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Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Human Duplicators

The upper half of a sci-fi double bill aimed at the drive-in market, The Human Duplicators (THD) was still a typical B movie. It got a little more funding from its producers (director Hugh Grimaldi and writer Arthur Pierce), such as being shot in color. The lower half of the bill, Mutiny in Outer Space (produced by the same team) was done in black and white. THD has the feel and visual patina of mid-60s budget sci-fi -- in the Star Trek TOS idiom. Richard Kiel ("Jaws" of 007 fame) has his usual lack of acting finesse, but it works well enough, what with his being an alien.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A saucer hovers near earth. Inside, Kolos (Richard Kiel) is instructed by his superiors that his mission is to replace key earth personnel with duplicate androids in preparation for conquest. Kolos beams down to the country estate of Professor Dornheimer. Kolos takes over Dornheimer's work in cybernetics. Later, a Dr. Munson is caught stealing electrical supplies from a lab. The guard shoots him, but he does not die. His body is found in the morning, lying in a canyon near the Dornheimer estate. NIA man, Glenn Martin is on the case. There were other instances of trusted scientists being caught steeling materials. Martin decides to investigate Dornheimer. Other than meeting his pretty (but blind) niece, Lisa, he has no leads but a feeling something was up. Next day, he climbs down the canyon to discover a cave. Inside, he finds a ladder and hatch which leads to a room full of manikin parts. He finds replica heads of the missing scientists, Dornheimer and his aides. In another chamber, he sees the android Dornheimer and his two buxom assistants creating a copy of another scientist. Lisa urges him to leave, but Kolos captures him. Martin is duplicated. His dupe fools his boss, but not quite his Jersey girl, Gale. Later, Gail interrupts roboMartin stealing electrical supplies. He flees, but loses an arm. At the estate, Kolo's superiors chide him for not duplicating Lisa yet. Meanwhile, Lisa meets Martin in his cell and offers to help him escape. Kolos and Lisa share a minute of almost-pathos discussing trust. RoboDorneimer assumes command and the other androids ambush Kolos. The roboBabes catch Lisa at Martin's cell and take her to be duplicated. Sick real-Dornheimer tells Martin to use the Pulse Lah-Zer cannon on the androids to scramble their electronic brains. In the lab, a big fight breaks out as Kolos breaks his chains and takes on the crowd of clones. Martin arrives and shines the light on them. They go crazy. RoboDornheimer has Martin trapped, but dupe-Martin enters, confused. He and roboDornheimer wrestle to the death. Kolos tenderly brings the unconscious Lisa up from the lab. He gives a speech about how superior humans are, reveals that he too is an android, then beams up and flies away. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
THD combines several comfortably familiar themes -- the paranoia of duplicates, the basic crime/detective story, impending hostile alien invasion, and technopobia. The overall package feels like classic 1960s B film.

Cold War Angle
Actually, there are several Cold War themes in THD. One is the implied threat of enemies infiltrating "our" researchers, military and government. Two, is the "you don't know who you can trust" paranoia trope. Three is the overt musing by Martin and his boss as to whether the Red Chinese were behind it all.

Techno-Snatchers -- The trope of someone (or something) duplicating people had been around for many years. The most famous was Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('56) there were others before and after. The idea was not developed very much in THD. In fact, it was revealed fairly early, so was not allowed to take on the creepy quality Body-Snatchers achieved.

TechnoPhobia -- A theme growing more frequent during the 60s was a fear of machines -- fear that someday computers would become too smart and take over. We saw this in an early form in The Invisible Boy ('57) where the supercomputer tried to control people. It will become a fairly common trope in the later 60s and 70s. This iteration falls on the optimistic end of the scale. Machines can't be trusted, but humans are still declared (by Kolos) to be superior.

TechnoDies ex Machina -- The not-too-elegant solution to the superior androids drops in at the end, like a good Dies ex machine should. With no foreshadowing or plot incorporation, the hitherto unknown Pulse Laser Cannon is handily set up in the professor's lab, on a gimbal mount, so Martin can mow the androids down as if wielding a flex-mount 50 caliber. How handy for mankind and sloppy of roboDornheimer and Kolos to not recognize the threat just sitting over there.

Ow Moy Gwaaad -- Barbara Nicholes, who plays Martin's co-woker and girlfriend, is played with an overly thick lower-class New York (Jersey?) accent. Her character is a weird mix of cheap brassy broad, spunky career woman, and helpless female.

Love Prevails -- THD uses a common trope, in which the big mean alien (or monster) becomes softened by a new-found emotion -- love -- for a pretty earth girl. Ro-Man became conflicted over his feelings for Alice back in 1953. This is amusingly appropriate, in that cave leading to the lab was none other than Ro-Man's cave in Bronson Canyon.

Passing Pathos -- There is one scene which tries to achieve some pathos, thought not too successfully. At the end of Lisa and Kolo's talk about cloning her and trust, she touches his arm. He twitches a bit, as if thrilled by her touch. He offers her the doll she dropped, but since she's blind, she just stands there. Kolos holds out the doll as imploringly as the wooden Richard Kiel could, then slumps at her apparent rejection. He trudges away despondent. This scene wasn't much in the realm of cinema, but it was as close as THD could get to poignant drama.

Mr. Cleaver's Day Job -- Hugh Beaumont, famous as Ward Cleaver, plays a minor role as Martin's boss at the NIA, Austin Welles. Perhaps this is what Ward came home from in all those episodes. Who knew?

Bottom line? THD is fairly customary as a B-movie, so likely to annoy viewers expecting polished entertainment. Fans of impending alien invasion, copy humans and fist fights, will find enough to enjoy.


kurganwins said...

Please help looking for a movie it was in color. Where there is a consortium of humans that keep the robots in check. One man is kind of an enforcer but he later finds out he is a robot, and that the human population has been dying for sometime and has been replaced with robots that have all the memories of the humans they have been replacing. Certainly appreciate the help.

Nightowl said...

It sounds like you're describing "Creation of the Humanoids" from 1962. Here is a link to my review of that film. Give it a read. See if it is what you recall.