Some have postulated that each decision one makes, no matter how trivial, results in a ‘branching’ effect, creating a universea for each option available. For instance, one chooses between having a peanut butter or tuna fish sandwich for lunch. Thus are created two separate and discrete universes, one in which you pick the tuna fish, the other where peanut butter is chosen. However, then you also choose whether to drink coffee or a Diet Pepsi, or to have a pickle with your sandwich, or whether to walk down to the mailbox afterwards to post a letter. From one simple lunch period, an infinite number of universes will result.
Here we examine one manner in which the world as we know it might end. However, there are an eternity of other possibilities. Some of these other ‘alternate histories’ are scrutinized by my distinguished colleagues as follows:
Moreover, others have gazed into the future as elucidated in Robot Monster and made their thoughts known:
Our readers are a patient breed, suffering our various peccadilloes with nary a complaint. Our, uh, irregular posting schedule. The, er, lengthy reviews. My bouts of political ranting. In fact, I can think of only one circumstance under which they have, en masse, made known their dissatisfaction. And I can hear the grumbling beginning now. Yep, if there’s one thing the typical Jabootuist deplores, it’s when the same type of film gets reviewed too often.
So I’m sure that some will condemn our recent, if inadvertent, focus on ’50s sci-fi flicks. In my defense, it should be noted that I’ve been somewhat locked in by my association with my fellow Bad Movie critics. On my own I’d recently, by our standards, anyway, reviewed the ’50s Killer Tree epic From Hell It Came. Then, when my brethren and I conducted Brainathon ’99, The Brain from Planet Arous got the call up to The Show. (Admittedly, this was my suggestion.) However, multiple reviews of the same film proved a tad much for many of our readers. Thus arose a suggestion, I believe through the auspices of that noted Jabootuite, ‘Jolting’ Joel Mathis. Why not review different movies, but on a similar topic?
Thus it was agreed. For our second outing, a handy theme was suggested by the topical subject of Y2K. (Not the Millennium, since that’s still a year off – that’s right, buddy, the Millennium starts in 2001, not 2000. ‘Zero.’ ‘One.’ The concepts aren’t that hard. Deal with ’em.) So Nathan of the Bad Movie List, I believe, suggested Apocalypse Films. As a side benefit, we could then do Post-Apocalypse movies as a follow-up a few months hence.
While this seemed a grand idea, though, there remained one problem. Which being, there really aren’t that many bad ‘End of the World’ films. Especially given how anal we are (well, I am) here at Jabootu. To qualify, the movie had to be both really bad and deal with the impending destruction of either Earth or of the human race. Unfortunately, most Apocalypse movies range from fair to pretty good (Deep Impact, When Worlds Collide, etc.). Other seeming candidates are more accurately post-apocalyptic in nature, i.e., they deal with the survival of the race or the rebuilding of civilization in the aftermath of an apocalypse. The one great Bad Movie on the subject, Doomsday Machine, I had already reviewed. So I offered my tape to my colleagues, and the eminent Dr. Freex of the Bad Movie Report will be providing us all with a second opinion on that classic.
Nightfall fit, but Apostic had just reviewed it at B-Notes. Andrew grabbed The Last Days of Planet Earth. I considered sending off for the old anti-Commie flick Invasion USA (not the Chuck Norris one), but proved too lazy. Ultimately, I felt, only one film fit all the necessary criteria. One, I had a copy on hand. Second, the movie truly and deeply sucked. Third, it dealt with the last small remnant of Mankind facing the final eradication of our race at the hands of an alien invader. And a notoriously silly one, at that. I speak, of course, of the all-time Jabootu classic, Robot Monster. Just in case the above title card didn’t give it away.
So I hereby apologize, in advance, for adding to our recent run of ’50s sci-fi monster movie reviews. I hereby swear them off for at least the next, oh, ten reviews or more. And now, on to our feature presentation.
We open on a field of (bogus) cheesy sci-fi comic book covers. This will prove a rather candid foreshadowing of the tale to come. Upon this background quickly appears the superimposed letters forming the title of our picture. These are stacked upon one another, so as to appear to thrust out towards the audience. They sport a die-cut look, our first indication that this film was originally presented in the then popular 3-D.
Next come little round pictures of the cast, reminiscent of the opening credits of Gilligan’s Island. As this film will also feature the adventures of a small group of castaways (more or less), this is rather appropriate. Of special note is the appearance of actress ‘Selena Royale,’ as I believe this was also the name of a James Bond movie. Meanwhile, the film’s resemblance to Gilligan’s Island is magnified when the image of “John Mylong as The Professor” appears. Many a porn actor must have mourned upon learning that that moniker was registered. Following this is the credit for George Barrows, identifying him to be the fellow playing “Ro-Man the Monster.” Although later, in small print, we see the ‘Robot Voice’ credited to one John Brown. (I’ll tell you, between this and Harper’s Ferry that guy really got around.) Apparently, like Darth Vader, one guy played Ro-Man’s body while another supplied his voice.
We also glean some intriguing technical information. In one of filmdom’s more notorious credits (especially in Jabootudom), the “Automatic Billion Bubble Machine” is credited to N. A. Fischer Chemical Products. We also learn that the film was shot in the “Tru-Stereo Three Dimension Process.” The stereo sound, somewhat ambitious for a schlock film of the time, will prove of special utility here. For soon the film’s most unlikely ‘credit’ appears. It’s score, you see, was composed and conducted by none other than Elmer Bernstein (!).
Bernstein went on to write some of Hollywood’s most memorable music, including scores for such films as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. (This last being a personal favorite.) While obviously one of his lesser works, Bernstein provides a surprisingly rich soundtrack for this kind of picture. Certainly the main character theme for Ro-Man proves to be one of the most memorable of any monster movie character of the period. If anything, some of the music is too good, adding to the weird pomposity that makes the film such a hoot.
The last name to appear is that of the picture’s auteur, screenwriter/director Phil Tucker. There’s some interesting information about Tucker and this film, which I’ll examine in the BACKGROUND section following the review.
We open on a young lad, Johnny by name, walking towards the camera. Since this was a 3-D movie, many things will be coming towards the camera. Wearing a ‘space helmet’ somewhat resembling that of The Man from Planet X, he repeatedly fires his toy space gun. Meanwhile, Bernstein’s twinkly ‘children’s theme,’ one of the film’s recurring musical motifs, informs us that this is ‘cute.’ Johnny eventually changes course, and we see that he is firing upon his slightly younger sister, Carla. At least Johnny’s a normal older brother.
Johnny pronounces her disintegrated. Carla is pleased, hoping that this means they can now “play house.” Carla will prove to have quite an obsession with playing house. (I can just see my colleague Liz grinding her teeth when watching this film.) This trait, unfortunately, will to a major extent define the perimeters of her ‘character.’ Johnny’s having none of it, meanwhile. After a refreshing pause to blow some soap bubbles, he proclaims the surrounding woods full of spacemen. At his command, he and Carla, lugging her inevitable dolly, march off in pursuit of the enemy.
To the shock of no one possessing even the slightest familiarity of Hollywood schlock, the kids’ perambulations soon reveal their location to be the seemingly inevitable Bronson Canyons. These were most recently seen here standing in for the infamous Mystery Mountain in The Brain from Planet Arous. Soon we hear a sharp hammering. Johnny and Carla appear to hear it too, proving that it’s not just occurring in the heads of those watching this movie. The kids follow the sound to a cave. Yep, the same one where Gor and Vol made their initial appearances.
At its entrance they find the Professor, a middle-aged scientist, and his comparatively hunky assistant Roy. Going along with the gag, they allow themselves to be taken captive by Spaceboy Johnny. Taking Johnny onto his lap (ah, those were simpler times), the Professor asks if they couldn’t all live in peace. Johnny, faintly disgusted that he won’t get to murdalize them, grudgingly concurs. Inevitably, Carla responds to this gesture of goodwill by requesting that they all play house.
The Professor (who sports an inexplicable German accent of the Hogan’s Heroes variety) and Roy prove to be *cough* archeologists. To substantiate this, they refer to the patently bogus ‘cave painting’ adorning one wall of the cave. That this would have survived exposure to the elements for all these years, sitting as it does mere inches from the cave entrance, seems rather unlikely. This is emphasized by the rather exaggeratedly loud ‘wind’ noises foleyed onto the soundtrack, apparently for ambiance.
At this point I began wondering what the Professor and Roy had been hammering on. This is soon answered, although in a somewhat less than convincing fashion. Pointing to the *ahem* ancient pictogram, Roy notes that “our job is to chip it out carefully and take it to a museum so people can study it.” This pretty much puts the film on the Archeology Reality Scaleâ„¢ alongside of Curse of Bigfoot and The Awakening (wherein Charlton Heston opens a sealed Egyptian Tomb by wailing upon it with a sledgehammer.) Exactly how you ‘chip out’ a largish section of stone wall with a wee rock hammer in less than five or ten years is left unexplored.
