To err is Ro-Man

Great Guidance: Earth Ro-Man, you violate the laws of plans. To think for yourself is to be like the hu-man.

Ro-Man: Yes! To be like the hu-man! To laugh! Feel! Want! Why are these things not in the plan?

Dozens of current students, joined by prospective students on campus for a pre-enrollment weekend, came to Doc Films' Thursday night showing of 1950’s sci-fi classic Robot Monster. In 1953 director Phil Tucker, then 25, crafted this B-movie masterpiece for $16,000. It took four days. Shot entirely outdoors in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, Robot Monster is widely considered to be one of the worst movies of all time.

Ro-Man, i.e. the robot monster, has come to Earth from planet Ro-Man under the direction of his leader, Great Guidance, to destroy the hu-mans. “People,” Ro-Man explains, “were getting too intelligent. [Ro-Mans] could not wait until you were strong enough to attack us—we had to attack you first.” Ro-Man, played by actor George Barrows wearing a gorilla suit and a diving helmet affixed with antennae, is largely successful in his mission. Using his death ray, he persuades the world's allies to attack each other with their “hydrogen bombs.” Ro-Man even “wipe[s] out the last scientists in their deepest shelters.”

After the slaughter, only eight hu-mans remain: a professor, his family of four, and his three assistants. All saved by the professor’s antibiotic serum, the hu-mans do their best to avoid Ro-Man as he stalks the desert looking to destroy them by “physical means.” Ro-Man eventually falters in his mission, developing strong feelings for the professor’s beautiful daughter, Alice. Communicating with Great Guidance via a bubble-powered transmitter, the Billion Bubble Machine (little more than a sheet thrown over a wooden board), Ro-Man learns from the hu-mans and is overcome by a conflict between his duty to planet Ro-Man and his own feelings: “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!”

According to Doc Films’ description, when critics panned the film Phil Tucker attempted suicide but was saved after being found unconscious in Hollywood’s Knickerbocker Hotel. Robot Monster was featured as part of Doc Films’ ongoing series Cinemasaurus.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

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Photos (left to right): Ro-Man prepares to communicate with Great Guidance in his cave home; Ro-Man spirits Alice away from her family (please note Ro-Man's gorilla feet); opening credits to Robot Monster.

Photos courtesy Three Dimensional Pictures.

April 18, 2008