Tuesday 21 May 2024

Robot Monster

Ro-Man Legion

Robot Monster
USA 1953 Directed by Phil Tucker
3-D Film Archive Blu Ray
70th Anniversary Restoration in 3D

I’ve been wanting to catch up with Robot Monster for many decades now. I mean, who wouldn’t... it’s got an iconic looking monster in the form of a man in a gorilla suit, wearing white gauze on his face, topped off with an old timey diving helmet converted into a space helmet with the addition of big antennae. As luck would have it, there’s been a recent restoration of the film by the 3-D Film Archive on the occasion of it’s 70th anniversary... and it’s in 3D!  

Now, like a lot of people who were sceptical when they were first released, I don’t have a 3D television but, that’s okay, there are two different 3D options on here. Firstly, one for 3D TV owners but, with a quick toggle on the menu (the menu card looks fantastic once toggled, by the way), you can switch it over to anaglyphic 3D and just use the blue and red 3D glasses provided in the package. Luckily, we have had a few of these sets of 3D glasses for a number of years due to unusual novelty items and so I was able to watch this one in 3D with my mum and dad, also similarly tooled up... and let me tell you, when you are watching a film with people who are old enough to have seen it at the cinema, that whole nostalgic, ‘so bad it’s good’ element is not there for them and all they see is a badly made movie.

And it is a bad movie for sure. An almost indescribably, hilariously bad movie but... two things save it. One, the 3D on it looks absolutely, jaw droppingly amazing. I mean, those red and blue glasses really get a lot of depth out of this one... incredible. Secondly... diving helmet space gorilla from the moon! What’s not to like?

The first thing you’ll see on the Blu Ray when you start the film off and running is the director’s short which originally accompanied the film in cinemas and acts as a warm up to the 3D process... called Stardust In Your Eyes. It’s basically just this guy called.. wait for it... Slick Slaven... telling terrible jokes to the audience before he then proceeds to sing a song, over and over again, as impressions of popular movie stars of the day (and how they would have sung it)... so we go through a whole gamut of impressions that I found quite fun but, honestly, the amount of tutting coming from my dad during this sequence rivalled the amount of tutting at the bad writing of the main feature... I thought he was going to start throwing things at the TV at one point. Anyway, if you wish to see Slick Slaven’s timeless impersonations of Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ronald Coleman, Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Larry Parks, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Charles Laughton, they’ve been lovingly restored here.

Then we get to the main feature and no amount of bad special effects can hide the fact that the world the boy whose eyes we see the film through has changed ten minutes or so in to one where only eight people are left alive in the world, due to being attacked by the Ro-Man from the moon and that the whole thing must be ‘just a dream’. And yes, of course it IS just a dream... especially when half the cast get killed off by the Ro-Man, including the lead actor and actress (George Nader and Claudia Barrett). A dream world where the boy’s family are living in the ruins of their house, cloaked behind an impenetrable electrical shield which stops the Ro-Man on Earth from finding them somehow. A family immune to his death rays because of an experimental antibiotic invented by the father. Oh wait, did I say death rays.. no, calcinator rays with their hideous crackling and flashes of negative/positive images strobed on the screen at certain points. And then there’s the Ro-Man’s communication apparatus, which is basically a machine blowing bubbles, lots of bubbles, which float in wonderful 3D out of your television screen. Not to mention some of those wonderful bits of machinery invented by the great Kenneth Strickfadden, rented and used on many movies since the 1930s.

The whole thing is shot on an outside location (in just four days... it shows) and has terrible dialogue and that wonderfully iconic looking Ro-Man, who has even more brilliantly awful dialogue such as “Fool hu-mans!” and “I am ordered to kill you. I must do it with my hands.” And there are also terrible interjections of stock footage of monsters from other films... such as stop motion dinosaurs and a couple of lizards fighting while the studio pretended they were giant size. But, surprisingly, there’s also a strong shot of women’s lib in the form of the main female lead, who is the brains behind the survivors’ attempt to escape the wrath of the robot monster. Yes, the robot monster who is so emotionless, like his people, that he tries to rip her top off and mate with her, brutally knocking her unconscious because he doesn’t have time to properly tie her up when his space leader calls on the radio... even though, in the very next shot, she’s completely tied up. You what now?

The ‘it’s all a dream’ revelation would be hugely annoying if the structure of the film wasn’t so bad that you see it coming from ten minutes in... instead, it’s the cherry on the cake for this enjoyable romp which, despite the protest of my parental units, I found truly entertaining. It even has one of the earliest scores by future film composing legend Elmer Bernstein! This was his sixth feature and he scored it the same year he composed the music for Cat-Women On The Moon, if that tells you anything.

The director, on hearing the negative critical reviews of this film, apparently held a gun up to his head and pulled the trigger, trying to shoot himself. He famously missed, somehow. I guess he had the last laugh though because, on a budget of only $20,000 the film took a huge amount at the box office, over a million dollars, it turns out.

And that’s me more or less done with this 70th Anniversary presentation of Robot Monster, other than to say that there are some great extras, both 3D and 2D (and, yes, also in anaglyphic 3D) to explore which are as much worth the price of the disc as that incredible (or incredibly bad, depending on your point of view) introduction from Slick Slaven. Honestly, for a film which regularly tops, or comes near the top, of lists and polls of worst movies ever made, I found this new Blu Ray presentation to be money well spent and I will now have to find out if 3-D Film Archive have released anymore of these treasures in anaglyphic.

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