fins and frills and thrown together in violent, bloody conflict, all for our amusement and entertainment.

God, I hate this shit! But yes, I guess it is preferable that they swiped pre-existing footage, rather than staging such a fight all over again. Still--- Ick! Ick, ick, ick.

Anyway, the footage of the Gator-O-Saur and the Monitor-O-Saur trying to dismember each other is rather inexplicably intercut with stop-motion scenes of two triceratops, also trying to dismember each other. Ah, good, clean, 1950s fun! So much healthier than the violent video games of today!

Johnny wakes up wearing an entirely different pair of pants, and with a different ray-gun and a small can of paint at his feet. Meanwhile, the cave has also made a few changes. The, ahem, “archaeologists” and their cave-painting are gone, and in their place is a communication device consisting of some saggy cloth nailed to a wooden frame, and on a rickety wooden table, what looks like a surplus WWII radio with a TV antenna sitting on it....except that, um, it blows bubbles.

Anyway, Johnny immediately leaps to his feet and starts painting something on the cave wall. He is interrupted by a buzzing noise, and by the cave going all “film-negative”. By the way, I hope you like that particular “special effect”, because we’ll be seeing a lot of it. And then, ladies and gentlemen, we are introduced to the individual who I do not hesitate to call the hero of this film: Ro-Man the Robot Monster, from the planet Ro-Man.

Ro-Man...

A moment’s awed silence, if you please.

As Johnny watches from his hiding-place, Ro-Man contacts his fearless leader, the Great Guidance, who bears a suspicious resemblance to Ro-Man himself, except that he gets to wave around a glow-stick, and has one of those rabbit-ear doo-hickeys on his desk. Ro-Man daringly asks for news before delivering his report, and the Great Guidance indulges him, confirming that only Earth and the planet Ro-Man have life, and that Earth is therefore Ro-Man’s only rival.

Think about that, folks: of all the planets in all the universe, the only forms of sentient life are Homo sapiens and a race of obese robot gorillas with diving helmets on their heads. If that doesn’t just scream “intelligent design”, well, I don’t know what does.

Ro-Man then reports that his “calcinator beam”, directed at the Earth, caused cities to crumble. The inhabitants of the planet, all assuming that someone else on Earth was to blame, started lobbing H-bombs at each other. Typical. Ro-Man then revealed himself, in order to “keep them from wiping out cities, which will give our people much amusement”. Why exactly a race of space robots would desire cities in which to amuse themselves is a point I will return to presently. The surviving humans did eventually band together, but too late. Now, reports Ro-Man, the whole human race has been wiped out.

But the Great Guidance is, as we shall soon learn, a great rainer-on-parades; and he responds to this with a cry of, “Error!” and a claim that “in the twenty-second category, there is an error of sixteen-billionths!” Or in other words, that eight human beings are still alive. A chastened Ro-Man waddles off into the depths of his cave, and Johnny, evidently compelled, also begins to creep into the cave again, only for a flashing film-negative effect to send him scampering off.

...and the Great Guidance. See the subtle differences?

Johnny’s return to the family compound is greeted by great relief by his parents – and in case you were wondering, George and Martha [*snicker*] are now married, and have been for twenty-three years; while said compound is a roofless basement surrounded by electrical wires. Why, with all those cities that Ro-Man preserved to choose from, our heroes should be sitting in a concrete bunker with no shelter at all, is one of this film’s great mysteries. Then again, we never get an explanation for why Ro-Man himself is inhabiting a cave at the base of Mystery Mountain. The Professor explains to Johnny that the electrical barrier around the, um, “house”, which was built by himself and Alice (in this world, an electronics expert – so we know it’s all a crazy dream! Am I right, men??), is the only thing protecting them from Ro-Man. Inside it, he cannot find them; but one word spoken outside the barrier will mean detection and destruction. Which word Johnny has already spoken, with absolutely no consequences. Also, there is no indication, visual or verbal, of where the electricity is coming from.

The highlight of this scene, however, is the revelation of the “futuristic” clothing favoured by the wimmin-folk, whenever this is supposed to be happening. While the remaining males of the species continue to wear conventional shirts and pants, Martha and Alice are clad in identical long backless ensembles, complete with high heels. Nothing like a new outfit to help keep the spirits up while civilisation crumbles, hey, girls? Two observations are here inescapable: firstly, the backless look does Selena Royle no favours of all; and secondly, who picked the material for those dresses, anyway? Get Alice at the right angle, and her knickers are clearly visible.

Johnny reports that Ro-Man is living in a cave at the edge of the ravine; then suggests cheerfully that, “Maybe we could kill him, huh, Pop?”

