Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Phil Tucker|
|Written by||Wyott Ordung|
|Narrated by||Slick Slavin (uncredited)|
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
Three Dimensional Pictures, Inc.
|Distributed by||Astor Pictures|
|Box office||$1 million|
Robot Monster (a.k.a. Monster from Mars) is a 1953 independently made American black-and-white 3D science fiction film, remembered in later decades as one of the worst movies ever made. It was produced and directed by Phil Tucker, written by Wyott Ordung, and stars George Nader, Claudia Barrett, and George Barrows. The production company was Three Dimension Pictures, Inc. The film was distributed by Astor Pictures.
Robot Monster tells the story of the alien robot Ro-Man's mission to Earth to destroy humanity. He manages to kill all but eight survivors, who have become immune to his death ray. Ro-Man runs afoul of the Great Guidance, his leader, when he becomes attracted to the human Alice. She is the eldest daughter of a surviving scientist, and he refuses to harm her. The Great Guidance must now come to Earth and finish what the Moon robot started.
Evil robot Extension XJ-2 (Barrows), referred to as just Ro-Man (and resembling a gorilla in a diving helmet), has destroyed all human life on Earth with a Calcinator death ray, except for eight humans that remain alive. The survivors are: a Professor (John Mylong) - whose name is never mentioned - his wife (Selena Royle); their two daughters, Alice (Barrett) and Carla (Pamela Paulson); their young son, Johnny (Gregory Moffett); the Professor's assistant, Roy (Nader); and space pilots Jason and McCloud (neither of whom are seen or heard). Both pilots depart in a rocket-ship for an orbiting space platform. All eight have developed an immunity to Ro-Man's death ray, having received an experimental antibiotic serum developed by the Professor.
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 destroys Jason and McCloud's spaceship, along with the space platform. He later strangles Carla, then tosses Roy over a cliff to his death.
Ro-Man's mission is waylaid, however, when he develops an illogical attraction to Alice and cannot bring himself to eliminate her. Great Guidance (referred to as "The Great One"), leader of the Ro-Man Empire, destroys both Johnny and Ro-Man with a Calcinator blast. The Great One continues the genocide with: Cosmic June Rays, which cause prehistoric reptiles to appear (stock footage from the movie 1 Million Years B.C.); and Psychotronic vibrations which "smash the planet Earth out of the universe".
But Johnny is alive, having just awoken from a concussion-induced fever dream. Up to now, all that has happened has just been his nightmare. His sisters, their mother, and the two scientists - whom the family met while picnicking in Bronson Canyon - rejoice at finding him. Johnny and his family invite the scientists home for dinner; they accept.
Suddenly The Great Guidance, his arms raised in a threatening manner, walks out of the cave.[Note 1]
- George Nader as Roy
- Claudia Barrett as Alice
- Selena Royle (credited as Selena Royale) as Mother
- John Mylong as The Professor
- Gregory Moffett as Johnny
- Pamela Paulson as Carla
- George Barrows as Ro-Man/Great Guidance
- John Brown as Voice of Ro-Man/Great Guidance
Twenty-five-year-old writer/director Tucker made Robot Monster in four days for an estimated $16,000. Except for a few scenes at a house in Los Angeles and a building site near Dodger Stadium, most footage was filmed outdoors in Bronson Canyon, the site of innumerable motion pictures and TV settings. Principal photography on Robot Monster wrapped on March 23, 1953.
Robot Monster's very low budget did not allow for a robot costume as first intended, so Tucker hired his friend Barrows, who had made his own gorilla suit, to play Ro-Man; Tucker then added the space helmet. Nightclub comic Slick Slavin reportedly filmed an opening prologue for the movie.
Robot Monster is similar in its plot to Invaders from Mars, released a month earlier by 20th Century Fox. Both films 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. 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 showed the film's story has been a boy's dream that is about to come true.
In Robot Monster's opening credits, "N. A. Fischer Chemical Products" is given prominent credit for the "Billion Bubble Machine", used as part of Ro-Man's communication device for reporting to his superior, the Great Guidance.