Carla, being a girl and thus not getting all this ‘science’ stuff, asks if the cave painting represents a “spaceman robot.” “As far as we know,” the Professor answers ungrammatically, “there vere no spacemen at those times. And robots, either.” The Professor asks Johnny’s name, and at that moment we hear a woman’s voice calling out. It’s Martha, the kids’ mother, and their older, foxy (for this kind of picture, anyway) sister Alice. Being a movie, Roy immediately starts giving Alice the googy-eyes. The Professor being a German, responds to their presence by donning a monocle. Meanwhile, with Father conspicuous by his absence, we can safely predict a potential romance between Mom and the Professor.
Her errant offspring in hand, Martha and the kids return to their picnic spread. This proves to be laid out upon a teeny spot of land surrounded by rocks of various sizes. In other words, not the most comfortable spot to set out a picnic. Johnny uses the phrase “if Dad were still alive,” confirming our earlier suspicions with a clunky bit of exposition. Noting that he’d like a new Dad someday (hint, hint), we cut to black.
We segue to after the picnic, with the actors pretending to nap whilst awkwardly snaked between the numerous rocks. Johnny wakes up and runs back to the cave. As he approaches the entrance, which is now empty of the scientists (and with the wall noticeably clean of ‘cave paintings’), a cartoon lightning bolt startles him. He trips and seems to fall unconscious. I don’t want to blow the ‘surprise’ ending. However, I’ve seen this film in a theater three or four times and this scene inevitably elicits disbelieving, if knowing, groans from the audience.
The picture recurrently flickers into a negative image. Meanwhile, a meteorite of the matted-in-sparkler variety appears in the sky. As you’d expect, we then cut to stock footage of a couple of fighting dinosaurs. This is taken, naturally, from the 1940 version of One Million B.C. Veteran schlock fans will be unsurprised to learn that these saurapods prove to be of the baby-alligator-with-glued-on-fins and photographically-enlarged-gila-monster variety. These battle in a rather too convincing fashion. Ah, the good old days, before those namby-pamby ‘no animals were injured in the making of this film’ notices. Their struggle is occasionally interrupted by shots of a couple of stop-animated triceratops going at it. (I mean fighting, you perverts). This all tends to confirm that you shouldn’t mix and match your ‘special effect’ techniques.
We cut back to Johnny laying prone before the cave entrance. Now on display is a rickety wooden table holding some dubious ‘scientific’ equipment. This includes the obligatory radio gear, some TV rabbit ears and the promised Automatic Billion Bubble Machine. This last is merrily blazing away – insert your own Lawrence Welk joke here. Meanwhile, the screen continues flickering to a negative image and back again.
Johnny wakes and begins painting on the cave wall. I should note that Johnny paints from a can that wasn’t at his feet when he fell some seconds ago. Plus his toy ray-gun is now of a completely different type and color. Startled by a noise, the lad ducks around the corner. Safely hidden, Johnny covertly espies something emerging from the depths of the cave, striding through the wall of bubbles like a Colossus. It’s the fearsome Ro-Man.
The title has informed us that Ro-Man is a ‘robot monster.’ Moreover, the name ‘Ro-Man’ is clearly meant to indicate that he is a ‘robot man.’ This is what makes his appearance so striking. For unlike many other cinematic robots, Ro-Man famously has the appearance of a morbidly obese man in a shaggy gorilla costume, adorned with a deep sea diving helmet over his nylon-stocking bedecked noggin. Said helmet, naturally, is adorned with twin antennas sticking out in the familiar ‘v’ formation. More on Ro-Man’s startling appearance can be learned in the BACKGROUND section below.
Our hirsute automaton waddles over to one of his less than awe-inspiring devices. This proves to be a *cough* futuristic viewscreen of some sort. Throwing a switch, the televiewer shows a phony looking spacescape, one mysteriously suffused with, er, space fog. This segues to a view of a *ahem* meteor shower of the ‘Styrofoam rocks on strings’ variety. Eventually, the picture focuses on The Great One, leader of the Ro-Men. The Great One looks suspiciously like Ro-Man, only with a slightly different helmet. He also carries a violin bow, which he periodically thrusts at the televiewer screen for emphasis. (3-D, remember?) In an attempt to suggest the furry mechinoids’ super-science, The Great One’s desk comes equipped with an electrical arc generator. Of course, if they were really advanced, he’d have an oscilloscope, too.
Ro-Man begins his report (see IMMORTAL DIALOG). The Great One, a.k.a. Guidance Ro-Man, quickly establishes his character by replying in a testy fashion. In fact, on the whole I’d say he’s rather belligerent for a robot. Of course, if I were relying on the likes of Ro-Man to conquer the universe, I’d be cranky, too. Unsurprisingly, we are now treated to some exposition. “No life has been discovered on any other planet,” The Great One relates. “Earth is our only rival.” However, even this is a thing of the past. “The Hu-man knew about Atomic Energy,” Ro-Man replies, “but had not mastered the Cosmic Ray. Wherever I directed the Calcinator Beam, they crumbled.” We are shown images that portray the horrible effects of this beam. These strangely resemble World War II stock footage of a city sustaining a conventional bombing attack.
Thinking that the attack was from an earthly foe, the nations of the world began lobbing nuclear weapons around. “I announced myself,” Ro-Man gloats, “to keep them from wiping out cities which will give our people much amusement.” At this the human race fought back, but to no avail. “Their resistance pattern showed some intelligence,” he concedes, “but all are gone know.” That’s right, Ro-Man has essentially managed to destroy all life on Earth. Take that, Gort. (Why he’s then living in a cave, rather than one of our ‘amusing’ cities, is left to our imagination.)
Ro-Man’s smugness proves ill-founded, however, for his boss informs him that there are yet eight people left alive. See IMMORTAL DIALOG for this scintillating exchange. The Great One orders Ro-Man to get his shaggy ass in gear and finish the job. Then, after the last human has been eradicated, the Ro-Man populace will begin to colonize the planet. Which leaves one to ponder why, if a single Ro-Man could essentially wipe out all our billions, it is necessary to delay shipping his legions of compatriots because there are a meager eight humans left.
The conversation ended, Ro-Man reenters his cave. The eavesdropping Johnny, seeing that the coast is clear, leaves his hiding place andâ€¦begins to enter the cave. (?!) However, the screen again starts flashing to a negative and back. Somebody must have thought that this looked really cool, considering how often it’s used. Or maybe it was just the cheapest ‘effect’ they could find. Johnny, perhaps startled by the effusions of the Automatic Billion Bubble Machine, takes off.
We cut to the survivors’ den, which proves to be the exposed, roofless basement of a destroyed house. A close-up spotlights a set of wires with electrical arcs running along them. This is the rather, uh, austere device that keeps Ro-Man from locating the last remnant of our species. Unsurprisingly, the last humans prove to be Johnny’s family, along with The Professor and Roy. The Professor and Martha, Johnny’s Mom, are now married, while Roy is Alice’s de facto fiancÃˆe. (I mean, what other choice does she have?)
The Professor and Martha express relief at Johnny’s appearance Which is more than I can of the audience towards Martha’s appearance. She’s wearing a no-doubt ‘futuristic’ outfit consisting of a skirt and a sleeveless, backless top complete with a large collar. Unfortunately, she really doesn’t have the back to carry it off. In addition, Alice is wearing the same outfit, although admittedly it looks somewhat better on her. (I’m sorry, but I find it hard to believe that two woman would voluntarily wear the same outfit, even after the Apocalypse.)
Martha chastises Johnny for having run off. The Professor reiterates, more for our enlightenment than Johnny’s, one suspects, why this is so dangerous. See, the wires that run electrical arcs “reflect [Ro-Man’s] deadly beams away from the house.” (House? Dude, you’re living in an exposed basement. Really, you’d think that with every building on Earth unoccupied they could do better. I mean, even Ro-Man’s cave has a roof.) With the apparatus working, “He can’t see us, he can’t hear us, but one word spoken outside the barrier and he will be down on us!”
Johnny blurts out how he saw Ro-Man living in the nearby cave. Martha worries that this means that Ro-Man has found them out. Alice, however, disagrees. If Ro-Man knew where they were, they’d all be dead by now. Soâ€¦the fact that the Earth’s lone invader and last remaining handful of humans live two blocks away from each other is just a colossal coincidence. Boy, what’re the odds, eh?
Johnny explains how he started painting a picture on Ro-Man’s cave wall, so that if they were destroyed there’d be a record of the human race’s prior existence. (??) The fact that Ro-Man might notice this fresh mural and deduce their presence apparently didn’t occur to him. Of course, we’ve seen no indication that Ro-Man did in fact notice the painting, so maybe this isn’t quite as stupid as all that.
OK, it is.
Johnny asks if they can kill Ro-Man. We are informed that the assembled armies of the Earth have already failed at this task. “Unless,” Alice excitedly interjects, “we can find his weak spot!” Hmm, yeah, one that all the ordinance of all the nations of the world just happened to miss. “Egad, so if they had just dropped that last H-bomb on the soft patch behind his left elbow, humanity might have been saved!”
