Robots in Film
A Complete Illustrated History
of Robots in the Movies


1940 to 1955



Robots in Film
(chronological by film title)
Introduction | Early-1939 | 1940-1955 | 1956-1963 | 1964-1967 | 1968-1973 | 1974-1978
1979-1983 | 1984-1986 | 1987-1990 | 1991-1994 | 1995-1997 | 1998-2002 | 2003-2007 | 2008-2010 | 2011-now


Robots in the Movies
Film/Year, Name of Robot and Film Description
Screenshot

Dr. Satan's Robot (1940) (aka Mysterious Doctor Satan)

"Killer" Robot

A steel "killer" robot (Tom Steele) was the creation of a mad, megalomaniac scientist known as Doctor Satan (Eduardo Cianelli), whose desire was to rule the world with an army of deadly robots. The mechanical humanoid was a boxy and bulky robot that lumbered around - basically an elongated tin can with arms extending off square-cut shoulders.

It was featured in director William Witney's sci-fi thriller, a Republic Pictures serial of 15 episodes, and was later re-released in full-length as a TV film in 1966.

(These robots were recycled from Undersea Kingdom (1936) and they would appear again in Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952)).



"Killer" Robot

Man Made Monster (1941) (aka The Atomic Monster)

'Dynamo' Dan McCormick

This little-known and obscure low-budget Universal horror (and sci-fi) film from writer/director George Waggner was about a man tragically turned into a monster - reminiscent of the cycle of Frankenstein films.

Affable and naive blue collar worker Dan McCormick (Lon Chaney, Jr., in his first horror film, pre-The Wolf Man (1941)) was the sole survivor of a passenger bus crash that electrocuted all of the other passengers when it plowed into an electrical tower. Dan was a sideshow performer known as "Dynamo Dan, the Electric Man" in a local carnival where he pretended to 'absorb' electricity.

Kind-hearted, ethical scientist Dr. John Lawrence (Samuel Hinds) and his disturbed mad partner Dr. Paul Rigas (Lionel Atwill) were intrigued that Dan survived a potentially fatal electrocution, presumably due to his immunity or built-up resistance to electricity. Rigas believed that he could test his theories in human electro-biology on Dan.

During bizarre experiments to harness electricity's power in Lawrence's lab in his Gothic estate complex known as The Moors, Rigas ran higher and higher doses of electricity through Dan's body to increase his strength - temporarily. The effect was like a powerful drug - Dan's tolerance was increased and made him into an addicted 'electric junkie.'

To make the effect even more permanent, Rigas increased the dosage of electricity - but transformed Dan into an electro-biological man-creature hybrid - an electrical zombie or superman requiring constant bolts of electricity to survive. Dan had also become a mindless and brutish creature without free will - a servant to do Rigas' murderous bidding. A rubber suit (with gloves) was constructed for Dan to wear when fully charged, to conserve and stop electrical leakage, insulate him and retain his strength, and to prevent Dan from accidentally touching someone and electrocuting them.

Rigas’ crazed egotistical idea and motive behind it all was to create a new race of supercharged electro-zombies or cyborgs controlled and enslaved to him ("There you are, not Dan McCormick, but something I created, obeying my will! I can give you life, or take it from you...Look, there he stands, the shell of a man electrically alive. Every impulse controlled by me"). Rigas admitted to Lawrence that he was indeed "mad" and had "conquered destiny." He boasted about his marvelous discovery, although it had taken the life away from McCormick:

"Think of an army of such creatures, doing the work of the world, fighting its battles. Look at him, the worker of the future, controlled by a superior intelligence. We must assemble all the great scientists and show them this creature...What is one life compared to this discovery. Aw, he'll live, a beautiful existence - no pain, no sorrow."

Threatened when colleague Dr. Lawrence threatened to call the police and report that Rigas had "destroyed a human being", Rigas ordered Dan to kill his partner ("Stop him!"). Dan was ordered to confess to the homicide, and subsequently, Dan was subjected to the electric chair (which didn't harm him, but only supercharged him). Dan then murdered the prison warden and the guards and escaped into the countryside to terrorize the local population.

In the film's conclusion, Dan rescued Lawrence's heroine daughter June (Anne Nagel) from Rigas, then killed his own creator, and lost his own life when his rubber suit became entangled in barbed wire, and the electricity leaked out into the steel wires and instantly killed him.






