Now, after 62 years, viewable again in beautiful 3-D! Scientists are being murdered in a secret underground laboratory overseen by a super-computer and two robots, Gog and Magog. The restoration is a stunning achievement, covered thoroughly on the disc extras. The year is young, but this is an early favorite.
KL Studio Classics
1954 / Color / 1:66 widescreen / 85 min. / Street Date March 1, 2016 / available through Kino Lorber / 34.95
Starring Richard Egan, Constance Dowling, Herbert Marshall, John Wengraf, Philip Van Zandt, Michael Fox, William Schallert.
Cinematography Lothrop B. Worth
Film Editor Herbert L. Strock
Original Music Harry Sukman
Written by Tom Taggart, Richard G. Taylor, Ivan Tors
Produced by Ivan Tors
Directed by Herbert L. Strock
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Once viewable only at isolated special film festivals, vintage films on 3-D are enjoying a comeback thanks to a busy independent company. The 3-D Film Archive has done work for various studios and disc distributors, favoring 3-D fanatics with discs of the war movie Dragonfly Squadron, the Sci-fi film The Bubble and a well-remembered Canadian horror picture, The Mask. Their latest was also their most challenging project, from a restoration standpoint: the final product is surely their best work yet. More on this below.
The first big ‘fifties space movie Destination Moon led some critics to assume that George Pal’s semi-docu scientific approach would continue to be the norm for science fiction films. Most of the genre instead went the way of invaders from space and radioactive monsters. Undiscerning critics gave producer Ivan Tors good marks for science for his “OSI Trilogy,” even though the pictures are pretty funky when it comes to anything like scientific accuracy. 1953’s The Magnetic Monster concerns a pair of brainy atomic troubleshooters that make house calls as if they were plumbers. Their assignment is to neutralize a dangerously unstable new element that doesn’t behave like anything in the known universe. 1954’s Riders to the Stars saw a flight of rocket pilots attempting to capture a meteorite in mid-orbit. The excitement level is acceptable but the screenplay seems ignorant of basic facts about meteorites. The third and most elaborate Ivan Tors sci-fi feature is GOG, a futuristic hi-tech espionage thriller with very modern, very paranoid ideas about national security. Produced in color and very briefly released in 3D, GOG is as delightfully naïve as Tors’ first two films. But it has something that should have guaranteed its success as matinee-bait for the kiddie set: robots on the rampage.
The VERY big news about Kino’s new HD of GOG is its excellent 3-D restoration, which amounts to nothing less than a new premiere. I’ll get to that a little further on.
The story involves a highly futuristic (for 1954) secret government lab in the desert that is preparing to launch the world’s first space station, and arm it with a ‘defensive’ death ray. Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI) agent David Sheppard (Richard Egan, paying his dues on the cusp of stardom) is flown in to investigate the murders of several scientists. Lab director Dr. Van Ness (Herbert Marshall, repeating from Riders to the Stars) shows Taggart various experiments underway at the underground lab, which is overseen by a vast computer called NOVAC, or The Brain. David also meets up with an old flame: Joanna Merritt, Van Ness’s assistant (Constance Dowling, the producer’s future wife). The scientists themselves aren’t that helpful: Dr. Zeitman is proud and cranky, while Dr. Elzevir (Philip Van Zandt) is a borderline lecher. Only slowly does it become clear that NOVAC and its robot helpers GOG and MAGOG are under the nefarious remote-control influence of outside saboteurs.
GOG was hot stuff for sci-fi fans in 1954. The lab is like something from a James Bond film made ten years later, a completely buried facility ringed by hidden radar antennae and defensive sun-focusing mirror weapons. The lab is organized into color-coded levels, each more secure than the one above, where groups of brilliant scientists are developing new technologies around heat, sound and cold to help future astronauts survive in space. Each scientist has a beautiful female assistant. The whole shebang is under the control of NOVAC, a computer so complicated that its own inventor has difficulty figuring out how it works (!). NOVAC monitors everything in the entire complex, from lab instruments to door locks to the staff as well. Helping to run the lab’s nuclear reactor are two automatons named Gog and Magog. They’re designed very much like modern security robots — an upright shaft is ringed with tools on folding arms, all resting on a base that rolls around on treads like a tank. A meek technician (William Schallert, seemingly in 90% of classic Hollywood Sci-Fi fare) is their keeper.
