Friday, July 5, 2019

Tobor the Great

Tobor the Great
Lee Sholem

Dr.s Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes) and Dr. Ralph Harrison (Charles Drake) team up with solving the problem of putting human danger in space travel. The solution is a giant silver robot that goes by the name Tobor. Not only can Tobor receive telepathic direction, but it can also learn on its own. Gadget (Billy Chapin) or “Gadge” to his friends makes an emotional connection to Tobor. This comes in handy as secret agents from another country plot to steal the secrets of Tobor.

Tobor virtually checks off every list of 1950s SF elements, it has a robot (of course), absent-minded scientists, dirty rotten Commies, and precocious kid, and promise of atomic power taking us to the stars. There is a lighted-hearted adventure story that gets just a little dark as it nears the climax but in a way that gives the whole thing a little more gravitas than it would have otherwise. Tobor wears it’s a gee-whiz attitude on its sleeve and is all the better for it.

"Grandpa certainly has a lot of leatherbound copies of Butt Frenzy.
 If your movie is called Tobor the Great, your robot better be pretty great. Thankfully Tobor is a fun looking and is an impressive work of costuming and design. The clunky metal giant is surprisingly mobile and it is a delight to see Tobor stomp into action and toss around enemy agents. Tobor itself isn’t exactly brimming with personality but makes an interesting parallel to Robby the Robot who would come a few years later in Forbidden Planet (1956) and star in film that is very similar to Tobor the Great in The Invisible Boy (1957). Both have young kids palling around with potentially lethal machines. While Robby is largely friendly looking ends up being a real threat, Tobor looks threatening but ends up being a big ‘ol softy.

“Gadge” is the overly-smart kid that ends up befriending Tobor. Often young smarty-pants little kids are incredibly irritating. I understand that this is largely a children’s movie, so ideally kids would want to see someone they identify with, but I’m going to let the adults in on a little secret. Kids don’t really identify with other kids so much as they identify with a giant silver robot who smashes through walls. Gadge doesn’t grate as much as most but we’re here for Tobor.

"Must... crush small child... I mean save..."
The villains of Tobor are a group of spies and enemy agents that we are never expressly told are communists, but there’s no need to do so for a film from this era. The bad guys are just as mean and sneaky as you would hope, even going to so far as to smack Gadge around a little bit. It is interesting to see that this group is humanized just slightly as they express some resignation at the dirty work they have to do. Even giving this much humanity to some cartoonish villains as the Red Scare was still in full swing is surprising.

Tobor is light and fun little SF romp that never really pushes the envelope in terms of storytelling or visuals, but it is a competent kid’s adventure film with a memorable central robot character. It clocks in at a breezy 77 minutes and is perfect Saturday afternoon matinee viewing.

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