Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
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Star John Hoyt was always interesting to watch (check out his brief but commanding performance as antique shop proprietor Nils Dryer in "The Big Combo").
The basic theme of this film had, in fact, already been tried out the year before in the vastly superior "Incredible Shrinking Man". However, the 'puppet twist' (good name for a song!) was certainly an original touch.
Co-star John Agar is smoothly competent and does his best against the odds.
Strictly for those whose tastes lean towards the ultra-cheesy variety of midnight movie fare.
Left by his wife for an acrobat, Franz has found a way that one one he loves will ever leave again.
Sally Reynolds (June Kenney), his new secretary found out the hard way that Franz can't bear to part with those he loves.
But, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, and so do the plans of Mr Franz as Bob (John Agar) save the day and his love.
A strange film.
Although this film has had rather negative reviews over the years and holds a poor ranking on IMDb, there is a special kind of enjoyment in this film, and any with John Agar and / or directed by Bert Gordon. Are the special effects terrible? Yes. Is the plot weak? Surely. But we expect that from 1950s science fiction films, which I think works in the movie's favor (although decades too late).
I also appreciate the historical value of this film and its role in the Watergate scandal. I am not familiar with the story, so I cannot say if it is true, but the idea is that instead of warning his co-conspirators of detectives, a Watergate burglar was busy watching this film. Hence, this movie can be credited with bringing down Richard Nixon. That is quite a feat!
As an added bonus, this film marks the acting debut of Susan Gordon, the director's daughter, who would go on to appear in many of his pictures and in other productions. She was "cast" completely by accident when the real actress was not available, and this decision may have altered the history of the role the Gordon family took in film.
Most of the BIG films involve people or animals that become giants, but this one involves a mad toy-maker who shrinks people so as to fulfill some kind of weird personal fetish. There is a crisis point about 2/3 way through this film where Mad Scientist Hoyt decides he must kill his shrunken pets...there is a hint of genuine horror at this point, and I was reminded of the real-life horror the Andrea Yates case, herself guilty of infanticide and simulatanously a victim of both poor mental health and fundamentalist religion.
BIG borrows heavily here, from sources as wide-ranging as the Bride of Frankenstein to The Incredible Shrinking Man, as his visuals go. As far as BIG's patented FX techniques go, this is one of his more refined pieces, along with War of the Collosil Beast.
Eternally geriatric John Hoyt, who was good in 'When Worlds Collide' and as Gene Roddenberry's original choice for the doctor of the starship Enterprise, plays the mad villain, and does a fine job of it. Hoyt's performance holds the film together, and despite the mad scientist schtick, he is ultimately more engaging than John Agar, to whom I have assigned the title World's Most Unlikable Actor.
This is standard, mid-grade BIG fare, which is to say, an enjoyable waste of time for those who enjoy Drive-In era films. The story is not terribly complicated, and I think BIG padded things out so that this film would have sufficient running time for theatrical release, otherwise it could have been done as an episode of the Twilight Zone.
BIG made this film for peanuts. Ten years after its release, TV schlockmeister Irwin Allen tweaked the concept slightly, and made the series 'Land of the Giants,' which at the time was the most expensive TV show ever produced, and ultimately much more tiresome than this quaint artifact.
This is a dumb little Bert I. Gordon film, though he has done stuff much worse than this. There are certainly moronic moments and some rather insipid dialog, but all in all the film is quite far from being one of the worst of all time. The stupidest dialog is when the heroine went to the police, and the apathy of the missing persons' officer towards her story of a man who shrinks people. Even when she names two missing persons that are in his "missing" files he remains indifferent and quite uninterested, while facing the uncovering of - at worst - a possible mass murderer. Another standout, i.e. another outstanding moronic scene, is when the heroine applies for a job; instead of begging the villain to employ her, he ends up begging her to take the job, even promising to raise the salary if necessary! This is certainly a unique view that Gordon has of the world of job-seeking and employment. Very silly the way the movie's evil-meister tells the "dolls" to lie down in a suit case, then closes it while it's lying horizontally - without strapping the "dolls" for safety - and then carries it vertically! Wouldn't the doll people be all roughed up with multitudes of broken bones and backs? As for the special effects, they are... what special effects? There are huge props like a big telephone and a cupboard, and such, but otherwise... Well, there is one funny special effects moment: when the villain burns a doll, and says it's just plastic, except that it isn't plastic - it's paper; a photo of the main hero posing as a plastic doll! A problem with the film is that 90% of it takes place in one or two rooms; watching the film, one gets the feeling one is locked away in a basement and has to sit through the night till one can get to see daylight again.
Part of the weakness is the handling of the villain. The director can't seem to figure out if he wants us to be afraid of him, or feel sorry for him. The closing shot would argue for the latter. But the puppet master is obviously a twisted, manipulative individual. John Hoyt never really gives us that feeling. He might as well be Geppetto, for how frightening he comes across. Most of his victims seem not to care about their fate, which also reduces the fear factor.
The music is trite, with overblown stingers in the first 15-20 minutes every time we see a "puppet person," and restless churning in later action scenes. The special effect shots are amateurish and ineffective; perhaps in 1958, they would have caused a gasp or two. And good old Bert Gordon once again inserts an ad for his other big movie (COLOSSAL MAN). He did the same thing in EARTH VS THE SPIDER.
What struck me the most was how this film, more than SHRINKING MAN, became the blueprint for Irwin Allen's LAND OF THE GIANTS. We have the mixed array of tiny people, trying to communicate on over-sized phones, sliding down power cords and shimmying up desk drawers, and running across giant floors (shot from a crane). Then of course they have to contend with giant rats, cats, and automobiles. You can almost see the light turn on over Irwin's head as he watches.
