Lionsgate // 1954 // 77 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // June 13th, 2008
Can you guess the mystery of the automaton named "Tobor?"
Hey, here's a fun and completely kitschy 1950s sci-fi indulgence that is surely a guilty pleasure of many genre fans (including this viewer). Yes, "Tobor" is simply "robot" spelled backwards and the wide-eyed kid-friendly adventure is just as fun.
In 1954, Republic Pictures developed this laxative for the uptight American population sorely in need of an antidote to the nuclear scare and US-Soviet tensions. Rather than fearing radioactive fallout, audiences for Tobor the Great can marvel at the good uses of advancing technology (of the day). Professor Arnold Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes) has secretly developed a solution to the problematic misfires of US rocketships, prone to veer off course or out of control, yet too unstable for humans to attempt to pilot. Nordstrom has created TOBOR, a fully functional and mathematically rationalizing robot that can effectively guide a rocket into the cosmos without risk to human life. Nordstrom is perpetually flanked by his grandson, "Gadge" (Billy Chapin), short for "gadget," a precociously bright 11-year-old who is absolutely fascinated with Tobor. On top of it all is the professor's claim that the robot is capable of near-ESP reception. But when Nordstrom invites members of the press to view and report on the amazing creation, one attendee is actually an agent (Steven Geray) working for a foreign government that has different plans for the professor's invention. Before long, the professor and Gadge are accosted by the foreign agent and his henchman and only Tobor can save them -- if only young Gadge can telepathically communicate his dilemma.
Yeah, this is one aimed square at the youngsters as they munch popcorn, grind JuJubes between their teeth, and look agape on the towering 8-foot robot. Certainly a naive venture of a simpler time, Tobor the Great is still entertaining enough for modern audiences, they who can lose themselves in untainted excitement similar to the old Saturday matinee serials. Propelled by an altruistic dose scientific wonderment, seasoned with genuine edge-of-your-seat melodrama, and projected through the untainted eyes of a young boy, Tobor the Great is a classic old-school treat that is best enjoyed at face value and within the context of the 1950s. Taylor Holmes plays the quintessential bubbling scientist while Billy Chapin is exuberant with the sort of impetuous fascination of any 11-year-old of the day. Steven Geray is properly hiss-worthy as the Foreign Spy-Chief while Charles Drake gives a good leading-man sort of presence as the US space program lead, Dr. Ralph Harrison. Oh, and Karen Booth plays Janice Robertson, mother to Gadge and easy-on-the-eyes window dressing for the adventure at hand.
Now on DVD from Lionsgate, Tobor the Great does, indeed, look great. This is one of those lost gems that, when it has turned up in the video market, was typically treated with technical indifference. In this transfer, presented in the original Academy Standard 1.33:1 full frame format, the image is quite clean and crisp. The opening frames are a bit soft yet that clears up quickly and the remainder of the presentation is clean and visually enjoyable. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is remarkably clear, too, especially since this is the sort of picture that would typically suffer along with a muddled or dissonant soundtrack. Sadly, there are no extras on this disc though you will find an open-up poster that features the DVD cover art (which is a riff on the original 1954 one-sheet design).
In this day of incredible scientific feats, both in real life as well as presented on the silver screen, Tobor the Great comes along to remind us of the raw origins of our advanced technology. More importantly, it also reminds us how to have a good time at the movies with squeaky-clean action and adventure.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Not Rated