Tuesday, November 22, 2011

GOG (1954)

At a secret underground government research center in the middle of the desert, scientists of several varieties are working toward the launching of a space station. We see two scientists running a suspended animation experiment on a monkey, quick-freezing him so his heart rate drops to zero, then successfully quick-thawing him back to life. Unfortunately, one of the scientists gets locked in the chamber and is frozen to death, and when the second one returns, she too winds up dead the same way. This is just the first of a series of bizarre accidents at the center, and soon a federal agent (Richard Egan) is dispatched to investigate. One entire floor of the center is devoted to NOVAC, a super-computer which runs the entire building, and which itself is supervised by a German scientist (John Wengraf) who seems a little too intense for his own good; could he be attempting to sabotage the experiments? Eventually, two powerful robots, Gog and Magog, start to malfunction and Egan and his assistant (Constance Dowling) suspect that some exterior force (Commie spies, perhaps) has gotten control of the center. Can a handful of humans overcome a supercomputer and two rampaging robots?

I'm starting my usual Thanksgiving week of sci-fi and fantasy movie reviews with this film which I actually did see for the first time over a Thanksgiving weekend sometime in the mid-60s. The central issue of the film, basically the hacking of a computer system, is one that is still relevant, and the idea that an artificial intelligence is responsible for some of the mayhem would be explored in more detail in Kubrick's 2001. Though this has a sci-fi atmosphere (and the opening credits are presented against deep space backgrounds), it plays out more like a traditional industrial mystery movie—who's gumming up the works at the factory? On the plus side, the color scheme is bright and shiny; on the minus side, the pacing is faulty: the film opens with a nice burst of mayhem (the monkey and the frozen scientists), then drags with lots of exposition and the half-hearted setting-up of a romance between Egan and Dowling, then suddenly comes to life again in the last 20 minutes with robot mischief and radioactive poisoning. The two leads are deadly dull; Wengraf (pictured above with one of the robots) is OK though a little too passionless to be a truly effective mad scientist; and the puppet-like robots are rather silly looking, looking like the friendly robots of Lost in Space and The Jetsons. William Schallert (the father on The Patty Duke Show) is effective in a small role as Wengraf's assistant. The accidents (including a pair of human subjects who get spun too fast in a gravity experiment) are fun to see, and were probably even more fun during the film's original theatrical run in 3D. [Netflix streaming]

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