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OUR society has long had a great fascination with Robots. They have
been great fodder for many a Sci-Fi author for decades; ever since the
Czech playwright, Karel Capek coined the word in his play, R.U.R.
(1920), from the Czech Language 'robata', meaning compulsory. In this
case, it's being a compulsory worker.
WE need only look back to the great German Film, Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS (UFA. 1927) to see the outstanding rendition of the female robot. The fertile science fiction era of the 1930's gave us the Pulp Magazine ADAM LINK Stories by Eando Binder ("Eando" being a pen name for brothers Earl & Otto Binder). There've been at least 2 adaptations of Adam, both on THE OUTER LIMITS TV Series (one in the 1960's original, the other on the 1990's revival.) Saturday Afternoon Matinée presentations weren't devoid of these mechanical men with examples like those living/exploding bombs in FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE (Universal, 1940). The animated SUPERMAN Cartoon Series put in its own entry with THE MECHANICAL MONSTERS (Fleischer Studios/Paramount Pictures, 1941); brilliantly rendered in Technicolor, Hi-Fidelity Sound, Rotoscoped Movement and the Table Top 3 Dimensional Processes that made the Fleischer Productions so well known.
IN the great 1950's Post World War II Sci-Fi explosion, we saw CAPTAIN VIDEO on the DuMont TV Network devote a whole multi-week series to a good guy-bad guy Robot named "Tobor". (Just spell it backwards, Schultz!) Meanwhile, on the big screen we were treated to Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon and Leslie Nielsen all sharing the screen and the billing with "Robbie the Robot" in FORBIDDEN PLANET (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1956).
ACCORDINGLY, it should come as no surprise to anyone that these Robots should make appearances in many of our other popular entertainments, Television Series included.
NATURALLY we would have an episode on the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN which would feature a storyline having a Robot as a main character. After all, the Superman Comic Feature was spawned in the tradition of the Science Fiction genre of the 1930's and its Daily and Sunday Syndicated Newspaper Comic Strip had adhered closely to the format.
OUR Robot in the TV Series was sort of one conceived and designed on a much less grand scale. Instead of being an overpowering and seemingly invincible a foe, he was the small scale invention of a rather self-taught, eccentric and somewhat child-like inventor, one Professor Horatio Hinkle (veteran of silent movies, character actor, Lucien Littlefield). The good inventor, along with his cohort, drawling hillbilly 'Marvin' (Robert Easton, expert dialectician, fine supporting player & comic actor), communicate by way of Short Wave Radio; as it's just too easy to use a telephone. Besides, it's more in keeping with the adventure and sci-fi aspects of the storyline and series.
INTENTIONS for the Robot may well have been all good, but an intervening bunch of typical comic book-type crooks have the idea of muscling in on the Amateur Einsteins. A terrible trio of crooks*, 'Rocko' (Dan Seymour), 'Mousey' (John Harmon) and Russell Johnson) force the Good Prof Hinkle into turning the mechanical man into a super robbery and burglary machine; utilizing the robot's TV system, remote control and built-in acetylene torch to cut through doors and safes.
SUPERMAN catches up with our unwilling menace and 'The Runaway Robot' is soon reduced to a stack of disconnected parts; all stacked in a trash can.
'THE RUNAWAY ROBOT'; although having this popular and high level science fiction topic at its core, has a decidedly comic tone and overall amusing effect to it. This is especially unusual in that first season of the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN; which has most usually been castigated as being too brutal, violent and even noir.
NOTE: * This is a most interesting troika of wrong-doers. We have John Harmon, which is not very remarkable in it self; but the other two guys call for a little extra mention.
First, we have Dan Seymour, who cast in his third Superman episode in 'The Runaway Robot' (Episode 17); the previous 2 having beer 'The Mind Machine' (Episode 8) and 'The Stolen Costume' (Episode 13). The Late Mr. Seymour was one of the last surviving actors from CASABLANCA (Warner Brothers, 1942), in which he was cast as the Doorman, Abdul.
Secondly we have Russell Johnson as 'Chopper'. Mr. Johnson is best known as whom? Do you give up? He was The Professor on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND (Gladysya Prod./United Artists TV/CBS Network, 1964-67).
As a pair of thugs attempt to rob a jewelry store, a man directing a robot enters. The robbery is foiled but the robot walks all over a floor full of watches. Also, several diamonds disappear. So the guy and his artificial friend end up in the slammer. Of course, the crooks now want this robot for themselves and manage to steal it, but the need the old guy who knows how to run it. They plan to use it to cut into a bank vault. They don't know if it will work or how to get into the vault or whether the old guy will cooperate. The whole Daily Planet crew gets involved and once again Lois almost screws the whole thing up by giving them a viable hostage (she will be harmed if the old guy won't cooperate). The robot looks silly and the far fetched nature of things is lame.
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