When a true sequel to Forbidden Planet fell apart during the planning stages, MGM decided that Robby the Robot would still get a vehicle written around him for the next year. Instead of a hard science fiction story, a simpler story aimed straight at young boys was chosen. Though nowhere near the quality of the earlier film, moments of intelligence shine through this kiddie flick about a not very intelligent brat.
This review is actually an extension of my Forbidden Planet one, since this movie is an extra in both the DVD and Blu-ray releases. Little did I know when I started watching this flick that I’d encounter a boy so annoying that he rivaled Kenny (aka Toshio) from the first Gamera movie! Is that considered a spoiler? If so, consider yourself nearly as spoiled as Timmie.
Yes, that’s a Timmie with an “ie”, not a “y”.
Looking every bit like a B-movie, but sporting a slightly better budget, The Invisible Boy starts off in promising fashion with a motorcade arriving at the Stoneman Institute of Mathematics. A front for an underground computer laboratory and research center, it is run by Dr. Tom Merrinoe (Richard Eyer), the main programmer for “the Computer” at its core. Holding the collective knowledge of all of humanity, it is being used for things such as checking rocket launch calculations.
Okay, that sounds underwhelming, but back in the 1950s this was amazing stuff since virtually nobody had any experience with the brilliant idiots we now tote around everywhere. To the layman, computers were a form of black magic capable of doing almost anything. Every day brought a new advancement in science, much of it on the military end.
Spinning memory tape wheels and card collators were at the forefront of computing, so we get to see a room full of this gear early on. That’s just a foreshadowing of the greatness about to be viewed, of course. Deep below the surface lies a computer that has been running for 29 years, which is astounding since this is set in 1957. Not in the least bit plausible, yet it gets referred to more than once.
Some of the design cues from Robby the Robot are evident in the center unit of the massive computer. A nice conical Plexiglas dome houses spinning and brightly lit gizmos flanked by a multitude of blinking lights. The imagery shouts, “This is cutting edge technology!”
Me, I never have trusted das blinkenlights and neither should you. Sadly, the military and the government do believe them over the calculations of the human rocket scientists.
Just in time to keep the little boys of the target audience from getting bored, we get to meet our main character, Timmie Merrinoe (Richard Eyer). He’s making rude slurping sounds at the dinner table while eating soup. If there is such a thing as a boy’s boy, Timmie is that. Not only is he rude, but he’s a low wattage bulb and we’re not talking about green energy innovations.
After dinner, the brilliant father tries to tutor his idiot son and it goes about as well as one can expect. Wait… no, it goes worse than that. This kid is flat out stupid. He’s also getting bullied and beaten up by the son of the local child psychologist…
Alright, that’s hilarious. Keep your ears open, there are lots of sly, satirical lines like that coming out of the mouths of the adults. Cyril Hume wrote the screenplay and it shows.
Merrinoe is more than a little frustrated with his progeny’s inability to play a good game of chess or deal with fractions. At least he doesn’t accuse his wife of having the DNA last, but he does commit a serious misuse of government equipment by programming the Computer to analyze the ten year old boy. Rather barbed comments by the machine follow as does further impropriety.
As appealing as it is to use a computer to teach your kid while your off somewhere else, this is a movie. That means something sinister is bound to happen. And so it does when the kid elicits a promise from his dad if he can beat him at chess.
This rather poor choice in parenting leads to Robby the Robot making his second appearance in a movie. This time around, he’s the failed project of a deceased professor who claimed to have time traveled. Nobody has gotten the robot to work, so he’s now left in the care of Timmie. With his intellect hypnotically boosted, assembling the mechanical man is a piece of cake for the brat.
With Robby functional, it’s now time for the movie to move into full on kiddie fantasy mode. After all, what ten year old boy wouldn’t want a robot of his own to build whatever lame idea enters his mind? A regular kite isn’t enough for the freckled future felon. No, he has to have one that can lift him up into the sky.
Problem is that the automaton has a safety protocol enabled preventing him from allowing humans to do dangerous things. Well, Timmie has a friend who can fix that, right? Das blinkenlights…
Motivated by the spanking he gets for nearly killing himself, the genius decides the problem is that he’s seen when he does what he wants to do. Timmie has all the makings of a proper psychopath and his newly uninhibited buddy Robby has a brilliant idea. Yeah, when you let machines think for you, it always works out well.
At long last, the title is lived up to when Timmie’s refraction index undergoes a drastic change. Yes, refraction is explained in the movie, so it challenged the intelligence levels of its young audience. When I was around that age, I loved that in a TV show or feature film.
Let’s see, if you are ten and are invisible, what do you do with your new found power? Save lives, become a superhero, and right wrongs?
Nah! You get revenge and go on to make other people miserable. That’s the lesson I learned from this movie. Timmie is a nasty piece of work, though I don’t blame him for getting even with the bully. It’s how he treats everyone else that reveals the darkness of his tortured soul. Or would if he had one, he looks suspiciously ginger though it’s hard to tell thanks to the film being in black and white.
A shocking scene occurs when we see Dr. Merrinoe and his wife, Mary (Diane Brewster) on the same bed something usually not depicted back then. Even more scandalous is that they start making out! That’s when the giggling and an invisible Oedipus complex begins. Timmie was creepy enough before this, but man…
At least we get to see that invisibility is no defense against a proper spanking. If he were my kid, I’d sell him to gypsies. Scratch that, they wouldn’t pay money for a monster like him.
