Tobor the Great (aka Tobor) is a 1954 black-and-white American science fiction film from Republic Pictures produced by Richard Goldstone, directed by Lee Sholem, and written by Carl Dudley and Philip MacDonald. The film stars Charles Drake, Karin Booth, and Billy Chapin.
The plot involves Dr. Harrison, who resigns his government post in protest against the inhumane treatment being inflicted upon spaceship pilots. His colleague, Professor Nordstrom, develops an alternative: a robot that he names "Tobor" (the reverse anagram of "robot"), which soon becomes a friend and playmate to Harrison's young son, "Gadge". Tobor is stolen by enemy agents, and only the two scientists' and Gadge's psychic link with the robot can save it from being reprogrammed and used for evil purposes against the United States.
At his underground laboratory in Los Angeles, Professor Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes), worried that manned space exploration is too dangerous, enlists the help of Dr. Ralph Harrison (Charles Drake), who recently left the new government-appointed Civil Interplanetary Flight Commission. The two scientists embark on a research project to create a robot that can replace a human for space flight. Nordstrom's daughter, Janice Roberts (Karin Booth), and her 11-year-old son Brian (Billy Chapin), nicknamed “Gadge”, become very interested in the project.
When a press conference is called to announce the creation of "Tobor", reporters, such as the inquisitive journalist Gilligan (Alan Reynolds), are invited to Professor's Harrison's home to see the remarkable invention. In order to undertake space travel, the remote-controlled robot has been given some human capabilities, including the ability to "feel" emotions and react via a telepathic device built into his robotic brain. Under the watchful eyes of Harrison's trusted assistant Karl (Franz Roehn), the giant robot Tobor is unveiled and then demonstrated. Unknown to the scientists, a foreign spy chief (Steven Geray) has quietly joined the group of reporters; he quickly draws up a plan to steal the robot.
While trying to perfect the robot's control systems, an inadvertent episode involving Gadge, who sneaks into the laboratory and turns on Tobor, shows that the robot can make emotional connections with people. Gadge not only controls the robot, but when he is accidentally tossed about, Tobor appears to comfort him, as if he is sorry for hurting the boy. After cleaning up, the scientists realize that an additional chair had to be brought to the news conference, leading them to believe that someone has infiltrated the closely guarded laboratory. Aware that their robot could fall into the wrong hands, they construct a small transmitter in a fountain pen that will be able to communicate with Tobor.
When an organized attack by foreign agents is thwarted by the defensive devices at the Nordstrom's home, the spies hit on another scheme. Sending Gadge and his grandfather an invitation to a space flight presentation at the Griffith Park Planetarium, they intend to hold them as hostages when Gadge and Nordstrom show up; the spies are successful and kidnap them. Dr. Gustav (Peter Brocco) tries to force Nordstrom to give them the crucial information needed to control the robot.
When Nordstrom and Gadge do not come back to the laboratory for a demonstration of Tobor to military officials, Dr. Harrsion contacts the local sheriff with his concerns that something dire has happened to them. Suddenly, Tobor is activated, reacting to messages sent by Nordstrom, and storms out of the house, driving off in a military Jeep. The professor is actually controlling the robot with the pen transmitter, all the while trying to fool Dr. Gustav. One of the spies realizes the pen is important and snatches it away, breaking it.
Guessing that the robot is going to rescue the professor and Gadge, Harrison and the military officials follow. At the enemy agents' lair, when the transmissions stop, Tobor comes to an abrupt halt, but Ralph successfully re-activates the robot using telepathic commands. The spies then threaten to hurt Gadge, who instinctively reacts and uses his mind to call out to Tobor to help him. Nordstrom relents, writing out the information. In company with Harrison and the military men, the robot breaks down the lair's door and attacks the enemy agents, rescuing the professor and his grandson. When one of the spies attempts to escape with the coerced information, Tobor yanks him out of his car. Gadge is then gently carried out by Tobor.
Later, when the robot has been successfully reprogrammed, a spacecraft is launched with Tobor at the controls.
Charles Drake as Dr. Ralph Harrison
Karin Booth as Janice Roberts
Billy Chapin as Brian “Gadge” Roberts
Taylor Holmes as Professor Arnold Nordstrom
Alan Reynolds as Gilligan, Reporter
Steven Geray as Foreign spy chief
Henry Kulky as Paul, spy henchman
Franz Roehn as Karl
Hal Baylor as Max, spy henchman
Peter Brocco as Dr. Gustav
Norman Field as Commissioner
Robert Shayne as General
Lyle Talbot as Admiral
Emmett Vogan as Congressman
William Schallert as Johnston
Helen Winstonas Secretary
Lew Smith as Tobor
Jack Daly as Scientist
Maury Hill as Scientist
Principal photography for Tobor the Great, on location at the Chatwsorth-Iverson Ranch, California, took place from early to mid-January 1954.
Tobor's design was the brainchild of Robert Kinoshita, the television and film effects man and prop designer. The designer would go on to design Robby the Robot for the classic 1956 film Forbidden Planet, as well as the B-9 Environmental Control Robot for the mid-1960s hit sci-fi television series Lost In Space.
The original Tobor prop and remote control device is still in existence, having been stored away safely in a private collection for more than 50 years.
A full-size, one-to-one scale, completely screen accurate Tobor prop reproduction can be owned by simply ordering from the Fred Barton Productions website: http://www.the-robotman.com/
In a review in The New York Times, Tobor the Great is characterized as "This children's sci-fi adventure (that) chronicles the friendship between an 11-year-old and his grandfather's robot Tobor, who was designed to explore deep space." In DVD Savant, film reviewer Glenn Erickson called it, "Like other low budget Republic shows of its day, the film is sturdy, slow and straightforward, taking little advantage of the ideas in its script. Yet it was a kiddie favorite simply because it was about a boy who shared an adventure with a massive metal man." In a recent appraisal of Tobor the Great, film historian and reviewer Leonard Maltin noted the film missed out on becoming an important sci-fi classic; "... terrible acting and dialogue. A botched attempt at a heartwarming sci-fi comedy-thriller".
In 2011, a new film company, Diamond World Pictures, announced that a sequel to Tobor the Great was to be the first film from the company. Plans were to star Patrick Dempsey and Christopher Plummer, and use the classic combination of live-action and stop-motion animation. To date, no film has been released.
Tobor the Great was released on DVD on May 13, 2008 by Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
The film inspired a Tobor the Great comic book story series, written by Denis Gifford and with artwork by James Bleach; it appeared in Star Comics #1-2 (1954), from D Publications.
Here Comes Tobor was a proposed American science-fiction TV-series. Produced for the 1956–1957 season, the project was never picked up and only a pilot episode was filmed but never aired.