George:  “No, Johnny. The armies of the whole world tried and failed. We have thrown everything we have at him –             but he is impervious!”
Alice
:  “Unless – we can find his weak spot!”

Wow, what a great plan! What a pity none of the armies of the whole world never thought of that, while they were throwing everything we have at him!

Ahh, I kid! I kid ’cos I love! Of course Ro-Man has a weak spot....and to be fair, there’s a very good reason why the armies of the whole never thought to attack him there.

Visible underwear of....THE FUTURE!!

Alice and the Professor discuss the significance of Ro-Man’s proximity to their habitation; and it turns out that his living down the street from most of the few surviving human beings left on Earth is something we are supposed to accept as “just a coincidence”. Debate on this point, and on whether or not they are the last people on Earth – including the first mention of the “entire garrison” which is “up on the space platform” – is interrupted by Ro-Man himself, appearing on the family’s viewscreen. In exchange for their surrender, he offers them the traditional painless death. Ro-Man’s insistence that they are the only surviving people leads primarily to the Professor’s declaration that, “Roy must be dead!”, which in turn leads to one of Claudia Barrett’s Big Moments. Admitting that after all that has happened, it’s silly to get upset over a single death, she nevertheless starts to cry as she as she mourns Roy as, “A great scientist!” – and as, “One miserable, egotistical, impossible guy!” The problem, she clarifies between sniffles, is that, “He just wouldn’t admit that I was good in my field!”

Ro-Man, having waited patiently for Alice’s outburst to subside, now demoralises his victims by showing them WWII era stock footage of the bombing of Europe--- I mean, the effects of the “calcinator death ray”.

“Everyone but you few! There is no escape from me!” proclaims Ro-Man, adding without waiting for a response, “Very well! I will re-calculate! Your death will be....indescribable! Fool hu-mans!” he adds by way of a sign-off.

Martha then oddly suggests talking to Ro-Man and “trying to arrange a truce”. That is, with the invading being who has already exterminated nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty-four billionths of the human race. Of course, put it like that, you do have to wonder why Ro-Man and the Great Guidance are expending so much energy over trying to exterminate a handful of human beings who can’t hurt them anyway. Just anal, I guess. Anyway, the Professor dismisses any notion of surrender. “If Ro-Man wants us,” he declares unanswerably, “he should calculate us!”

Ro-Man, meanwhile, is again being spied upon by someone who keeps trying to sneak into the cave, and who can’t keep himself from fiddling with the bubble machine (can’t blame him on that one). It’s Roy, wearing a most artfully ripped open t-shirt which is presumably meant to suggest the hardship he’s just been undergoing. Roy, too, gets to overhear a conversation between Ro-Man and the Great Guidance, this one highlighted by Ro-Man’s confession that, “For the first time in my life, I am not sure!” The Great Guidance isn’t much help. “You sound like a hu-man! Can you not verify a fact?” he sneers, going on to insist that Ro-Man, “Reduce! Correlate! Eliminate error! Planet Earth can revolve once more!” he concludes ominously. “Then you must either report success, or I will sentence you for failure!” Then he signs off; and you can almost hear Ro-Man muttering to himself, “@#$%ing bureaucrats!”

 

The human race was helpless against the superior technology of the Ro-Mans.

Roy makes his way back to the compound – loudly announcing his presence while outside the barrier – and the family are quick to put him in his place:

Roy:  “Do you know who’s in the cave at the end of the ravine?”
All:
  “Ro-Man.”

Roy
:  “I was as close to him as I am to you!”
Johnny:
  “So was I.”

Roy
: “But he didn’t know that I was there. Do you know why?”
Alice
:  “Maybe you’re not worth noticing.”

Frankly, if I were Roy I’d turn around and leave again. Instead, he reports that there are in fact two more surviving humans, Jason and McCloud; and that the secret behind their mutual imperviousness to the “calcinator death ray” is due not to Alice’s electronic barrier, as supposed – take that, Alice! – but the “antibiotic serum” devised by the Professor and Roy, intended to cure all diseases – “Even the common cold,” adds Roy, proving that he is indeed a great scientist. And who does the Professor experiment on with his serum? Yes, folks, that’s how he describes it: experiment on. So I guess we’re in the presence of two great scientists. Of course, the answer is, “Himself, his family, and Jason and McCloud.” – and the serum is also the “immuniser” against Ro-Man’s calcinator death ray.

That’s one hell of a serum.

Actually, I suppose I shouldn’t have said “of course” up there, since we never do find out who or what Jason and McCloud might be. Not that it will matter much longer. Roy goes on to explain that he and Jason and McCloud have collected the rest of the serum, as well as managing to “get together enough fuel to take a rocket to the space platform” – I guess that stuff was just lying around, after civilisation crumbled – and that J. & McC. are going to fly it up to “the garrison”.

