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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gog

"...and then without warning, the machine became a frankenstein of steel," says the sensationalist poster text. This is the third story in Ivan Tors' OSI trilogy. His first "Office of Scientific Investigation" story was Magnetic Monster in early 1953. The second was Riders to the Stars in early '54. With Gog the loose trilogy is complete. Unlike the Star Wars trilogy in which the stories build upon each other, each of the three OSI stories are separate tales which have nothing to do with each other. The common thread is the idea of there being a sort of Science FBI agency whose job it is, is to check out the scientifically strange. In that regard, Tors' OSI is a bit like a foreshadowing of the X-Files TV series, but without any of the New Age paranormal focus.

In keeping with the previous two stories, Gog is more of a detective murder mystery movie. Tors was a huge fan of "hard" science, not fanciful fiction fluff, so Gog, like the other two movies, is chock full of reveling in sciencey stuff in an almost geeky way. This reverence for real science keeps things from getting out on shaky limb, as many sci-fi films to. The events are much more plausible, less fantastic.

Quick Plot Synopsis
At a secret underground research facility, far out in the desert, scientists working on preparations for a manned space mission, are getting murdered mysteriously. Two agents from the OSI are dispatched to solve the mystery and keep the super secret space station program on track. The scientists are killed in various ways, mostly through equipment malfunctions. The facility director and the agents suspect sabotage. Small transmitter/receiver boxes are found within equipment in different parts of the facility. They suggest that someone on the outside is transmitting in the "malfunctions" in order to kill off the program's scientists. Occasional alarms indicate some flying high intruder, but nothing is clearly found. One of the base's two robots, named Gog, kills another technician while it's mate, Magog, tries to set up an overload within the base's atomic pile. The OSI agents stop Magog with a flame thrower. Meanwhile, interceptor jets scramble and find the highflying spy jet and destroy it with missiles. Once the trouble is past, the Director announces that they will be launching their prototype space station the next day, despite the sabotage attempts to stop it. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The time spent reveling in techno-geekery has a certain Popular Science charm to it. There's an evident gee-whiz air about space and defense sciences which is fun to see. People were fascinated with things rockety and atomic. For various fun bits, see the Notes section.

Cold War Angle
Gog oozes Cold War from every frame. First is the base's underground location to make them safe from A-bombs. Next is the mysterious killer trying to stop the space station program. The high-flying mystery plane is "not one of ours." (that leaves: Them, and we all knew who they were.) The space station is to be powered by a solar mirror. Even that benign mirror has sinister possibilities. While demonstrating the mirror, the scientists use it to burn a model of a city. "This could happen...if we're not the first to reach space," says the Director. Space is the next "high ground" to be contested. At the end of the movie, when discussing the launch (despite the sabotage attempt) of the prototype space station, the Director says, "Through it's eye, we'll be able to see everything that goes on upon this tired old earth." The Defense Secretary says, "Nothing will take us by surprise again." An obvious reference to Pearl Harbor.

Notes
Seeing Old Friends -- B-films often re-used props and sets from prior films in order to save on their budgets. Gog, even though shot in Eastman Color, was no exception. Two old prop friends show up in Gog. One is our venerable old friend, the space suits from Destination Moon ('50). Look for the centrifuge scene. The research assistants are dressed in them, and as an added bonus, they wear the all-acrylic fish bowl helmets used in Abbot and Costello Go to Mars ('53). Our second old friend is scene in the radar / security room, (the one with the annoying tuning fork device). Check out the monitor wall. It's been gussied up a bit, but it is the spaceship control panel wall from Catwomen of the Moon and Project Moon Base -- complete with the empty 16mm film reels on the right side. It's fun to see old friends.

Stock Footage Star -- B-films often include stock footage of military units, tanks, jets, battleships, etc. to fill things out. Gog is no different, and even commits the common continuity error of showing one type of plane taking off, but a different kind in the air. What amounts to a small treat amid the usual stock footage of jets, some shots of a rather obscure bit of USAF hardware -- the F-94C Starfire with its straight wings and huge wing tanks. In 1954, the Starfire was one of America's coolest combat jets, yet we hear little about it. The swept-wing F-86 Sabers (which we see taxiing and taking off) were the agile fighter which gained fame over Korea. They're common stock footage stars. The F-94, with its onboard radar (in the nose cone) was deemed too advanced to risk falling into enemy hands. So, it didn't see much action , and therefore little fame. The heavier, yet powerful F-94C (one of the first US jets to have an afterburner) was 1954 America's hottest Interceptor -- designed to stop high flying Soviet bombers. It's blatant cameo appearance in Gog, intercepting the high-flying mystery plane, was a fun little bit of patriotic showing off.

