Last week, along with my friends and fellow members of the Late Night Movie Gang, I watched the 1954 sci-fi film, Tobor The Great.
As you can probably tell by looking at the top of this review, Tobor came with a really great poster. It’s a poster that promises all sorts of sci-fi thrills and chills. It screams, “B-movie masterpiece!” You look at that poster and you think to yourself, This film is probably extremely silly but I absolutely have to watch it!
Of course, if you know anything about the B-movie aesthetic of the 50s and 60s, you won’t be shocked to learn that the poster has next to nothing to do with the actual film. True, there is a robot is featured in the film. The poster is honest about that. And Tobor actually looks just as good in the movie as he does on the poster. And there is a subplot about space travel but, at no point, do we see Tobor walking across the surface of Neptune or Jupiter or wherever it is that Tobor is supposed to be in this poster. Maybe he’s on one of the moons of Saturn. Who knows?
Also, at no point, does Tobor carry around a woman. In fact, Tobor is pretty much a film for kids. The main character, other than Tobor, is an 11 year-old boy named Gadge (Billy Chapin). I can only imagine how audiences reacted when they went into the film expecting to see the scene in the poster and instead, they were confronted with a movie about a little boy and his robot.
Tobor is one of those films that opens with several minutes of stock footage. Rockets take off. The stars shine in the sky. Scientists and engineers do stuff. It all looks pretty impressive but, of course, none of it was actually shot for this film. In fact, the use of all that stock footage mostly serves to highlight how cheap the rest of the movie looks.
As for the film’s plot, it has apparently been determined that it’s too dangerous to send humans into space. So, Professor Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes) and Dr. Harrison (Charles Drake) build a robot that is specifically designed to fly an interstellar craft. They name their creation Tobor, because that’s robot spelled backwards. (Tobor even points out that his name is robot spelled backwards.) In order to help Tobor explore the universe, they design him to be able to simulate human emotions. In fact, they’re so successful at it that Tobor ends up befriending Nordstrom’s grandson, the aforementioned Gadge.
The press and the military are all very impressed with Tobor. Unfortunately, it’s the 1950s and that means that the communists are impressed by Tobor as well! Can the scientists and their families keep Tobor from getting abducted by a bunch of Russian agents!? Let’s hope so because there’s a lot of space that needs to be explored….
Anyway, Tobor The Great is silly but kind of fun. It has its slow spots but it also has a really cool robot and it’s always fun to watch the commies get thwarted. It’s a real time capsule film, one that not only reflects the decade in which it was made but which also has a somewhat charming innocence to it. If nothing else, it’s nice to think that, in the days before CGI, the filmmakers actually had to make a Tobor of their own. Apparently, Tobor is currently in a private collection and I hope whoever has him is treating him well.