No sooner has Sheppard arrived than more scientists are killed by their own secret experiments. One Poindexter is rapidly deep-frozen, and shatters on the floor when he topples over (off screen). A security man is killed by sound waves and a lady assistant is almost murdered by a helio-death ray. Some of the science experiments are on the klunky side, such as the centrifuge (apparently real) that looks like it belongs in a kiddie park, and the ‘weightless’ room where smiling acrobats frolic in slow-motion, aided by a stray wire or two. But Ivan Tors didn’t skimp on the robots. Although we can guess how they are operated, they seem quite practical. At least until one goes nuts, drives in a circle and waves its arms about as if trying to say, “Danger Will Robinson!”
The filmmakers seem to think that the audience will be ‘blinded by science,’ but we solve the mystery way before the scientists do. As NOVAC is hard-wired into a remote-control relationship with every rheostat, light switch and doorknob in the building, it instantly becomes the ‘prime suspect.’ Yet even with little remote control devices being found in suspicious places around the facility, and a rogue UFO is spotted high in the stratosphere, nobody guesses what is going on. Only when Gog and Magog go on the prowl and sabotage the reactor does the stuffy Dr. Zeitman get wise. Kids back in the day jumped out of their skins when the robots activated on their own, but nowadays viewers are going to be way ahead of the gag.
But that’s not the point — genre clichés had to begin somewhere, and the makers of GOG were plowing new territory for juvenile thrills. The ‘science’ on view looks like a high school science fair. The explanations for things like cryo-hibernation and artificial weightlessness are just silly, as if the writers worked from real proposed scientific ideas, but then just made up things that sounded exciting. The non-sequiturs of logic make Van Ness and Sheppard look like total incompetents. With its security compromised, the lab should have been shut down immediately, before America’s finest scientists were all murdered. It’s funny that a scientist is deemed ‘untrustworthy’ because he corresponds with women in Europe; I guess we all know that Europe is just full of sneaky bad people. Meanwhile, nobody’s interested in finding out who physically sneaked those remote control boxes into the lab. Frankly, I suspect the guy who checks Sheppard’s ID. He takes Sheppard’s card, and another card from the file, but when he gets them to an overhead projector he sets them aside, and instead compares fingerprints on two other cards on a transparency in the projector!
Sometimes the writing and direction just fails to ‘get it’ in a way that generates our genuine affection. With the deadline for the space station looming and a dangerous killer loose, the most important scientists conduct guided tours for agent Sheppard. For one of them, a large and detailed miniature landscape is blasted by the deadly helio-ray. I guess that Van Ness didn’t tell us about the fifth secret level in the special lab, which houses a workshop to manufacture fancy model cities to be burned up in silly demonstrations. Security is supposed to be high, but everyone seems too relaxed. When Van Ness is frantic about robots going crazy and a threat to the atomic pile, two security men in the frame with him just stand there, watching him with casual unconcern. Typical ‘professionalism’ has scientist Wengraf berate poor lackey William Schallert for letting Magog slip away unnoticed. Rather than alert the lab that a killer robot is on the loose, Schallert’s character just stands there looking amusingly embarrassed: “It’s not my fault!”
Just the same, GOG’s basic setup is a fascinating hint of the technological future, with everything ‘automatic’ and eavesdropping microphones planted everywhere. The décor makes early use of what would become a Sci-fi must — sliding electric pocket doors. Otherwise the art direction leans heavily on items newly available in early ‘fifties garden stores: wavy green Fiberglas panels and shiny glass bricks. Not exactly what you’d expect to see in a zillion dollar super-secret science establishment. But one viewer must have paid very close attention to the movie: Michael Crichton. The super-laboratory in his influential crossover best seller The Andromeda Strain is very closely modeled on this one.
It also lies hidden beneath the sands of the desert and it has the same multi-level design, with the same security setup. Instead of a nuclear reactor, Crichton’s lab is fitted with a fail-safe security device, an atomic bomb rigged to “cauterize” the site should things get out of control. One of the GOG scientists must dodge a heat ray in one of the labs, action mirrored in Andromeda when the hero must run a gauntlet of laser weapons in an airshaft. Both movies have key scenes with experimental lab monkeys. GOG has a fairly innovative suspense climax, with agent Sheppard and Joanna use flame throwers against the two robots. Richard Egan makes for a fine action-man hero, while Constance Dowling is restricted by the script’s insistence that the leading lady mostly stand around looking helpless when things become dangerous. Herbert Marshall is impressive as ever, gliding smoothly through the film’s constant factual exposition. Despite having only one leg, he fights the robots too, even when carrying a functioning flame thrower.