What's in a Name? -- The very name of the movie, Gog, is charged with meaning to American audiences of the mid 50s, though virtually lost on viewers of the 21st century. The names of the two robots, Gog and Magog, come from the Bible. More specifically, from the prophecies of Ezekiel (Chapter 38) and the Book of Revelation (chapter 20). While just who they are (nations? kings?) has been debated for centuries, their role as tools of Satan in the battle of Armageddon is clear. Mainstream American patriotic christendom had settled on the idea that the Soviet Union was the prophesied "nations from the north" who would join Satan to oppose God. This gives the title of the movie a special Cold War significance. It also puts an interesting spin on the Dr. Zeitman character for having named the two robots in the first place. Since they were tools of the mega-computer NOVAC, what was he saying about NOVAC?

Proto-stealth -- It is interesting that the base's radar could not detect the mystery plane (which was beaming in the 'kill' instructions to NOVAC) because it was made of "fiberglass" which rendered it invisible to radar. Now, fiberglass itself isn't sturdy enough for high-speed jets, and it would take until the 1990s before composite materials advanced to make the dream of a stealth aircraft a reality. Nonetheless, the dream (or nightmare) of stealth aircraft was on-screen in 1954 in Gog.

Early Technophobia -- the super computer, NOVAC, controlled everything on the base. Even though the machines were not really killing scientists on their own, but following human orders from the mystery plane, there was the on-screen depiction of machines having a murderous mind of their own. (all pre-Steven King) In the techno starry-eyed 50s, it was fairly uncommon for the technology itself to be turning on its masters. This idea would gain traction later in the 50s, and especially in the 60s, but in '54, it was unusual.

Don't Trust Them Computers -- A cautionary subtext to Gog is the danger of trusting in a supercomputer to manage defenses and a whole base. NOVAC doesn't go bad on its own, as the computer will in The Invisible Boy, Hal in 2001 or Colossus in The Forbin Project. In this movie, it was the nefarious "others" who hacked into NOVAC to make it do the killing, but this just demonstrates the danger. People were getting a little nervous about letting machines take over too much responsibility. We were starting to distrust our creations.

Inhuman Robots -- Until Gog, robots were fairly humanoid. They had two legs, two arms, a torso and a head. Audiences had seen the mechanical Maria in Metropolis ('27), the fedora-wearing metal men in Gene Autrey's Phantom Empire serial ('35). The water-heater-like Republic robot appeared in several rocketman serials. There was the gleaming giant Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still ('51) and the cute left over fedora-dudes in Captain Video ('51). The metal giant in Devil Girl from Mars ('54) was also humaniod, in a chunky way. Gog and Magog were a departure from the stereotype. They were noticeably in-human, which was part of the mood.

Bottom line? Gog seems a bit bland, as far as sci-fi tends to go, but it has a lot in it for fans of 50s sci-fi.

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Never actually seen this one, but after reading about it I know a little bit of trivia. The names Gog and Magog were used in the 80's cartoon series The Centurions (1985-1987), which was based on the toy line of the same name. Gog and Magog featured in the final 5 episodes of the series and were an evil computer and his robot henchmen respectively, built by the main protagonist in the series Doc Terror. They were out to wipe out all mankind and replace the earth with machines. Great series if you can find as I don't think it is available on dvd.

Anonymous said...

My favorite sci-fi.
Just watch is for fun, not special effects.
You might like it.

John Drake said...

Howdy Classic Film Buffs


This is probably my favorite movie – having seen it dozens of times.
The top “escape from reality” movie on my list.


The plot is good, the scientific goodies are great.


The acting is fine, except for Constance Dowling (I believe this was her last film) who did not have any zing in her performance.

Richard Egan was fine as the hero, Herbert Marshall was excellent as the stoic scientist/father figure – he was great in “Riders to the Stars.”

John Wengraf was great as the snotty computer scientist.
Who slips on a hammer and is killed by one of his robots. As the robot (don’t remember which one) is squeezing his throat he sticks his tongue out – what a dark hoot to a little kid at the time.

Phillip Van Zandt was an excellent womanizer – remember him in “Snow White and The Three Stooges”?

Michael Fox was, what can I say – Michael Fox, a great straight man and dialogue coach.

William Schallert – “Doctor Zeitman, Doctor Zeitman – help me” is always good, and sometimes great as in “The Man From Planet X.”
Where is Patty Duke when you need her?

Jean Dean – a doll.


Foreign agents “hacking” into a super duper computer built in a friendly European country so a fiberglass (stealth) jet/rocket plane flying at high altitude can control the robots. How is that for a look into the future – our present>

The last scene with David and Joanna is silly – in a very good way.
”You just got a little overdose of radiation” and “I feel radiant.”


All in all, a great movie.


Just remember, “In the morning Mister Secretary, when the air is fresh and clean.”


A little slip up.
As Dr. Van Ness is explaining to the Secretary, while twirling his finger around, that the baby space station will be a flying “television” to look at what is going on in this tired old world – maybe it should have been a flying television camera.
Not picking at it, just making a chuckle observation.


This is a great movie and very ground breaking in early science fiction film themes.


As a side note, I wonder how much Coca-Cola paid to have one of their Coke machines, yup I remember them, outside the door of the security office?
Grab a dvd, some microwave popcorn, a diet soda and have a great time.

John