Editor’s Notes: Gog, Transformations, & The Vikings are currently out on their respective formats.
Gog (Kino Lorber) takes place in a top-secret underground laboratory in the desert where American scientists are putting the finishing touches on launching a space station into orbit. The massive installation is run by the supercomputer Novac. Novac also controls two experimental robots named Gog and Magog. Lately, there have been mysterious murders at the research base and Dr. David Sheppard (Richard Egan) is sent to investigate.
Gog is unusual for a few reasons. First, it’s one of the few 1950s science fiction movies shot in color (Forbidden Planet, War of the Worlds, and This Island Earth are others that come to mind). Second, it was filmed in 3D in 1954 at the height of the initial 3D craze. And third, it is one of few pictures to combine science fiction with a murder mystery.
Limited to the underground lab and extremely talky, the movie is fairly static until the robots come into view. They look like an amalgam of R2D2, a hot-water heater and an elaborate vacuum cleaner, a design that makes them seem not at all menacing despite their power to turn on the humans. The film’s reference to the robots as “Frankenstein of steel” is considerably overblown, and it often looks as if the human actors are purposely positioning themselves in the path of a marauding robot.
Suspense is generated mostly by the confined environment, since escape is difficult. A pervasive atmosphere of paranoia reflects Cold War fears and insecurities of the era.
Herbert Marshall (The Little Foxes) and low-budget sci-fi regular and frequent 1960s TV presence William Schallert co-star.
The newly restored 3D Blu-ray HD print looks vibrant, with rich hues rather than the faded color so common in older, non-Technicolor prints. Bonus features include audio commentary by a trio of film historians, restoration demo, 2003 interview with director Herbert L. Strock, and trailer gallery.
Transformations (Kino Lorber) is a science-fiction thriller whose inspiration is any number of low-budget 1950s sci-fi pictures and, more specifically, Ridley Scott’s Alien. In a galaxy far, far away, transport pilot Wolfgang “Wolf” Shadduck (Rex Smith, The Pirates of Penzance) locks in his destination, switches on auto pilot, and retires for the night. Awakening from a nightmare-filled slumber, Wolf finds himself in the hospital ward of a prison colony. His ship has crashed with its cargo intact. Soon, he finds himself afflicted with a mysterious disease that transforms him into a horrendous beast. Only the purity of the beautiful Miranda (Lisa Langlois, Class of 1984) stands between the deadly disease and the rest of mankind. Patrick Macnee (John Steed of TV’s The Avengers) appears as Father Christopher.
Yes, Beauty and the Beast comes to mind, as does The Wolf Man. Because of the film’s small budget, visuals are relegated to hallways and a modest group of extras, so we never get the full picture of the prison planet. Miranda is an innocent born on the prison planet who looks to Wolf to educate her about what lies beyond. The awkward romantic angle covers similar ground to Forbidden Planet but lacks that movie’s wit and playfulness.
The script, by Mitch Brian, draws upon better films in an attempt to create something new, but Transformations lacks enough dramatic tension to sustain our attention. Special effects are old-school, created by make-up and mechanics rather than CGI. Since we’ve grown accustomed to big-budget CGI razzle-dazzle, this movie almost looks quaint. Smith is a pretty lackluster hero. Though he has the looks, he never convinces as the unknown disease begins to take hold.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary by director Jay Kamen, interview with star Lisa Langlois, and “When In Rome,” an interview with director Jay Kamen.
The Vikings (Kino Lorber) stars Kirk Douglas (Paths of Glory), Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot), Ernest Borgnine (Marty), and Janet Leigh (Psycho). Filmed on location in Norway, the ninth-century tale focuses on bitter hatred that divides two brothers. Prince Einar (Douglas) is the son and heir of a savage Viking chieftain. Prince Eric (Curtis) is his unknowing half-brother, the bastard son of Einar’s father and an English queen. When the Vikings kidnap a princess (Leigh), her beauty infatuates both men, forcing a bloody duel that decides their fate and the future of the English throne.
Shot in Technicolor by director Richard Fletcher (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), The Vikings aspires to be an epic in the style of Ben-Hur but never seems more than a fast-paced adventure flick given stature by the presence of several stars. It’s the production design and cinematography that are the real stars. The film company leased an entire Norwegian fjord, constructed a full-scale Viking village, and designed and built a fleet of longships copied from reproductions in museums. A fleet of 17 PT boats shuttled cast and crew to and from the remote set.
Douglas provides his trademark clenched-teeth performance, complete with deep facial battle scar and dead eye. Ernest Borgnine, as Viking chieftain Ragnar, turns in an appropriately over-the-top performance. Two years later, Douglas would hire Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay for Spartacus, a far superior film epic based on a slave uprising against the Roman Empire.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include the featurette “A Tale of Norway” with director Richard Fletcher, and a trailer gallery.