This is the film that ends with both the hero and heroine receiving a potentially lethal dose from the reactor, as reflected by their safety badges. Our accidentally irradiated lovers are last seen happy and smiling in the lab hospital: “The doctors say we’ll be okay, we just got a little too much radiation!” All’s well that ends well… at least they’ll be able to find each other in the dark.
GOG remains an ideological souvenir from a year when the arms race was really heating up – the H-Bomb made its debut. The lab’s job is to install that helio-death ray into orbit, to hang like a Sword of Damocles over the “Enemies of Freedom” and thereby insure the peace. The mission of the nefarious sabotage spy plane is to interfere with this early Strategic Offense Initiative that will allow the United States to militarily dominate the world. The last scene shows the space station being set aside. The helio-weapon is instead sent up in a rocket by itself — a Nazi V2, ironically. This is why a somewhat juvenile thriller like GOG retains it historic significance. The happy ending reinforces the climate of Cold War terror.
3-D for Me, See?When I reviewed a flat, full frame MOD disc of GOG back in 2012, I explained that it came late in the ‘fifties 3-D craze and for that reason was mostly exhibited flat. At a big 3-D festival at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood in 2003, we were shown GOG in full Polaroid 3D, a screening that was attended by director Hebert L. Strock and actor William Schallert. Savant’s whole report is here (scroll down to September 14, 2003) but I’ll excerpt the relevant section:
The Egyptian Theater was packed, and with glasses firmly in place, GOG began. It ran at 1:37, even though it was clearly formatted for 1:66 (judging by the titles). The 3-D effect was excellent. A speaker told us that UA has no 3-D versions of GOG, and that it was thought to be lost until someone (presumably a collector) found a surviving Left Eye projection print to match MGM’s Right Eye printing elements. Unfortunately, the Left Eye was badly faded. This didn’t hurt the 3-D, but the resulting colors were subdued. If one closed one eye, the colors popped into bright, true hues. Close the other eye, and the picture turned purplish. Together, the two halves combined into a satisfactory but slightly faded composite. Very interesting.
After the show, director Joe Dante introduced the charming William Schallert, who pulled out his 1953 datebook and read to us all the roles in plays and bits in movies he took that year. He said that all he really remembered about GOG was that he earned about $250 and got strangled by the robot. Director Herbert L. Strock told us that he had monocular vision like Andre De Toth and Raoul Walsh, and couldn’t fully appreciate his own 3-D picture! UA premiered the movie in 3-D at the Paramount Theater on Hollywood Blvd. (now the El Capitan) but then released it only flat, which made Strock angry — they’d gone to such trouble and expense to do it in 3-D. Everyone present agreed that this was the first time in 49 years that GOG had been publicly screened in real 3-D.
Well, thirteen years later we finally have the whole story. Bob Furmanek of The 3-D Film Archive was the individual collector who secured that surviving, intact Left Eye print of GOG, and since that time has been trying to find a way to rescue the film in its 3-D form. The way the restoration came together (explained in the article) is a case of pure serendipity: MGM licenses GOG to Kino and provides a new transfer from the rediscovered Left Eye film print. Kino hires the 3-D Film Archive to do the restoration; it has the Right Eye IP re-scanned, and works on the Left Eye to match it. One Eye is of an earlier generation and has excellent color, while the other is several generations removed, is a positive instead of a negative element, and is much thinner in density. Greg Kintz took on the job of grading the Left Eye to match the Right, and the result is VERY impressive. It’s more than just a color match; the images must be realigned even though one side has shrunken at a slightly different rate.
What we get is a 3-D result much better than what we saw screened thirteen years ago; it’s really a shame that Mr. Strock and Mr. Worth didn’t live to see this. The 1:66 widescreen framing is a big improvement. The novelty and excitement of the 3-D is a big factor in the enjoyment of the movie, which was clearly designed to use the depth to maintain audience interest. Unlike some other inexpensive 3-D productions, the cameraman Lothrop B. Worth really took the time to maximize the depth effect in each shot. Even in a Marvel superhero movie the 3-D can be subdued, and in fact those films are conversions, not filmed in native 3-D. In Gog we get a diorama-like separation between the various planes of actions — like a super View-Master movie.
I’m calling the image Excellent, partly because it is such an amazing rescue job, and partly because it needs make no excuses. The ‘Color Corporation of America’ hues can be a little strange, as that lab was previously known as Cinecolor, the same company that previously made prints for Invaders from Mars.. The movie has a great ‘fifties look, with those bluish walls, glass bricks and ‘wavy Fiberglas home patio panels.’
