Tobor the Great (1954)

Tobor the Great PosterMy first clue should have been the title. I don’t mean the part about this dude being called Tobor and that it is “robot” spelled backwards. The goofy old fart scientist that invented Tobor tells a bunch of reporters that he named it like that on purpose. I mean the part about this robot being called Tobor the Great. That should have tipped me off that I was dealing with a children’s movie right away.

See, Tobor the Great is one of those titles that a little kid would use if he was writing some kind of story for school. It’s simple and exclaims a child-like enthusiasm (and optimism considering what a lumbering piece of tin Tobor turns out to be) for the main character’s abilities.

Dr. Ralph Harrison quits his job at the NASA-like CIFC because no one there wants to build a kick ass robot so that humans won’t be put at risk in space flight.

Professor Nordstrom though is somehow involved in the CIFC and he invites Harrison to a hotel restaurant so that he can be overheard by enemy agents discussing his top secret plans to build a way cool robot.

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Harrison comes back home with Nordstrom and it turns out that he has one of those sexy daughters all these mad scientists come equipped with. I rolled my eyes knowingly as Harrison took in that particular equation (find x so that x is the escape velocity of her girdle) and I steeled myself for the onslaught of rescuing and loving that was sure to follow this robot rampage.

Then her kid came out! It turns out that Janice had a husband that died in Korea and he left her with a boy about ten or so. This little brat is one of those fresh faced tykes that runs around with goo in his hair and says things like “gee willikers” all the time.

The worst part of all, and what set me on edge as to the true intent of this movie was that everyone called him by his nickname: Gadge. As in short for gadget. As in gadge me with a spoon.

While Gadge is busy demonstrating his annoying precociousness by doing stuff like making a potato light up a light bulb, Nordstrom and Harrison hold a secret press conference where everyone is checked out to make sure they aren’t enemy spies. This works for the twelve legitimate press guys, but somehow fails to work on the lone enemy spy.

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The professors show off the robot and it’s one of those big clunky things made out of silver metal that you would expect to see in a movie made in 1954. It has these lights that light up on its head to give it the appearance of a face with eyes and it comes equipped with something in its belly that looks like a venetian blind that can be opened up to look at all the electrodes, blinking lights and Philco radios inside of it.

It is explained that the robot has some type of ESP that can sense a person’s emotions so that it knows when you’re going to kiss it or attack it with an axe. I was never sure what the point of this press coverage was because if you’re going to keep something top secret, why would you invite about 12 reporters over to your house and tell them everything about the machine?

Later that night, Gadge sneaks down to play with Tobor and Tobor goes on a rampage until Gadge can figure out how the controls work. Everyone kind of giggles at the precious Gadge and all the damage he did, marveling that the little stinker could figure out the controls at all. It would have been nice to have parents like that when I was playing catch with a tennis ball in the house and put it through a window a couple of times.

The rest of the movie is devoted to the efforts of the enemy agents trying to get their hands on the Tobor plans. This involves trying to sneak onto the professor’s estate with a truck that has a ladder attached to it, getting run off the land by the defense system the professor has set up which includes the Home Alone-like gag of prerecorded gunshots, and a ruse involving a phony program at the planetarium.

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As the movie rolls along, the juvenile bent of everything becomes more apparent. This whole set up is some little boy’s fantasy of how neat it would be to live with a grandfather who’s also a wacky inventor.

Part of the fantasy is that the kid is just as smart as his elders and just as brave. For instance, after running off the spies from their land, Gadge complains to Harrison that he shouldn’t have pulled him aside because he would have shot the spy.

Is it just childish bravado? Well, Gadge did have a rifle in his hand and everyone laughs at the end of things instead of being disturbed that their kid was ready to get involved in a gun battle with secret agents.

Then you have the situation where Gadge is being held captive. They rip off his shirt and hold a blow torch at his back threatening to give him a nice sunburn if grandpa doesn’t give up the goods on Tobor. Is the kid scared? Hell no! He’s yelling at Grandpa not to give them anything! That’s not how a real kid would behave, but how a kid would like to believe he would act.

Clearly, a kiddie take on the whole robot and spies genre, that fails beneath the weight of its juvenile leaning. No adult is going to find much enjoyment from watching this little know-it-all run around being phony tough. These 1950s sci-fi movies are usually handicapped by their ridiculous premises to begin with, but when you throw in the ten year old mentality of this one, it becomes unbearable.

© 2013 MonsterHunter

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