Thursday, 21 November 2013

GOG (1954)

A successful combination of sci-fi, murder mystery and espionage thriller. Slow-paced at times but raises issues of relevance for today’s audiences.

Director: Herbert L. Strock
Producer: Ivan Tors
Written by Tom Taggart (screenplay), Ivan Tors (story), Richard G. Taylor (dialogue)
Music: Harry Sukman
Cinematography: Lothrop B. Worth
Editing: Herbert L. Strock
Distributed by United Artists
Running time: 85 min.
Budget: $250,000 (approx.)


Richard Egan: David Sheppard
Constance Dowling: Joanna Merritt
Herbert Marshall: Dr. Van Ness
John Wengraf: Dr. Zeitman
Phillip Van Zandt: Dr. Pierre Elzevir
Valerie Vernon: Madame Elzevir
Steve Roberts: Major Howard
Byron Kane: Dr. Carter
David Alpert: Dr. Peter Burden
Michael Fox: Dr. Hubertus
William Schallert: Dr. Engle 

Marian Richman: Helen



The film, GOG is set in a top-secret government facility under the New Mexico desert where a space station (“Man’s first attempt to conquer space”) is being constructed, OSI (Office of Scientific Investigation) agents from Washington, DC, are called in to investigate mysterious and deadly malfunctions at the facility.

We witness one such occurrence at the start of the film, GOG where a lab monkey is undergoing an experiment in freezing and thawing. After the experiment successfully concludes Dr. Hubertus, the department head, is trapped in the cold chamber when the door to the chamber mysteriously closes and the automated equipment begins its deep cold cycle. Hubertus is frozen solid. Dr. Kirby returns to the cryo lab and discovers the dead and shattered remains of Dr. Hubertus when suddenly the door closes once again and the cryo cycle repeats, killing her as well.

Agent Dr. David Sheppard has been called in by Laboratory supervisor Dr. Van Ness to find the cause of such mysterious deaths among the 150 top scientists at the facility. Together with Joanna Merritt, an OSI agent already stationed at the facility and who is secretly in a romantic relationship with Dr Sheppard, Sheppard determines that the deaths are due to deliberate sabotage of NOVAC (Nuclear Operative Variable Automatic Computer), a central computer which controls all equipment in the underground facility. NOVAC was built in Switzerland and took five years to complete, and Zeitman was the designer.

The important question is, how is the sabotage is being performed? How will they later be able explain the deaths of six scientists, as well as the complex's Chief of Security, Major Howard?

The answer to the mystery is found by Sheppard. It turns out that a powerful radio transmitter and receiver were incorporated into NOVAC during its construction. The unnamed “enemy” have constructed a stealth jet plane that can fly faster than the speed of sound and is made of fiberglass which makes it difficult to be located by radar. As it flies above the facility, ultra-high frequency radio signals are beamed from it, allowing the “enemy” to control NOVAC. The plane can apparently fly over 100.000 feet high and it is observed that “no plane has ever gone that high,” to which Joanna replies, “At least not from this planet.” By controlling NOVAC, the “enemy” also gains control of the two powerful robots at the facility, Gog and Magog, who Dr Zeitman believe will one day “guide rockets into space.”

Who is causing the deaths of crucial personnel at the underground facility? 

Where did such an advanced aircraft come from? 
What nefarious purposes will NOVAC and the robots, Gog & Magog be put to? 
By whom? 

To what end? 

Points Of Interest

The film, GOG was shot on two sets at Hal Roach Studios, with exteriors done at George AFB, a former Air Force base near Victorville, California. It took just 15 days to shoot all of the footage for the film.

The film at some points does become a bit plodding and tedious such as when security officer Sheppard and his undercover security agent girlfriend Merritt take us on a guided tour of the base. This, together with the long-winded lectures concerning scientific experiments, may have been intended to highlight the positive features of future technologies, but for today’s audiences it seems a bit dated and unimpressive.

What is more interesting are the dangers, fears and insecurities associated with the “new” technological developments depicted in the film; concerns that are relevant even for 21st. Century audiences who are becoming more aware of the almost anonymous destructive potential of military applications of “smart” technologies. There is also the issue of who is really in control when it comes to information and personal privacy in a digital age, particularly when such notions as, “the security of the nation is at stake” are used as justification for employing technology as a means of control and intrusive monitoring of people.