A few exterior shots are flat stock material, but we get excellent original 3-D footage of a squadron of F-86 Sabre Jets warming up and taking off… a really nice scene. The same goes for the impressive 3-D footage of a rare tandem-rotor McCulloch MC-4C ‘Hum-1’ helicopter. The flying is pretty extreme but it’s supposed to be under the control of (what else) the computer NOVAC. The thing has to be more stable than it looks. When we see it close-up it looks downright dinky.
As a classic-era science fiction film, Ivan Tors’ thriller has plenty of imagination and excitement. It also strongly reflects the anxious national security worries of the year it was made. GOG also predicts the future security state of the Military-Industrial Complex, several years before President Eisenhower coined the phrase.
The KL Studio Classics 3-D Blu-ray of GOG will provide sci-fi fans and 3-D home video enthusiasts with something very special. The disc quality is so good that no excuses need to be made for how it was rescued from oblivion. We’re told that the title sequence is flat, because somebody decided that projectionists needed an opportunity to tweak the alignment. I was once a projectionist with insufficient training, and if there’s a trick to finessing the up-and-down framing rack before the first image comes up, I never learned it. The flat titles presumably give drunken projectionists and amateurs like Savant a fighting chance. I guess it was to no avail, however, as by 1954 the word about inadequate 3-D projection had gotten around.
Kino and the 3-D Film Archive have arranged for some nice extras. From the 2003 Egyptian screening are a pair of archival interviews with director Herbert L. Strock and cameraman Lothrop B. Worth. The video isn’t finessed, but they’re more in the nature of Oral History file interviews, than meant for entertainment. Strock tells a story about the monkey used in the film, that seems even more abusive than what was done to the monkey in The Andromeda Strain. Several fantasy trailers are provided, including one for GOG that I haven’t seen in a while. It uses an animated title graphic reminiscent of the ad campaign. The film’s title sequence, by the way, has a 3-D credit card unique to 3-D prints.
The 3-D Film Archive also provides a Restoration Comparison extra. Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz talk us through the process. Bob and Greg don’t dumb down the explanations, either, so the home 3-D enthusiast has a lot to pay attention to. By the way, the demo samples are in 3-D, but flat full frame and with the color of the Left Eye unimproved. In other words, this is exactly what we saw in 2003. Close your left eye, and you’ll see the good Right Eye print with the perfect color. Close your right eye, and you’ll see the faded Left Eye projection print. It’s almost completely magenta, which really makes one appreciate how much the color was revived.
Author Tom Weaver was a natural for the commentary track on this title. He explains that Herbert Strock and Lothrop Worth were two of his earliest subjects when he first began conducting interviews of ’50s movie monster makers. Even though he could not locate an original script or production notes for GOG, Tom’s old interviews provide plenty of information on the shooting and the personalities.
At one point Bob Furmanek interrupts to discuss the 3-D. His concise speech doesn’t entirely duplicate what he says in the Restoration Demonstration, and we’re back with Weaver in just a few minutes. David Schecter’s interruption to talk about the film’s music bogs down in a slow explanation of each cue, and goes on for more than a full reel. When we finally get back to Tom Weaver the movie is almost finished. He tells us that he’s run out of time and won’t get to some of his material. Tom discusses many minor actors and touches upon the unexpectedly dramatic life of the film’s co-star Constance Dowling. She was the sister of the better-known Doris Dowling. Both of them relocated to Rome after the victory, and Doris showed up in an important Italian movie or two. Nothing we can see about Constance Dowling in GOG would lead one to believe that she would have been a the center of a major Italian romantic-literary tragedy: “Death will come and she will have your eyes.” Tom straightens out the timeline with the news that Ms. Dowling married producer Tors before the production of GOG, not after. She stayed with him until his death.
I’m hoping that rights holders for 3-D films — independents as well as the big studios — will see what was done with GOG and consider putting more of their library 3-D product out. The 3-D Archive people really seem to know what they’re doing, and after this complicated experience can probably handle most anything. There is an audience for older 3-D pictures.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, GOG 3-D Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Good + for Sci-Fi fans Very Good
Video: Excellent great 3-D rescue job
Supplements: Audio Commentary by Tom Weaver, Bob Furmanek and David Schecter; restoration comparison, archived interviews with Herbert L. Strock and Lothrop B. Worth, trailers.
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 9, 2016
Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson