3D review by David Rosler
Like most, this movie from the 1950's has substantial PROS and CONS, but before starting out, I want to say to the 3D enthusiasts that this motion picture has undoubtedly the best 3D that I have seen so far from the 1950's era, outpacing better-known 3D movies and outdistancing much more expensive features such as the famous Creature From The Black Lagoon by light years. The 3D experience is always strong with zero eyestrain, almost no crosstalk and operates generally well within the left and right points of the frame. The cinematographer for Gog was one of the developers of the 3D process in use at that time and what a difference the effect is in the hands of a master. As a 3D experience, the film is nothing short of breathtaking.
KINO LORBER, which is offering this restored sci-fier in exceptional full color - in the form of a blemish-free print that looks like it was struck off the original negative the day after it was made - clearly knows what it's selling as indicated by the Blu-ray box art of the film: a retro-nouveau image of a scientist being strangled by GOG, a research station robot. "A Frankenstein of Steel!" declares the box art. merging camp and legitimacy rolled into one yummy tongue-in-cheek catchphrase. To various proportions depending on the viewers' tastes, that is exactly what Gog offers.
The story follows a security agent, well-played by Richard Egan, who goes down into the depths of an underground research station. Sent by the government that funds the project to work with the the man in charge, played by the always-reliable Herbert Marshall, Egan's purpose is to investigate unusual goings-on in the steel and aluminum, nuts-and-bolts labyrinth. As the film progresses, seldom-seen members of the supposedly well-populated underground station are killed off in a variety of imaginative ways by the various machines and apparatus in the station. Required warning: SPOILER ALERT: disconcertingly, the titular Gog only once takes center stage as a Frankenstein of Steel. Other machines in the station prove far deadlier than pleasantly cheerleader-movement-like Gog.
Bear in mind that Gog got exceptionally good reviews from places such as the New York Times upon its initial release, so the time in which it was made must be taken into account. That said, here are the pluses and minuses for today's audiences nevertheless.
PROS and CONS:
GENDER ROLES. The film is decidedly socially hopelessly outdated, but this can also be seen as a plus. From an historical perspective, accepted gender roles are interesting to see because the situation in the story somewhat forces such things to be exaggerated, and the dialogue is often alarmingly sexist. It is a good piece to watch for media academicians, sociologists and others for whom the disparities will be seen as points of interest and not insults. That latter is true in the case of both sexes, interestingly; the female protagonist throws some good verbal punches at cavemen in lab coats with the same force that they make it clear that they'd like to be on the other side of her form-fitting jumpsuit..
SUSPENSE / DEATH SCENES. These are all PROS. From the first murder scene by technology to the last, these generate true suspense... except, perhaps, for GOG himself, who does what I call "The Mummy Murder", a mainstay of lumbering monsters in movies. Remember the Universal sequels to the Mummy in which Kharis is shown as a slow, dried, galumpforing creature with only one good arm and one good leg, dragging his bad foot around behind him? Well, it's a creepy idea for a dark night but anyone capable of running at more than three miles an hour could outpace him to freedom within moments. Yet, seemingly frozen by sheer terror, often backing unaware into inescapable corners, the victims all manage to align their bare throats to The Mummy's clutching one good hand. In other words, the world just got proportionately smarter by one less person. You pretty much have to extend the same suspension of disbelief with Gog, the slow and not particularly coordinated killer robot, although to be fair, given a different priority in the science fiction universe, he'd make quite the forward-thinking comb and condom dispenser for a 1950's men's room. Overall, however, silly, self-serving reviewer quips notwithstanding, the murder-by-machine concept actually works quite and believably well overall and holds the audience to the concerns of the characters.
BACKSTORY/EXPOSITION: Intolerable bore in these scenes, frankly. The first 15 minutes or so is a travelogue of technological experiments at the base, and it had the same effect on me as little schoolmates back in the day who were all excited by their junior chemistry kits; a nightmare of mind-freezing disinterest.