"Dynamo Dan"

The Mechanical Monsters (1941)

"Mechanical Monsters"

The Fleischer Brothers created this 10 minute-long animated short film (for Paramount Studios), titled "The Mechanical Monsters." It was the second of seventeen Technicolored Superman cartoons released in the early 1940s.

It told about a group of giant flying robots (created by a mad scientist) with flamethrowers in their heads that were attacking the metropolis of Gotham City.

After robbing a bank and a jewelry exhibit, they abducted Lois Lane (voice of Joan Alexander) - forcing Clark Kent/Superman (voice of Bud Collyer) to come to the rescue and use his X-ray vision to battle the army of multiple robots.


The Perfect Woman (1949, UK)

Olga

This amusing, sometimes humorous, politically-incorrect British farce (based on a 1948 play by Wallace Geoffrey and Basil Mitchell) was directed by Bernard Knowles. The sci-fi romantic comedy (a strange hybrid) was a version of American 'screwball' comedy, about the ultimate remote-controlled 'perfect robot' - and robot impersonation.

Dotty old inventor, absent-minded Professor Ernest Belman (Miles Malleson) had created a "perfect woman" robot, named Olga (Pamela Devis), made to resemble his pretty young niece Penelope (Patricia Roc). A panel on the back of the synthetic robot opened to reveal gears, circuitry, and inner workings. He boasted about his unique, synthetic robot to housekeeper Mrs. Butters (Irene Handl), comparing the robot favorably to Penelope - who was only one of millions of flesh-and-blood females:

After all...only just another young woman. Flesh and blood and a little calcium...There are millions of them. Mass production. There's only one Olga.

He demonstrated how the robot promptly responded to his explicit direct commands: "Head right, head left, head up."

Olga with Mrs. Butters
and Professor Belman
"Perfect Woman" Olga
(Pamela Devis)
Olga's Insides

At one point, Penelope asked her uncle about being the model for the robot:

Penelope: "Oh uncle, why did you make it like me?"
Professor: "Well, my dear, I call it the perfect woman..Where else should I find such a model? Yes, it was either you or Mrs. Butters."

Penniless aging playboy Roger Cavendish (Nigel Patrick) and his valet Ramshead (Stanley Holloway) were hired by the inventor to escort Olga, the "perfect woman" robot, for a night on the town - as a test run, before he presented Olga to a group of scientists. Roger had asked why Belman called Olga the 'perfect' woman, and was told: "Well, she does exactly what she's told. She can't talk. She can't eat. And you can leave her switched off under a dust sheet for weeks at a time."

It turned out during the evening that playful Penelope - to amuse herself - was actually secretly impersonating the artificial woman Olga. The group ended up in the bridal suite at the fashionable Hotel Splendide. False rumors that Roger was getting married soon reached his aunt, Lady Mary (Philippa Gill), who returned immediately from Paris to stop the proceedings.

The farce escalated to the point where Roger and Penelope realized that they loved each other. Their mutual declaration sent Olga crazy - (she was programmed to go haywire if she heard the word 'love') and she self-destructively blew up - destroying part of the hotel and herself.


Penelope Belman
(Patricia Roc)

(l to r): Olga, Penelope,
Professor Belman

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
and
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

GORT (Genetically-Organized Robotic Technology)

Director Robert Wise's seminal science fiction film in motion picture history contained an anti-nuclear war message during the Cold War. It featured a giant, nine-foot tall, all-powerful, mighty, menacing and massive metallic robot companion-protector named Gort (Lock Martin), with a featureless face dissected by an opening visor, smooth metallic surface, straight legs (without knee joints), boots for shoes, and fixed mitten-styled hands (without joints or fingers). The robot did not talk.

Gort was a prototypical Terminator and Robocop character and similar to the Tin Woodsman in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Gort's origin was as a green robot named Gnut in Harry Bates' 1940 short story Farewell to the Master - unlike the film, in the short story, Gnut was "the master."

