Tobor the Great (1954) – Lee Sholem

DK Publishing brings me another mechanical menace from its highly enjoyable Monsters in the Movies book. This time around, he’s not so much a menace as he is menace.

Very much a product of its time, the 50s, this film, dramatically set in the future of the day after tomorrow, it’s a charming, if not completely engaging tale of robots, little boys their grandfathers and single mothers, and spies.

Charles Drake plays Dr. Ralph Harrison, who at the beginning of the film, quits his job at a NASA knockoff, because he feels man isn’t ready for the rigours of space travel and exploration. That there must be another venue to explore that will keep humanity safe while allowing them to explore the cosmos.

Enter Professor Arnold Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes), who recruits Harrison to his purpose, working out of his estate, which houses his daughter, Janice Roberts (Karin Booth) the widowed mother of boy-genius, Brian (Billy Chapin).

It is here that he brings Harrison in on a project, hidden behind questionable security tech, that is about creating a robot to do the space travel for man (I don’t even want to open this can of worms, because we as a species are explorers, we have to get out there ourselves). At a press conference at the estate, which includes an uncredited appearance by character actor William Schallert, Tobor (robot spelled backwards) is revealed.

Large, clunky, nowhere near as clever as the film, writer, or its fictional creators would have us believe Tobor is the next big thing, and soon enough spies from foreign countries are eager to get their hands on the machine for their own nefarious purposes.

But you can’t keep a boy and his dog, sorry, robot, apart, as a friendship of sorts develops between Brian and Tobor, all while a relationship of a different kind begins to develop between Ralph and Janice.

This one is just Saturday matinee material, it holds no great commentary on society, or its time, it’s just a short (just over an hour) piece of popcorn entertainment that may have kept a few of its viewers entertained while they waited for another cartoon, or the next feature to begin.

I always find the science fiction b-movies of the 50s interesting because of how they visualised the future, and how they designed it to appear on screen. Tobor isn’t a very efficient robot, but Brian is a pretty cool kid, and though a genius, he’s so tapped in 50s slang and portrayal that he doesn’t come off as pushy, or annoying, just fun and precocious.

What does DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies have for me next? Pick up a copy for yourself and find something monstrous to watch tonight!

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