Robot Monster

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For the album by Don Ross, see Robot Monster (album).
Not to be confused with Robot and Monster.
Robot Monster
Robotmonster.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Phil Tucker
Produced by Phil Tucker
Written by Wyott Ordung
Starring George Nader
Claudia Barrett
George Barrows
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Jack Greenhalgh
Edited by Bruce Schoengarth
Merrill White
Distributed by Astor Pictures
Release dates
  • June 10, 1953 (1953-06-10)
Running time 62 min.
Country US
Language English
Budget $16,000 (estimated)
Box office $1,000,000

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.[1] [2] Years later, Robot Monster was included as one of the choices in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.[1]

Plot[edit]

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.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

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,[3] and a building site near Dodger Stadium.[4]

The film is similar in plot to Invaders from Mars, released a month earlier by 20th Century 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 Tucker changed his mind and then shot a new twist ending that shows the film '​s story has been a boy '​s dream that is about to come true.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7] Wyatt Ordung stated that Bernstein scored the film with an eight piece orchestra, and Capitol Records expressed interest in producing an album.[8]

The film's special effects include stock footage used from 1940's One Million B.C., 1951's Lost Continent, and Flight to Mars[9] Also spliced into the film is view screen footage with a brief appearance of the Rocketship X-M spaceship boarding; a matte painting of the ruins of New York City was also included from Captive Women.[1]

The film '​s very low budget did not allow for a robot costume as first intended, so Tucker hired his friend George Barrows, who had made his own gorilla suit, to play Ro-Man; Tucker added the space helmet.[1]

Robot Monster 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.[10]

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, the Great Guidance.[11]

Release[edit]

Robot Monster was originally released with the 3 Dimensional Pictures short Stardust in Your Eyes, starring nightclub comedian Trustin Howard as Slick Slaven.[10]

Despite rumors to the contrary, the film received some decent reviews, and it grossed $1,000,000 in its initial release, more than 60 times its original investment.[9]

The film was soon sold to television, where its infamy slowly spread to new generations of cult movie fans.[1]

Aftermath[edit]

The poor quality of the film gave rise to a long-lived rumor within the industry that the poor reception from audiences caused director Phil Tucker to attempt suicide by gun, but he missed. According to Keep Watching the Skies!, a comprehensive history of 1950s and early 1960s American science fiction films, author Bill Warren claims that 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.[12]

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 only in secondary features; other new male stars, like Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson, were assigned to major film roles.[13]

Selena Royle, an MGM stock player, had a durable film career beginning in 1941, but it ended in 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. By then the damage to her reputation had already been done; she made only two additional films, Robot Monster being her last.[14]

The film was later featured on the B-movie-mocking television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the Canned Film Festival, which continued to spread its cult reputation.

Television ads for Google Nexus show a little girl playing in a replica of the Robot Monster space helmet worn by Ro-Man.

Robot Monster currently holds a low 31% approval rating on the aggregate review website Rotten Tomatoes.

See also[edit]

Additional references[edit]

  • 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.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Warren, Bill. Keep Watching The Skies Vol I: 1950 - 1957, McFarland, 1982. ISBN 0-89950-032-3.
  2. ^ Elmer Bernstein and Robot Monster
  3. ^ Bronson Canyon at Moviesites.org Retrieved on 2013-04-17.
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ pp.191-192 Mitchell, Charles P. A Guide to Apocalyptic Cinema Greenwood Publishing Group, 01/01/2001
  6. ^ Elmer Bernstein - the official site. "Elmer Bernstein - The official site". Retrieved on 2007-01-04.
  7. ^ p.171 Spencer, Kristopher Film And Television Scores, 1950-1979: A Critical Survey by Genre McFarland, 2008
  8. ^ p.59 Zone, Ray 3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema University Press of Kentucky, 2012
  9. ^ a b How to Make a Monster "How to Make a Monster" Retrieved on 2007-01-08
  10. ^ a b 3-D Movies: "A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema" by R. M. Hayes, McFarland Classics, Paperback
  11. ^ Glenn Erickson of The DVD Savant
  12. ^ Craptastic Movies Review
  13. ^ Peter Wood of the National Review On Line
  14. ^ John Sinnott of DVD talk

External links[edit]

Mystery Science Theater 3000[edit]