The double-edged sword nature of human technology is apparent when early in the film we see a helicopter cross the desert sky. On board is the pilot, Al and his passenger, Dr. David Sheppard. They are headed for the top secret underground facility. Suddenly the helicopter is buffeted by some force. The pilot explains that the "brain" has taken over the controls and will do the flying, thereby keeping the exact location of the facility secret. They are both being monitored by central control. Instead of being reassuring. it’s all a bit unnerving! NOVAC’s code transmitters will also be in control of the solar mirror which will provide the space station with all its power and its destructive potential as demonstrated by the Elzevirs’. NOVAC will be able to control the space station’s mirrors via code transmitters and as is noted by one of the characters in the film, “It would be a powerful weapon of war.”

Those in the facility have arrived at point where, as Joanna observed, since “the machines took over….we live here like ground hogs.” In addition to an “enemy” possessing intrusive, dangerous and destructive technologies that have led to a fearful, siege-like, underground fortress existence, we learn later that Van Ness has "positive proof of a saboteur” on his staff. Code transmitter devices have been located around the facility. We also learn that unknown even to her boss, Van Ness, Joanna Merritt, as part of a secret mission, has been assigned to the project by the security services that employ Sheppard. At one point, even the illustrious Dr. Zeitman is reprimanded by Sheppard about failing to abide by security regulations (“You’re not above the security of the nation.”)

Fear, suspicion, security concerns: all very apparent even years after the Cold War era with the revelations from Edward Snowden concerning NSA surveillance activities, the US monitoring of the German chancellor Merkel’s phone, as well as Australia’s Signals Directorate secret monitoring of Indonesian Prime Minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s and his wife’s phone communications. Unlike the Cold War era animosity between the US and Soviet Union, these modern instances of international mistrust, fuelled by intrusive technological surveillance, are occurring between allies! We won’t even get started on allegations concerning certain Chinese mobile phone and electronic instrument manufacturing companies installing surveillance devices in their products in order to access information from the users of their products. Fancy being able to hack into someone else’s electronic device (computer, Novac, mobile phone, Gog, data base, Magog) and exercise control over it? Who would have thought such a thing could possibly happen back in 1954!

The film, GOG employed an interesting choice of names for the two robots; “Gog” and “Magog.” Initially, this one word title, together with its appearance on the screen at the start, conjures up feelings of timeless and implacable power. The biblical reference to “Gog” and “Magog” (Rev.20:8) involves the names of two nations to be led by Satan in the final battle at Armageddon against the kingdom of God;

“When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth - Gog and Magog - to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.”

And in Ezekiel 38;

“Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshek and Tubal; prophesy against him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Gog, chief prince of Meshek and Tubal.” 

Perhaps for the purposes of film the “enemy,” the former Soviet Union, was being cast as Satan in the international battle between the forces of “good” and “evil” over the fate of the world.

Other issues raised by the film also have relevance to our era and they include;

Advanced weaponry and security devices: In the film during the segment featuring the electronically controlled sound detector with its tuning forks, we are introduced to the notion of sound waves whose “intensity can kill!" It has been demonstrated in recent times that sound waves of certain frequencies can have quite severe effects on human physiology. Proposals have been made to use sound waves as a form of crowd control during riots and demonstrations and even as a weapon of warfare.

Surveillance & Privacy: The personnel in the underground facility are subject to constant monitoring from various devices such as microphones. In our modern era, we are surrounded by devices that can monitor our actions and movements. Among such ways and means of monitoring individuals include, computer & mobile phone tracking & usage; ATM & credit card transactions; speed cameras: cctv proliferation in major cities; public transport, taxi and department store camera surveillance and more. It is amazing how we have willingly submitted to this intrusion into our personal privacy and right to anonymity. It has become a normal state of affairs for us all and we justify it (rightly or wrongly) in terms of it being necessary to guarantee our overall safety and security.

Perhaps we may reach the stage one day soon when we vow that in another sense, "We'll never be taken by surprise again!" and where we will all resolve to set our faces against the Gogs of our own making and declare, “no more, we are against you, Gog!”

©Chris Christopoulos 2013

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

You’ll get your money’s worth of film fun here!

A stern, leather-clad female Martian with an English accent, brandishing a ray gun and accompanied by a huge menacing robot, has come to Earth in order to collect our planet’s males as breeding stock. As far as alien invasions go, the scenario could be a lot worse, right?

