heavyweights Columbia and Universal produced as many serials as Republic
Pictures from 1929-1956, the latter studio is generally best known for its
exciting sound-era chapter-plays.
Universal and the less widely known Mascot Pictures were in the game the
earliest; both studios began releasing their sound serials in 1929. Mascot would only last six years or so.
Universal – choosing to concentrate exclusively on the production of feature
films – effectively got out of the serial business in 1946. Republic and Columbia hung on to the production
of chapter-plays the longest; they released their final serials in 1955 and
wasn’t only a serials factory. The
studio was in the low budget feature filmmaking business as well, busily
churning out a dizzying array of westerns, adventure pictures, and mysteries. They would test the box-office potentials of
the horror film market during the 1940s with limited success. As a second-tier “Poverty Row” studio,
Republic would enjoy a less distinguished track record in the horror film realm
than, say, Monogram Pictures. The latter
studio would occasionally tap the talents of such moonlighting film ghouls as
Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, George Zucco, and Lionel Atwill. Dutifully exploiting the popular culture
trends of the day, Republic would soon move into the production sci-fi serials
beginning with King of the Rocket Men
(1949). In the next five years the
studio would knock out a number of similar themed serials with The Invisible Monster (1950), Flying Disc Man from Mars (1951), Radar Men from the Moon (1952), and Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952).
Sholem’s Tobor The Great (1954), now
out on Blu Ray from Kino-Lorber Studio Classics, was one of Republic’s earliest
non-serial feature films of the “Silver Age” of Sci-Fi. Though more of a timepiece curiosity than a
great film, old-school sci-fi fans – at least those with long memories - will
welcome Tobor The Great as a valuable
addition to their private collection. The year 1954 was, to be sure, a good one for devotees of sci-fi
cinema. Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea managed to garner the studio two
Academy Awards. Universal unleashed The Creature from the Black Lagoon in
glorious 3-D and, not to be outdone, Warner Bros. released a swarm of giant
radioactive ants collectively known as Them!
on the city of Los Angeles. Tobor The Great is not even remotely as
entertaining nor well crafted as the three above mentioned films, but it’s
arguably no better or worse than such other 1954 efforts as Devil Girl from Mars or Roger Corman’s Monster from the Ocean Floor.
obvious that Republic’s target audience for Tobor
The Great was the juvenile market. We’re introduced early on to Brian “Gadge” Roberts (Billy Chapin), a ten
year old whiz kid who is a prodigal student of mathematics and the sciences. We soon learn that young Brian’s proclivities
for the disciplines are at least partly inherited. The boy and his mother Janice (Karen Booth) have
been living comfortably in the home of his maternal grandfather ever since the
boy’s father had been killed while serving in Korea.
grandfather happens to be the kindly Professor Arnold Nordstrom (Taylor
Holmes), a research scientist working for the C.I.F.C., an acronym for the Civil
Interplanetary Flight Commission. The commission’s principal concern is with helping guarantee America’s front-runner
status in space travel, rocketry, and guided missile launches. The professor, an expert in astrophysics and
aerodynamics, studiously labors away in a secreted wine cellar repurposed as a modern
subterranean experimental laboratory.