Here we get some lip service paid to the rather unlikely ‘Ro-Man and humans living next door to one another’ thing. The Professor ponders why this should be so. Alice has an answer. “Perhaps we’re the last people on Earth, Dad,” she conjectures. “He senses our presence, and keeps calculating closer and closer.” Well, yes, except that it’s been established that up until five minutes ago, Ro-Man thought every human on the planet was dead. So I guess that brings us back to the ‘huge coincidence’ thing.
Alice tries to cheer up the Professor by noting that there could still be a garrison of troops left on the “Space Platform.” For some reason, Ro-Man has left this intact up to now. Exactly what utility a handful of soldiers would have is left unexplored. However, given the ‘impervious to all the armies of the Earth’ thing, I don’t think this really adds much to humanity’s chances for survival.
A signal begins to appear on the family’s televiewer, which looks remarkably like Ro-Man’s televiewer. They run over, hoping that the guys on the Space Platform are contacting them. To their horror (and our ‘bore-er’), though, it’s Ro-Man’s visage that appears. (We know it’s not the Great One because he’s not holding a violin bow.) The fact that Ro-Man’s ‘transmission’ is being bluescreened onto the shot is rather obvious from the thick matte lines.
Once he was aware of their existence, Ro-Man announces, it was a simple matter to break onto their televiewer signal. He offers them a quick and painless death if they surrender, and the standard horrible fate if they don’t. Since the televiewers are two-way, he now sees that there are five of them. (Actually, there are only four in the shot. I’m not sure where Carla’s supposed to be.) The family takes the ‘five’ figure to mean that Roy has bit the dust, too, wherever he may be.
Alice takes the news hard. (I guess – it’s somewhat hard to tell from her ‘performance.’) When Johnny mentions how she must be glad, since they always fought, Alice corrects him. “The trouble was, he wouldn’t admit I was good in my field,” she chokes. If Alice is the one who designed the outfits that she and Martha are wearing, I can see why. She admits, though, that Roy was a great scientist. (Gee, there’s a send-off.) The Professor agrees, noting that they never would have developed “the serum” without his help. Alice finally loses control and has her big gushy moment. Let’s just say that it wasn’t a miscarriage of justice when she didn’t win an Academy Awardâ„¢ that year.
Hoping to convince them to surrender (Ro-Man doesn’t appear to be real big on scut work), the Overtly Folliculated Space Ravager shows them some of the destruction he’s wrought. This tends to resemble World War II stock footage of bombed out towns, albeit with the image flickering to a negative and back. (Man, it just get cooler every time they do that!) Perhaps the least convincing of the images portrays a city seen from above. ‘Explosions’ are matted into the shot, but you can clearly see that none of the buildings are being damaged.
Since it’s apparent that they are going to make him get off his duff and come after them, Ro-Man swears his vengeance. “Your deaths will be indescribable,” he promises. Given how accurately that term describes much of our movie here, I believe him. “Fool Hu-Mans!” he concludes, “There is no escape!”
I have to admit, I’m a little confused here. For instance, I’m been assuming that Ro-Man could see them through the viewscreen, but maybe not. He does say that “I see that there are five of you,” but then, there’s only four people around the televiewer. (I’m not sure where younger sister Carla is supposed to be.) Also, The Professor clearly mentions the serum here, yet Ro-Man doesn’t seem to know about it until later. The bottom line is that Ro-Man seems to know that they’re in the neighborhood, and can telecast to their viewer, but isn’t aware of their exact location.
Martha suggests meeting with Ro-Man, hoping that they can negotiate a truce. (This with the entity who’s destroyed practically every single human being on the face of the Earth.) The Professor, however, is a man, and so intends to make Ro-Man work for his victory. “If Roman [sic] wants us,” he avers, “he should calculate us!” Who can argue with that?
Meanwhile, Ro-Man’s back at the cave. As he enters, we see that now Roy is spying on him. (Ro-Man really needs to work on his home security system.) Why, Roy’s not dead after all! What a relief! To portray the hardships of living in a post-apocalyptic world, Roy is clad in a (suspiciously clean) T-shirt, complete with the sort of artful rents suggestive of a community theater Stanley Kowalski. Like Johnny, Roy’s first impulse is to enter Ro-Man’s cave. He starts to fiddle with the invader’s *cough* scientific equipment. This is obviously dangerous, as the flimsy table the stuff rests upon looks like it’ll keel over at the slightest jostle. In any case, an alarm goes off, causing Roy to scamper back into hiding. An irate Ro-Man comes into view, for all the world like a crabby farmer looking to chase some kids out of his watermelon patch. Ro-Man halfheartedly looks around, but fails to spot the ‘hidden’ Roy scrunched up about five feet away from him. Frankly, Ro-Man’s rep as an Invincible Enemy of Mankind is starting to lose some of its luster.
Satisfied, Ro-Man calls The Great One for some advice, kicking off one of the film’s most famous exchanges. (See IMMORTAL DIALOG.) Ro-Man reports that he’s ascertained the existence of five remaining humans. The Great One reiterates that there are in fact eight humans left. Ro-Man promises to eradicate them, even if it involves using “physical means.” The Great One gives him one more day to complete his task. Good thing the survivors are so close at hand, eh? I mean, if they were in Poland or something, Ro-Man would never find them in time.
Back to the basement. The family is sleeping on a mattress set on the floor. I can’t help but notice that Alice is lying next to her father, while Mom’s off to the edge of the mattress. That just seems kind of creepy. Hearing a noise, The Professor and Alice come awake. The Professor draws a revolver, but Alice is skeptical. Amusingly, her next line is obviously looped in, as its sound level notably fails to match the rest of the dialog. “If the Atomic Guns can’t stop himâ€¦” she begins. (The what?!)
“It’s not for him,” The Professor grimly responds, “it’s for us.” Hey, Professor, if you’re saving that thing to put people out of their misery, well, I hope you brought enough ammo for the rest of us. Anyway, it’s not Ro-Man lurking about, it’s (surprise) Roy. “Hi,” he joshes, “is anyone home?” Unfortunately, he rather obviously speaks this line outside the ‘barrier.’ This should mean, according to previous dialog, that Ro-Man will be along any minute now. Everyone is overjoyed to see him, and Roy begins to tell of his adventures. “I was as close to him as I am to you!” he exclaims, somewhat inaccurately, as he’s standing roughly three inches away from them.
Roy brings word of two other survivors, Jason and McCloud, both former assistants of the Professor. When Alice points out that this doesn’t make sense (like any of the rest of this does), Roy explains. See, the Professor spent his “whole life” in pursuit of a serum that would protect humanity from all diseases. “So who does he experiment on with his first injections?” Roy continues. “Himself, his family, myself, and Jason and McCloud. Therefore, the great antibiotic is also the immunizer to Ro-Man’s death ray!” Since the subject is rather appalling, let’s skip over the Professor’s ethical lapses in experimenting on his own family.
Instead, let’s deal with his amazement that it’s been the serum keeping them all alive. “I thought it was the electronic barricade around the house!” he exclaims (assuming that one can call a border of four wires spaced a couple of inches apart a ‘barricade’). I still wonder, however, who would have thought that even a miracle serum could counteract a beam capable of physically destroying buildings? I’m not sure that such an energy ray would normally fall under the heading of a ‘disease.’
Roy explains that the ‘barricade’ may be keeping Ro-Man from finding them, but it isn’t keeping them alive. Here’s my problem, though. Let’s be generous and assume that Jason and McCloud have somehow erected a their own device to jam Ro-Man’s spy equipment. (Despite the fact that it was supposedly Alice, an electronics genius, or so we’re told, who invented the one the family uses.) Even so, both Johnny and Roy have been gallivanting around outside the barrier with Ro-Man none the wiser. In fact, Roy soon mentions that the other compound is over two days’ travel away, meaning that he’s been detectable for at least that long. So much for continuity.
Roy smugly goes on about how he and the others have collected all of the Professor’s old supply of the serum. Even now, he preens, Jason and McCloud are preparing to take a rocket ship up to the Space Platform. Upon arriving, they will immunize the garrison of troops stationed there. (I still don’t know what good that’ll do. Even if immune to the death beam, they can’t destroy the invulnerable Ro-Man, much less the zillions of Ro-Men waiting to arrive.)
Alice asks if they’ve informed the Space Platform that they’re coming. Roy replies no, since any attempt to communicate with them would alert Ro-Man to their presence. Alice, however, points out that if they just fly up to the Platform, the garrison will assume it’s Ro-Man coming and blast them from the sky. Duh! Alice suggests rewiring the viewscreen so that Ro-Man can’t monitor their transmissions. I’m not sure how that would work, but anyway. She and Roy get to it, having only two days until the rocket ship takes off for the Platform. We now have a montage of the couple working upon the viewscreen. This is represented by close-ups of a soldering iron working on some wires. We hear some more ‘playful banter’ as they pass the iron back and forth, seemingly soldering wires at random. When Alice reprimands his efforts, Roy wryly notes that “you’re either too beautiful to be so smart, or too smart to be so beautiful!” Of course, Alice, like any woman *cough*, eats this up. “I guess we do get along all right at that,” she chuckles. Yep, that dude sure has a way with the ladies.
