Thursday, December 15, 2016

I Cannot, Yet I Must - A Book About Robot Monster

Review by Steve D. Stones

Unlike so many of the films we review here at Plan 9 Crunch, Robot Monster is a film that immediately appealed to me. Its strong elements of surrealism, the monster's bizarre costume with a diving helmet, strange dinosaur stock footage and a story told from the point of view of a child in his dream, makes it an interesting film. Robot Monster is the film that director Phil Tucker will always be best remembered for. (Above art is by Steve D. Stones).

Author Anders Runestad's book - I Cannot, Yet I Must: The True Story of The Best Bad Monster Movie of All Time (published by Radiosonde Books - 2016) does not leave a stone unturned when it comes to all things Robot Monster. Everything you ever wanted to know about director Phil Tucker, writer Wyott Ordung and producer Al Zimbalist is covered in this book. Details about the life and careers of the main actors of Robot Monster is also covered.

The book discusses the stories surrounding Tucker's suicide attempt shortly after the premiere of Robot Monster in 1953. A letter written by Tucker at the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel before his attempt is published in the book. Many believe his suicide attempt was a publicity stunt to keep his name in the headlines after the poor reception of Robot Monster. Tucker's son, Phil Jr., mentions that his father was too upbeat and full of  life to have tried to commit suicide. He believes his father enjoyed life too much to have wanted to commit suicide.

One particularly interesting section of the book contrasts the script of Robot Monster with what was actually filmed and put on the screen. For example, the script indicates that when Alice, played by actress Claudia Barrett, confronts Ro-Man in an attempt to save her family, she is supposed to be "as undressed as the law will allow," and tells him that she can only really love him if she can be allowed to know everything about him. Obviously this is one of many script details that is not in the finished film. Many other script omissions are also mentioned.

Tucker also had a relationship with beatnik comedian and satirist Lenny Bruce.  The two were involved in a film together in 1956 called Dance Hall Racket about a dance club being used as a front for diamond smugglers.

Tucker is said to have also been involved in Ed Wood's cult masterpiece - Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Tucker often gets compared to Wood by critics, but the distinct difference of the two men is that Tucker acknowledged that he was making bad films, and Wood felt that his films were great. Timothy Farrell, an actor employed by both Wood and Tucker, once told Wood biographer Rudolph Grey that Wood and Tucker both knew each other, but said they did not like each other.

It's unfortunate that Tucker's Wikipedia page does not list two of his lost films - Pachuco (1957) and Space Jockey (1953). Both films are discussed in great detail in the Anders book. Fans have long waited to see both films, particularly Space Jockey. Tucker claims it is his worst film, even in comparision to Robot Monster. Both films were made the same year.

Tucker eventually got fed up with the tough Hollywood system and stopped directing altogether. He spent the later part of his life as a film editor for films and TV shows because it provided steady income. He was working as a dishwasher in a restaurant at the time he directed Robot Monster.

Anders mentions that the Al Zimbalist-produced film - Cat Women of The Moon, also from 1953, is the perfect companion film to Robot Monster. He contrasts some of the similarities of the two films. Both films employed the music of Elmer Bernstein, a respected composer in Hollywood in the 1950s.

Rhino Video released a 3-D VHS print of both Robot Monster and Cat Women of The Moon with 3-D glasses in the mid-1990s. The 3-D treatment does not work, even with the glasses on, but nevertheless, these two videos are a treasure to have for Phil Tucker-Al Zimbalist fans. Happy reading. And watch the film in its entirety here.

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