Roy's wardrobe by James T. Kirk's of Hollywood.

My immediate reaction to this is always – why would you bother? The “armies of the whole world” have already failed to take out a single Ro-Man: what can a mere garrison do? Or even if they only mean to immunise the troops for health reasons, when the space platform is vulnerable to the “calcinator death ray”, what's the point? The film’s objection, though, voiced by Alice, is that without warning, the space platform will think the rocket is one of Ro-Man’s, and blast it. After some frantic debate, Alice concludes that their best bet is to try and re-wire the viewscreen, so that they can communicate with the space platform without Ro-Man listening in. With only two days – the time to the launch – in which to complete the task, it will be a near impossibility.

Alice:  “If I only had a decent assistant, who could take orders – instead of trying to be the boss!”
Roy
:  I’m bossy? You’re so bossy you ought to be milked before you come home at night!”

And we’re not done with Roy and his silver tongue. As Alice and he get to work on the re-wiring – something conveyed only by shots of their two pairs of hands struggling for control of a single clumsy soldering iron – Roy comments, “You know something? You’re either too beautiful to be so smart, or too smart to be so beautiful!”

There are, of course, many ways in which a woman might respond to a remark like that. Alice, as it happens, goes the old blush-and-simper route – rather than, say, taking that soldering iron and jamming it where it would do the most good.

And indeed, Alice is almost purring as she adds, “I guess we do get along together, at that. But – let’s work together now. There’ll be time for play later!”

Later!? Uh, when exactly would that be, Alice? Before or after the last eight human beings on Earth are exterminated??

Time passes. Alice, rather improbably, has lost track of how much, and keeps demanding to know what day it is. She also starts dropping stuff. I guess the poor thing’s exhausted by all the hard work. Roy, conversely, seems completely functional, although he’s been working for the same length of time. But then, he’s got a Y-chromosome. Alice bemoans the fact that for all this desperate struggle, they almost certainly won’t be finished in time – prompting the Professor’s nonchalant observation that, “The rocketship must have taken off at dawn. Either they’re there by now or....” He shrugs.

Must have taken off??

So, who controls the soldering iron in your family?

Incredibly, Alice reacts to the revelation that she’s been breaking her back for the past several hours to absolutely no purpose not by snapping and going berserk with the soldering iron – can you tell I really want her to do that? – but by apologising!! “Then I’ve failed you!”

Then Ro-Man pops up on the viewerscreen. Say – what!? Should that thing really be working normally just now? “Hu-mans! Yesterday I calculated five of you! Now I find six!” he grumbles.

“HE STILL DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT JASON AND McCLOUD!!” whispers Alice helpfully.

Wrong! “I might have had trouble finding the other two,” adds Ro-Man, “if they had not taken off in a rocketship, and revealed their presence!” I’ll say this for Ro-Man: he’s sure an admit-your-mistakes kind of guy. What follows is a confusing jumble of images: stock footage of a real rocket intercut with further footage of another “rocket” of the toy-on-a-stick-with-a-sparkler-up-its-butt variety (and no, that’s not just a guess). It is also the lead-in to what is, without exaggeration, the single greatest special effects sequence in the history of film.

Okay. That might be a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one.

So – the “real” rocket is the one containing Jason and McCloud; the toy rocket is “the space platform” (?). To demoralise the remaining hu-mans as much as possible, the Great Guidance himself “sends the cosmic blast”: he gestures dramatically, and the shot flashes negative. First, the rocketship blows up, then the space platform. The latter has already been tootling around space in ever-diminishing circles (it is unclear whether that is its “normal” behaviour, or a consequence of the “cosmic blast”), and now it goes up in a spectacular light-show explosion. One so very spectacular, in fact, that for a few glorious moments---

---the stick by which the “space platform” is supported, and the arm and shoulder of the person holding it up, are clearly revealed.

Oh.

My.

God.

I tell you....seeing this sequence on the big screen does your heart so much good, it adds years to your life.

“And now, of the two billion, there are six!” gloats Ro-Man. “Calculate your chances! Negative! Negative! Negative! Is there a choice between a painless-surrender-death, and the horror-of-resistance-death?”

Well – yes. There is.

Ro-Man gives them an hour to show themselves, otherwise he will come looking for them. The reason for his evident preference that they come to him will become clear very shortly.

And then – [*shudder*] – Carla opens her mouth again. I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much. It’s been about twenty minutes.

“Mommy, why doesn’t he like people?” she inquires.

