Director – Herbert L. Strock, Screenplay – Tom Taggart, Additional Dialogue – Richard G. Taylor, Story/Producer – Ivan Tors, Photography (3-D) – Lothorp B. Worth, Music – Harry Sükman, Music Orchestration – Henry Vars, Special Effects – Harry Redmond, Jr, Makeup – Ted Larsen, Art Direction – William Ferrari. Production Company – Ivan Tors Productions Inc.
Richard Egan (Dr David Sheppard), Constance Dowling (Joanna Merritt), Herbert Marshall (Dr Van Ness), John Wengraf (Dr Zeitman), Steve Roberts (Major Howard), Philip Van Zandt (Dr Elzevir), Valerie Vernon (Madame Elzevir), Byron Kane (Dr Carter), David Alpert (Dr Peter Burden), Michael Fox (Dr Hubertus), Aline Towne (Dr Kirby), William Schallert (Engle), Jeanne Dean (Marla Roberts)
At a top-secret space research laboratory in the desert, two scientists are killed in a room designed to create very low temperatures when the system spontaneously activates, trapping them there. David Sheppard of the Office of Scientific Investigation is sent to investigate. He takes a tour of the facility, observing the atomic piles, experiments in harnessing solar energy and simulating zero gravity, as well as the operation of two robots and the highly advanced computer NOVAC that runs the facility. They discover that someone has planted radar homing devices in the plant. There is then a spate of further seemingly accidental deaths as an enemy agent turns the machinery in the laboratory against the scientists.
Gog was one of a series of science-fiction films made during the 1950s by Hungarian immigrant Ivan Tors (1916-83). In the decade ahead, Tors became a successful tv producer of various nature-related series such as Sea Hunt (1958-60), Flipper (1964-8), Daktari 1966-9) and Gentle Ben (1967-9). At the outset of his producing career, Tors made a trilogy of films set around the fictional organisation the Office of Science Investigation with The Magnetic Monster (1953), Riders to the Stars (1954) and finally with Gog. (In an interesting trivia note, the same organisation was also the government agency that Steve Austin worked for in tv’s The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-8), although it is not known whether the usage of names was coincidental or intentional). Tors made occasional other ventures into science-fiction with the underwater film Around the World Under the Sea (1966), Birds Do It (1966) and Hello Down There (1969) and the tv series’ Science Fiction Theatre (1955-7), Men into Space (1959) and The Man and the Challenge (1959-60).
Gog is a minor science-fiction film that doesn’t have a very good rap. Contrarily, I ended up rather liking it. The film is determined to impress us with scientific marvels at every opportunity. There’s a great opening where Richard Egan is flown to a secret location in the desert by helicopter where he is told that The Brain is taking over control of the helicopter and flying it in by remote control as mirrored dishes come out of hiding in the brush to guide it down. Egan is taken on a tour of the laboratory and we casually see technological marvels in the background – photoelectric cells that automatically open doors, a sort of overhead projector system for scanning id badges, talk of the computer NOVAC that runs the entire operation. We even get to see schematics of the laboratory and how each floor operates. There’s the nowadays amusing moment where Egan reacts in astonishment at being told that there are closed circuit television cameras in a hallway: “Do you mean that they are watching us?”
Often the film seems like a series of dramatised Scientific American articles. Quite a bit of the show is given over to taking us on a tour of the various experiments – a ‘helio-scope’ that is able to view the sun’s corona; a model space station that would be powered by solar energy; demonstrations of how to use a mirror to focus solar rays to melt iron and incinerate a model city with much mention made of the dangers this presents as a weapon; a laboratory where we see the efforts to simulate zero gravity conditions with the use of magnetic suits.
There are some fascinating ideas discussed – the idea of cryogenically freezing people to protect them from radiation and atmospheric problems during space travel while sending them in robotic ships; the speculation that women would make better astronauts because they have smaller bodies and are able to deal with atmospheric changes better than men. There is also the peculiar idea that building a zigzagged corridor would mean that radiation would be unable to travel down it on the theory that radioactive particles always move in a straight line.
The aspect that Gog is usually remembered for is its duo of robots Gog and Magog. It is fascinating to see these in action and how laughably clunky and ungainly they seem today. It is important to understand that when Gog came out, what we are seeing (and laughing at) would have been considered cutting edge science. What would have been notable is just how the non-humaniform robots that we see here would have been radically different from everything we had seen on screen before that – think of the clunky men in cardboard suits that we saw in serials like The Phantom Empire (1935), The Phantom Creeps (1939) and The Mysterious Dr Satan (1940), or the more humanoid likes of Maria in Metropolis (1927) or Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). There must have been the sense to audiences of the day watching Gog that they were seeing the first REAL robots on screen. (For a more detailed overview see Films About Robots).
Also amusing is the big drama the film makes about showing them in action for the first time – which is for one of the robots to move across a room and turn a dial and the other to pick up a screwdriver and hand it to Richard Egan. Or of the programming being done by an automated typewriter chattering away at a piece of tickertape (although in an interesting prefigural of things to come the typewriter is an IBM, back in the days when IBM was known for making typewriters not computers). Gog was also made shortly after the first Univac computer hit the public paradigm in 1951 and the computer here – NOVAC – has clearly been modelled on that. Gog is also the first work to ever conceive of the notion of a computer virus – well before the idea of viruses were ever an idea in programming terms.
There is also an underlying fear of all this technology. As Constance Dowling confesses to Richard Egan at one point: “This place is so inhuman. The machines took over, people are unimportant. We live like groundhogs.” Much of the underlying fears of humanity being throttled by all this technology and such a cutting edge advanced laboratory going out of control prefigures the themes that run through The Andromeda Strain (1971). Indeed The Andromeda Strain borrows similar images of the journey to the top-secret laboratory in the desert, introducing us to how it runs and showing schematic diagrams – you could even say that both films are about viruses going out of control, albeit a computer virus here. Underlying the fear here is anxiety about the Cold War and the threat from an unspoken ‘Enemy’ – the film naturally culminates with the launch of the space station and the implication left is that now we are safe because the US has military supremacy in space.
Gog is really a science-fiction murder mystery. It mimics the whodunnit form where we get a series of murders at a remote location (not unlike an Agatha Christie whodunnit) and the hero must work out who the party responsible was. Although aside from the prologue murders in the cryogenic chamber, the film appears more interested in showing audiences the display of marvellous technology. After the prologue, it takes 50 minutes of the film’s 82-minute running time before we get to the next murder. And even when we get there – there are a couple of victims and the culprit is found within a matter of minutes with the rest being taken up by a battle with the robots gone amok.
Director Herbert L. Strock went on to make a number of films for producer Herman Cohen including I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), Blood of Dracula (1957) and How to Make a Monster (1958). Strock also made a number of other low-budget genre films including The Devil’s Messenger (1962), The Crawling Hand (1963) and uncredited work on Monster (1979).