TOBOR THE GREAT (1954) Blu-ray
Director: Lee Sholem
Kino Lorber Studio Classics

TOBOR THE GREAT is a 1950s science fiction programmer concerning a man-made robot and a small boy who befriends him. Here, the robot is not as memorable or stylized as “Robby” from FORBIDDEN PLANET or "Gort" from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, but it’s at least more spectacular than the boxy, clunky mechanical embarrassments you’d often see challenging the Bowery Boys or TV’s Superman during the same era.

Dr. Ralph Harrison (Charles Drake, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE), a scientist for the Civil Interplanetary Flight Commission, is concerned with the dangers of sending a man into space, and he makes his protest known by resigning. His colleague, the elderly but brilliant Professor Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes, FATHER OF THE BRIDE), has come up with an alternative: he has invented a motorized tin man named Tobor (that’s “robot” spelled backward) which is presently remote-controlled, but ultimately he wants to use ESP to communicate with it and have it man a spacecraft. Tobor is revealed at a press conference in which a spy (Steven Geray, ALL ABOUT EVE) has snuck into, as information about the invention is desired by foreign enemies. When Professor Nordstrom and his young grandson (Billy Chapin, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER) are kidnapped, it’s up to our friend Tobor to come to the rescue.

Although some might consider TOBOR THE GREAT slow-moving and antiquated, fans of 1950s B science fiction films will no doubt enjoy the nostalgic 77-minute tale of a boy and his robot. Since this is the 1950s, Billy Chapin’s Brian (nicknamed “Gadge”) is right out of “Leave it to Beaver,” pronouncing “oh gosh” and “oh gee willickers” when excitable, but a scene where he tries to control Tobor and put him back in his Frankensteinian basement resting place before he demolishes the entire house is a highlight. Other fun moments come when Tobor charges out of the house and drives off in a jeep on a rescue mission, or when Professor Nordstrom blasts battle soundtrack effects from SANDS OF IWO JIMA (an in-joke as that film was also distributed by Republic Pictures) to ward off some prowlers. There are several great cameos here by some very familiar faces, including William Schallert as a reporter, former wrestler Henry Kulky (NO HOLDS BARRED) as a henchman, and look quickly for Robert Shayne and Lyle Talbot, both representing the military. Gorgeous Karin Booth (THE CROOKED SKY) plays Gadge’s single mother, as well as the budding love interest for Ralph.

Previously released on DVD by LionsGate in a rather lackluster presentation, Kino Lorber has now licensed this Republic Pictures property from Paramount, and the results are far better. Though the back cover lists the film at 1.85:1, it’s actually presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio in 1080p HD. The black and white source print is in very good condition with a strong layer of filmic grain and a very clean appearance (only some nicks and other fleeting imperfections to be found). Blacks are properly deep and clarity is good, revealing impressive textures throughout. The grayscale is also balanced well. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is surprisingly clear, and optional English subtitles are included. Included is an audio commentary with film historian Richard Harland Smith, who gives a lot of production background on the film and its cast, discusses the special effects, identifies the stock footage, and he shares a few little-known tidbits (including that actor Arthur Shields was slated to appear in the film up until the last minute). He also makes mention of a TV pilot based on the film (“Here Comes Tobor”) which was filmed but never aired. Also included are trailers for THE MAGNETIC MONSTER, DONOVAN’S BRAIN, GOG, JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET and INVISIBLE INVADERS (all available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, and all reviewed on this site). (George R. Reis)