A jump-cut indicates the passage of time. We see Alice’s hand faltering with the soldering iron. “What time is it?” she wearily asks, unknowingly echoing the sentiments of many of those in the audience. When he responds that it’s 4:30, she wails, “Of what day, Roy? I can’t remember the day! I’m so tired!” Considering that they had a two day time limit, one wonders if it’s possible not to know whether it’s the first or second day. Hmm, then again, I often experience a similar sensation when I attend B-Fest each year. So never mind.
After this, we cut back to actually being able to see the actors again. It’s not that big of an improvement. Carrying on from the previous scene, we see that Alice is so exhausted that she’s dropping things. Roy says she should grab some shuteye. Presumably Roy’s been working all this time, too. However, you know, he’s a man. Alice moans that there isn’t time, not if the viewscreen’s to be finished before Jason and McCloud take off. Here follows one of the film’s funnier moments, which is saying something. Johnny mentions that they’ve been working two solid days now. Alice can’t believe it, but the Professor confirms it. “The rocket ship must have taken off at dawn,” he nonchalantly notes. (!!) As it appears to be well into the day, one can only assume that they decided to play a joke on the overtaxed and brittle Alice by not letting her know. Ha, ha, Alice’s been killing herself all these hours for absolutely no reason! That’ll learn ‘er. Instead of exploding into a rage at their, at best, incredible stupidity, Alice – get this! – apologizes. (!!!) “Then I’ve failed you,” she manfully confesses.
Back at Robot Central, Ro-Man struts forth from his cave again. What does he do back there, anyway? Apparently bored (I hear ya, buddy), Ro-Man flips on his televiewer in order to harangue our heroes again. His image immediately appears on their screen, which raises a number of questions. Don’t they have to leave their viewscreen on for this to work? If so, you’d really think they’d shut it off. Also, didn’t Alice have to disable it in order to monkey around with it? Heck, you don’t even leave a toaster plugged in when attempting to pry toast out of it. So why is it even working? In any case, everyone runs over to check out the latest diatribe. I guess they’re bored, too. “Yesterday I calculated five of you,” the petulant Ro-Man begins. “Now I see six!” (Frankly, this isn’t something I’d be boasting about, were I him.) “He still doesn’t know about Jason and McCloud!” Alice blurts. Well, he does now, toots. Given that Ro-Man can see through the viewscreen, as his observation indicates, why wouldn’t he be able to listen through it too?
In any case, the two revealed themselves when they blasted off in their rocket ship. (Now that I think about it, how do two guys take off in a rocket? When did they change the design on those things so that the launch button was inside the ship?) Ro-Man, already established as a big believer in stock footage, now uses some rocket launch shots to illustrate his point. Hmm, how to describe so many wrong things occurring in a single shot? Just list them, I guess. We cut to a toy rocket with a sparkler (!) shoved into its rear. This is flying around in a tight, yet hopelessly erratic, circle (!!), apparently so as to not stray outside the field of the camera. Here’s the best part, though. Anyone’s who been with us this long has seen innumerable planes and spacecraft hanging on all-too-visible wires. And every time you see one, you think, “Man, that has got to be about the lamest effect possible!”
You’d be wrong, though. For here, instead of hanging on a wire, the ship is mounted on a stick and guided around in circles by a guy’s arm. (!!) In order to ‘disguise’ this innovative special effect technique, the image is shrouded in smoke. However, there comes a point in the circle when the sparkler is spitting sparks behind the arm holding it. At that moment, you can see the guy’s entire arm and the stick holding the rocket up! Imagine how obvious this looks when the film is seen up on a theater screen. I have, and you can actually make out the guy’s watch.
In case we’re confused, and I certainly am, Roy identifies this last object rocket as the Space Platform. Soâ€¦the Space Platform is a toy rocket (?) flying around in a wobbly circle (?!) in an outer space fog bank (??!!) and shooting out sparks and making “rrrrrr” noises (???!!!). Are we all clear on this? Actually, I’d have thought the Space Platform to be more, well, platformy. But what do I know? As the humans look on in horror, or perhaps embarrassment, Ro-Man begins a countdown, counting back from ten to eight.
At this point (I guess it’s at the ‘eight’ count that things begin on the Planet Ro-Man) the show begins. “The Great One himself sends the Cosmic Blast!” Ro-Man boasts. Sure enough, we cut to the same shot of the Great One thrusting his hand into the camera (3-D, wow!) used numerous times throughout the picture. As the image flickers negative, matted-in explosions destroy both the rocket and the “space platform.” When this second one goes, the explosion is so bright that it momentarily dispels the smoke. This allows us to see the entire arm and shoulder of the guy holding it. On a big screen, this is a fabulous sight. Meanwhile, on a VCR (or DVD, whenever this comes out on one), you can slo-mo and freeze frame this to your heart’s content. There are no losers here.
The humans respond with the sort of terror reminiscent of those faced with Thanksgiving leftovers for the fourth day in a row. Ro-Man tries to take advantage of their low morale. “And now, of the two billion,” he crows, “there are six. Calculate your chances! Negative! Negative! Negative!” (I think maybe Ro-Man should have worked on this speech a little more.) “Is there a choice between a painless-surrender death, and the horror-of-resistance death?” Uh, yeah. I mean, pretty much by definition. In any case, having presented them with this stark set of options, Ro-Man gives them time to mull things over. “By your clock-time, in one hour I will seek you out,” he warns.
As everyone assumes downcast expressions, Carla prepares to speak. This causes the audience to assume downcast expressions, in anticipation of further entreaties to play house. Instead, this is the ‘From the Mouths of Babes’ scene. “Mommy,” she whines, “why doesn’t he like people?” If she means this particular set of people, I can think of about a million reasons. Mom again shows that she’s not from the Realpolitik school of thinking. “I don’t know, darling. Perhaps if we could talk to himâ€¦” Gee, if only someone had thought of that before he killed two billion people.
Sending Carla off-camera (to our vast relief), Mom turns to the Professor. “We can’t go on this way much longer,” she exclaims. Which results in the senior staff of the British Understatement Institute breaking into applause. “What else can we do?” he retorts. “Commit suicide?” Sounds good to me. “Give in to Roman?” (Hmm, that reminds me of a story about the director of Fearless Vampire Killers and a fourteen year-old girlâ€¦) Mom convinces the Professor, who I really wish would stop referring to ‘Ro-Man’ as ‘Roman,’ to talk to him via the viewscreen. He agrees, but notes that this will require more work upon it by Alice. Hence, back to shots of Alice and Roy’s hands as they wield the less-than-subtly phallic soldering iron. Again, this raises more questions than it answers. Wasn’t the whole point of the two-day workathon to rejigger the viewscreen so that Ro-Man couldn’t listen in on it? And weren’t we told that the job wasn’t finished? And didn’t we just see the viewscreen in operation?
Apparently they succeed in making the viewscreen do what it already does, because they’re soon conversing with Ro-Man. “Roman! Roman! Can you scan us on your viewscreen?” Ro-Man asks if they’re ready to give up, but the Professor says no. “If you try to figure out our position,” he sneers, “you are wasting your time!” I’m not sure why you’d contact Ro-Man only to taunt him, but there you go. Ro-man, naturally, dislikes this answer. “I shall find a way to rid this Earth planet of Hu-mans,” he warns.
“We humans will not give up this Eart [sic] of ours,” the Professor continues. Then he changes tacks. “But let me ask you something else,” he simpers, which is odd as he hasn’t really asked him anything yet. “What do you have to fear from us?” Here, like some weird game show hostess, he gestures offscreen. (“Don Pardo, please show this lucky invader his prospective victims!”) “Let me show you the sic [sic] people you want to destroy.” Here the image on the viewscreen cuts to individual shots of each of the others as they are introduced. Apparently, the viewscreen comes with fuzzy software that changes from a close-up to a medium shot as needed.
First up is Martha, introduced as the Professor’s “companion of twenty three years.” (This is obviously a ‘wink’ at the picture’s ‘twist’ ending.) He points out how harmless she is, but Ro-Man’s having none of it. “The Hu-man woman is the bringer of Hu-man life! There must be an end to your race!” Actually, I think that Martha is rather past the point where she represents a ‘bringer of life,’ but what do I know? Moving on, the Professor introduces Alice, Carla and Johnny. Considering how generally unlikable the kids are, I don’t think he’s helping his case any. Besides, as Ro-Man points out, “I am built to have no emotions.”