If she’s asking why he doesn’t like these particular people, well.... Martha turns the question away, then returns to her insistence that if they could just talk to Ro-Man, something could be worked out. The Professor reacts scornfully to any notion of detente, but Martha persists, asking why they can’t re-wire the viewscreen so that they can communicate. (So....Ro-Man can see them but not hear them, but they can see and hear him? Eh? Anyway, I guess that excuses their earlier mouthiness about the serum and Jason and McCloud.) The Professor is finally won over to the idea of negotiation, and immediately sets poor Alice to the task of “re-wiring the viewscreen”. Again.

And then it’s back to Alice and Roy fighting for possession of the single soldering iron (I’m telling you, Freud would have a field day with this!). Contacted, Ro-Man evinces no surprise about being able to hear his adversaries, merely confirming that he can see them. Eh? He erroneously concludes that their contact means surrender. The Professor makes a defiant speech, then switches tactics to ask what Ro-Man has to fear from the few survivors? “Let me show you the sick [sic.] people you want to destroy.”

And he introduces his family one by one. And let me tell you, this sequence does the cause of Homo sapiens no good whatsoever.

 

Let's be honest, folks: wouldn't it be better if the human race was just wiped out?

But---

“Wait,” says Ro-Man after a confused moment. “There is something I do not understand, quite – but I want to see the girl ‘A-lice’ again.”

Hoo, nelly!!

Alice shows herself, adopting the traditional shoulders back, chest out pose favoured by military organisations and cheesecake magazines everywhere. Ro-Man takes a long look and concludes that although it is not in the plan, “I feel she will understand.”

Unlike Mrs Ro-Man, we infer.

He proposes a meeting to talk. Alice accepts, but the Professor immediately declares that he is “the head of this family unit” and Ro-Man must talk to him. Ro-Man sticks to his guns, and Alice agrees to meet him. The moment Ro-Man has signed off, however, the Male Chauvinist brigade leaps into action – and how!

What’s curious about this is that all concerned immediately put, shall we say, one particular reading on the situation. The same one you and I are putting on it. “You mean there are some things ‘nice girls’ don’t do?” demands Alice to the fuming of her father and Roy. This is another of Claudia Barrett’s Big Moments, as Alice emotes about how mankind’s struggle “up from the sea, the slime! – the fight to breathe air! – to stand erect! – to think! – to conquer Nature! – are all to stop cold because of a doting father and a jealous suitor!”

The “doting father”, by the way, has his back turned through all this and clearly isn’t listening. As for the “jealous suitor”, well, if your girlfriend told you she’d rather hang out with an obese robot gorilla in a diving helmet....

Anyway, the long and the short of this is that the Professor and Roy grab Alice and tie her up!!

Family life after the Apocalypse.

During the, ahem, “struggle”, Johnny makes a break for it. And then we reach the portion of the film that provokes me to stoop to an Autobiographical Interjection.

The second half of Robot Monster, not exactly a film of epic length to start with, is padded out with footage of poor George Barrows in his gorilla suit and diving helmet – and panty-hose – toiling back and forth across the rocky landscape that is Bronson Canyon. And back and forth. And back and forth. And up slopes. And down slopes. And carrying Claudia Barrett. Remember, people, the poor SOB wasn’t paid for this. He did it free, gratis, for nothing, all out of friendship. Truly, this was the Greatest Generation.

Now, some – good lord! – twenty years ago, give or take, we were at the peak of the pre-DVD “bad film” era. One of the independent cinemas here (yes, in those days, children, there were such things) put on a full-scale two week Bad Film Festival: it was during this that I first saw many of the films that until then, were only wondrous legends to be spoken of in awed, hushed voices. My brother and I attended religiously. And afterwards, the same cinema began programming bad movie double-bills for its Friday and Saturday night late shows. We attended those, too, whenever we could. Funny thing, though: throughout that phase, they nearly always had Robot Monster as the second half of the double-bill. So we’d see Cat-Women Of The Moon plus Robot Monster, or The Bride And The Beast plus Robot Monster, or Glen Or Glenda? plus Robot Monster.... And the upshot of this was that during a three month period, we ended up seeing Robot Monster maybe a dozen times.

I don’t remember what the first film was on the critical night, but mid-way through the inevitable screening of Robot Monster, my brother suddenly erupted from his seat and bolted for the exit. I stayed the distance, of course; and fifteen or twenty minutes later, wandered out into the chill winter night to find, somewhat to my relief, that my lift home my brother was outside waiting for me, pacing up and down Glebe Point Road and smoking a cigarette. Naturally, I demanded an explanation of his pusillanimous conduct. His response? –

I – just – couldn’t – stand – watching – that – gorilla – walk – across – that – canyon – ONE – MORE – FREAKING – TIME!!!!

Actually.... Upon reflection, he may not have said “freaking”.