Directed by David MacDonald
Produced by Edward J. Danziger, Harry Lee Danziger
Written by James Eastwood, John C. Maher
Music by Edwin T. Astley
Cinematography: Jack Cox
Editing by Peter Taylor
Distributed by Danziger Productions
British Lion Films
Running time 76 min.


Patricia Laffan: Nyah
Hugh McDermott: Michael Carter
Hazel Court: Ellen Prestwick
Peter Reynolds: Robert Justin, alias Albert Simpson
Adrienne Corri: Doris
Joseph Tomelty: Prof. Arnold Hennessey
John Laurie: Mr. Jamieson
Sophie Stewart: Mrs. Jamieson
Anthony Richmond: Tommy
James Edmund: David (as James Edmond)
Stewart Hibberd: News Reader


A plane slices its way across the skies over Scotland sometime in the mid-20th Century. Inside the plane there are many people undertaking their own individual journeys toward unique destinations, unaware that from afar a bolt from Fate is about to intervene, cutting short their intended journeys in a shared destiny ending with their total annihilation.

The film, Devil Girl From Mars opens with a passenger plane being destroyed in mid-flight. We then move to an isolated inn, The Bonnie Charlie in the Scottish Highlands. On the radio, the BBC Home Service announces that a bright light (“unidentified white object”) that was seen the previous night was a meteor and that the noted astronomer, Prof Hennessy has gone to the area to look for the meteor.

Our day-to-day affairs are often conducted with false certainties and assumptions about what lies around the next corner, until what seems to be nothing more than a minor and insignificant event occurs, causing us to veer off the intended path we have set for ourselves with unexpected and far-reaching consequences for our lives. 

Astronomer Professor Arnold Hennessy together with reporter, Michael Carter are in fact hopelessly lost on the moors while looking for a huge meteorite that was supposed to have landed in the vicinity. The two men give up the search, with Hennessy believing that the object is probably nothing more than an engine cowling. As “luck” would have it, both men decide to put in at the Jamiesons’ inn.

How easy it is for us to feel trapped by the very prisons of our own making. A wrong word, an ill-considered action and suddenly there is an unintended price to be paid. We may try to escape the consequences of our actions, only to find ourselves being trapped in yet another prison of our own making with even stronger bars to hold us in. Only by finding the right key via certain redeeming words and actions can there be any hope of us breaking free of our self-imposed bondage. 

In the film, we learn that a certain inmate named Robert Justin (Albert Simpson) has escaped from jail and is considered to be dangerous. He soon turns up at the inn and explains to his ex-girlfriend, Doris that he escaped. Doris is prepared to help him as they obviously have had a romantic relationship. She introduces him as a stranger on a hiking tour who while looking at fish in a stream had managed to lose his wallet. Mrs Jamieson gives him lodgings in return for performing odd jobs. It turns out that Robert had been sent to jail for murdering his wife, despite it having been an accident as he claims. Doris cannot understand why he married this woman instead of her.

Justin’s fake identity ploy does not fool Carter who it turns out had conducted some reporting on Justin’s case. He recognizes the fugitive who is acting as their waiter during dinner. Just as Carter is about to tell the others what he knows, a huge spaceship flies low over the Inn sending everyone scrambling for cover. The alien craft bursts in on the scene in with blinding light and a deafening roar of motors.

The craft has landed in a nearby field and Carter concludes that it is an alien space craft, and sets about trying to contact the outside world. Hennessy prefers to investigate before reaching any firm conclusions. As the alien craft is red hot it is apparent that nothing can be done for some hours yet. 

While all this was happening, Justin has slipped away and Doris finds him an abandoned room to hide in. From this room, Justin witnesses a female figure emerge from the space craft and then spots a deformed worker from the Inn approaching the woman. The man is David and his appearance is something akin to an Igor—like character complete with limping gait. As he is seen as being “superfluous” and a “hopeless specimen” the alien unhesitatingly and mercilessly kills the worker in cold blood and then makes for the inn.

Meanwhile, Carter and Hennessy decide to try and reach a nearby village, but experience trouble starting their car. Having given up on the car, Hennessy and Cater return to the inn to find that Doris is strangely unresponsive and in a trace-like state.

