STARRING: Richard Egan, Constance Dowling, Herbert Marshall, John Wengraf, Philip Van Zandt, Valerie Vernon, Stephen Roberts

1954, 85 Minutes, Directed by: Herbert L. Strock

It is 1954, and in a top-secret underground installation out somewhere in the desert, American scientists are working against the clock on making space travel a reality so that a permanent space station can be launched into orbit. (The space station is designed to spy on America’s enemies – more on that later.)

This scientific installation is almost entirely run by a huge supercomputer named Novac (although the term “supercomputer” hasn’t been invented yet). Novac also controls two experimental robots named Gog and Magog. Of course naming these two robots, which reminded me a bit of Number Five of Short Circuit fame, after the two nations to be led by Satan in the climactic battle at Armageddon against the kingdom of God (see Revelations 20:8) is just asking for trouble. By the way, I looked it up in Webster’s before you think I generally walk around with this sort of general knowledge.

All hasn’t been well at the complex though: there have been some mysterious killings and an investigator (played by the oily - even by the standards of the time - Richard Egan) is sent to investigate them. One set of murders, which we get to witness at the start of the movie, are particularly ironic as a pair of researchers are subjected to the same cruel treatment as they meted out to a cute lab monkey. For a moment I thought that maybe PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is behind the killings, but had to remind myself that animal rights, along with all kinds of other rights, didn’t rate particularly high in the 1950s . . .

"There can be no doubt as to where the makers of Gog stood on the McCarthy witch hunts . . ."

Anyway, it wouldn’t surprise you that (a) Novac has gone HAL (the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey – as if you didn’t know that!) and has been killing off the scientists; and (b) that Gog and Magog will also run amuck. (This doesn’t count as a spoiler since the movie’s posters give as much away – “ . . . and then, without warning, the machine became a Frankenstein of steel.”) Why they do so I won’t reveal except to say that for once technology itself isn’t at fault. That’s one thing about the 1950s: they had the capacity to blow up whole cities back then, but preferred to blame everything on the Communists instead.

Yup, Gog is very much a product of its time. With the Cold War kicking off in earnest, Gog is edgy and paranoid. “Enemy agents” (Russkies no doubt) are to be found everywhere and not even “neutral countries” are not to be wholly trusted. The only way for America to protect herself is by winning the space race – so that they can spy on the entire planet! Yes, sirree, unlike the ambiguous Invasion of the Body Snatchers (made two years later) there can be no doubt as to where the makers of Gog stood on the McCarthy witch hunts . . .

Anyway, I was surprised to find that the movie is in colour. Colour just feels wrong for this kind of movie and the colour of the print I watched seemed just plain wrong and washed out. Maybe changing the colour settings on your TV to Black & White will help matters. The movie takes a while to kick off as we are made to sit through some fanciful 1950s notions of future technology. While overlong, these scenes do adhere to the rule of screenplay economics (they are functional in that they foreshadow events later on in the movie).  Besides, you just gotta love those space mirrors in outer space that will one day vaporize entire cities! Maybe even whole oceans!

In true pre-feminist era fashion our hero isn’t above the occasional male chauvinist comment or physically slapping a woman around (to get her snap out of her hysterics, of course). Like I said before Gog is very, very much a product of its time, and filmgoers with a vested sociological interest in movies of that era will find it of more interest than others. Me? I found the ending abrupt (the running time was rather short) and thought the movie to be filled with more ambient noise (them ‘Fifties computers sure are noisy!) than most. Sure, those demonstrations of 1950s technology are unintentionally humorous, but hey! that’s part of the movie’s appeal. Besides, they really didn’t know any better . . .

(Good luck finding Gog anywhere else than on bootleg copies on eBay. At the time of writing no one is officially distributing the movie. Special thanks to Nathan Shumate for borrowing me his copy – even if it meant mailing it right across one hemisphere to the other one! Also note that Nathan forked out $20 for a VHS copy of the movie only to find out afterwards that someone else was selling a $10 DVD . . . don't ya hate when that happens?)



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