There’s no way to Sugar-Coat this: Robot Monster (1953) could be the Worst Film Ever Made.
Yet, there’s something fascinating and admirable about it, especially when you consider it was made in four days with a budget of only $16,000 US (approx. $155,000 today).
If you’ve not seen the film, it’s about a robot monster (named Ro-Man) who lands on earth with a mission to wipe out humanity.
There are only eight humans left on earth, because a death ray eliminated everyone else. Two of the survivors, named (inexplicably) Jason and McLeod, are never shown, which is just as well because Ro-Man blows them up while they are escaping in a spaceship.
The remaining six people on earth are members of an unusual family who dress like they belong to an obscure sci-fi cult. The father, who is the Boss Of Everyone, has an impressive commitment to overacting.
He works with a young and handsome scientist named Roy, who is in love with the eldest daughter, Alice. Alice is also scientifically-minded, but she finds the time to fall in love with Roy and marry him.
Meanwhile, Ro-Man, who lumbers around L.A.’s Griffith Park, strangling people and arguing with his boss, the Great Guidance, also falls in love with Alice. She does not, unsurprisingly, return Ro-Man’s affections.
All this action in just 66 minutes – and it’s brought to you in 3-D!
Here are our random thoughts on this film.
First: The dialogue. It’s stilted and peculiar, which makes it somewhat fabulous:
Second: The bubbles – and yes, you read that right. Ro-Man and the Great Guidance are often seen with mysterious bubbles when they use their electronic equipment. Are the bubbles a by-product of this equipment? Are they a by-product of the aliens’ diet? No matter: The bubble machine has its own film credit – Automatic Billion Bubble Machine – and we want one.
Third: The music, by American composer and conductor Elmer Bernstein. Bernstein, you may remember, was nominated for 14 Oscars and scored films such as The Ten Commandments (1959), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and Ghostbusters (1984).
Fourth: Ro-Man’s intelligence. He’s right to be worried about humans because he is not smart. How he mastered space travel is beyond us.
Finally: The Robot Monster costume, namely a gorilla suit capped off by a diving helmet and antennae. It’s rather unorthodox, but you have to admire a filmmaker who decides This Is The Monster We’re Going With and makes no apologies for it.
You can tell Robot Monster was made in a hurry with a limited budget, but look at what these folks accomplished. They filmed with 3D equipment; obtained special effects footage from other filmmakers; and introduced the movie-going public to the best bubble machine ever.
This was director Phil Tucker’s first feature film. Tucker* was 25 years old when he directed this film, and for his efforts he became involved in a serious dispute with the distributor over his share of film profits.
Were there profits? You bet there were. According to Wikipedia, this film “grossed $1,000,000 during its initial theatrical release, more than 62 times its original investment.” Not bad for four days’ work.
This post is part of The SO BAD IT’S GOOD Blogathon, hosted by Taking Up Room.
*Tucker directed six feature films in a two-year period, and later became a well-respected film editor.
Robot Monster: starring George Nader, Gregory Moffett, Claudia Barrett. Directed by Phil Tucker. Written by Wyatt Ordung. Three Dimension Pictures, 1953, B&W, 66 mins.