Robot Monster was shot and projected in dual-strip, polarized 3D. The stereoscopic photography in the film is considered by many critics to be of a high quality, especially for a film whose crew had little experience with the newly developed camera rig. Producer Al Zimbalist later told The New York Times that shooting the film in 3D (which involved using another camera) added an extra $4,510.54 to the budget.
Robot Monster's special effects include stock footage from One Million B.C. (1940), Lost Continent (1951), and Flight to Mars (1951); a brief appearance of the Rocketship X-M (1950) spaceship boarding; and a matte painting of the ruins of New York City from Captive Women (1952).
Robot Monster's music score was composed by Elmer Bernstein, who also composed Cat Women of the Moon the same year, and later, the more prestigious The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, The Ten Commandments, and Michael Jackson's Thriller music video.
Bernstein recalled he was stuck in a period where he was "greylisted" because of his left-wing politics and only offered minor films, but said he enjoyed the challenge of trying to help a film. Ordung stated that Bernstein scored the film with an eight-piece orchestra, and Capitol Records expressed interest in producing an album. One critic told how he had watched the film as a teenager when it was first shown on television in 1954 and said it was "one of Elmer Bernstein's best very early scores."...despite a second critic's opinion that Bernstein "must have been starving and/or doing the producers a huge favor".
Robot Monster was released by Astor Pictures on June 24, 1953, at a runtime of 62 minutes. It was originally released with the Three Dimension Pictures short Stardust in Your Eyes, starring nightclub comedian Trustin Howard as Slick Slaven. It grossed $1,000,000 during its initial theatrical release, more than 62 times its original investment.
The December, 1952 review in Variety noted, "Judged on the basis of novelty, as a showcase for the Tru-Stereo Process, Robot Monster comes off surprisingly well, considering the extremely limited budget ($50,000) and schedule on which the film was shot".
In June 1953, the Los Angeles Times called it "a crazy mixed up movie ... even children may be a little bored by it all" and Harrison's Reports, the following month, called it "the poorest 3-D picture that [has] been made so far." Adding, "the story is completely illogical, and the supposed monsters from another planet are laughable. Even the acting, at times, is ridiculous".
The film is frequently considered one of the worst movies ever made, with film historian Leonard Maltin writing in his 2009 Movie Guide, "[Robot Monster is] one of the genuine legends of Hollywood - embarrassingly, hilariously awful [...] just dig that bubble-machine with the TV antenna."
In December 1953, it was reported that Tucker tried to commit suicide at the Los Angeles Knickerbocker Hotel. He was only saved because he had written a suicide letter and sent it to a newspaper, who sent a reporter and some detectives to the hotel. He was discovered with a pass in his pocket from the psychopathic ward of a veteran's hospital. In the letter, Tucker said he had not been paid for Robot Monster and was unable to get a job. "When I was refused a job - even as an usher," Tucker wrote, "I finally realized my future in the film industry was bleak." It was revealed that Tucker and the producer had quarreled, and film exhibitors had instructions not to let Tucker in to see the film unless he paid admission.
In Keep Watching the Skies!, a comprehensive history of 1950s and early 1960s American science fiction films, author Bill Warren claimed 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.
The actors connected to Robot Monster included George Nader, who won the Golden Globe in 1955 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.
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.
In popular culture
- A brief scene from Robot Monster can be seen in the 1984 music video for the Cars' single "You Might Think".
- The film was featured in a 1986 episode of the Canned Film Festival,
- Feature film of the 1989 episode 107 of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
- Ro-Man is seen in the 2003 film Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
- In the 2010 animated film Megamind, the character Minion (voiced by David Cross) resembles Ro-Man, with the body of a gorilla and a transparent head with a fish in it.
- The Great Guidance walks directly toward the audience, and this action is repeated three times in a row for dramatic effect, implying that Johnny's fever dream was a foreshadowing of events that are soon to occur.
- "Robot Monster." United States Copyright Office Public Catalog. Retrieved: January 15, 2016.
