The Cult of Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet (1956) and others (Part One)

*contains spoilers

Forbidden Planet (1956) strikes at the heart of the climate change debate with a metaphor of angst being at the heart and its ‘sequel’ The Invisible Boy (1957) hints at drones, the internet and a supercomputer… and robots saving the innocence of children around the house. And time travel is in there too as a link between the two movies before Roddy McDowell ever made Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971).

There is a robot in these movies which remains one of the most iconic in film history in being one of the first to show what sci-fi author Isaac Asimov (1920-92 heart and kidney failure) called The Three Laws of Robotics which appeared in his book I, Robot in the 1940s which said a robot may not injure a human, it must obey a human and it must protect its own existence to kind of put it in a nutshell. Anyway, his name is Robby the Robot and he made his movie debut in the MGM movie Forbidden Planet (1956) which was one of the few good and well-budgeted colour/color movies (it’s all about you/u) made in the 1950s following Universal’s This Island Earth (1955).

Forbidden Planet (1956) poster
Robby the Robot in Gremlins (1984)
You Rang?: Robby the Robot appears in The Addams Family

Robby went on to appear in a sequel entitled The Invisible Boy (1957) which was made in black and white before other appearances on television. He was so iconic that he made a cameo appearance in Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984) alongside Steven Spielberg.

He was and remains such an iconic figure in science fiction that the original suit became the most expensive prop in film history after it was restored and sold at auction in the US for a reported $5.5 million. It’s a lot of money in any currency… Assembled with no expense spared, he certainly beats the oilcan or refrigerator robot in the cheap British movie Devil Girl from Mars (1954) as Robby is more washing machine shaped. Some are interested in bottle shapes… or saucer or cigar shaped objects. But as for things or appliances to have around the home Robby is a good friend.

Robby with the cook/kook Earl Holliman in Forbidden Planet (1956) Earl is the winner!
Anne Francis with some wardrobe ideas
The Perfect Couple: Innocent Anne/Alta with asexual Robby

So, let’s look at the philosophy and ideas behind Robby the Robot in his major appearances in the movies and on television. He and to be true, the voice of Robby the Robot sounds male but as he says in Forbidden Planet at some stage that he is not really either male or female and says to his innocent female partner Anne Francis (1930-2011 lung cancer) when she misses him: “Sorry miss, I was giving myself an oil job.” It stops the works from jamming up, anyway.

Forbidden Planet is a very serious movie otherwise despite its lighter moments and it is based on Shakespeare’s play The Tempest as it tells of a rescue mission from Earth checking out what happened to the captain and crew of a saucer on the Planet Altair IV. It is there that Dr. Morbius who is played by Walter Pidgeon (1897-1984 strokes and donated his body to science) lives in harmony with his innocent daughter Altaira or Alta (alter egos and alternate ideas to worship altars) played by Anne Francis … Remember the line “Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet…” at the opening of Rocky Horror? Anyway, to compare it to Shakespeare’s The Tempest as that play has the character of Prospero/Dr. Morbius who has learned the secret to sorcery while he lives on an island with his daughter Miranda/Altaira. Prospero in The Tempest has the power to control the weather to protect his daughter…

Hanging by a thread: Book cover
Helen Mirren in The Tempest (2010)
Tempest (1982) featured Molly Ringwald

Does the planet Earth have a collective soul just like it is revealed on Altair IV? Is the planet a collective subconscious of all man’s souls gathered in one place – living and/or dead? … and contained within? A collective soul that must forever fester and never forget? As man’s good intentions and discipline of purpose will never forget the history of the world… Leave it at Part I according to Mel Brooks (1926-) movie from 1981… or rewrite it in your mind like Quentin Tarantino (1963-) did in Inglourious/Inglorious Bastards (2009) – which adds the you/u like in colour once again – and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) that also let our inner wishes possibly come true. The power to revenge or atone history can be changed online as the rest are stored in books at the library as man’s spirit within and on the screen as Ent is forever in terms of the soul.

Forbidden Planet is invaded by an all-male crew just as the Europeans ‘discovered’ the rest of the world… I’m sure the Chinese history books of today differ in point of view especially on the internet… Anyway, these men are met by “a madman” on wheels speeding in his golf cart-like vehicle and it is Robby the Robot who takes a few of the crew including the captain played by Canadian Leslie Nielson (1926-2010 pneumonia) – “I am serious and don’t call me Shirley” says Nielson in Airplane/Flying High (1980) – to meet Dr. Morbius and his daughter who has a tiger as a kind of pet, such is her innocence and harmony with nature … She is a young woman and a beautiful one who must put up with immediate sexual harassment from one of the crew members… and this leads to some sort of unearthly force rising from apparently nowhere which attacks the spaceship and starts to kill the crew.