Suddenly, the female alien arrives at the inn. Her name is Nyah and she is from the planet Mars. Her intention was to land directly in London, but her ship sustained damage while attempting to land.


Over the last few decades there has been a gradual shift and realignment in the relationship between the sexes. Slowly the barriers to gender equality are being removed with still some way to go. Meanwhile, men have had to redefine their roles with a lot of the certainties of the past having been swept away. Men are no longer considered to be the “bread winner.” That notion is going the way of the idea of man as being the hunter and provider. So, what does it really mean to be a man in the modern world? This can be a very uncomfortable question to consider. There has even been talk about there one day being no need for men considering the advances being made in reproductive and other technologies, along with a worrying long term decline in male fertility and sperm counts.

We are informed in the film, Devil Girl From Mars that many centuries ago, the emancipation of the women led to tensions between the male and female genders on Mars which then erupted into open warfare. The Martian women were victorious, but with the extermination of all but the weakest of the Martian males, the viability of their Martian society is in jeopardy due to the sexual impotence of their planet's male population resulting in a rapid decline in the birth-rate. The women of Mars therefore have decided to seek out worthier breeding stock from Earth. The city of London would have been an ideal location to provide such breeding stock, but the plan has had to be modified due to Nyah’s ship sustaining damage upon entry into Earth’s thicker atmosphere. It is evident that her spacecraft was the meteor that Hennessy was trying to locate, and that Nyah had caused the airplane to blow up in mid-air earlier on. While the self-replicating organic metal (an idea used in later sci-fi films) of Nyah’s vessel repairs the damage it sustained, Nyah decides to see which of the local males might be worthy of becoming Martian breeding stock – [OK fellas, put your hands down. No one called for volunteers. Only local male kilt-wearing Scots with big sporrans need apply for now!]

We need not go far to see what happens whenever there is clash of cultures and one of the cultures possesses superior advanced technology. The end result is that one civilisation attempts to convert the thinking, beliefs and way of life of the other civilisation. One civilisation may also want what the other has, whether it is human or natural resources and will take it by force if necessary. The need to exercise power, to assume control, to satisfy greed, to maintain self-preservation are powerful motivating forces and cannot be assumed to be tempered by a civilisation’s level of scientific and technological advancement. Once humanity ventures out into the universe and encounters other species, it is only right that any civilisations encountered should question our motives for being there and not just assume altruism and curiosity on our part. After all, our track record on just our own planet is not that great! This will need to be kept in mind when the day comes when an “alien” species comes to our planet (our home) and makes first contact with humanity.

We learn that Nyah has now erected an invisible wall that surrounds the inn in order to prevent the locals from escaping. The idea of an invisible wall would be featured in later sci-fi films, TV series and most recently in the series, based on Stephen King’s The Dome. The invisible wall is to all intents and purposes a form of prison. However, it is not only Nyah that has erected an invisible barrier preventing those trapped inside from escaping. Apart from Justin, there’s Miss Prestwick who has also erected her own barrier in which she has imprisoned herself. 

Miss Prestwick, a model from London and according to Doris, a “real good looker” has apparently come to the local area in order to escape a relationship she has had with a married man. Doris wonders what “she’s doing in a place like this.” No matter how often she had run away in the past, this man always managed to find her. Well, it turns out that she has been “found” by Michael Carter, a man imprisoned by his own demons conjured up from reporting from hell holes like the Spanish Civil War, D-Day and “a couple of atomic explosions.”

One thing can be guaranteed when one group, culture, nation, civilisation or intelligent species tries to subjugate another: resistance from those who are pushed too far. Those who are on the receiving end will eventually strive to reclaim life, liberty, freedom and equality despite overwhelming and incomprehensible power that is directed against them. One of the most potent weapons with which they will have to fight back is the need to know one’s enemy and their weaknesses in order to defeat them, as well as the willingness to sacrifice one’s own life in the pursuit of freedom from tyranny and control-“one life in exchange for millions.”

In the film, Devil Girl From Mars, a plan is soon formulated to either capture Nyah or kill her, when suddenly Nyah returns to the inn. Carter shoots at her but without effect. Nyah declares, “I could control power beyond your wildest dreams.” She then orders everyone at the inn to go to her ship so that she can demonstrate the kind of power she possesses. A huge box-shaped robot emerges from the ship and fires a beam that destroys a tree, a car and storage shed. This is the one occasion when we see Nyah comes close to displaying an emotional response as a self-satisfied grin begins to crack her impervious unemotional demeanour.

