At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

TOBOR THE GREAT (KINO/Lorber)

By • Sep 26th, 2017 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

The prevailing opinion is that, compared with similar narrative plots of the era, it ain’t no COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK. True, true. But it’s actually a surprisingly sweet film, executed with conviction by almost all involved, and has a relatively more realistic scientific screenplay than COLOSSUS. Also, the eponymous automaton has been lambasted as looking like a children’s toy. But robots of the day were not unlike this fabrication (check GOG, a fastidiously researched narrative) rather than FORBIDDEN PLANET’s Robby the Robot, which was created by the same artist, but represented the skill of robot designers a hundred years hence (and boosted by the Krell mind-expanding technology).

An elderly scientist (excellent performance by Taylor Holmes) is outspoken against subjecting humans to Earth’s first flights into space, insisting that a robot should essay the task, bringing back valuable info that would make it safer for humans to embark on subsequent voyages. A foreign power (clearly Russia – and weirdly aping today’s shenanigans) is trying to steal the formulas for the scientist’s mechanical man that responds not only to ordinary cues, but to human emotion as well.

Billy Chapin as the ten-year-old grandson of Tobor’s creator, and quite the MENSA candidate himself, sets a SORCERER’S APPRENTICE riff in motion when he tampers with his grandfather’s metal golem. Unlike the apprentice of yore, however, he’s smart enough to figure out how to stop the thing before it wreaks too much havoc. The following year Chapin was to tackle his most memorable role, as one of the endangered children in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. His most memorable, perhaps, but he’s actually better here, when he’s not being bullied by Charles Laughton.

Richard Harland Smith provides the commentary which probably, through necessity, focuses on the cast rather than the film’s virtues and backstory. Several of the actors, in fact, have more momentous lives than Tobor, including years in concentration camps (Steven Geray), and crippling addiction (Billy Chapin). Charles Drake, who seems as bland as CAT PEOPLE’s Kent Smith, had a Jekyll/Hyde personality that got him in trouble. The only one who seemingly had no drama in her off-camera existence was leading lady Karin Booth, who brings nothing to her role, and wisely called it a day ten years after her starring role in TTG.

There are some glaring editorial choices. A raid on the scientist’s home by the commie and his compadres resembles Laurel and Hardy’s misguided assault on the saloon-owner’s home in WAY OUT WEST (and is every bit as foolish). And there is some less than stellar dialogue. But in balance, this film has gotten a bad rap and deserves another look (and a higher rating on IMDB).

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One Response »

  1. Thanks! No I want to SEE a battery-operated Colossus Of New York tin toy complete with shuffling frankenstein boots and flashing eyes – and they don’t exist! (or do they?)

    I had no idea that Tobor was designed by Bobby’s designer, Robert Kinoshita. It was obviously designed for a low budget, especially since Robby cost $125,000.00 in 1955 dollars. Robby also cost the studio a lot of extra money in another way: the figure when operating was so noisy on-set that all the dialogue had to be looped/dubbed in post production, and sometimes it shows, especially the booze scene. Robby’s ulta-sleek and cool subtle hums which made him seem like the last word in high technology were added after the fact. Apparently he sounded more like a rattling old junket otherwise. This meant that all his movement noises and all the incidental noises on-scene with him had to be foleyed and dubbed-in, as well. The difference in studio sound ambiance and close-miked looping in the re-recording is apparent. One suspects that such a situation would have been gigantically prohibitive for a small production like Tobor, so our pal Tobor has quiet flashing lights instead, a cheaper option all around.

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