It was worth watching Gog, which is a fairly tedious, but stylish 50s sci-fi outing, just to see Herbert Marshall with these awesome round, tortoise-shell glasses and undone polka-dot bowtie. If I didn't know better I'd say that Thomas Dolby stole his entire look from this screencap. (Of course, I do know better. He stole it from Harold Lloyd.) I would have felt amply reward for my time, but I was also treated to the image of urbane and elegant Mr. Marshall carrying a flame-thrower later in the film. In that scene, Marshall bears the most priceless look: a mixture of boredom, loathing and back pain that perfectly sums up this late period of his career. At that moment you can see that he is thinking that Ernst Lubitsch or Alfred Hitchcock would never have made him carry a flame-thrower.
I work in an almost 100 year old physics building, which is mainly furnished in cold war Herman Miller and old oscilloscopes. One of the credits in the film thanks Minneapolis Honeywell Controls, a name intimately familiar to Minnesota physicists. I could walk out the door of my office and start filming Gog. Or rather Wes Anderson could. Since all Anderson's films are elaborately set-up homages to art directors of films past, I think he could really do something with Gog. And when he does, brother, do I have the dials and gauges for him.
Speaking of work, watching Gog is a bit like being on the job because it takes so long to get to the actual plot of the film. Each of the labs in the elaborate underground facility has a little cast of characters doing a different futuristic experiment. They range from the plausible (a space mirror that blows stuff up) to the campy (a sexy couple who wear magnetic leotards and dance around trying to simulate zero gravity conditions). Each experiment is explained in detail to the point where even Wes Anderson would be shouting, "get on with it already. Bring on the killer robots."
Since I brought up killer robots you should know a couple of things. First of all everyone in Gog pronounces the word "robot" as if were "row-bit" stressing the first syllable and barely pronouncing the second. This also happens to be the quirky habit of a character on the kid's tv show, Word Girl, that my son watches. I'm not going to say "robot" the right way any more. I'm going to say it the Gog/Word Girl from now on. The second thing you need to know is the robots roll around slowly and swing their arms randomly. They are about as terrifying as the Daleks on Doctor Who, which is to say not terrifying at all.
The very Leslie Nielsenesque Richard Egan, "stars" and forties film noir siren, Constance Dowling plays Marshall's assistant who takes us on the real-time tour of the endless laboratory. Dowling manages to fill out a jumpsuit in an inspiring way, but she is saddled with a horrible haircut that reminds me of Jobriath. Egan's character is sent in to investigate a series of killings in the laboratory, which means when the plot does eventually arrive it feels like an episode of Columbo with good production values. The robots kill everyone remotely by manipulating all the automated controls around the lab. Oh goody! More closeups of dials and gauges! I'm sure there are people out there who have a fetish for vintage scientific equipment, and Gog is to them the most amazing porn ever, but the rest of us will long for the robots to roll slowly up to someone and bludgeon them with random arm movements.
I'm not really all that interested in 1950s science fiction except as a clearing house for some of my favorite actors of earlier eras. You know I watched Forbidden Planet just because Walter Pidgeon was in it. To that end, Netflix Instant has been streaming a lot of rarities in the genre, like this one. Stream it while you can, people.
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