Friday, March 30, 2012

GOG

 "Can you hold off the robots until we get there?"

 Producer Ivan Tors was best known for helming popular television series like SEA HUNT and FLIPPER. But he also dabbled in making feature films, including a handful of interconnected science fiction thrillers produced in the mid-1950s. A couple of the titles were recently released by the MGM Limited Edition Collection as manufactured-on-demand DVDs. Of these, I was able to get my hands on GOG (1954) for review.

At a secret, underground government laboratory complex hidden somewhere in the American Southwest, several scientists working on the U.S. space program are killed under mysterious circumstances. The Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) sends a security agent named David Shepherd (Richard Egan) to investigate. Upon his arrival, he is given a tour of the technologically-advanced facility by an attractive administrative assistant named Joanna Merritt (Constance Dowling, BLACK ANGEL) and introduced to the various scientists on staff. Among these is the arrogant Dr. Zeitman (John Wengraf, 12 TO THE MOON), a brilliant cyberneticist responsible for designing the "electronic brain" - called "NOVAC" - that runs the entire facility, as well as two robots designated with the Biblical sobriquets of  "Gog" and "Magog." Shepherd immediately uncovers evidence that there is a saboteur/spy among the staff, but even as he attempts to unmask the guilty party, more scientists die - seemingly at the figurative "hands" of NOVAC itself. Has the mega-computer gone mad? Or is there a human agent behind its actions?

Directed by Herbert Strock (I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, BLOOD OF DRACULA) from a very verbose screenplay by Tom Taggert (based on Ivan Tors' story) GOG is a moderately entertaining 90 minutes of 50s futurism and Cold War paranoia. Virtually the entire film takes place within the claustrophobic confines of the underground complex, and there is almost no physical action until the last ten minutes or so. The non-humanoid robots Gog and Magog (operated by hidden little people) are nifty sci-fi creations, but despite being referenced in the title of the film, they have very little screentime. Mostly it's a lot of talk, talk, talk, with a few unusual "scientific" murders along the way.

The cast is fine, with Egan making a solid and stolid hero. Constance Dowling is quite fetching in her blue jumpsuit, and Wengraf's obnoxious Dr. Zeitman is a genuine tool.

The film was shot in 3-D, but, according to what I've read, it was rarely exhibited in that format. Since it's not a particularly visual movie (being mostly made up of lots of static conversations), it really loses nothing viewed in standard, "flat" 2-D.

The MGM Limited Edition Collection disc is a bare-bones affair, but does feature a very nice, 1.33:1 "full-frame" transfer with very bright, solid colors and good detail. There a re few minor scratches and specks here and there, but overall, the print used for this MOD DVD is in terrific shape and looks remarkably good for its age. Audio is Dolby 2.0 mono. There are no extras included. I also want to say that it has the best cover design I've yet seen from the label. Nice, simple, and evocative.

I first saw GOG on television when I was around twelve years-old. I didn't remember much about it, but I did remember the robots. Watching it again, I'm amazed that it held my attention when I was a kid - it really is a talky flick - but I also found myself reasonably engaged. GOG is a time capsule, certainly, a look back at a very tense era in our history, and some of the concerns raised by the characters in the film about the dangers of over reliance on technology still have validity today. Fans of 50s sci-fi movies should definitely check it out.

BUYGog