Of course this means it is time to run away from home. But how far can an invisible boy run? Pretty far if he’s being helped by a robot and an evil computer. Things get out of hand quickly with the fate of the entire world at stake. Oh and Timmie’s fate too, but I don’t care much for him.
Well, it’s no Forbidden Planet, that’s for sure. Mash up an adult story about the dangers of artificial intelligence with a kid’s fantasy and you get this oddly enjoyable movie.
While a lot of the movie is hokey, hackneyed, and half-baked, that only applies to the scenes with Timmie in them. Any time the film is away from him and featuring adults the IQ level goes up considerably. For me, it was a matter of getting through the brat’s appearances to see what the next dryly inserted piece of social satire would be. It’s the film working at two different levels that makes it surprisingly likeable though not particularly memorable.
Special effects are not impressive, being closer to that of the 1940s. If you’ve seen bad B-movie effects from the ‘50s, you’ll know what to expect. I think little kids of today won’t care, but once they hit around the age of ten they expect more out of a film. Robby is real draw here and he’s looking a little worse for wear. It may be he simply looked more impressive in color.
This is a G rated movie that doesn’t really have any scares, even for tots. It does have some good scenes for discussing right and wrong actions, so I’d suggest parents watch it along with their kids. That’s if they can get their kids to watch a black and white film in the first place.
In the end, The Invisible Boy is more of a curiosity from a bygone time than anything else. I recommend it only to fans of Robby the Robot and for rainy evenings with nothing better to do than watch a movie that should have been on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The details apply both to the Blu-ray and DVD releases of Forbidden Planet since this movie is an extra with the only difference being that it appears on a separate disc of the latter. By the way, that second disc has the title and promotional artwork for The Invisible Boy printed on it so it is nearly a standalone title.
While the movie was originally shot in 1.85:1 ratio, it has been cropped to 1.77:1 (or 16:9) to fit modern HDTVs. It’s a small crop, but still a crop. Resolution is 480i or DVD quality. Sound is Dolby Digital Mono and in English only. There are no subtitles.
Video appears to have been remastered, being sharp with good contrast, but has scratches and noise common to old films. Don’t expect the full restoration that was used for its much more impressive predecessor.
Audio is clear so that you can hear every whiney tone of the central character. Whether you consider this a plus or minus is up to you.
BEWARE! HERE BE SPOILERS!!!
Ah, the magical power of transistors! They were such a revolution in technology that it seemed anything was possible with solid state electronics. So brainwashing with surgical implants seemed plausible, especially with dialogue mentioning electrode experiments with test animals.
You know, step one of revealing a conspiracy should be checking to see if everyone else in the room is already part of it. Is it an epic fail by Merrinoe or part of his cunning plan? A little of both, I think.
I, for one, do not welcome our new robotic overlords and the Computer is no exception. I will never give in to such things. Here we see a bunch of grown men seated before a computer listening to every thing coming out of it with rapturous attention. It is nothing like my sitting at my personal computer while listening to…
Remember the rocket mentioned earlier? Yeah, it was obvious then that it would become a big part of the story later. Here we have a composited shot of a model inspired by von Braun’s V2 in the background of a real surface to air missile site. Military cooperation becomes evident in the finale and tries to save it from looking really low budget.
That’s a late ‘40s American made armored personnel carrier designated the M75. Normally you saw surplus M3 halftracks or Jeeps in movies of the time, so this jumped out at me. Also interesting is the soldier in the burn proof suit handling the flame thrower indicating we’ll get to see the real thing used.
Back to the SAMs for a moment. Those are Nike Ajax two stage guided missiles that were part of the anti bomber defenses of the period in North America. Sleek and razor sharp looking, they always made a profound impression that film makers liked. The real ones on the left make the model ones look pretty bad on the right. How the model makers botched the upper stage so badly I do not understand.
With Robby under the Computer’s control, he breaks into the base to make sure Timmie is shot off into space to save humanity. I may have that wrong and it’s really something about having the boy hostage to manipulate the father, but I like my version better.
We find out that chain link fences can’t stop the robot, so it is time for the military to show up in overwhelming force. Or at least a couple of platoons spread out to look like they are bigger in numbers.
Yeah, not so impressive.
But at least they have real flame throwers! The compositing of the shot wasn’t half bad. It wasn’t half good either, but hey, this was a low budget affair.
Right about here the movie gives up on making any sense. With the earlier making of Timmie invisible, the sudden disappearance of Robby fits within story logic. However, his appearing at the base of the rocket way up the hill within mere moments defies his lumbering gait.
Of course showing him make it up there in real time would have added at least half an hour to the movie. Still, it’s jarring.
How many fathers would be willing to sacrifice their only son in order to save the world? Dr. Merrinoe shows amazing strength in refusing to give into demands that he divulge the secret code, especially with threats of slowly torturing his son upsetting his wife.
Of course we knew Robby wouldn’t be able to hurt his friend and that would save the day. Timmie manages to be obnoxious even in his emotional appeals, leading me to root for the eyeball removal to be followed through on.
Of course the brat disobeys parental orders as soon as he’s free. The fact he’s in orbit means he thinks he can get away with it. Yes, a ten year old future serial killer in command of 150 strontium bombs is the thing of nightmares.
Best father son moment in the movie. A man has got to do what a man has got to do. Merrinoe goes to awesome status in this scene.
Unfortunately, the movie fails to follow through because Robby the Robot has to be the big hero, not the dad. Ah well.
As a consolation prize, the promise of an epic licking for disobeying orders cheered me up. Then hope failed thanks to Robby again. Due his actions, I’m sure the alternate Earth depicted was destroyed by Timmie sometime before the 21st Century rolled around.