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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Attack of the Puppet People

Bert I. Gordon was very busy in 1957 and 58. He was writing, producing, directing and doing technical effects on several movies. He is best known for his Amazing Colossal Man. Attack of the Puppet People (APP) is the other side of Gordon's coin. Here, he makes the people small. Many of the techniques are the same. The effect works a bit better in most instances.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Foreshadowing opens the story. Dolls Incorporated has a receptionist named Janet. A young woman answers a help-wanted ad at Dolls Incorporated. Sally becomes the romantic interest of salesman Bob Westley. A new mailman delivers a registered letter for Janet, and tells of the old mailman just disappeared. Franz says he'll give it to her. Sally finds the torn up letter in the trash. Bob asks Sally to marry him the next day. The next morning, Franz calls Sally and says Bob just went to St. Louis. She's crushed. Sally doesn't believe Franz and goes to the police. Sergeant Patterson scoffs at first, but they confront Franz to no avail. Patterson leaves. Franz locks Sally in. Fade to white. Sally awakens only 8 inches tall. Franz brings out shrunken Bob and explains his matter projector device which can shrink things. He also revives four others for a welcoming party. Sergeant Patterson visits again, asking questions. Franz's old friend, Emil, brings him a broken marionette for repairs. Franz, worried that the police were closing in on him, decides to kill himself and his little people so they could be together forever. He takes them to the theater to put on one final show with the marionette. A break comes and the six little people escape. Bob and Sally travel back to Franz's shop to try the machine in reverse. After several trials and escapes, they succeed. Both are full sized again. Franz pleads for them not to leave him alone. They leave anyway. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
With the spate of giant movies, it's interesting to see a miniature people movie. Some of the fun situational scenes from Incredible Shrinking Man get more screen time. The pacing is good.

Cold War Angle
APP is a parable on despotism, but told with some sympathy for the despot. As such, it doesn't draw from or play to Cold War anxieties very much.

Big or Small -- Bert I. Gordon had a specialty. Common things large or common things small. Both used the same techniques. The huge props, like the big telephone or big machine dials, make the effect smoother. APP used fewer of the less-effective matte shots and didn't suffer from the transparent giant problem. The many split screen scenes worked well for a low budget film.

Sympathetic Villain -- Mr. Franz is written and acted as a tragic tyrant. His wife left him and he has no family. Lacking, is the usual sinister villain qualities. Mr. Franz doesn't want to take over the world, or kill or inflict harm, etc. Also lacking is the lasciviousness. He's just a lonely old man who has abused his power (the shrinking projector) to assuage his loneliness. At the end, when Bob and Sally (restored to full size) rush out of his shop, Franz calls after them "Don't leave me. I'll be alone..." Mr. Franz makes for a much more interesting villain this way. He's harder to hate.

Thin Science -- It is interesting that a man whose background was marionette theater was able to devise and build a machine which sonically dissolved matter and reassembled it at a different size. Further, Mr. Franz was also able to devise a "suspended animation" pill (or gas) which preserved his little people in perfect stasis. No back story is given to explain these leaps in technical knowledge. They just are.

Product Placement -- Gordon played with his audiences a bit. When Bob and Sally go out for a date at a drive-in theater, they're watching Amazing Colossal Man. Beyond mere self-promotion, Gordon uses his giant movie as a not-too-subtle foil. The sound track cranks up when giant Manning says, "I'm not growing...you're shrinking..." Big and small are relative.

Bottom line? APP is a fairly watchable movie with a refreshingly different villain. The effects are typical of the period and budget. If that annoys you, be forewarned. If you liked Incredible Shrinking Man, APP can be fun.


Mike Scott said...

Burt's daughter Susan made her acting debut in PUPPET PEOPLE as the little girl "Agnes". She appeared in several more of her dad's features and lots of episodic TV, including playing the girl with the leg braces in the TZ episode "The Fugitive".

Nightowl said...

Hi Mike,
You're right. It was Bert's little girl. I thought she did a pretty fair job on screen.

Mike Scott said...

Just happened to Google her name and found out she has her own website (but then, who doesn't)!


Jeff Bowman said...

this movie scared the dickens out of me when i saw it on tv as a little kid many years ago. you've got a great site, a great blog, hope you'll keep adding and updating.

thejcowboy22 said...

For visional value alone, June Kenney is absolutely lovely under unusual circumstances.In the night out prep scene where the ladies are sprucing up,I love the makeshift toilet/ dressing room where June (Sally)opens the door and tells them there horrible fate.