After a huge flying saucer landed on the mall in Washington, DC in 1951, a benevolent, humanoid, interplanetary alien visitor named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) who was seeking peace emerged down a ramp, followed to everyone's amazement by silent, killer bodyguard Gort - who had the ability to zap (vaporize or melt) weapons or tanks with a lethal, disintegration laser beam heat-ray behind his sliding visor. The robot, an interstellar guardian - a member of a police force, had the power to destroy worlds such as Earth, whose inhabitants were intent on destruction, aggression, and hostility. However, his main objective was to warn Earth to establish peace - and to demonstrate his power, he shut down the world's power supply (hence, the film's title "The Day the Earth Stood Still").

One of the most famous 3-word phrases in science fiction history was recited by single mother/widow Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) to stop Gort's destructive rampage when Klaatu was killed: "Gort, Klaatu barada nikto."

The film ended with the alien visitor's resurrection and a warning-proclamation as an ultimatum for disarmament:

"...But if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple. Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you."

In the film's 2008 remake with Keanu Reeves (as Klaatu) and Jennifer Connelly (as Helen Benson), the spaceship landed in New York's Central Park, with the theme of ecological damage rather than nuclear war. Gort was portrayed with the magic of CGI, and was about 28 feet tall, with five-fingered hands (but feet without digits). He was without a visor, but still possessed the trademark eye-beam that could project destructive forces. Gort's composition was of microscopic insect-like devices ('nano-machines') or bugs that could swarm around an object and completely disintegrate it.



Gort


Klaatu

The 2008 Remake

Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1952, UK) (aka My Son, the Vampire, and Vampire Over London)

Mark 1

In this awful B-movie vampire satire and horror comedy (the last in a long-running series of Mother Riley films), Central European mad scientist Von Housen (Bela Lugosi), known as the "Vampire" and intent on world domination, created a uranium-powered, 6 foot-tall slave robot named Mark 1.

Robot Mark 1 was ordered to kidnap Irish grocery store owner and washerwoman Mother Riley (Arthur Lucan in drag costume) and bring her to Von Housen's mansion.

Von Housen's intent was to build an army of 50,000 robots, but he had only completed one robot due to the scarcity of uranium to power them.

In one of the film's more memorable scenes, Mother Riley wrestled the robot and dismantled it, to come to the rescue.

Robot Monster (1953)

Ro-Man (Extension XJ-2)

Although this was one of the worst, poorly-edited, and incompetent evil robot, sci-fi B films ever made (and available in 3-D), the awful film also had an old-fashioned, endearing quality to it. It was released at the same time as Invaders From Mars (1953), with similar plot points.

In this alien-invasion film, evil Moon robot, Ro-Man Extension XJ-2 (George Barrows, voice of John Brown) - a seven foot tall, alien race robot, resembled a man wearing a gorilla suit/outfit with an antique diving helmet. He was equipped with a deadly weapon called a Calcinator Death Ray and was sent to Earth from the Moon. He was being directed by his creator and alien leader The Great Guidance (George Barrows again) to destroy Earth's inhabitants.

After committing mass genocide of the entire human race, there were only eight surviving humans who were immune to the ray due to an antibiotic serum. They included:

  • an older scientist-archaeologist known as The Professor (John Mylong)
  • his assistant scientist Roy (George Nader)
  • a widowed Mother (Selena Royale), but also married in the dream (?!)
  • two daughters, the eldest Alice (Claudia Barrett) and the youngest Carla (Pamela Paulson)
  • young son Johnny (Gregory Moffett)
  • two space pilots

Ro-Man began to kill off the survivors. He first killed the two pilots, then strangled Carla, and threw Roy (newly married to Alice) off a cliff to his death. But he had fallen - illogically - in love with Alice and tried to abduct her. Ro-Man wanted to be Hu-Man, and his desires for Alice caused conflict with The Great Guidance who had other plans: "Fact: You have captured the girl and not destroyed her. Fact: You have delayed accepting the surrender of the others. This verges on failure." Thinking for himself (like humans) and rejecting the original plan, Ro-Man suggested his own plan as he complained: "Yes, to be like the Hu-Man, to laugh, feel, want, why are these things not in the plan?"

Disobedient servant Ro-Man, who would not destroy the girl or the family, was killed by zapping, after which the Great Guidance teleported to Earth to finish the job with deadly Q-rays. The Great Guidance released prehistoric reptiles (to devour any remains of life) and a massive earthquake that split the Earth open.