I'm a fan of corny 50s and 60s science fiction flicks, but this one has little to recommend it, even in the schlock department. Beware: it may shrink your brain, or at least your attention span.
Yes, the title and poster are both misleading (the dog only appears for about a minute), but the point of the movie is to have fun, and it succeeds, and even has a cool dance scene. As it was, I read that this movie played a role in Watergate: the person who was supposed to be keeping a lookout was watching "AotPP" and wouldn't tear himself away from it. I don't know if that story is true, but if it is, then he must have been savoring that one scene that I mentioned. That scene, for lack of a better description, is truly a PIECE OF HEAVEN! Anyway, really fun.
PS: John Agar was Shirley Temple's first husband.
A doll maker and mad scientist, Mr Franz is lonely after losing his wife, so he reduces an engaged couple to small size. We then learn that he has shrunk more people and police start getting suspicious when some of these are reported missing. Franz forces his live "puppets" to sing and dance. Then he takes them to the local theatre for one final performance before he plans to kill them, but the engaged couple manage to escape and they head back to Franz's lab, but not before encountering a rat and dog. When back there, they manage to resume to normal size and report Franz to the police. We never know what happened to the other "little people".
The special effects aren't too bad for a Mr BIG movie, but the giant rat sequence looks a little dodgy.
The cast include some familiar faces from 1950's sci-fi/horror: John Hoyt (The Lost Continent, When Worlds Collide) as Franz, John Agar (Tarantula, The Mole People, The Brain From Planet Arous), June Kenney (Earth vs the Spider) and Mr BIG's real life daughter Susan Gordon (Tormented).
Attack of the Puppet People is a must for all 50's sci-fi fans. Excellent.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
The"Midnite Movies" DVD edition of this film is excellent with a sharp image and great contrast. The film is presented in it's original aspect ratio (1:33).
Anyway, it must be said here that, fun as Gordon's picture is, it is but a pip-squeak when compared to "The Incredible Shrinking Man." Unlike the superb FX featured in that earlier film, the FX in "Puppet People" range from well done (Agar climbing a chest of drawers) to shoddy (that teeny cat in Franz' palm). The picture would be infinitely better if Hoyt exhibited a bit more maniacal menace, rather than coming off as the insane Mister Rogers that Eccentric Cinema has so aptly called him. The film's ending is something of a rushed anticlimax, too, and Franz' ultimate fate was not a satisfying one, for this viewer. A harsher form of cosmic retribution would have been more appropriate. Still, the film remains fun. How great to see actress Laurie Mitchell, who I had only seen before as the superscarred "Queen of Outer Space," here playing a glamour-girl little person (VERY little person, that is!). And how funny is it that Agar and Kenny sit in a drive-in theatre watching "The Amazing Colossal Man" as Agar proposes marriage, with Colonel Manning's line "I'm not growing...you're shrinking" booming from the speakers and coming as some cruel portent of fate? Turns out that Mr. B.I.G. could also go small, and with highly entertaining results....
Better than professional critical reviews lead me to believe it to be, this is best described as a hoot. It all surrounds the lonely old doll maker John Hoyt who keeps the people he likes as companions by shrinking them to doll size and plans to do them all in when he is on the verge of being discovered so they can be together forever. Campy and fun, this is just delightful in every respect. It gets really funny when the doll-sized humans end up in a little party with champagne and music, jitterbugging as the pathetic Hoyt watches.
There really aren't any surprises, but the comic element keeps things moving at a rapid pace and the acting really isn't all that bad. John Agar and June Kenny are fine as the main two living dolls who put the plot together to get themselves back to life-sized humans. It gets more intense as his crazy plans are revealed, but the comic element remains, having Hoyt intermingle his dolls with the puppets he sometimes does show off on stage. Reversing the Colossal man and the 50' Woman, thus isn't as ground-breaking as "The Incredible Shrinking Man", but it isn't all wretched either. My only question is what became of the others left behind in the theater, as well as what ultimately happened to Hoyt after the final shot.
Oddball slice of 50's sci-fi. Franz (Hoyt) may be a mad scientist, but he's hardly the standard cruel stereotype. Nonetheless, with an infernal machine, he does shrink people down to doll size and keep them in little glass cylinders. But, he's not power- mad like the usual nutcase. Instead, he's a lonely old man who must have company when he needs it. Thus his human dolls can be resuscitated at will so he can watch them party and have a good time. His situation is rather poignant instead of infernal. He really means them no harm, though he's clearly lost perspective.
Rather surprisingly, Hoyt is excellent as the benighted Franz. The actor usually plays cruel types, but here he's almost genial and without a single snarl. Special effects are simple—an unobtrusive split screen separating the normal from the miniature. Thus, we get the two worlds coming together on the same screen. However somebody should have caught the fleeting shadow cast against a process screen near movie's end. I confess to liking this cheap indie, maybe because it breaks so many of the mad scientist rules. Nonetheless, the title is misleading and I can see 50's drive-in hot- rodders and their dates feeling cheated from a lack of scary scenes to cuddle up over.
His Movies always had a "Look". A High Contrast Otherworldly Appearance that gave His Stuff an Ethereal Atmosphere of Another Place in Time Space.
This one is a Cute "Little" Story about a Lonely Man, John Hoyt, in a Soft Spoken Endearing Performance, that "Makes" His own Friends by Scientifically Shrinking Anyone He "Likes having around.".
There are some Good Action Scenes when the "Dolls" Escape and a few Interesting Scenes with a Cat, a Dog, and a Jekyll and Hyde Marionette. Overall, Worth a Watch for Fans of B-Movies, Drive-In Fare, Fifties Psychotronic Pictures.