- Wilson, Ethan (June 20, 2017). "The 10 Worst Monster Movies Of All Time". Taste of Cinema - Movie Reviews and Classic Movie Lists. Retrieved October 5, 2019.
- Warren 1982, pp. 146–147.
- Parla and Mitchell 2009, p. 18.
- "Bronson Canyon." Moviesites.org. Retrieved: November 7, 2014.
- "Original print information: Robot Monster (1953)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: January 6, 2015.
- "Movieland briefs." Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1953, p. B8.
- Mitchell 2001, pp. 191–192.
- Erickson, Glenn. "Robot Monster." The DVD Savant, October 23, 2000. Retrieved: November 7, 2014.
- Hayes 1998, p. 295.
- Pryor, Thomas M. "Hollywood briefs: Warners and Metro Announce Their Own Wide Screen Processes; Other Items." The New York Times, May 10, 1953, p. X5.
- "How to Make a Monster." Everything2.com. Retrieved: January 8, 2007.
- "Filmography." Archived December 9, 2006, at the Wayback Machine Elmer Bernstein - the official site. Retrieved: November 7, 2014.
- O'Toole, Finlan. "Elmer Bernstein Finds Himself in Tune With Movies: Twelve tomes an Oscar nominee, the composer works on the new movie from the makers of "My Left Foot'." The New York Times, October 28, 1990, p. H18.
- Spencer 2008, p. 171.
- Zone 2012, p. 59.
-  Film Music Review Retrieved: September 29, 2019.
- "Movieland briefs." Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1953, p. A7.
- "'Robot Monster' (U)." British Board of Film Classification, September 9, 1954. Retrieved: January 15, 2016.
- "Review: Robot Monster." Variety, December 31, 1952.
- "Robot Eerie Film Figure." Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1953, p. B7.
- "'Robot Monster' with George Nader, Claudia Barrett and Gregory Moffett". Harrison's Reports: 111. July 11, 1953.
- "Movie director's death try balked: Letter sent to newspaper results in his being found unconscious in room at hotel." Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1953, p. 18.
- "Rating: 'Robot Monster' (1953)." Rotten Tomatoes. (Fandango). Retrieved: March 22, 2019.
- Hall, Roger, ed. "80th Birthday Tribute to Elmer Bernstein." Archived November 13, 2013, at the Wayback Machine Elmer Bernstein.com, 2012. Retrieved: November 7, 2014.
- Gubernick, Lisa. "New York hosts Golden Turkeys." Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1980, p. h8.
- Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide
- "Robot Monster and Beast of Yucca Flats reviews." Craptastic Movies Review, June 28, 2010. Retrieved: January 6, 2015.
- Sinnott, John. "Robot Monster." DVD talk, October 10, 2000. Retrieved: November 7, 2014.
- Segnocinema - Issues 126-130 - Page 52
- 1000 Facts About Animated Films by James Egan, page 114
- Hayes, R. M. 3-D Movies: "A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Classics, 1998. ISBN 978-0-78640-578-7.
- Mitchell, Charles P. A Guide to Apocalyptic Cinema. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. ISBN 978-0-31331-527-5.
- Parla, Paul and Charles P. Mitchell. "Claudia Barrett interview". Screen Sirens Scream!: Interviews with 20 Actresses from Science Fiction, Horror, Film Noir and Mystery Movies, 1930s to 1960s. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7864-4587-5.
- Rux, Bruce. Hollywood Vs. the Aliens: The Motion Picture Industry's Participation in UFO Disinformation. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books/Frog, Ltd., 1997. ISBN 978-1-88331-961-8.
- Spencer, Kristopher. Film And Television Scores, 1950-1979: A Critical Survey by Genre. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2008. ISBN 978-0-78643-682-8.
- Strick, Philip. Science Fiction Movies. London: Octopus Books Limited, 1976. ISBN 978-0-70640-470-8.
- Warren, Bill. Keep Watching The Skies, American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, Vol I: 1950–1957. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & COmpany, 1982. ISBN 978-0-89950-032-4.
- Zone, Ray. 3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2012. ISBN 978-0-8131-3611-0.
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