Hennessy has a chance to see the extent of Nyah’s power (negative atomic energy, and perpetual motion) when he is inside her ship. Hennessy has so far been bumping his head against barriers of his own making and not just the one erected by Nyah around the inn. His barrier has consisted of his own scientific, orthodox and rational scepticism which has prevented him from immediately appreciating the full extent of the danger they have been placed in. Michael, on the other hand could make the connections almost instinctively. At least now, while being inside Nyah’s ship, the professor can use the opportunity to look for any weaknesses that can be used to their advantage.

Meanwhile back at the inn, a trap has been set to electrocute Nyah. When she returns to the inn, she triggers the trap but is completely unaffected by the charge. Nyah then warns the group that any further attempts will result in the death of Tommy whom she had earlier discovered hiding along with Justin and had ordered him into the ship. She had also hypnotized Justin and sent him back to the inn. As she hypnotises Justin, the close-up of her eyes reminds us of the close-up of one of the cat-women from the film, Cat Women of the Moon released the previous year and featured elsewhere in the blog.

After Nyah transfers herself in a blur to the 4th dimension, Carter comes up with a plan to rescue Tommy by offering to exchange himself for the boy. Nyah agrees to this and Tommy returns to the inn.

In the meantime, Hennessy becomes quite convinced that he can destroy the ship by finding a “vital spot at which one can strike,” but it would result in the death of whoever attempts it.

Back at the alien ship, Carter has managed to get possession of Nyah’s controller but is thwarted in this attempt by her robot. Nyah informs everyone at the inn that they are all now going to die because of Carter’s deception. Hennessy makes a desperate offer to be a guide for Nyah when she reaches London. After rejecting the offer, Nyah reconsiders the idea and declares that she will return later and choose someone….but……

The rest trapped within the inn under the dome are to be killed

Is the end now drawing near? 
What of the doomed ones as they contemplate what the future might have been now that it is all over? 
What of Hennessy’s plan of destroying the ship? Just a pipe-dream? 
Who will be chosen to accompany Nyah on her mission to harvest the best of London’s manhood? 
How many more sacrifices will need to be made to save the world from the…. 


Points Of Interest

True to its origins, the film, Devil Girl From Mars seems to have a stage play quality about it. The sets and locations are quite minimal, consisting of a depiction of the Scottish moors, the alien craft and the inn. It was apparently shot on a low budget, with mostly no retakes and was shot over a period of three weeks.

Of particular note in the film, is Patricia Laffan’s role as Nyah, the Devil Girl. She comes across as a female Darth Vader dominatrix-type figure complete with boots and shiny black leather or latex outfit and cape. [Yes, we’ve all been VERY bad boys and deserve to be punished!] When she commands us to “COME!” we, like the professor, feel like we have no choice but to do what she says….or else. As a side-note, it was also a joy to see Patricia Laffan in her role as Nero's wife, Poppeae in Quo Vadis? (1951). In that film she plays the role with even greater imperious evil haughtiness!

To bargain with Nyah is in fact like bargaining with the devil. When Tommy is taken by her, it is as if he is indeed in the hands of “that devil.” For Mrs Jamieson, Nyah’s presence and the grief she has visited on all of them is because they “must have sinned.”

Notice how Nyah emerges from her craft like Klaatu and Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still. However, in Nyah’s case, her appearance is tinged with evil menace. For her there is no “IF” whenever objections are raised to her actions. As Tommy observes, “You are just like the black spider!” It is as if the character of Nyah has been plucked straight out of some horror comic or pulp fiction story and is portrayed in the film accordingly and well.

Nyah’s big boxy robot is a bit laughable as it lumbers around like a giant Kelvinator fridge employing its disintegration ray (the future evolution of smart fridges?). Anyone would be grumpy if you were constantly made fun of! The special effects, however, are quite good for a low-budget film like this as we witness the beam of light shooting out causing its target to glow and then disappear.  

And there we have it: An amuzing, unintentionally funny and very British science fiction film that is still entertaining to watch. It raises (probably unintentionally) some very interesting issues, but let’s not take it all too seriously. Just sit back and enjoy Devil Girl From Mars and hope that you haven’t been very, very naughty or Nyah might just have to punish you……

©Chris Christopoulos 2013