Now, the point of this story – other than cruelly to reveal my brother’s shameful lack of true Bad Movie Cred – is my completely opposing reaction to this section of this film. To me, it is precisely the endless, endless footage of poor George Barrows struggling heroically across Bronson Canyon that lifts Robot Monster to a whole new level of surrealism. By Ro-Man’s ninth or tenth pointless traversing of this harsh and ugly landscape, I have invariably collapsed into a quivering heap of uncontrollable giggles.

 

 

George Barrows earns his pay. Um, I mean.....

So we watch Ro-Man wandering back and forth, dragging himself up hill and over dale – the screen flashing negative once or twice for no reason I can think of – and then we cut back to the family, who are only just discovering that Johnny is missing. You wouldn’t think that kind of mistake would be possible for six people living in a twenty by twenty open concrete bunker, would you? Yet Martha exclaims, “You don’t think he’s outside the barrier, do you?” “Vot a femmilee I haf!” huffs the Professor, in what seems like a bit of an under-reaction considering that he earlier told Johnny that one unwise move outside the barrier would result in the total obliteration of the human race.

This at least gets Alice untied, as she and Roy set out to look for Johnny. The Professor tells them he’ll set off a flare if Johnny comes back. Oh, good! Because, you know, that won’t give away your whereabouts to Ro-Man or anything.

Johnny meets Ro-Man at the nominated rendezvous point, and Ro-Man is understandably pissed when he finds out that Alice isn’t coming. Johnny inquires as to what, exactly, Ro-Man’s problem is anyway?

And Ro-Man – in the one single moment in the film that always manages to provoke a louder shriek of laughter from the audience than the revelation of the space platform’s propulsion system – replies, “You are hu-man! Your people were getting too intelligent!”

(Not that anyone on their eleventh or twelfth consecutive viewing of Robot Monster really needs reassurance on that point.)

Johnny tells Ro-Man, “I think you’re just a big bully, picking on people smaller than you are!”, to which Ro-Man responds – and if the Professor is an under-reactor, Ro-Man is clearly an over-reactor – “Now I will kill you!” He engages the “calcinator death ray” – i.e. the screen flashes negative – but nothing happens. Johnny announces scornfully, “You look like a pooped-out pin-wheel!”

But the triumph of humanity is short-lived, as Johnny blithely tells Ro-Man all about his father’s miraculous serum....including another jaw-dropping revelation of the Professor’s version of ethical scientific conduct: “We don’t get sick, even if we swallow capsules with really bad bugs in them.” (!!!!) He then claps his hand over his mouth. Yeah, bit late for that, kid; about ten years too late. Ro-Man, with smugness unbecoming an obese robot gorilla, announces that now all he has to do is “calculate the spectrum dust in the calcinator death ray”. Johnny runs off then, and all this fearsome foe of humanity can offer in response is the classic, “Ya darn kid!” fist-shake.

"...and stay off my lawn!"

As Ro-Man waddles back to his cave, he crosses paths with Alice and Roy. Roy immediate scoops Alice up and runs away with her in his arms (okay, she is wearing high heels). They hide behind some flimsy bushes as the screen flashes negative, as Ro-Man passes by.

(The highlight of this scene is the trickle of blood issuing from Roy’s right ear....the legacy of a fight that hasn’t happened yet.)

Back at Casa de Homo sapiens, Johnny shamefacedly confesses that he told Ro-Man all about the serum, to which the Professor responds, “It’s all right, boy – you did right.” Say, what!? Recognising that now it’s only a matter of time, Martha spinelessly sighs, “I only wish it were over now!”, prompting Carla – ugh! – to open her mouth again: “When it is, can I go over to Janie’s house and borrow her doll?”

Okay, we’ve danced around the truth long enough: this kid has severe mental problems.

The promised flare alerts Roy and Alice to Johnny’s return. Alice exclaims at it, prompting Roy to shush her: “Ro-Man might hear us!” Oh, yeah, the old “Don’t talk outside the barrier” thing. Remember that? My suspicion is that this is just a line of Roy’s to keep Alice quiet while he puts the moves on her.

And then, well, golly gosh....

You know when Alice told Roy, “There’ll be time for play later”? Well, it’s later. What follows is my nomination for the single worst “romantic” scene in the history of film. It’s like every appalling romantic montage from every awful romantic movie – the hand-holding, the beach-walking, the ice-cream-eating, the laughing-together – distilled into twenty seconds of pure pantomime agony. I can think of few scenes in film that can beat this one out for sheer embarrassment. It finally does end when Roy pushes Alice back onto the ground, and we cut discreetly away.

Hmm....I guess Roy is about to find out exactly how “good” Alice is in her “field”.

 

 

If anyone cares to join me, I'm going to go and be sick.

