Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Human Duplicators (Hugo Grimaldi/Woolner Bros., 1965)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Anyway, once we got back Charles and I ran a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 presentation of a 1965 sci-fi messterpiece called The Human Duplicators, a sort of bastard offspring from a mating of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Robot Monster that even cast Robot Monster’s star — if you can call him that — George Nader (inevitably referred to as “Ralph Nader” by an poster), once again playing the fearless human star confronting the wicked alien (Richard Kiel in between Eegah! and James Bond villain-dom) who’s been sent by the dictator of another planet to make Earth the latest colony in its empire (an interesting movie to be seeing just after hearing Robert Jensen’s critique of the American empire!) by kidnapping selected Earthlings, making “duplicates” of them in a machine that looked like a cross between a Star Trek transporter and a walk-in hot-water heater, and then sending out the duplicates and letting them loose on the world as homicidal maniacs.

Just how that was supposed to accomplish the conquest of Earth was one of the many points on which Arthur C. Pierce’s script was maddeningly vague — at least the aliens’ plots in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its best successor, They Live, made sense — but then I’m still having a hard time trying to figure out how Osama bin Laden thought the 9/11 attacks were supposed to help accomplish the Muslim reconquest of all the formerly Islamic lands from India to Spain, either. There have been MST3K “targets” that were so inept in conception as well as execution (can you say Monster-a-Go-Go or The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman?) they couldn’t have helped but be bad movies, and then there are ones like The Human Duplicators that could at least have been halfway decent with some attention paid to credible characterizations, believable plotting and some measure of action.

As things turn out, almost nothing actually happens in The Human Duplicators — the alien agent, Dr. Kolos (“and Diet Kolos,” the MST3K crew joked), comes to the home of human scientist Prof. Vaughn Dornheimer (George Macready — what a comedown after being in great movies like Gilda and Paths of Glory!) and ensconces himself in Dornheimer’s basement laboratory while simultaneously getting a King Kong-style crush on Dornheimer’s blind daughter Lisa (Dolores Faith). Also in the mix are two other actors who made better — or at least less embarrassing — movies, including Richard Arlen (billed as “National Intelligence” — I’m not making this up, you know! — and recognizable only in one early scene) and Hugh Beaumont (as Nader’s immediate supervisor — naturally the MST3K crew joked incessantly about his most famous role as the father in Leave It to Beaver; well, a job as dad in a family sitcom is probably good training for supervising George Nader, actually), but the whole thing really creeps along, unaided by a numbingly dull script by Pierce and direction to match by Hugo Grimaldi (a black-sheep member of the royal family of Monaco who had to find another way to make a living? It would be nice to think so!), who also produced the film for a studio called the Woolner Brothers.

About the only genuinely creative visual element in this movie is the opening title, which is first shown as a mirror image in yellow letters before it transforms and opposite appears the title correctly oriented and printed in red. It’s all downhill from there, from the model spaceship that (as one MST3K’er joked) looks like it was folded from origami paper to the three diamond-shaped screens by which Richard Kiel communicates with the aliens back home (which show solarized images in different color schemes, sort of like one of Warhol’s silkscreened multiple portraits) and the utter inability of Dolores Faith to convince us her character is blind (let’s see, there’s Virginia Cherrill in City Lights and Jamie Foxx in Ray … and then clear on the other level of credibility there’s Dolores Faith in The Human Duplicators). I suspect that, at least in the later Joel Hodgson years, the MST3K people were specifically looking for movies whose badness expressed themselves largely as boredom; certainly that was the case here!