But then it was all revealed that Johnny had suffered a forehead concussion, and the entire story was his fever-dream or nightmare ("Boy, was that a dream, or was it?"). Alice told Johnny that he should stop overdoing it with his belief in space-robots: "There simply aren't any such things." But as they left the cave opening, a threatening Ro-Man appeared from the darkness.


Ro-Man

Great Guidance

Death of Roy

Ro-Man Kidnapping Alice

Great Guidance
Zapping Ro-Man

Devil Girl From Mars (1954, UK)

Chani

David MacDonald's low-budget, campy sci-fi alien invader film was taglined: "Invasion from Outer Space!...Sights too weird to imagine! Destruction too monstrous to escape!" The robot in this film was obviously an imitation of Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), with alien companion Nyah easily comparable to Gort's partner Klaatu.

A cross-section of various stock characters were assembled at The Bonnie Charlie inn in the remote Scottish Highlands or moors:

  • fashion model Ellen Prestwick (Hazel Court)
  • escaped convict and fugitive Robert Justin/Albert Simpson (Peter Reynolds)
  • inn barmaid Doris (Adrienne Corri), hiding Justin
  • astronomer-scientist Professor Arnold Hennessey (Joseph Tomelty)
  • Daily Messenger news reporter-journalist Michael Carter (Hugh McDermott)
  • inn owners Mr. Jamie Jamieson (John Laurie) and wife Mrs. Jamieson (Sophie Stewart)
  • Tommy (Anthony Richmond), precocious grand-son of the Jamiesons

The film's action began with the landing of a spinning and glowing Martian spaceship outside the inn. Emerging from the flying saucer were:

  • a 15 foot tall, menacing, indestructible and hulking alien 'mechanical man' robot named Chani, looking like a boxy refrigerator with immobile arms and legs and a plastic domed head
  • black vinyl-clad, skull-capped, raygun-armed evil female dominatrix-alien Nyah the Devil Girl (Patricia Laffan), wearing a mini-skirt and long cape

The haughty and statuesque Nyah announced to the 'puny earthlings' that she was there to search for male breeding stock, since Mars (after a battle of the sexes) was depleted of males. She warned: "Around this house, I've drawn an invisible wall, through which no one may pass." Nyah selected Michael Carter as the perfect specimen to return with her to her male-deprived home planet. In a self-sacrificial decision, however, Justin volunteered to be the one male to accompany Nyah back to Mars - although his plan was to sabotage Nyah's flying saucer after take-off to save the others.

The clumsy robot was remote-controlled and was able to vaporize-destroy a tree, old truck, and barn shed with its disintegrating death ray-beam.


Martian Spacecraft


Nyah (Patricia Laffan)


Chani

Gog (1954) (aka GOG)

Gog and Magog, Twin Robots

This Ivan Tors-produced Cold War-era B-movie was designed for Saturday matinees and released in wide-screen color and 3-D. It differed from many 50's era sci-fi films in that it was grounded in scientific fact. However, the film's sensationalized tagline described the mechanical robots, resembling Daleks:

"Built to serve man... It could think a thousand times faster! Move a thousand times faster! Kill a thousand times faster...and then, without warning, the machine became a Frankenstein of steel!"

In a top-secret underground space research base in the New Mexico desert, Dr. Van Ness (Herbert Marshall) was leading a group studying induced space-travel hibernation, in competition with the Soviet Union. When there were unexplained lethal malfunctions, an agent from the DC Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI), Dr. David Sheppard (Richard Egan) was sent in to investigate, working with another undercover agent Joanna Merritt (Constance Dowling), the project director's aide.

It appeared that the facility's super-computer, known as "The Brain" and dubbed NOVAC, or Nuclear Operated Variable Automatic Computer, was being sabotaged and test subjects and scientists were dying (victims were locked and frozen in an experimental cryogenics chamber, and sped at lethal speeds in a rotating centrifuge). One of the suspicious scientists (the film's red-herring) was Dr. Zeitman (John Wengraf), a German expatriate who designed NOVAC and spent five years assembling it in Switzerland.

During the study of the case, Sheppard determined that NOVAC (equipped during its construction with a powerful radio transmitter and receiver, similar to spyware) was being compromised and controlled by enemy agents through high-frequency radio waves beamed down by a strange, circling-overhead spy plane (an enemy robotic plane controlled by the Soviets?).

