I’ve seen a lot of science fiction movies since I began watching them back in the 1950s, so I seldom catch an old movie that I haven’t seen or at least read about. Well, last night I caught The Creation of the Humanoids on Amazon Prime. The film supposedly came out in 1962, but maybe 1961, and maybe made in 1960. The poster for it on Amazon made it look dreadful. I can’t believe I even tried watching it. However, The Humanoids by Jack Williamson is one of my favorite old SF novels, meaning that one keyword got me to give the flick a view. And since then, the more I think about it, the more I think about it.
My initial reaction made me think the screenplay cribbed ideas from Isaac Asimov, Jack Williamson, and Philip K. Dick. The story and acting are very talky, but then a lot of classic science fiction from the 1940s and 1950s is overburdened with infodumps and preach dialog, so this movie has both the feel and philosophy of old pulp science fiction. And the cinematography reminded me of old science fiction magazine covers. The sets look like three different backdrops from an avant-garde theater play, but this cheapass movie was filmed in Technicolor. And the costumes and makeup are really good for the time. So there are levels of quality weaved into its low-budget production. I think they did the maximum they could with their budget.
Now don’t get me wrong, if you try watching this film, you’ll probably think, WTF??!! at the beginning. The acting is very wooden. If you stick with it, it might start growing on you until you’re thinking: “Okay, this is weirdly interesting” And if you stay until the end, you might even wonder “Is this some forgotten gem.” Or maybe not.
If you don’t have Amazon Prime, a 360p print is available on YouTube, watchable, but far from sharp.
What makes you forgive the weaknesses of The Creation of the Humanoids is the ideas it presents. I recently read and reviewed Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, a recent 2021 novel that covers some of the same themes dealing with androids. Android related speculations have been popular in movies and television shows for several years now, so it’s impressive that this 1960 B-movie is so ahead of its time.
The setup for this story is about a future after a nuclear war. The human population is dwindling, while the robot population is increasing. Robots are slowly taking over all human jobs and some humans resent that. Even the anti-robot crowd accepts robots at a certain intelligence level because society needs them, but doesn’t want robots produced with anything like human-level intelligence. The main character in this story is Capt. Kenneth Cragis is a leader in the racist organization called The Order of Flesh and Blood. He and his buddies wear Confederate uniforms and call robots “clickers,” so it’s pretty obvious that this early 1960s movie is not just about robots. At one point in the plot, Cragis learns his sister has married a robot and is furious.
But don’t think this film is just a thinly disguised story about civil rights. It covers all the ideas of modern science fiction on artificial intelligence and more. Don’t want to say too much that will reveal plot twists in the second half of the movie, which is far better than the first half. But those extra themes are frequently used in SF today.
Wikipedia has a positive write-up about The Creation of the Humanoids. They even let us know this was Andy Warhol’s favorite film. The Projection Booth has a ninety-minute podcast where three film buffs admit they’ve been converted to fans too. And over at Galactic Journey, a site that pretends to exist 55-years ago reviews the film with quite a bit of love and detail.
Don’t get me wrong. Probably, 99 people out of 100 who stream this movie are going to click the back button rather quickly. My initial reaction was “Yuck!” but I’m glad I stuck with it.
Finally, I think I got into The Creation of the Humanoids because the movie felt like reading a story out of Astounding or Galaxy. That says a lot about my nostalgia, but it also says something about the writing quality in the 1940s and 1950s science fiction magazines. I hate to think of it, but if I gave some of my old SF magazines to my friends to read, they’d probably react to my favorite stories just the way most audiences react today to The Creation of the Humanoids.
James Wallace Harris