Tobor The Great (1954)

Tobor The Great (1954)‘Gee, Tobor you’re wonderful!’

After World War 2, the U.S. government forms the C.I.F.C. (‘Civil Interplanetary Flight Commission’) and gives it ‘almost unlimited funds(!)’ to develop a space rocket. A few years later, they’re ready for lift off but the top boffins disagree about sending a human astronaut. One of the them has built a robot for this purpose but he is targeted by enemy spies.

This is slick, if minor, science fiction aimed at the children’s market. We kick off with the usual five to ten minutes of old stock footage, featuring an astronaut being tested in a centrifuge and the inevitable V2 rocket launches. Our adult hero is the handsome Dr Harrison (Charles Drake), who quits the rocket project when he finds out that the top brass are determined to send a man into space without more consideration of the dangers involved. He finds an unlikely ally in lead boffin Professor Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes), who invites him to work on a solution to the problem at his private mansion. This household consists of the obligatory available daughter (Karin Booth), the Prof’s brainiac grandson (Billy Chapin) and Tobor, a 7 foot tall robot.

Tobor is cool in a retro 1950’s way and, although he doesn’t speak, his design foreshadows that of the more famous Robby the Robot, who took his first bow in ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956). In a remarkable non-coincidence, Robby’s designer had a consultant role on Tobor’s technical team. Tobor’s control system remains cheerfully vague throughout. Although he’s apparently a ‘sentient being’, he takes commands via a glorified TV remote, a pencil, ESP (anyone can do it!) and reacts to the emotional states of those around him. He also climbs stairs and drives a jeep.

Being aimed at a younger audience, our main human protagonist is Gadge (short for ‘Gadget’), the annoying little brainbox of a grandson. He unwittingly sends Tobor on a destructive rampage (he knocks over a table!) and disapproves of his mother’s burgeoning romance with the hunky Dr Harrison. ‘Would you like to help me with the garage door?’ she asks. ‘Yes, I would. Very much,’ he smarms. But what we’re not here for that, are we? Meanwhile, back at the movie…

Tobor The Great (1954)

‘Keep pointing that thing at me, kid, and you’re gonna be wearing it…’

Enemy agents based at a local filling station target the robot, even though it freaks out during a simulation test involving a storm of meteorites. This was an essential situation to master in the 1950s as outer space was infested with the little suckers. The Prof’s homestead is protected by a high fence and a gate that boast his own alarm system, which, he assures us, is impregnable. Unfortunately, it seems that he is blissfully unaware of a slighter older human invention: the ladder.

This is a pleasant, if undemanding, 75 minutes, delivered in a nice straightforward manner. There’s no subtext here; the usual ‘military vs. boffins’ conflict is never addressed and technology is portrayed in an unambiguous and totally positive light. It’s both charming and naive at the same time.

Tobor went on to film a TV pilot ‘Here Comes Tobor’ in 1955 but it didn’t sell and ‘hosting’ duties for a hardware store in Sherman Oaks followed. Tobor the Robot disappeared in 1956.

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