Timmie is a typical ten-year-old boy: he loves fun and mischief and hates to study. When his scientist father, in an attempt to improve Timmie's mind, plops him in front of the Super Computer, the boy learns more than how to beat his dad at chess. With designs on world domination, the computer has Timmie reactivate Robbie the Robot and directs the metal hulk to do his bidding. But while Robbie is an efficient minion, can he be made to harm the boy who gave him life?
Richard Eyer ... Timmie Merrinoe
Philip Abbott ... Dr. Tom Merrinoe
Diane Brewster ... Mary Merrinoe
Robby the Robot ... Robby
Harold J. Stone ... Gen. Swayne
Robert H. Harris ... Prof. Frank Allerton
Dennis McCarthy ... Col. Macklin
Alexander Lockwood ... Arthur Kelvaney
John O'Malley ... Prof. Baine
I feel compelled to add my two pennyworth, as the shade of this movie has been with me for most of my life. One of the most terrifying things I ever saw on TV, and I think I was only four, so this was back in 1959, was a clip from The Invisible Boy. I had no idea what a robot was, and so my introduction to the concept was this most impressive creation, 'Robby'. They must have been very generous with the footage, because I saw the whole kite sequence and the aftermath. I must have been watching through my fingers for most of the time, because when the kid is talking to Robby, he is on the top of a stepladder, and for a long time, I didn't even realise that the robot had a proper body, I thought it was just a great big glass head. Also, I thought that the chap announcing the clip had said Robin the Robot, and, I thought, hey, that's my name, so there was a scary identification thing happening there, too. I only remember that this sequence played on my mind - big giant glass head and a small boy - I was plagued by the notion that Robby the Robot might, one day, come lurching into our house, with his big old twirling pirate-earring antennae.
Flash forward to January 2006. I had never seen a single section of this film since that nightmarish trailer on our little old wooden television set. Now I have it in my grasp, after finding it on DVD. I cut straight to the scene that scared me so much. It's astonishing how clearly it has registered on my memory. I even remember some of the dialogue.
Having now watched this movie all the way through, I can only concur with several of the other reviews, and there is little that I can add. It certainly is a pretty uneven movie, and it looks like several different writers and directors worked on different sequences without ever liaising, although I don't believe this to be the case.
One of the other reviewers referred to this, I think, as a child's nightmare, and that's a very apt description. The film's unevenness of mood adds to its bad-dream quality.
The sequences that contain intentional humour are quite well-devised, but seem to belong to a little film of their own. The cast of competent nobodies deal with their lines pretty well, whether they know what the heck is going on or not.
Robby has quite a lot to do, and, under the evil influence of the super-computer (this is part of the standard published synopsis, so I'm not giving anything away), gets to be menacing, which he's really rather good at, although his credibility wavers at one point, when he actually pops up from behind a bush in the garden. That has to be seen to be believed.
I'm so glad I laid this ghost after 46 years, especially as the film is one of the strangest things I've enjoyed in many a long day.
It's not really a good, or well-crafted film, but it's weird enough to merit my recommendation, especially as it has big, scary old Robby the Robot!
When we use the term nightmare we mean "bad dream." And they certainly are. In every nightmare is the feeling of raw fear, more palpable and threatening than we've ever felt while awake. It's a primal emotion and the heart of most bad dreams. But in truth there is much more to a nightmare... there is some good stuff. Some good, unforgettable, carnival-like, Lynchian, Felliniesque, wrong turns and back alleys of the unconscious. Alternate realities, non-linear consequences in a twisted universe where nothing makes sense.
When I say that "The Invisible Boy" is a perfectly realized nightmare I mean it in the best sense of the word. It was made in 1957 but taps into the primal fantasies of perhaps every boy in America up to the present. Timmie is a lad who doesn't get the attention from his Father that he wants... what boy does? Timmie's father is a scientist who's too busy to play with the boy, and invites his son to play with a disassembled robot from the future which is lying around a workshop. Timmie, guided by an evil SuperComputer, easily assembles the Robot who comes to life and becomes the friend the boy has always wanted. The Robot uses Timmie as a pawn in a plan to take over the world using satellites. Timmie is turned invisible, and his parents don't seem to be alarmed. All Timmie wants is someone to play with. The Robot tricks the boy into a rocket and they take off to orbit the Earth and await orders from the SuperComputer that's masterminding the sinister mission.
The most jaw-dropping moment of the movie for me was when Timmie, orbiting the Earth in the Robot's rocket, comes out of invisibility and asks the Robot if they can finally play as he's been promised all along. There's a vulnerability in this dark scene that is at once hypnotic and heartbreaking. Could this be happening? Should we be watching this? Was this dark a picture really passed off as children's fare in the 1950's? God I hope so... the entire film plays like a fever dream, the fantasy of a boy who ate too much birthday cake and drifted off to sleep among the torn wrapping paper and party hats. It's familiar and frightening... delightful but horrifying.
Mind-bogglingly bizarre and strangely beautiful, this movie walks the line between childhood fantasy and the emergence of the technological being, of corny 50's sitcoms and cold-eyed apocalypse. It presents the darkest fears of the nuclear age warmly woven into a family fable without a moral... even in the end the boy's father is hypnotized by the blinking lights of the SuperComputer and urges his son to join him in surrendering free will and simply enjoying the glory of the machine. What can I say? We'd be lucky to have nightmares this beautiful.
This film is clearly treated as a fantasy and is clearly directed toward children. None of the characters are treated realistically and the whole thing is nothing but a high tech Sci-Fi fairy tale. So to criticize the film for being unrealistic is to miss the point.
The boy is clearly the protagonist and the characters of the parents are cardboard stereotypes. Okay, I'll be generous and call them archetypes. The tone of the film doesn't start out this way; the first scene has the scientist (whom we assume will be the protagonist) meeting with two Generals.
But soon enough we meet little Timmy and the whole tone of the film changes abruptly. Even though he is not an appealing child actor or character, (others mentioned his whiny voice) he is in fact convincing as a dull kid who gets an infusion of intellect from the manipulative supercomputer.
Nobody else mentioned this, but for a lot of the film the tone here is quite similar to the work of Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Matilda. Like those works, here the child(ren) is/are the main characters and soul of the film, and all the adults are either indifferently cruel or cartoonish buffoons. One of themes is children being dismissed by adults and not taken seriously. Like in Charlie, there are fantastic sights and sounds, but with the threat of violence and murder lurking somewhere underneath. Should I even have to mention that many Grimm's Fairy Tales, the classic children's stories, are laced with murder and violence as well? There are also some similarities to the only live action film written by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), another film from the 1950's, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T.
I was hoping for another black and white '50's schlock piece, something along the lines of I Was A Teenage Werewolf, but this was an interesting diversion and somewhat of a surprise. If you like Willy Wonka/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you should check this out, if you're a kid or an adult. I also have to note the excellent musical score by my favorite film composer and lounge music legend, Les Baxter.