Johnny, the smarmy little brat, sticks his tongue out as soon as he appears on the viewscreen. (This proves to be one of the film’s lesser 3-D effects.) “The boy is impertinent!” Ro-man accurately grouses. Hey, Johnny, thanks for doing your part to save the human race, you little #&”@*>^#. The Professor quickly continues, moving on to Roy. Here we get to one of the film’s major plot devices. “Wait,” Ro-Man says. “I do not understand quite, but I want to see the girl Al-iss again.” Alice obligingly returns. “We want peace, Ro-Man,” she spiels, “but peace with honor!” Meanwhile, it’s apparent that Ro-Man wants a piece, too. “I will talk with the girl,” he decides. “It is not in the Plan, but although I cannot verify it, I feel that she will understand.” Thus proving that Ro-Men speak as smoothly around girls as most Hu-man guys.
The Professor wants none of it, but the possibility that Ro-Man will be able to “integrate [them] into the Plan” proves to be too good to pass up. Agreeing to a rendezvous, Alice is told to meet him at “the area of the fork of the two dry rivers.” With that, he signs off. The others begin to argue with Alice. Meanwhile, Carla asks if Alice “is going on a date with Ro-Man?” I don’t see why not. The actress playing Alice probably had to do something similar to get cast in this movie anyway. Roy, of course, agrees with the rest. Alice stands firm. “You mean there are certain things ‘nice girls’ don’t do?” she retorts. You know, this whole subject is starting to make me uncomfortable. In any case, this is Alice’s big Oscarâ„¢ Clip Moment and she makes the most of it. (See IMMORTAL DIALOG.)
She makes to go, but Roy grabs a hold of her. Johnny takes advantage of the confusion to take off. Given the way this is blocked, I have trouble believing that no one ‘noticed’ him leaving. My theory is that they were glad to see the backside of the little creep. Meanwhile, we cut to Ro-Man walking up a steeply graded path. This is one of the shots that inspires vast empathy for George Burrows, meandering around under the hot California sun in a fur bodysuit whilst wearing a fishbowl on his head. Considering that he did this picture for little or no money, all as a favor to Phil Tucker, he must have been quite a guy.
We cut back to the basement. Roy is reading a book and sitting next to Alice, who’s bound with rope. Hmm, too bad Betty Page wasn’t available for this movie. Meanwhile, the, uh, actresses playing Mom and Carla languidly move her dolly around, apparently trying to suggest that they’re, you know. (‘Playing house’ appears to be even more boring than I’d previously imagined.) The Professor, meanwhile, has finally figured out that Johnny’s missing. You know, from their one room, 15′ by 15′ basement. “What a family I have!” he explodes, and brother, I hear you. He enlists Roy to go find the kid. Roy unties Alice so that she can help. Why he bothers, since they don’t split up to cover more ground or anything, is left unexplored. Meanwhile, Ro-Man is still awkwardly climbing up that grade. For heaven’s sake, how that guy kept from having a stroke in that rig is beyond me.
(Story Time. The first Bad Movies I ever saw in a theater, maybe twenty years ago, were a triple bill featuring this, Plan 9 from Outer Space and Cat Women From the Moon. It was at the old Varsity theater in Evanston – ironically mere blocks from where I would make annual sojourns to attend B-Fest in the years ahead. I had never seen Robot Monster, but intimately knew of it from the 50 Worst Films of All Time book.
Anyway, on the previous night, one of the 90 minute SCTV shows NBC ran for a year on Friday nights featured supposed Soviet shows that were accidentally breaking into the Mellonville satellite signal. One of these was Hey, Yorgi, featuring the rotund John Candy as a cheerful Russian simpleton who wandered around ‘helping’ people out, with predictable results. The bit had a catchy theme: “Hey, Yorgiâ€¦he’s coming to your town / Hey, Yorgiâ€¦he never wears a frownâ€¦” Anyway, when this shot of Ro-Man laboring up the hill came on, a young teenage girl sang out, “Hey, Yorgi, he’s coming to your townâ€¦” and much of the audience cracked up. Guess you had to be there, but it still makes me chuckle.)
Johnny appears at the ruins where Ro-Man told Alice to meet him. Here he can taunt Ro-Man with impunity, because he’s on a ledge that would require Ro-Man to scale a small wall to get at him. While no one makes note of it, such a task is clearly beyond Ro-Man’s obviously limited physical abilities. Really, it’s a good thing he can shoot death rays, as otherwise people would just jog away from him as he wheezingly lumbered in pursuit.
Much to Ro-Man’s displeasure, he learns that Alice has been grounded. Meanwhile, Johnny asks what the Ro-Men’s beef is the human race. “You are Hu-man,” Ro-Man observes. “Your people were getting too intelligent.” This line always gets a big laugh from people stuck watching this movie, given that it represents some of the most persuasive counter-evidence to that claim imaginable. When Johnny calls him a “big bully,” Ro-Man testily replies by saying, “Now I will kill you.” Which, when you think about it, creates an interesting juxtaposition with the scene in Plan 9 from Outer Space where Gregory Walcott reacts to the spaceman Eros calling him an idiot by punching him in the face.
The screen goes negative (surprise) as Ro-Man unleashes his Calcinator Ray upon the boy. Of course, this has no effect, other than to prompt another taunting. “You look like a pooped-out pinwheel!” Johnny sneers. Ro-Man is flustered to find that the survivors are in fact immune to his ray. Duh. At this, Ro-Man tricks Johnny into talking about the super-serum that keeps them alive (see IMMORTAL DIALOG). This doesn’t exactly wrack up any ‘genius’ points for Johnny. On the other hand, if it was supposed to be a big secret, why did the Professor earlier brag about how he and Roy had created a serum that would have protected Mankind from any and all disease? My best guess is that they knew Ro-Man was too much of a dunderhead to put the pieces together unless someone did it for him, as Johnny does now.
Armed with this data, Ro-Man promises to “recalculate the spectrum dust” in his death ray and finish the job. I’m not sure how or why this would work, but whatever. (Say, have I mentioned that, unlike Darth Vader, they never bothered to match Ro-Man’s rather exaggerated body movements and gesturing with his to-be-dubbed-in-later dialog, so that much of the time it utterly fails to match what he’s saying?) Horrified by his blunder, Johnny takes off. Since Ro-Man is trapped four or five feet under him, he can only shake his fist at the lad as he runs off. Or perhaps he’s signifying his victory by doing that “We’re Number One!” gesture.
Meanwhile, Roy and Alice (wearing, of course, high heels) are meandering around looking for Johnny. Not looking all that hard, but none the lessâ€¦ Roy removes his torn T-shirt, signaling a imminent romantic moment for our young lovebirds. Luckily, and for no reason, the nearby (?) Ro-Man makes his crackling sound, the one he makes whenever the screen goes negative. This despite the fact that the screen is not going negative. Anyway. Roy, obviously aware that if Alice tries to run she’ll trip and twist her ankle (of course she will, she’s wearing high heels!), lifts her up into his arms and hies them to a bush. Ro-Man, again proving he’s not the sharpest stick in the invasion fleet, passes by without noticing them.
Meanwhile, a contrite Johnny makes it back to the (barely) underground headquarters of the Human Resistance. Johnny confesses his tactical error, but his parents are understanding. “It’s OK, boy” the Professor soothes, “you did right.” Whatever the heck that means. “Yes, my plan to inform Ro-Man of our secret weapon against him is all coming together!” Again, though, if the serum was supposed to be such a big secret, how come the Professor mentioned it to Ro-Man earlier?
The Professor notes that it’ll take some time for Ro-Man to make the adjustments. (How does he know?) Meanwhile, a distraught Martha wishes it were all over. This gets Carla to pipe up, always a bad sign. “After it is [over],” she inquires, not understanding the import, “can I go over to Janie’s house and borrow her dolls?” Considering that Carla is well old enough to know what’s going on, we are forced to speculate whether she’s a tad, you know, slow, or just supposed to be living in a fantasy world to hide from the truth. I certainly know that latter feeling: I keep imagining Robbie the Robot or the Lost in Space Robot replacing Ro-Man in this picture. Heck, even Torg from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians would be an improvement.
We cut to a light in the sky. It took me a while to figure out that this was supposed to be the flare the Professor said he’d shoot up if Johnny returned. (Wouldn’t this sort of compromise their hidden location to Ro-Man?) Roy, worried that Ro-Man will see them, or so he says, the sly fox, grabs Alice to keep her from heading back to the Underground Headquarters of the Human Active Resistance Movement (HARM), where The Professor, played by Humphrey Bogart, wittily banters with Katherine Hepburn as he prepares the awesome Super Meson Beam weapon that will save the world from the Daleks andâ€¦oops, sorry, but this fantasizing stuff is addictive.
I’d like to mention one of my all-time favorite continuity errors. That being that Roy noticeably sports a wax trickle of ‘blood’ leaking from his right ear. The problem is that this is supposed to be the result of his battle with Ro-Man. You might have noticed that I haven’t alluded to this sortie. Well, that’s because it hasn’t happened yet. Apparently, Roy has the extremely rare ‘Clairvoyant Ear’ extrasensory ability, in which his ear anticipates future events.