Leslie Nielson with the accompanying AC/DC international titles Airplane/Flying High (1980)
History of the World Part One (1981) poster
History is rewritten onscreen in Inglorious/Inglourious Bastards (2009)
The Catholic church plays it again in your neighbourhood: “The Inquisition what a show…”

Is it the subconscious of the Id of Dr. Morbius? The subconscious of even the most civilised man alone in his own paradise does not guarantee peace and tranquillity… especially when the outside world of the troubled Planet Earth is ready to intrude or invade once again. Here we have the seed contained within Forbidden Planet, that man, no matter where he goes, no matter what advanced civilisation that he creates will be doomed to perish and either ascend to the heavens or descend and always remain a part of the molten planet she/he inhabits. It’s the Christian idea of heaven and hell versus our very souls remaining in the ether within the Earth and no spaceship will ever take it to any better or another place place… Live with it whichever way you like.

You see on Altiar IV there was once a race called the Krell who were an advanced civilisation according to Dr. Morbius who scaled the heights of technology and built a great subterranean city beneath the surface of Altair IV which contained all their power and knowledge and then suddenly as they were on the verge of further spiritual enlightenment they disappeared leaving only a ghost city beneath the earth… Forever powered by atomic energy – or destroyed by their own 9200 thermonuclear reactors/potential bombs. And in the climax of Forbidden Planet this energy or force feeds the angry subconscious of Dr. Morbius as his daughter is corrupted and finds ‘love’ beyond her father… Is it history itself or hell itself which drives his Id to monstrous size? … The Id is a great metaphor of untapped energy within ourselves to bring positive change or else our anger vents in terms of destroying or healing the planet.

Yes, When Time Ran Out (1980)…. trailer
I feel trapped on this planet!! And I can’t do anything about it!!
Earth’s dilemma of a Tempest: Heaven on Earth. Or hell? Or is it purgatory? Is the planet just one collective soul?

The Earth’s ‘current’ or AC/DC state of climate balance or unbalance could be caused by the collective Id of our young people who feel there is no future as our inner selves seethe and continue feeding the weather and eruptions from the bowels… But the dead are many, as the old book title goes, and as The Tempest of Shakespeare relates to Forbidden Planet, our own planet in terms of past unforgiven historic hatred growing in the face of impotent old men not changing and possibly leading to further climate upset in the face of apparent self or lack of interest… The time and tide of the Id and the old ways of unforgiving souls may want things to remain the same but it is in our blood to let it go. The Krell overcame all this and progressed but like all civilisations on Earth they peaked in terms of the apex of a pyramid and then suddenly perished as if from some virus unless they were spirited into another realm.

“The secret desire of every soul on the planet to loot or maim or take revenge or kill,” says Neilson about the disturbance on Altair IV. “We’re all part monsters in our subconscious,” he adds about a part of our minds which does not forget anything according to the psychology books. At least Neilson took psychology and turned to laughter as a cure.

Some movie out there… (2006)

Forbidden Planet is not a very happy movie really and there is no choice but for man to destroy it with nuclear missiles as they go back home to Earth and think they too can aspire to one day be like the Krell… only to once again disappear either through ‘divine’ intervention in terms of nature… It doesn’t bode well in the 1950s when the movie was made and the nuclear arms race was proliferating. Meanwhile it appears that the only race that will travel in terms of interplanetary distances will be the whites, such is the old mindset … at least Star Trek had an racially integrated star ship!

Forbidden Planet was the second last movie directed by Fred M. Wilcox (1907-64) before his final feature which he produced, wrote and directed entitled I Passed for White (1960) about the guilt and nightmare of an interracial relationship back when it was frowned upon by nearly everyone. It features James Franciscus (1934-91 emphysema) and the director is uncredited as an assistant to King Vidor on the pioneering Afro-American movie Hallelujah! (1929). But I cannot confirm this.

Director Fred M. Wilcox
A Boy and His Dog: Roddy McDowell in the Wilcox directed Lassie Come Home (1943)

Wilcox was the brother-in-law of MGM President Nicholas Shenck (1880-1969 stroke) who okayed Forbidden Planet in the wake of conservative Louis B. Mayer leaving the studio. Wilcox, incidentally, had a son-in-law who was the actor Helmut Dantine (1918-92 heart attack) and he starred in the UK remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) called Stranger from Venus/Immediate Disaster (1954). Not a great movie and it also possibly infringed copyright in America while starring the same actress from the original movie Patricia Neal (1926-2010 lung cancer).

Remake with the AC/DC title Stranger from Venus/Immediate Disaster (1954)
Another expensive prop: “The stuff dreams are made of…” The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Brave New World (1980) advertisement

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” is the quote from The Tempest, which could relate to the pageantry of actors/actresses contained within a movie and the line was cribbed at the end of The Maltese Falcon (1941). The sadness or the growth and maturation of the/a woman being woken to the evils of man… both sexual and in terms of his inherent violent nature. Miranda in The Tempest whose compassion and hope knows no bounds also inspired the title for Aldous Huxley’s (1894-1963 laryngeal cancer) novel Brave New World (turned into a tv mini-series in 1980 where Bud Cort’s (1948-) character whispers into the ear of one character the advice of: ‘Whatever you do, don’t circ… “) with the line to quote Miranda and used by Huxley: “O wonder! How many goodly creations are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in it.” Kind of gives you hope for a future doesn’t it?

People forget Huxley died the same day as Lord of the Rings writer C.S Lewis (1898-1963 kidney failure) and US president JFK’s assassination on November 22. A kind of holy trinity in terms of three going in a row.

C.S Lewis and the problem with cancer…
Mary Quant was beaten to the punch in Flight to Mars (1951)
Disney’s Josh Meador worked on Forbidden Planet

The problem of men cooped up in a spaceship together for a long time isn’t natural in Forbidden Planet and to go back to Robby the Robot and his character in The Tempest is symbolised as the spirit of Ariel who is servant to Prospero and helps the restoration of balance on this or the Forbidden Planet … whirlwind, earthquake and pestilence being the cycle which determines the rise and fall of a civilisation and a return to a natural balance of the ‘Garden of Eden’. This cycle is something pondered in George Pal’s excellent The Time Machine (1960) where Rod Taylor is also obsessed with an ageless mannequin as he breaks the fourth wall momentarily and threatens to do a “movement” in front of everyone near the beginning of the movie. Very black toilet humour tastefully directed.

“I rarely use it myself, sir, as it promotes rust,” says Robby not about an oil change but oxygen on Forbidden Planet. He is a departure from Nielson’s straight face and the possible inspiration for Neilson’s progression onto subversive comedy. The Naked Gun and all that.

The impressive special effects in Forbidden Planet are by Disney alumnus Joshua Meador/Me a Door (1911-65 heart attack) who went on to make nature documentaries and the spaceship effects are better than This Island Earth while there is a scene which inspired Star Trek’s “Beam me up, Scotty” technology.

Klaatu Barada Nikto: Robot Gort (left) helps save the Earth from itself
Robot creator Robby Kinoshita
Robby appears in Lost in Space

Robbie the Robot was far more complicated than say Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still and one of the men who helped design and built Robby was Robert Kinoshita (1914-2014) the same man who would go on to make the Environmental Control Robot in the Lost in Space tv series of the 1960s. He has also worked on the robot in the movie Tobor the Great (1954) which is a cheap anti-Communist grandfather/grandson bonding movie that isn’t too bad. Spell Tobor backwards.

According to the IMDb Kinoshita worked on Richard Carlson’s tv series MacKenzie’s Raiders in the late 1950s and cult tv movie Planet Earth (1974) which caused me to have a childhood crush on the dominant female character of Marg played by Diana Muldaur (1938-). It’s an interesting movie about gender relations written by Gene Roddenberry. Kinoshita also was art director on compulsive tanner George Hamilton’s The Dead Don’t Die (1975 tv movie) which is a plea for sanity amid the insanity of capital punishment, voodoo, hallucinations and zombies all linked by a date with old sparky which also used the Agatha Christie Ordeal by Innocence (1984) Cannon film plot device. I look at it in the article on actor Ray Milland (1907-86 lung cancer) and The Sea Serpent (1984).

The robot in Devil Girl from Mars (1954)
Be afraid, be very afraid: Tobor the Great (1954) lobby card
Fantastic Planet (1973)

Forbidden Planet is also interesting in being one of the first movies to portray the miniskirt as a future fashion accessory – it had also appeared in Flight to Mars (1951) – while there is also the link between “Black Lagoon’ and ‘The Power’ actor Richard Carlson (1912-77) appearing in Gremlins (1984) by proxy in Hemo the Magnificent (1957) which was an educational documentary film about our heart and the blood which circulates within us which plays in the background to one murder by a gremlin. Robbie cameoed in Gremlins too as I mentioned. Hemo the Magnificent was voiced by Marvin Miller (1914-85 heart attack) who also voiced Robbie in Forbidden Planet and its sequel The Invisible Boy and this man voiced such things as the PR announcer in M*A*S*H (1970) as well as dubbing many a Japanese monster movie into English as well as that great Czech/French animated movie Fantastic Planet (1973) as well as working as an actor in Bogart’s Dead Reckoning (1947).

 “There’s no sign of civilisation at all,” is one of the opening lines from Forbidden Planet which is ironic since the Earthmen think themselves civilised when really half of them are on the make…  One crew member being ‘The Power’s’ Earl Holliman (1928-) as the cook/kook who would prefer to drink alcohol over sexual harassment and has Robby create hundreds of bottles of whiskey through some incredible device… Holliman is the most simpatico of the entire male cast…

The monster from the ‘Id’ in Forbidden Planet (1956)
Morbius is a sucker of some kind in the comics
Dr. Morbius/Walter Pidgeon donated his life/body to science

Man’s rise from bacteria and return to bacteria leaving only the angry souls and the history of the Krell has come full circle in Forbidden Planet – so it must be destroyed by other not so divine human beings. It’s a pity because the Krell showed the possibility that man could progress together to abolish sickness, insanity and injustice.

“A million years from now the human race would have crawled up to where the Krell would have stood at their moment of triumph and tragedy,” says Neilson as he takes Alta with him in his arms back to Earth and the altar after having atomised an entire planet: “It will remind us after all we are not God.” Tee-hee.

We look at Robby’s later appearances and the lessons to be learn in The Invisible Boy in PART TWO

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