Magog Attacks

In addition, two twin six-armed experimental, mobile robots (with gripping tools on their arms) under the control of the murderous NOVAC, with Biblical names Gog and Magog, had run amok. The robots had been reprogrammed to kill. Sheppard prevented Magog from initiating a nuclear chain reaction by burning it with a flamethrower, although Gog arrived to further the attack, just as the Air Force neutralized the spy plane by shooting it out of the sky. Gog's arms flailed for a few seconds before it went dead.


Gog and Magog

NOVAC Super-Computer

Target Earth (1954)

Venutian Robot

The plot of this alien-invasion B-movie was based on the 1953 science fiction short story "Deadly City" by Paul W. Fairman. Its tagline promoted the film's horror: "You'll be paralyzed with fear!" Although it was supposedly about an alien invading 'robot army' that had targeted Earth, there was only one robot visible in the entire film.

A few survivors woke to find themselves in a suddenly-deserted and evacuated Chicago (the trailer described that they were "alone with death in a strangely deserted city"). They included:

  • suicidal Nora King (Kathleen Crowley), a young widow
  • Frank Brooks (Richard Denning)
  • trashy blonde Vicki Harris (Virginia Grey)
  • Jim Wilson (Richard Reeves), Vicki's long-time, drunk boyfriend
  • Charles Otis (Mort Marshall)
  • and Davis (Robert Roark), a brutish psychotic killer and murder suspect

All of them had been overlooked and left behind during a massive evacuation. And then about 30 minutes into the film, they discovered the unknown threat that had caused their dilemma - a report of an invading 'Mystery Army' of robotic aliens from the planet of Venus.

They encountered one of the clunky Venutian robots (an uncredited Steve Calvert), described as a mechanical creature made of surgical steel. It had a slimming triangular body, flexible tube legs, metal boots, pincers on a pair of solid tube arms, and a trapezoidal head (with a CRT screen). It was capable of blasting a whitish beam or death ray from its single eye.

Reportedly, the Venutians had established a beachhead north of the city to prepare for an invasion. Scientists and military officials planned on capturing one of the robots in order to analyze it and understand its weaknesses.



Venutian Robot

Tobor the Great (1954)

Tobor

Originally, Tobor was a fictional robotic character that appeared semi-regularly on the science-fiction TV series Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949-1955). Tobor was 9 feet tall - with a stenciled "Robot 1" sign on his chest - backwards it read: "I Tobor." Tobor was Robot spelled backwards. Due to the way the robot moved, it soon became a parody of the Frankenstein monster.

This typical 50's sci-fi adventure B-movie from Republic Pictures, designed for young audiences, was about enemy Iron-Curtain Communist agents with a dastardly plan to steal a robot (already befriended by a young boy) and use it for their own evil purposes against the US.

Tobor (uncredited Lew Smith) was a clunky, lumbering, nine-foot tall robot spaceman. The robot was designed to be a space astronaut to function as a substitute for human astronauts exploring deep space. Tobor had elevated boots for shoes, pointed lighted eyes, a glassy enclosed head, and a Tin-Man like body. Tobor could sense and be controlled by telepathic human brain-waves (ESP) as well as by a remote-control device, and possessed a complex brain and artificial personality (and was endowed with emotions).

The imposing robot was invented by space agency scientist Professor Arnold Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes), assisted by Dr. Ralph Harrison (Charles Drake), who worked in an underground lab in Los Angeles. Nordstrom was the genial grandfather of 11 year-old grandson - boy genius Brian "Gadge" Robertson (Billy Chapin).

After the secret plans for Tobor were intercepted by a foreign (Communist) spy-chief (Steven Geray) during a press conference, both the boy and Nordstrom were kidnapped. Fortunately, Tobor was mind-linked to his creator (via a fountain-pen transmitter) and could not be easily reprogrammed.

Tobor came to their rescue, and in the process, stole a military Jeep!



Tobor the Great

Tobor's Head

Tobor in a Jeep!

Robots in Film
(chronological by film title)
Introduction | Early-1939 | 1940-1955 | 1956-1963 | 1964-1967 | 1968-1973 | 1974-1978
1979-1983 | 1984-1986 | 1987-1990 | 1991-1994 | 1995-1997 | 1998-2002 | 2003-2007 | 2008-2010 | 2011-now

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