Roy starts putting the moves on Alice. She pretends not to be interested, but I mean, c’mon, she was ready to put out to Ro-man, for Pete’s sake. Who’s she fooling? For some reason, this is intercut with footage of Ro-Man still walking back down that hill, no doubt daydreaming about a nice cool glass of lemonade. Now comes perhaps the film’s most excruciating bit. Roy and Alice rather patently mime some business (and none too well; director Tucker must not have given them much instruction here) as they pretend to laugh and love together. This quickly turns into one of the most hideous thirty seconds in film history. Nor is it aided by the justifiably forgotten “Love Theme from Robot Monster” playing on the soundtrack. When the camera cuts away to indicate an intimate moment, our relief is palpable. Marcel Marceau has little to worry about.
Back to Ro-Man, who marches across a sizable piece of land to finally reach his cave. (Hey, when you have seventy minutes to fill, you eat up screentime where you can.) Again, considering that Burrows basically played Ro-Man as a favor, you have to wonder whether it was really necessary for Tucker to shoot all these establishing shots of Ro-Man wandering around. Couldn’t they have just had him pop up where needed, so as to spare Burrows from spending all that time moving around in that outfit? Is the film really better because we can keep cutting to footage of Ro-Man walking up and down steep hills? I’m telling you, that guy must have been a sport and a half.
Back at the Underground Headquarters of HARM, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and James Stewart are bent over a map, planning the next massive assault of heavy armor andâ€¦I, where am I? Oh. Ooh. Sorry. Anyway, we see Roy and Alice walking back to the basement. Roy has his arm around her and is still carrying his shirt in his hand. Geez, buddy, why not hand out celebratory cigars inscribed with “I finally bagged your daughter!” on the cellophane? To be fair, they have Roy hand Alice over the wall to her father. This ‘carrying her over the threshold’ thing is obviously a cue that he and Alice are ‘married’ now. At least ’til that little minx Carla gets a few more years on her, eh, guys?
The Professor, being a man, fails to pick up on the subtle clues. “Where have you been all this time,” he grouses. Mom, however, immediately catches on. Even Carla has a rough idea of what’s been going on. “Have you two been playing houâ€¦”, she begins, at which point she stops because Cary Grant starts choking her. Then the Martian Warships from War of the Worlds appear, andâ€¦ Roy puts an end to speculation by noting that he and Alice want to get married. (It’s a little late for that, you two!) Since the Professor’s the closest thing to an authority figure left on the planet, and what a scary thought that is, they ask him to perform the ceremony. Mom, naturally, is beaming with happiness, apparently relieved that Alice has hooked herself such an eligible bachelor.
Meanwhile, Ro-Man is (yet again) emerging from his cave. Reporting in to the Great One, he explains about the whole serum thing. “Our C-Ray, the Calcinator Death Ray, cannot penetrate them. They have been made immune through the antibiotic serum, which I believe is the same as our formula XZA.” Hmm, soâ€¦A) Ro-Man has to explain to the Great One what the “C-Ray” is, and B) I’m not sure what ‘penetrate’ means in this context, and C) this race of robots has developed an antibiotic serum and D) although they themselves have a similar ‘antibiotic’ (for robots?), it hadn’t occurred to Ro-Man that something along these lines might explain the survivors’ immunity.
At this point, it all becomes clear: Ro-Man is the Great One’s incompetent brother-in-law, who got this job only because the Great One’s wife kept pestering him to throw Ro-Man a bone. “Reduce their counterpower!” the Great One commands. “Eliminate the error! Death to Hu-Mans can come by force!” Which means, I guess, that Ro-Man should take a more ‘hands-on’ approach to his task. The Great One reminds him that his time limit is running out and ends transmission.
Back to the ‘wedding.’ The Professor waits, Bible in hand. The shirtless Roy (look, I know you’re buff and all, but geez, get over yourself) and Alice, wearing a hankie as a veil, approach as The Professor scat sings the Wedding March. The Professor begins the normal wedding spiel, only to halt mid-sentence. “Dear Lord,” he recommences, “You know that I’m not trained for this job.” And any of us who’ve witnessed his attempts at acting would certainly concur. In any case, one bad soliloquy to God later and he pronounces them Man and Wife. Afterwards, the newlyweds head off for some privacy, although the Professor reminds them to return in the morning so that they can work on that whole ‘Ro-Man’ situation.
Carla is concerned about the lack of flowers, and runs off to find some to present to Alice. (You’d think by now that the grownups would have learned to keep an eye on the kids, wouldn’t you? I mean, one of them is running off every five to ten minutes.) After receiving them, Roy and Alice send Carla right home, presumably so that they can get down to business, if you know what I mean. As Carla runs along, Ro-Man just happens to come lumbering up a nearby hill with arms outstretched. In this he manages to look much like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, had Andrews been wearing an ape suit and a diving helmet.
Carla sees Ro-Man and stops while he approaches her. (After all, if she just turned around and walked back the way she came, he’d never catch her.) “What are you doing here, girl child?” Ro-Man inquires, giving us a taste of what the movie would have been like had Tennessee Williams written it. “My daddy won’t let you hurt me,” Carla boasts. Luckily, er, I mean, tragically, she proves incorrect.
Ro-Man is soon calling The Great One to bluster about how he’s managed to bump off an eight year-old girl. “It was a simple matter of strangulation,” he notes. He mentions that there are four left to go, and The Great One responds that there are in fact five left. “Four and one more,” Ro-Man wheedles, “on whom I have made an estimate in relation to our strategic reserve. The Plan should include one living human for reference, in case of unforeseen contingencies.” Like, oh, I don’t know, horny robots. The Great One, naturally, is having none of it. “Do you question the Plan?” he inquires. “No, Great One, I only postulate,” Ro-Man replies. The Great One tells him to get on with it and hangs up.
Cut to Roy and Alice sitting in a secluded spot and making out. Ro-Man suddenly pops up. (I have to admit, for a big guy he really gets around.) He crashes through some light foliage, which is filmed as if it demonstrated some vast physical prowess, and makes for the couple. Alice, of course, trips over a Styrofoam rock and Roy is forced to grapple with Ro-Man. Which means we’re finally at the scene which supposedly provides Roy with that bloody ear we saw fifteen minutes ago. Roy is quickly cast down. Then, after Ro-Man proves as invulnerable to foam rubber rocks as he is to nuclear warheads, Alice is soon caught up in his furry arms and whisked away.
Meanwhile, the Professor and Martha are out looking for Carla. Which means, of course, that by the time they get back Johnny will probably have run off again. To the couple’s horror, they soon stumble across their deceased daughter. The Professor lifts her body to carry her back home, in a bit reminiscent (in a nauseating sort of way) of the bereaved father who bears drowned little Maria through the village in the 1931 Frankenstein. Which, now that I think of it, was in many ways a better movie than this.
In an ironic counterpoint to this, or something, we cut to Ro-Man bearing Alice in a like fashion. She, per tradition, is raining those wee little ‘put me down’ blows upon him. At this point, we start going off on a very weird tangent. “I am ordered to kill you,” Ro-man explains. “I must do it with my hands.” Alice replies in a breathy, Marilyn Monroe-type fashion. “How is it you’re so strong, Ro-Man? It seems impossible.” “We Ro-Mans obtain our strength from the Planet Ro-Man, relayed through our individual energizers.” Alice stealthily ascertains that Ro-Man keeps this mechanism in his cave. And you thought Johnny was a blabbermouth! This seems to be heading towards Alice sabotaging the energizer and thus defeating her captor, but in fact this plot point never comes into play.
We cut to the Professor, Johnny and Martha tearfully arrayed around Carla’s grave. (See IMMORTAL DIALOG.) This tender scene is cut short when the pummeled Roy appears. Watching his bedraggled form stagger towards the camera reminds one of the fellow who opened episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus by saying, “It’s.” Gasping out Alice’s fate, Roy promptly keels over. “Roy’s dead,” the Professor proclaims, without bothering to examine him, “and nothing can be done.” He apparently forgot to add, “And somebody’s responsible!” In one of the movie’s more improbable momentsâ€¦alright, in one of the movie’s typically improbable moments, it’s left to Johnny to formulate a plan to save Alice. The Professor listens eagerly as the ten year old lays out their strategy. Basically, Johnny will act as a Judas goats to lure Ro-Man from his cave. Then the Professor and Martha will run in and free her. Yeah, the kid’s a regular Rommel, alright.
Ro-Man finally gets Alice back to his cave and puts her down. “Suppose I were Hu-Man, would you treat me like a man?” he inquires. Here’s a hint, guy. If you want girls to like you, don’t kill their husbands and sisters. Or, I guess, almost every other person on Earth. Ro-Man begins to get frisky (ewww!), while Alice tries to glean where the energizer is kept. She does this by saying things like, “Ro-Man, you haven’t told me where the energizer is kept.” Smooth, Alice, smooth. Ro-Man responds by tearing her blouse, baring her shoulders andâ€¦the televiewer begins to activate. A frustrated Ro-Man tries to tie Alice up with a rope (again), but it’s hard to do when wearing a gorilla costume. So he knocks her out by very nearly hitting her. Turning on the viewscreen, we see Alice’s family, or what’s left of it. “Why do you call me at this time?” Ro-Man peevishly asks. Dude, shouldn’t you have tied a sock on the Billion Bubble Machine or something? We soon learn Ro-Man’s priorities when the family offers to surrender. “Call me again at another time,” Ro-Man orders.
