Friday, April 30, 2010

Replicants Are The Sincerest Form Of Flattery

Recently I DVRed this micro-budget oddity on AMC. Seeing the tacky color sets and that the leading man was B-western 2nd henchman Don Megowan (a dead ringer for B-western legend Rod Cameron -- did they ever play brothers? They should have), thinking it'd be good for a few laughs and decided to watch a couple of minutes.

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Instead I stayed with it to the end, fascinated. The plot deals with humans who have invented androids that are so perfect -- and lifelike -- that they threaten mankind's power and very existence. So paranoid humans set up a resistance movement.

Sound familiar? This is 1962 remember, a full 6 years before Philip K. Dick would publish his brilliant novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and two decades before that book would be filmed as Blade Runner.

COTH even shares that film's plot twist,
in which the robot-hating protagonist turns out to be a robot himself.

Philip K. Dick's was a fan of pulp science fiction and may have seen the film. Or maybe not. Perhaps COTH's premise was old-hat in SF literary circles of the 1950s (it owes a not inconsiderable debt to Karel Capek's 1920s play RUR). That doesn't alter the fact that it still predates Dick.

The film also bears a strong resemblance to the 1st season Star Trek episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" But whereas Star Trek regarded the idea of humans being transferred to "perfect" robot bodies for virual immortality as a horrifying and inhuman disaster which Kirk must stop at all costs, in COTH it is fascinatingly treated as a happy ending.

COTH's curious makeup -- in which several actors have Larry Semonish pasty-white faces, but unmade-up necks -- is by Jack Pierce, who in better days created Karloff's look for Frankenstein. The cinematography, incredibly, is by Oscar winner Hal Mohr (who in 1935 shot A Midsummer Night's Dream for Max Reinhardt). Perhaps Mohr's presence kept the film was stumbling into Ed Wood territory (despite the presence of Plan 9 vet Dudley Manlove, who's rather more restrained here).

An interesting side-note: This film was made in 1962. At one point the main character mentions opposing "integration" with robots, and the derogatory slur for androids is "clickers." It is not uncommon for science fiction to be used as social criticism, such as the apartheid parallels in the recent DISTRICT 9.

One last thing I noticed. This film uses the word "humanoid" as a combination of human and android (which I presume was the original meaning). By the latter half of the '60s Star Trek was using the word to describe human-like life-forms.

COTH should be seen by all Blade Runner fans, and by any movie buff intrigued by poverty row auteurs trying to do something different on a grade Z budget. It cries out for cult status.

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