ACTING. Richard Egan and Herbert Marshal are quite good and decidedly above the usual fare at this budget. The others are just okay at best. Alas, Constance Dowling, Ivan Tors wife at the time - and you know where this is going - is, in this reviewer's opinion, really poor. Not totally bad, but she has a hard look and delivery, made worse by a Brooklyn accent that sounds like Gavin McLeod after a hypothetical sex change. While passable on the romantic level with Egan, her acting and delivery with clumsy technology and attack-by-machines scenes are just plain poor. Several years earlier, Italian poet and novelist Cesare Pavese committed suicide after an unhappy affair with Dowling One can almost understand his reactions when watching her performance in Gog.
SPECIAL EFFECTS. Limited to say the least but very good for what they are. For example, a foreground/outdoor miniature of a mirror which produces a heat ray is extraordinary in its sense of size and realism. Unsurprisingly, given the storyline, most of the effects are of the mechanical variety. Gog, plainly nonthreatening, is nevertheless interesting because he is not a typical man-shaped robot of the era, but really does look like it could be some kind of assembly-line worker drone on mobile treads built for a credible mechanical purpose. The name Gog, of course, comes from the Bible, mentioned in Ezekiel and Revelation, and tells of Gog invading Israel in the "latter years", so as regards the warning of technology as the obvious theme of the film, some consideration was given to the layers of subtext in this story, which is clear throughout a somewhat thoughtful though admittedly overly-deliberate screenplay.
PREDICTIONS INTO THE FUTURE. On this level the film, made in the 1950's, is truly extraordinary. So much has come to pass as predicted that it cannot be cited as science fiction in this day and age, but rather a suspense thriller centered around entirely credible technology with a truly impressive speculative eye forward. Most science fiction from the era is really science fantasy; giant bugs, resurrected dinosaurs hundreds of feet tall, aliens that do impossible things and an otherwise endless though enjoyable uncatalogued list of supernatural events and absurd assumptive situations given technological explanations. There are a solid handful of exceptions to that rule, but Gog producer Ivan Tors (later known for such TV fare as "Flipper" and "Daktari" in the 1960's) is the most relentless of science fiction movie producers in his hard-science perfectionism. Despite the huge and clumsy apparatus involved, the functions of the 'futuristic" machines have all been reasonably realized. Indeed, as audio commentator Tom Weaver points out in the Blu-ray extras, Gog himself looks more or less exactly like a modern police bomb squad remote control unit. The prognostications are indeed genuinely astounding: hackers breaking into computers by remote control in ways that sound remarkably like the internet which was still 40 years away; workhorse machines weaponized in contradiction to their intended function as is too often the case today and an anti-nuclear attack umbrella in what was ultimately the plan for Reagan's "Star Wars' defense system. All this and more is speculated in Gog with astounding accuracy. Gog predicted what we now live with everyday to an absolutely astonishing degree, and perhaps, for that reason, this motion picture carries a warning more true today than it was when the film was first released: nations should be careful what they wish for when shopping at the hardware store.
On a final note, the Blu-ray extras, including an excellent audio play-by-play by the aforementioned Tom Weaver, and interviews with the original director, Bob Furmanek, and cinematographer/3D process developer Herbert L Strock, are a must for any 1950's-era movie aficionado.
Gog has major flaws. Parts of it bored this critic pretty seriously. Wiggly-diggly, toy-like Gog himself is not much of a credible threat to anyone not restricted to a wheelchair. But some of the murder-by-machine scenes generate no-kidding-around unusual true alarm for the audience, which is rare in any film from that or any other era; the male lead actors are solid; the script is imaginative in the parts that count for thrills; the print is absolutely terrific and the 3D is the best I have ever seen from the era, hands-down - just fantastic, huge depth with zero eye strain for this viewer. The 3D is an absolutely incredible experience in Gog.
I cannot say I entirely enjoyed Gog from the first frame to the last, but then I almost never enjoy any film from the first frame to the last. That said, I am glad I saw it, glad I own it, thanks to Kino's preservation and restoration efforts, and will watch it again. Well-done, Kino.
To get it, you can order it at https://www.kinolorber.com/shop/genre/code/3d-movies