Ro-Man finally gives in to their hectoring and agrees to go kill them. We then cut over to Alice. Oddly, not only are her shoulder straps hanging down again, but she’s now quite securely tied up. (!) The only logical assumption is that she tied herself up for some reason. (Of course, now that we know how limber she is, Ro-Man’s fascination with her becomes much easier to understand.) It’s just not Ro-Man day, though. As he approaches Alice, the viewscreen begins to activate yet again. It’s the Great One, checking in to see when Ro-Man is planning to get to work. “Earth Ro-Man, you violate the law of Plan,” he accuses. “Fact, you have captured the girl and not destroyed her. Fact, you have delayed accepting the surrender of the others. This verges on failure.” “There is one thing you do not understand,” Ro-Man replies, and if this were a musical, he would now undoubtedly break out into song. However, it’s not, so he just tries to weasel his way out of trouble again. (See IMMORTAL DIALOG for the film’s most famous exchange.)
The Great One orders him to kill Alice and the others and signs off. Ro-Man, looking despondently over at Alice, ponders what to do. Meanwhile, the others head for their fateful meeting. They stop and split up, the Professor poignantly handing Johnny his toy space pistol before sending his off on his own. (?!) Meanwhile, the Great One’s already back on the horn, fed up to here with Ro-Man’s incompetence. “Why have you not killed the girl?” he crabs. Ro-Man tries the “I must, but I cannot,” line, which fails to satisfy the aggravated Great One.
At that point, Johnny appears nearby, calling to Ro-Man. Boy, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. The Great One commands him to take care of Johnny and Alice. “Great One,” Ro-Man miserably returns, “I cannot kill the girl.” Hoping to make up for his shortcomings, he promises, “I will kill the boy.” Shutting off the viewscreen, he tries to deal with the no doubt also annoyed Alice. “Do not hate me,” he implores her. “I must!” So he finally heads off to whack little Johnny. And not a moment too soon, if you want my opinion. While this occurs, Martha and the Professor run over to free Alice. This rather makes one wonder why it took two adults to untie Alice, while young sprout Johnny is sent to deal with Ro-Man by his lonesome. In any case, to further forestall the enemy, the Professor tosses some radio gear and Ro-Man’s rabbit ears to the ground. Meanwhile, The Great One, who apparently has a more impressive Viewscreen cable package, watches as Ro-Man approaches Johnny.
Johnny adopts the ‘Carla’ strategy of standing there until Ro-Man trudges all the way up to him. (What is it with this bunch?) In fact, he just stands there and lets Ro-Man strangle him. And a pretty sight it is, too. For some reason, though, it’s at this point that the Great One decides to express his displeasure. “Wish to be a Hu-Man? Good, you can die like Hu-Man!” That said, he unleashes his Cosmic Ray. This is indicated on screen via the impressive technique of ‘scratching the film negative with a pin.’ Some explosions occur in the sky, the screen turns negative, and Ro-Man falls to the ground. Maybe, like the rest of us, he’s just finally fallen asleep. Meanwhile, the Great One begins to rant. “Human elements still roam planet Earth,” he complains. “I, the ruler of all Ro-Mans, shall complete your task, Earth Ro-Man! I shall release our Cosmic Q Rays!” At this, lighting appears superimposed across the skies. “Which will free prehistoric reptiles to devour whatever remains of life!”
Sure enough, we cut to, a) a stop-animated Brontosaur, b) an armadillo made up to look, sort of, like an ankylosaur, and c) another stop-animated triceratops. You know, I can’t help wondering how all these herbivores are going to help rid Earth of our human survivors. I guess they could eat all the plants and starve them out, but that would seem to take longer than The Great One would want. Wouldn’t a couple of T-Rexes or Allosaurs help speed things up? Also, aren’t these critters going to prove more annoying to the colonization fleet than a handful of people?
To be fair, these do appear to be particularly enraged herbivores. For instance, the Brontosaur angrily knocks over a tree. (Wow!) Then we cut back to a longer look at that stop-animated triceratops battle we briefly saw earlier in the movie. Man, that must have been, what, maybe eight or nine hours ago? In any case, it sounds like the Great One, in a fit of pique, is abandoning the Plan himself. “The cyclotronic [or something] vibrations,” he notes, “will smash the planet Earth out of the universe!” Which makes the whole ‘prehistoric reptile’ thing seem like he’s just piling on, frankly. (Here we also replay the baby alligator/gila monster fight, like we won’t notice that they already showed it.)
Soâ€¦cosmetically enhanced reptile/lizard stock footage dinosaurs, stop-motion stock footage dinosaurs, the Great One casting out more Cosmic Q Rays, a (stock footage?) tabletop landscape diorama undergoing an ‘earthquake,’ yep, it’s all quite epic. But wait! Who’s that calling through the mist?! Why, it’s Roy, and he’s carrying Johnny over to the cave, where the Professor is! It’s like the beginning of the movie! But that meansâ€¦(wait for it!)â€¦it was all a dream! Johnny must have dreamed the whole thing after he fell! And wait, the clues were all there! Johnny blowing bubbles, just like Ro-Man’s Billion Bubble Machine! Carla’s asking about the ‘spaceman robot’! Johnny’s hoping for a new father! Yes, it all makes sense!!
Johnny’s family now all runs into frame, having conveniently been waiting right off camera. Johnny does a little “you were there, and you, and youâ€¦” deal, then shakes his head at it all. (Me too!) To thank the guys for finding Johnny, Martha invites them to dinner. Thus, you know, implying that the couples will hook up in ‘real’ life. C’mon, it’s basic Movie Logic. A middle-aged and younger guy going to dinner with an unattached middle-aged and younger woman? I can hear the wedding bells now. Carla, meanwhile, starts mewling about playing house again, no doubt making Johnny wonder if his dream wasn’t preferable to his real life. He’s learned his lesson, though, and agrees to do as she asks. He warns, however, that “I’ve got to keep an eye out for Ro-Man!” Alice, fulfilling her role as eldest sibling, subjects him to a mild little “there are no such things, you moron” speech. And so, as everyone has a laugh at little Johnny’s expense, they head off into a peaceful future.
OR DO THEY?! For after they exit, we pan back to the cave entrance! The Ro-Man theme eerily sounds again, and the mighty Simian Robot stalks forth into the camera! (Wow! 3-D!) He reaches out to choke us, and the screen flickers negative as the audience cowers from this fearsome sight! Then he disappears, but we have learned never to assume that we areâ€¦oh, wait! Ro-Man’s coming back out of the cave again, once more stalking us! It’s twice as frightening!! Have they no mercy?! Iâ€¦what?! Again?! A third time?! Oh, for Pete’s sake, I’m out of here!!
AFTERTHOUGHTSI guess the big one is, is it fair to make fun of the illogical, madcap events of this movie? The dinosaurs? The Gorilla Robot? The Radio Shack ‘space’ equipment and the Billion Bubble Machine? The inane science? The way everyone can sneak off when they feel like it, even though they’re all living right on top of each other in an exposed basement? After all, it all turns out to be the dream of a comic book-reading kid with an overactive imagination.
And, I must admit, they do a surprisingly good job of setting this up. Even in the dream, there are clues. For instance, the line relating that the Professor and Martha have been hooked up for twenty-three years, when we earlier saw that they had just met. There’s the paint can that materializes out of nowhere and the way Johnny’s gun changes when he wakes up. Then there’s the way that the Alice in the dream is an electronics genius, and thus able to work right alongside the men. Such a notion was more likely to be found in the juvenile sci-fi of the period, like that of Robert Heinlein, then in real life, particularly in the hard sciences. And it’s easy to picture Johnny reading such stuff, what with his spaceman fetish. This would rationally explain Johnny integrating such an idea into his dream. Even the film’s wholly unplanned use of a guy in an ape suit to play the robot (see BACKGROUND below) sort of makes sense in this context. Maybe an ape in a fishbowl helmet is this kid’s idea of a ‘robot.’
On the other hand, if we are to take this at all seriously, then little Johnny comes off as one sick puppy. His line about wishing Dad were still alive, coming out of nowhere, indicates that the man’s death was recent enough that Johnny has strong memories of him. Yet Dad’s existence is utterly wiped out in Johnny’s dream. He’s never even existed, since it’s made clear that Alice, Johnny and Carla are all the dream Professor’s natural children, products of his twenty year marriage to Martha.
