“What in hell can any director do with a lousy cast and a lousy story? There was a film, in the days of 3-D, which only because it was in 3-D, played the Paramount Theater in Hollywood (one of the major houses). The picture lasted one performance, then was scrapped until television came in. It claimed to be a science-fiction piece. The only science (or fiction) about it was the fact it came into being at all.”
-Ed Wood, Jr. Hollywood Rat Race
Feeling like it was typed out in the corner booth of a sleazy dive in Culver City, Hollywood Rat Race is a wonder to behold. The book is as dissertation of the film industry delivered almost stream-of-consciousness style by no less a personage than Edward D. Wood Jr., Hollywood’s most notorious transvestic-fetishist director.
The book is partly a “how-to” manual but it really rambles more into a “make-sure-you-don’t” guide as it exposes phony beauty contests, salacious casting agents and unscrupulous producers – all in a barely sober prose that just reeks of Vodka Gimlets.
Ed does pull punches when it comes to naming names. He no-doubt understood the litigious nature of Tinseltown enough to refrain from exposing himself to more ruin than he probably had experienced already.
This habit of telling stories without revealing its players make for a fun game of speculation.
The film that fits the description given in the above excerpt the most is the infamous Robot Monster.
Shot in Bronson Canyon ( a site recognizable from countless B-movies, westerns and TV shows- Kirk fought the Gorn there) over a period of 4 days. Robot Monster was made for only $16,000 by a company called Three-Dimensional Pictures. The director was 26 year-old Phil Tucker.
This no-budget epic ambitiously tells the story of the last handful of survivors on Earth following a devastating (read “no sets left staning”) attack by Ro-man, an emotionless mechanical fiend from another world.
The three-dimensional process pretty much ate up the film’s budget and it shows- most notably in the startling appearance of the titular creature the Robot-Monster Ro-Man: They couldn’t afford building a robot. They couldn’t afford to rent an existing robot. The only thing Tucker could afford was to hire “Gorilla Man” George Barrows- who came with his own costume- and stick a space helmet on his head.
Ro-man sets up his base in the mouth of one of the caves at Bronson Canyon and communicates with his boss (played by Barrows again) via surplus equipment which, don’t ask me why (it’ll just give me a headache), generates a lot of bubbles.
Despite its cheapness, the movie can boast of at least one big name, Elmer Bernstein. Unfortunately, his half-composed score is repeated continually throughout the movie and is enough to drive anyone up the wall.
There are several non-sensical shots of wrestling alligators (recycled from Hal Roach’s One Million B.C.) and a “space station” being held in orbit by an all too visible gloved hand. (I’ll leave you the fun of spotting it yourself). Being sober might be a detriment to the full enjoyment of this film. Why Ed didn’t enjoy it is, therefore, a mystery in itself. Was it envy?
The yanking from the 3D theatre might account for the oft-repeated (but most likely bogus) claim that Robot Monster was such a ripoff that it was released in 2D but printed in 3D to fool theatres into thinking they had a 3D flick. You had to put on glasses to make the double image disappear but it turned out the red and green images were the same and therefore only 2D. Given that red-green single print anaglyphic 3D was NOT a process used at the time kills that (nonetheless amusing) bit of apocryphal trivia.
The film is now a cult favorite among cinemasochists and its “star”, one of the most iconic “cheezy” monsters out there. But it’s not the only thing worth laughing in Robot Monster as the movie is an almost oomprehensive guide to how not to direct a film. Just take a look at this magnificent use of “pantomime”. It’s positively “Chaplinesque”.
And like all great film directors, Tucker is not adverse at elevating the scope of his work by adding dime-store philosophy to the mix. In this scene, Ro-man delivers a soliloquy over an existential crisis worthy of Bergman:
If that had subtitles, it would seem very profound.
It has often been reported that the film had such a bad reception that Phil Tucker wrote an apology coupled with a suicide note the editors of a Los Angeles daily. (Police reportedly caught him right in time – which isn’t a mean feat in the days of snail mail and next-day newspapers.)
Writer Bill Warren, who is THE reference of all things 50s sci-fi (Really, if you don’t buy his magnificient tome Keep Watching the Skies! -published by MacFarland, you should never be allowed to speak about 50s sci-fi) specultates that it must’ve been a ploy when Tucker found out he wasnt getting his share.
Ed Wood, it turns out, has a slightly different take on the story. Again, he doesn’t mention names so the connection to Tucker is merely speculative on my part- but it’s kinda juicy.
“Another so-called producer has a unique way of distinguishing himself from his failures. … Whenever he finds out his newest bad picture won’t sell, he comes up with the damnedest strategy: suicide. In one instance, he sat on the roof of a hotel with a cn of his film on his lap and his legs dangling over te street fifteen floors below, and then he gobbled down sleeping pills. Of course, the police had been conveniently notified so they arrived in plenty of time.
In another try in reaction to the same movie, he stacked all the reels of the picture in the backseat of his car, then curled up with them, and permitted the carbon monoxide gas to enter the car via a hose. However again, the police had been alerted and were on the scene plenty of time for his rescue. All attempts at publicity were for naught. The stories were buried deep in the back pages of the newspapers and to this day the film has never been out of the can (shown on the screen). “
In any case, Tucker survived and apparently distinguished himself as a “really good editor” in the 70s (one of his credits is the godawful Dino DeLaurentiis remake of King Kong- obviously, the man had an affinity for gorilla suits ).
Here is the complete Robot Monster for your Painjoyment™:
Pain Level: 10/10
Quality of Pain: “I must! Yet I cannot…”