Some indeterminate time later, Roy and Alice stroll back to the compound, and, oh, ack, Roy! You could at least put your shirt back on!! Man, what a class act. Roy lifts Alice over the wall as the Professor demands to know what kept them. Even Martha isn’t that dim – “Really, Father! Isn’t it obvious?” – and nor, as it turns out, is Carla: “Have you been playing house?”

Close, kid. What they’ve actually been playing is a little game called “Let’s find out how many rock dints Alice can get in her bare back”.

Roy then blurts, “We want to get married!” I guess he saw the hand-gun that the Professor’s packing. Everyone is thrilled by this, particularly Martha, who is of course relieved of her anxiety that her daughter will die without first catching a husband. And me, all I can think of is Lori Patterson’s big scene in Flying High: “Oh, Dr Rumack, I’ve never been so scared! And I’m twenty-six and I’m not married!!” At least Alice has been spared that particular fate worse than the total obliteration of the human race.

“And let me tell you,” cries the Professor gleefully, “this is the social event of the year! The whole darn town will turn out!”

Call me a traitor if you like, but as far as I’m concerned, the sooner Ro-Man can calculate the spectrum dust in the calcinator death ray, the better. 

Ro-Man reports in to the Great Guidance, who essentially tells him to stop dicking around. “Death to hu-mans can come by force!” He then makes the rather remarkable statement that, “Planet Earth has half-revolved!” What!? It’s about three days since Ro-Man was given one more “revolution” in which to eliminate the surviving humans. Surely that must have meant either a day (correctly, a “rotation”) or a year? He didn’t mean a week, did he?? What’s that got to do with “planet Earth revolving once”?

The wedding begins. Alice has a hankie on her head, perhaps to make up for the fact that Roy still hasn’t put his shirt back on. The Professor scats “The Wedding March”, then begins the ceremony in the traditional way, before trailing off and saying plaintively, “Dear Lord, you know I am not trained for this.” Acting? No argument, bro’! He then informs God that he has tried to live by His rules – “The Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Golden Rule” – the works! – then calls His blessings down on Roy and Alice (who, lest we forget, have just got through breaking a pretty big commandment). Despite everything, the Professor tells God, they have kept faith in “Your Grand Design” – which at this point involves having all but six human beings wiped out by a race of obese robot space gorillas wearing diving helmets. The Professor is philosophical about this, merely asking that if by any chance it is still part of the plan for the human race to triumph, that Roy and Alice should have a long and – ew! – fruitful life.

Do we at least get to vote on the continued survival of humanity?

And then it’s time for Komedy: golly gosh, Roy forgot the ring! Tee, hee! Martha comes to the party, and then we have a bizarre and rather creepy discussion of where the two of them are going on their honeymoon. “Wherever you go,” says the Professor, “I want you back here first thing in the morning!” – so I guess it won’t be the Cote D’Azur, or even Johnny’s suggestion of Niagara Falls. Looks like it’s back to the rock pile for poor Alice.

Carla then has what passes for “a thought”: “They have to have some flowers!” Her parents allow her to run off, and she hurries after Roy and Alice with a small bouquet. Alice thanks her, and tells her to run along home quickly – and then she and Roy just stand there, not saying anything, as Carla runs off in the wrong direction.

The unawareness displayed by all members of Carla's immediate family here is all part of a deep dark scheme, if you ask me; and that scheme comes to fruition when Carla, showing every bit of the intelligence and perspicacity we have come to expect from her, runs smack into Ro-Man, standing directly before her in the broad daylight. And as she does so, Roy and Alice simply turn their backs and wander off in the other direction.

Ro-Man:  “What are you doing here alone, girl-child?”
Carla:
  “My daddy won’t let you hurt me!”
Ro-Man:
  “We’ll see!”

And you have to give Robot Monster this: of all the noxious kids in all the movies in all the world, this is pretty much the only one that hands out exactly what those kids deserve. Although Ro-Man lunks Carla offscreen to actually do it.

Things You Don't Really Expect To See In A Fifties Sci-Fi Film #1.

For some reason, Ro-Man feels compelled to brag to the Great Guidance about offing a little kid – “It was a simple matter of strangulation!” – and brings down another serving of bureaucratic grief upon himself when he claims, “This leaves four.” “Error again! Five!” snaps the GG. Ro-Man corrects himself, “Four....and one more, about whom I have made an estimate in relation to our strategic reserve. The plan should include one living hu-man, in case of unforeseen contingencies.” If you know what he means. And I think you do. This “questioning the plan” doesn’t exactly go down well with the Great Guidance, and he orders Ro-Man to kill all the hu-mans.