Meanwhile, Johnny dreams of the following: His younger sister getting strangled to death. His older sister being deflowered by a hunky, shirtless young stud, then being pawed by a space invader. The same sister being willing to jut her breasts out and play all sexy with that same invader in order to gain information. Both beings with a sexual interest in her tying her up with rope. (OK, she tied herself up the second time, I guess, but I don’t think we were supposed to catch that.) Johnny himself being killed. And let’s not even start examining things from the standpoint of Ro-Man being a projection of Johnny’s own id, because then the brute’s actions towards his sisters are even more disturbing.
In any case, to the question of whether this movie should really be fair game for mocking: Yes! What, are you kidding?
Director Phil Tucker all along planned to utilize a more conventional ‘robot’ suit for his opus. However, budget constraints (he later revealed that the film had a budget of well under $20,000) soon torpedoed this scheme. The Medveds, who wrote up Robot Monster in their The 50 Worst Films of All Time book, actually tracked Tucker down and interviewed him. The following is taken from their second book, The Golden Turkey Awards, in which Ro-Man won as “The Most Ridiculous Monster in Screen History.”
Sayeth Phil Tucker: “I originally envisioned the monster as kind of a robot. I talked to several guys who had robot suits, but it was just out of the way, money wise. I thought, ‘Hey, I know George Barrows.'” Barrows was a ‘gorilla suit’ man, one of several who earned a modest living playing apes in the then still popular ‘jungle’ movies. (Next time you’re at Suncoast Videos, look for an entertaining double cassette collection detailing the history of ‘gorilla suit men’ in the movies. I can’t remember the title, but I think that Bob Burns is the narrator.)
Tucker continues: “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!” Needless to say, Tucker’s skills as a prognosticator proved even more dubious that his skills as a writer and director.
The Medveds went on to nominate Phil Tucker as “The Worst Director of All Time,” along with Herschell G. Lewis and William “One Shot” Beaudine. They all lost to Ed Wood, the event that in many ways kicked off the whole Bad Movie thing as a (somewhat) widespread phenomena. Tucker had earlier made a series of shoestring sex pictures (or what represented them at the time – we’re talking the early fifties, remember). He also wrote some of the advertising materials for Robot Monster, which promised that the film was “hailed as the most sensational screen offering of the decade!” Unless they were quoting Jabootu himself, I’m not sure as to the accuracy of that claim. Nor, having just watched the film, do I feel that I did in fact “SEE Robots from Space in All Their Glory!!!”
Unfortunately, while it would eventually bring him a measure of cinematic immortality, the original theatrical release of Robot Monster brought Tucker nothing but misery. Tucker was so depressed by the reaction to his masterwork, from both critics and audiences, that he attempted suicide. He recovered at a VA hospital (he’d been a Marine, like, yes, Ed Wood, although he didn’t storm the beaches of Normandy as that stalwart did, famously wearing ladies lingerie under his uniform), eventually directing other films, such as Dance Hall Racket with his friend Lenny Bruce (!).
A later drag-strip effort, Pachuco, caused a riot when it premiered in a Texas drive-in in 1956. Finally, Tucker returned to Bronson Canyons to make another sci-fi opus in 1960, Cape Canaveral Monsters. Details on the latter film can be found in Bill Warren’s wonderful two-volume set Keep Watching the Skies! It should be noted, though, that while his is a tremendous work, it also showcases Warren’s intense dislike for what we do here. Warren spends much space in his Robot Monster and Cape Canaveral Monsters pieces excoriating the Medved Brothers, and, by extension, us here at Jabootu. The man’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but I think he fails to detect (like most critics of Bad Movie Journalism) the hard core of honest affection people like us bring to the table.
In any case, Tucker, at the time he met with the Medveds, still evinced some pride for his work. Speaking of Robot Monster, he maintained that “For the budget, and for the time, I felt I had achieved greatness.”
You did indeed, sir. And Jabootu salutes you.
Ro-Man checks in with his boss, the tyrannical Great One, via his televiewer. Already, the film’s scrupulously researched science is on display.
Ro-Man: “Extension Ro-Man, XJ2, reporting to Guidance Ro-Man. I salute you.”
The Great One, testily: “You are late, fourteen minutes.”
Ro-Man: “The gravitational pull is stronger than reported, point seven-six-five-two higher than our planet.”
Great One: “Accepted.”
Further evidence of the movie’s awesome command of science is presented. Hey, somebody get Stephen Hawking to explain what they’re talking about here, will ya?
Ro-Man, proclaiming his success at eliminating all human life from the Earth: “All are gone now. The way is clear for our people.”
Great One: “I want facts, not words!”
Ro-Man: “Fact A! My pulse has been reduced to plus zero zero.”
Great One: “Reject! Error!”
Ro-Man: “Error? But Great Guidance, I have proved it! My energizer has scan-checked by square feet! No life above lepidopteron level exists!”
Great One: “My calculator is more accurate! In the twenty-second category there is an error of sixteen-billionths!”
Ro-Man: “The Great One is never wrong. Then there are perhaps eight people left on Earth?”
Great One: “Not perhaps! Precisely! Find and destroy them!”
Ro-Man is starting to feel his first stirrings of humanity. Unsure of himself, he calls upon the guidance of the Great One (who you’d really think would have better things to do.):
Ro-Man: “I need guidance, Great One. For the first time in my life, I am not sure.”
Great One, scornfully: “You sound like a Hu-Man, not a Ro-Man! Can you not verify a fact?”
Ro-Man: “I meshed my LPI with the viewscreen auditor, and picked up a count of five.”
[A buzzer sounds.]
Great One: “Error! Error! There are eight!”
Ro-Man: “Then three still elude me! And all escaped detection by the directional beam! Is it possible they have a counter-power?”
Great One: “And if they do? Deduce, correlate, eliminate error! Is this not the law?”
Alice and Roy have to work together. Of course, since they’re in love but haven’t admitted it yet, they continue to argue. If this represents their best efforts at banter, then I fear that future generations of humans will have to do without that ‘humor’ gene:
Alice: “If I only had a decent assistant, who could take orders instead of trying to be the boss!”
Roy, fuming: “I’m bossy?! You’re so bossy, you ought to be milked before you come home at night!”
Alice contends with the others as they seek to keep her from meeting with Ro-Man, resulting in a tour de force philosophical polemic:
Roy: “I know I’m not in the family, Alice, but your father’s right.”
Alice, passionately: “You mean there are certain things ‘nice girls’ don’t do? Even if it means that Man’s millions of years of struggle up from the sea, the slime, the fight to breath air, to stand erect, to think, to conquer nature, are all to stop cold for a doting father and a jealous suitor?!”
Roy: “I just don’t happen to believe that any human being should degrade himself in order to survive!”
Alice: “You’d rather just have us go out of business, is that it?! Letter returned, no forwarding address?! Can’t you see you’re being sentimental idiots, letting your emotions run away with you!”
Captain Kiâ€¦, er, The Professor: “Perhaps that is the quality of being human. The bery [sic] thing that makes us different than Roman. The difference we are trying to preserve!”
Ro-Man, after confirming that the survivors are immune to his death ray (you know, the one that can physically decimate buildings), cleverly wheedles info from the less-than-bright Johnny:
Ro-Man: “So, the Calcinator Death Ray really cannot harm you. Your father must be a brilliant scientist.”
Johnny, bragging: “He’s got a super-serum that keeps people from ever getting sick.”
Ro-Man: “How do you know it works?”
Johnny: “Cause he tried it on me and Carla and Alice and Roy, and everybody, and we don’t get sick, even when we swallow capsules with real bad bugs in them.”
Ro-Man: “And the two men who took off on the rocket ship, they also had this injection?”
Johnny: “Sure, theyâ€¦” [Johnny slaps mouth in horror, realizing that he’s said *gasp* too much.]
Ro-Man, gloating at this final victory: “You have told me all I need to know. I will calculate the spectrum dust in the Calcinator Death Ray to counteract this antibiotic. And you will all be destroyed!”
A heartbreaking scene enfolds, as the Professor, Martha and Johnny mourn the deceased Carla:
Johnny, with the wisdom of hindsight: “I wish now I’d played house with her more often when she wanted to!”
The Professor, Philosopher Extraordinaire: “No regrets, Johnny. We enjoyed her as long as she was with us.”
Caught with Alice, Ro-Man tries to explain things to the boss:
Ro-Man: “There is one thing you do not understand, Great Guidance.”
Great One, incredulous: “You reject the Plan?”
Ro-Man: “I wish to make an estimate of my own.”
Great One: “To think for yourself is to be like the Hu-Man!” [If no one immediately connected with this film, anyway.]
Ro-Man, entering Shakespearean Soliloquy mode: “Yes! To be like the Hu-Man! To laugh, feel, want! Why are these things not in the Plan?”
Great One: “You are an extension of the Ro-Men, and a Ro-Man you will remain. Now I set you into motion. One, destroy the girl. Two, destroy the family. Fail, and I will destroy you!”
The Great One signs off, leaving Ro-Man to ponder his fate.
Ro-Man: “I cannot, yet I must. How do you calculate that?! At what point on the graph do ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ meet? Yet I must! But I cannot.”