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|Directed by||Phil Tucker|
|Produced by||Phil Tucker|
|Written by||Wyott Ordung|
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Editing by||Bruce Schoengarth
|Distributed by||Astor Pictures|
|Release dates||June 10, 1953|
|Running time||62 min.|
Robot Monster is a 1953 American black-and-white science fiction film made in 3-D by Phil Tucker and distributed by Astor Pictures. It is frequently considered one of the worst films ever made. Years later, Robot Monster was included as one of the choices in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.
As the film opens, the evil alien Ro-Man Extension XJ-2 (referred to as "Ro-Man" for short) has seemingly destroyed all human life on Earth with a "Calcinator Death Ray," all except for eight humans still alive. The survivors are an older scientist, his wife, two daughters, his young son, his assistant, and two pilots that shortly take off in a spaceship for an orbiting space platform. All eight have now developed an immunity to the Calcinator death ray, having received an experimental antibiotic serum developed by the scientist.
Ro-Man must complete the destruction of all humans, even if it means his physically killing them one-by-one, before his mission to subjugate the Earth is complete. After fruitless negotiations, Ro-Man, with a laser in hand, destroys the spaceship headed for the orbiting platform, killing the two pilots aboard. He later strangles the youngest daughter, Carla, off-screen and tosses the assistant scientist, Roy, to his death over a cliff.
Ro-Man's mission is waylaid, though, when he develops an illogical attraction to Alice, the scientist's eldest daughter. He refuses to eliminate her, forcing his alien leader, "The Great Guidance," to teleport to Earth in order to personally finish the genocide by killing Johnny, the scientist's young son, and then killing the disobedient Ro-Man. The Great Guidance then releases prehistoric dinosaurs and a massive earthquake leaving the scientist, his wife, and daughter Alice as the only humans still alive.
Ultimately, the youngest family member, Johnny, wakes up after having suffered only a mild concussion, revealing to the audience that the film's storyline up to that point has been his concussion-induced fever dream. Or was it? In a shock twist ending The Great Guidance, his hands and arms raised in a threatening manner, is shown heading out of his cave directly toward the camera three times in a row, back-to back, just before the film's end credits roll.
- George Nader — Roy
- Claudia Barrett — Alice
- Selena Royle (credited as Selena Royale) — Mother
- John Mylong — The Professor
- Gregory Moffett — Johnny
- Pamela Paulson — Carla
- George Barrows — Ro-Man/Great Guidance
- John Brown — Voice of Ro-Man/Great Guidance
Twenty-five-year-old writer/director Phil Tucker made Robot Monster in four days for an estimated $16,000. Except for a few scenes at a house, most footage was filmed outdoors in Bronson Canyon, the site of innumerable motion pictures and TV settings and a building site near Dodger Stadium.
The film is similar in plot to Invaders from Mars, released a month earlier by Fox. Both pictures contain a young boy stumbling upon an alien invasion who is captured as he struggles to save his family and himself. As the alien commences the final destruction of Earth, the boy awakens to find it was all a dream. Claudia Barrett recalled in an interview that the film's original screenplay was designed as reality, but director Phil Tucker changed his mind and shot sequences establishing the story as a dream that could come true.
The score was composed by Elmer Bernstein, who also composed Cat Women of the Moon the same year, and, much more prestigiously The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, The Ten Commandments and Michael Jackson's Thriller. Bernstein recalled he was stuck in a period where he was only offered minor films but said he enjoyed the challenge of trying to help a film. Wyatt Ordung stated that Bernstein scored the film with an eight piece orchestra and Capitol Records expressed interest in producing an album.
The film's special effects include stock footage used from 1940's One Million B.C., 1951's Lost Continent, and Flight to Mars spliced into the film. Within the first viewscreen footage is a brief appearance of the Rocketship X-M ship during its initial boarding. A matte painting of ruins of New York City was included from Captive Women.
The film was shot and projected in dual-strip, polarized 3-D. The stereoscopic photography in the film is considered by many critics to be of a high quality, especially by a crew who had no experience with the newly developed camera rig.
In the film's opening credits "N. A. Fischer Chemical Products" is given prominent credit for the "Billion Bubble Machine," used in the film as part of Ro-Man's communication device for reporting to his superior.
Despite rumors to the contrary, the film received some decent reviews, and it grossed $1,000,000 in its initial release, more than sixty times its original investment.
The film was soon sold to television, where its infamy slowly spread to new generations of cult movie fans.
The poor quality of the movie gave rise to a long-lived rumor within the film industry that the poor reception from audiences caused director Phil Tucker to attempt suicide with a gun, but missed. According to Keep Watching the Skies!, a comprehensive history of 1950s American science fiction films, author Bill Warren claims Tucker's attempted suicide was due to depression and a dispute with the film's distributor, who had allegedly refused to pay Tucker his contracted percentage of the film's profits.
George Nader won the Golden Globe award in 1954 as most promising male newcomer of the year (although his award was not tied to his Robot Monster performance). He signed with Universal Studios where he starred in secondary features while other male stars like Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson were assigned the major film roles.
Selena Royle, an MGM stock player, had a durable film career starting 1941 until 1951 when she was branded a Communist sympathizer. She refused to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and eventually cleared her name, but the damage had already been done. She made only two additional films, Robot Monster being her last.
Television ads for Google Nexus show a little girl playing in a replica Robot Monster helmet.
- Rux, Bruce. Hollywood Vs. the Aliens. 1997. Frog, Ltd. (North Atlantic Books). ISBN 1-883319-61-7.
- Strick, Philip. Science Fiction Movies. 1976. Octopus Books Limited. ISBN 0-7064-0470-X.
- Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Films of the Fifties, Volume One (1950-1957). 1986. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-89950-032-3
- Elmer Bernstein and Robot Monster
- Bronson Canyon at Moviesites.org Retrieved on 2013-04-17.
- p. 18 Parla, Paul & Mitchell, Charles P. Claudia Barrett interview in Screen Sirens Scream!: Interviews with 20 Actresses from Science Fiction, Horror, Film Noir and Mystery Movies, 1930s to 1960s McFarland, 01/10/2009
- pp.191-192 Mitchell, Charles P. A Guide to Apocalyptic Cinema Greenwood Publishing Group, 01/01/2001
- Elmer Bernstein - the official site. "Elmer Bernstein - The official site". Retrieved on 2007-01-04.
- p.171 Spencer, Kristopher Film And Television Scores, 1950-1979: A Critical Survey by Genre McFarland, 2008
- p.59 Zone, Ray 3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema University Press of Kentucky, 2012
- How to Make a Monster "How to Make a Monster" Retrieved on 2007-01-08
- 3-D Movies: "A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema" by R. M. Hayes, McFarland Classics, Paperback
- Glenn Erickson of The DVD Savant
- Craptastic Movies Review
- Peter Wood of the National Review On Line
- John Sinnott of DVD talk
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