Across the canyon, the honeymooners are making out when – eek! – Ro-Man suddenly plunges through the bushes at them. An epic battle follows. Roy gets his ear bloodied (finally). Alice pounds on Ro-Man with a rock. Roy gets strangled. Alice gets picked up (Claudia Barrett quavering a nervous, “Oh, God!” as poor George Barrows struggles to swing her up into his arms). Roy gets pushed over a cliff. Alice runs away. Ro-Man manages to catch up with her (!!!! High heels!!!!)

Things You Don't Really Expect To See In A Fifties Sci-Fi Film #2.

Back outside the homestead, George and Martha are searching for Carla. Hilariously (although this is indeed in continuity with the blocking of the original scene) they find her dead body within easy sight and voice range of the bunker. I guess they were just, uh, busy, or something, while Carla was screaming for her life about twenty yards away. Right? George hushes his wife’s cries, insisting, “He will hear you!” Oh, come on, we’re not still pretending that, are we?

Meanwhile, while she is being carried off, Alice kicks those little girly kicks and rains those little girly punches all over Ro-Man. Ro-Man toils his way heroically up a small slope, and then the two of them – George and Claudia, that is – take a well-earned breather:

Ro-Man:  “I am ordered to kill you. I must do it with my hands.”
Alice
:  “How is it you’re so strong, Ro-Man? It seems impossible.”
Ro-Man:
  “We Ro-Mans obtain our strength from the planet Ro-Man, relayed for our individual energisers.”
Alice [the mastermind]:
  “Small enough to carry with you?”
Ro-Man [thinking of other things]:
  Nooo.... Mine is in the cave.”

Yeah. With his etchings.

"I wonder if he thinks I'm bossy...?"

Over at Carla’s burial, Johnny is waxing philosophical: “I wish now I’d played house with her more often when she wanted to.” Not nearly as philosophical as his old man, though, who with a degree of indifference he barely attempts to disguise responds, “No regrets, Johnny. We enjoyed her as long as she was with us. Now, somehow, we have to find a way to go on without her.” Yeah. Somehow. Suddenly – Roy hoves into view. He staggers all the way over to Carla’s grave, gasps, “Ro-Man’s got her,” and keels over again. Cut to Alice being carried by Ro-Man: she’s not struggling, and Claudia Barrett’s screams are obviously dubbed in. Cut back to the Professor straightening up, and announcing in that inimitable “Oh, well” tone of his, “Roy is dead – and nothing can be done. Nothing,” he repeats, just in case anyone was thinking of doing anything.

But Johnny, not quite as callous as his old man, comes up with a plan to rescue Alice. They’ll promise surrender, he will distract Ro-Man, and George and Martha can rescue their daughter.

Back at the cave, things are getting....icky. “Suppose I were hu-man?” demands Ro-Man of Alice. “Would you treat me like a man?” With which, he grabs Alice’s hands and tries to make her grope him (!!!!). Alice, the tricky minx, points out that Ro-Man hasn’t told her yet where he keeps his energiser. “Silence, girl!” intones Ro-Man – and then rips open the top of her dress (!!!!!!!!)

I’m sorry, I just feel compelled to say that again:

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Things You Don't Really Expect To See In A Fifties Sci-Fi Film #3.

And then the viewscreen activates. A frustrated Ro-Man picks up some rope and starts to tie Alice up, then decides it would be quicker and simpler just to knock her out. That, or George Barrows discovered the impossibility of tying someone up while wearing a gorilla suit, a diving helmet, and panty-hose.

(And I tell you, the sight of Claudia Barrett being bitch-slapped by a guy in a gorilla suit and a diving helmet - !!)

To Ro-Man's disgust, the party on the viewscreen turns out to be, not the Great Guidance, but the remainder of Alice's family offering surrender. “Why do you call me at this time?” he grouses. “You can wait! Call me again at another time!” The Professor insists, though, and finally Ro-Man grumblingly concedes that he’ll meet them in the ravine.

And then he turns back to Alice – who is bound hand and foot.

I repeat:

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ro-Man starts to untie her – and the viewscreen activates again. Cripes! Some days an obese robot gorilla in a diving helmet just can’t find a minute to molest a hu-man girl!

Really, how can you even begin to come to terms with the sheer absurdity of this situation? We’ve watched countless films over the years where girls get carried off by apes or by gill-men and responded perplexedly, “Dude, you’re an ape” or “Dude, you’re a gill-man.” Robot Monster effortlessly surpasses all of those, setting up a scene in which we, the eternally grateful audience, get to snicker, “Dude – you’re a robot.”

And of course, the icing on the cake is that Ro-Man himself is just as bewildered as any of us. As well he might be. Actually....is he, in fact, a robot? It’s never clearly spelled out that he is, other than that line about, “We are not built to feel emotion” – but I’ve heard plenty of hu-mans over the years say they weren’t built for this or that.

