Thursday, July 16, 2009

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

...aka: Fantastic Puppet People, The
...aka: I Was a Teenage Doll
...aka: Six Inches Tall

Directed by:
Bert I. Gordon

Jovial puppeteer/scientist Mr. Franz (John Hoyt) runs "Dolls Incorporated," a company well-known for their beautifully crafted dolls. Secretary Sally Reynolds (June Kenney), just hired on to replace a woman named Janet who'd mysteriously disappeared, is a little wigged out by her new bosses behavior. After all, he talks to the dolls and treats some of them as if they're actual people. He also has a special selection of more lifelike dolls that are off-limits, and kept in a specially-locked cabinet and he never wants to be disturbed when he's working in the back room. Sally does get somewhat used to Mr. Franz over time and even begins dating salesman Bob Westley (John Agar), who asks for her hand in marriage after taking her on a drive-in date to see The Amazing Colossal Man (also from Mr. Gordon). The two plan on running off and getting hitched, but before they can, Bob disappears. Sally becomes suspicious when a lifelike Bob doll shows up in Franz's shop and goes to the cops with her theories that the dollmaker is actually somehow turning people into dolls. Naturally, Sgt. Paterson (Jack Kosslyn) thinks she's nuts and that Bob just ran off on her. Sally threatens to quit, but Mr. Franz (who's very lonely and hates when people leave him) straps her to a table and shrinks her using some ray gun emitting high frequency sonic vibrations.

As Sally awakens, she's introduced to the others who have also been shrunk down to one-sixth their original size. Aside from Bob, there's the saucy Georgia (Laurie Mitchell), who seems resigned to her fate as a little person, militaryman Mac (Scott Peters) and teenagers Laurie (Marlene Willis) and Stan (Kenny Miller). Each of the puppet people are kept in little compression tubes that render them immobile, but Franz lets them out every once in awhile to have parties, drink champagne, eat cake and dance to records. He shrinks a cat to keep them company and the younger girl even gets to sing a song called "You're My Living Doll!" Sally and Bob convince the others that this is no way to live and, when Franz threatens to kill them all because the police are breathing down his neck, the "puppet people" try to organize an escape attempt.

Despite having a reputation for being a dud, I actually found much to enjoy here. Sure, it's silly as hell and sure it was obviously made on the cheap to cash in on the success of the previous year's The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), and lacks that film's depth, but I found it entertaining and enjoyably undemanding. There's a great performance from John Hoyt, sporting some Eastern European accent, in the lead role, and both the actor and the screenplay ensure he's not an evil, one-note villain, but more a man driven to do bad by his own insecurities and lonliness. The rest of the cast is certainly sufficient and the special effects (which were also done by the director), though highly uneven, still boast some genuine imagination. It's amusing just watching characters trying to use a giant telephone, using thread to lasso a doorknob and climbing up and down table legs, and there are enough clever touches (the miniature cat climbing out of a matchbox, the leads sneaking into a package to avoid a dog, the leading lady put on a little stage with a Dr. Jekyll puppet, etc.) to merit giving this a look.

On the down side, the film is saddled with one of the worst and most anti-climactic endings you'll ever see and much time is wasted on Emil (Michael Mark; Dr. Zinthrop from Corman's The Wasp Woman), a friend of Franz's from his homeland (Russia?) who doesn't adequately figure into the plot at all and is used as nothing more than a plot device to distract Franz so the puppet people can try to escape. The director's little daughter Susan Gordon (who'd appear in a larger and better role in TORMENTED two years later) shows up briefly as a spoiled little girl. It was an AIP production (exec. produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson) and was scripted by George Worthing Yates (who also wrote IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and other 50s sci-fi/horror favorites, including others for the same director).


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