 

Before.                                                                                          After.

And then there’s that business of our cities being preserved, to provide “much amusement” for the invaders - which doesn't seem very robotic to me. Of course, there is the film’s title....but in this universe, the fact that the film is called “Robot Monster” is no reason to assume that its monster is, in fact, a robot. As a matter of fact, it’s probably good and sufficient reason to assume that it isn’t.

Anyway, this time it is the Great Guidance on the viewscreen, so Ro-Man has to cool his jets. The GG is ticked – as usual. “Earth Ro-Man! You have violated the law of plans! Fact: you have captured the girl and not destroyed her. Fact: you have delayed accepting the surrender of the others. This verges on failure!” Ro-Man tries to defend himself, but the Great Guidance isn’t buying. “To think for yourself is to be like the hu-man!” he observes, which provokes the following outpouring:

Ro-Man:  “Yes! To be like the hu-man! To laugh! Feel! Want! Why are these things not in the plan?”

So much for Ro-Mans not being built to feel emotion.

The Great Guidance tells him to snap out of it and finish killing the hu-mans, then signs off. Ro-Man gloomily shuts off his own viewscreen, then bursts out with one of the greatest soliloquies ever delivered in a motion picture:

Ro-Man:  “I must, but I cannot! How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ meet? Yet I cannot....but I must!”

About ten seconds later, the Great Guidance is back on the viewscreen, demanding to know why he still hasn’t killed Alice. Ro-Man tries explaining the whole “must but cannot” thing, which goes over about as well as you’d expect. Then Ro-Man hears Johnny calling from outside and perks up a bit – but the Great Guidance isn’t letting him off that easy: “First the girl, then the boy!” Nevertheless, Ro-Man flicks off the viewscreen and, begging Alice not to hate him, goes out to meet Johnny. George and Martha immediately run into the cave to free Alice – and George smashes the bubble machine. Oh, hey! Johnny, meanwhile, is proving that the whole “stand still as an obese robot gorilla looms up to kill you” thing is genetic by, well, standing still as an obese robot gorilla looms up to kill him.

Things You Don't Really Expect To See In A Fifties Sci-Fi Film #4.

But the Great Guidance has had enough. “You wish to be a hu-man?” he growls. “Good! You can die a hu-man!” And he unleashes his cosmic blast. Everything flashes negative, and Ro-Man keels over.

And then the Great Guidance really loses it. Honestly, there’s no other way of putting it. The Ro-Mans were supposed to be eliminating humanity so that they could live here, amusing themselves in our cities, remember? Evidently that’s slipped the Great Guidance’s mind....along with his marbles. “I will unleash the cosmic Q-waves,” he announces, “which will release prehistoric reptiles to devour whatever remains of life!” Given that the “prehistoric reptiles” we see are all herbivores, I guess he means all plant life. A brontosaurus – yes, a brontosaurus; this is 1953 – knocks over a palm tree. Those triceratops start fighting again.

Cyclotronic vibrations will smash the planet Earth out of the universe!” gibbers the Great Guidance and, oh, crap, the nose-wrestlers are back again. Yecchh!! The two “dinosaurs” battle bloodily. The triceratops gore each other. The ground splits apart in a violent earthquake. And---

Aww. Bronto.

---Johnny wakes up, rubbing the bump on his head, and looking around at his family and the, ahem, “archaeologists” in a mystified way. (“You were there, and you, and you....”) “Boy, was that a dream, or was it?” he finally concludes.

Well, I don’t know, Johnny. Let’s review, shall we?

  • your family is completely restructured so that your real father never existed
  • all but eight human beings on Earth are killed
  • your older sister, in rapid succession, gets deflowered, married, widowed, and molested by an obese robot gorilla in a diving helmet
  • your younger sister gets strangled to death
  • your brother-in-law gets strangled and pushed off a cliff
  • you yourself get strangled to death
  • the entire planet gets destroyed

Yes, I’d say that was a dream. I know, because when I was ten, I used to have dreams just like that.

Hmm....

You know, now that I stop and think about it....I was one sick little bastard.

Anyway, it is agreed that it was all a dream. Martha and Alice invite George and Roy to dinner; Carla takes advantage of the situation to request that everyone "play house" with her. Boy, I'm glad she's not dead, aren't you? And with everyone safely hooked up, the film is finally over.

Or is it!!??

And from out of the cave looms Ro-Man - not once, not twice, but three times, flashing negative. Which is fine by me; 'cos frankly, I just can't get enough....

The End....or is it!?

If you want a second opinion of Robot Monster, there are plenty of them to choose from: visit The Bad Movie Report, 1000 Misspent Hours - And Counting, and Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension.

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----12/05/2008