Cast & Crew
Bert I. Gordon
Young Sally Reynolds answers a want ad for a secretary, placed by Mr. Franz of Dolls, Inc. Upon meeting Franz, the mild-mannered owner and sole member of the company, Sally senses his deep attachment to the dolls he has created and grows uneasy, but when he implores her to accept the position, she agrees. Several weeks later, salesman Bob Westley arrives from St. Louis and notices Sally's nervousness about Franz, but laughs when she confides that she believes Franz is too fond of his dolls. Over the next few days, Sally discovers that Franz's previous secretary, Janet Hall, has gone missing, as has a neighborhood mailman. Bob stays in town over the next few weeks and visits Dolls, Inc. often to see Sally and work on a new line of dolls with Franz. Emil, a fellow puppeteer and old friend of Franz's, arrives in town to put on a show. When Franz reveals he has been alone many years since his wife abandoned him, Emil becomes concerned, but Franz assures him he is content with his solitary work. One evening at a drive-in, Bob proposes to Sally, asking her to move back to St. Louis with him. When Sally hesitates about leaving Franz so abruptly, Bob promises to tell him, and Sally agrees to leave for Las Vegas the following day with Bob. The next morning, Sally anxiously awaits Bob, who does not come. Franz telephones Sally to ask why she is not at work and reveals that Bob stopped by to tell Franz he was returning to St. Louis. Stunned, Sally goes in to the office, then questions Franz about Bob's departure. Franz admits Bob told him about his engagement to Sally, but suggests that Bob was not serious. Sally is startled when she finds Franz's latest creation, a doll that looks exactly like Bob, but Franz insists he always designs dolls after people he knows. After Franz departs, Sally visits the police, but Sgt. Paterson is skeptical about Sally's assertion that she believes that Franz is turning people into dolls. When Sally mentions that as well as Bob, Janet and the mailman have vanished, Paterson locates them on a missing persons list and agrees to question Franz. At the office, Franz readily shows Paterson the Bob doll and several identical others, and satisfied, the detective leaves. Franz then locks Sally into his back room and she faints. Upon reviving Sally sees a giant-sized Franz and realizes that the doll maker has reduced her to doll size. Franz revives Bob, who furiously demands an explanation. Franz explains that in his loneliness and complete fascination with dolls, he stumbled upon a means of transforming live beings into energy and then re-projecting them in reduced size. Franz demonstrates his reducing machine on Tommy, a stray cat, which he then presents to the frightened Sally. Franz insists he has harmed no one and provides the best of care for his "friends." Franz then revives party girl Georgia Lane, teenagers Laurie and Stan and Marine Mac and demands that they entertain him. When Emil unexpectedly drops by, Franz leaves the miniature group alone. Bob chides the others for their complacent acceptance of their fate and insists they try to learn whether the reducing machine works in reverse. Mac offers himself as a test subject, and the men climb down the phone cord and make their way to the machine while Stan keeps watch, crawling up a rope to the door keyhole. Bob and Mac run out of time and just manage to get back to the table before Franz's return. The next day Paterson stops by to question Franz again after learning that Bob has not been located in St. Louis. A young girl brings Franz her doll for repair, then delightedly notices Tommy, who has been hiding in a match box, and demands to keep the live toy. Determined to distract Paterson, Franz allows him into his workshop, then gives the girl a new doll and hides the miniaturized Tommy. Paterson asks about Franz's strange machine in the back but refuses a demonstration offer. Later, Emil visits Franz to ask why the police have questioned him. Convinced that it is only a matter of time before his secret is discovered by the police, who will then take away his dolls, Franz decides to end his life and those of his miniaturized companions that night at Emil's theater. Franz takes the group to the deserted theater and while Sally performs with Emil's puppets for Franz, Bob puts a stolen sleeping pellet in Franz's coffee. Outraged by Franz's calm demeanor, Bob destroys Emil's puppet and the commotion attracts the janitor. While Franz assures him all is well and drinks the coffee, the group escapes. Franz grows hysterical looking for them and corners most of them, but Bob and Sally escape and attempt to return to Dolls, Inc. After being chased by a rat, a cat and a dog, Bob and Sally find themselves by a delivery truck taking a package to Franz, and hide inside the box. At the office they find the workshop unlocked. Franz arrives shortly afterward to find Sally and Bob returned to normal size. Franz pleads with the couple not to abandon him, but they hurry away to report him to the police.
Bert I. Gordon
Samuel Z. Arkoff
Jack R. Berne
Bert I. Gordon
Bert I. Gordon
Bert I. Gordon
Flora M. Gordon
James H. Nicholson
George Worthing Yates
Attack of the Puppet People
The movie opens with a Brownie troupe visiting the headquarters of Dolls Incorporated, a private enterprise owned and operated by Mr. Franz (John Hoyt), a European immigrant whose toy store creations are famous for their detailed craftsmanship. The pride of Mr. Franz's current collection are two shelves of glass encased dolls which display amazing lifelike qualities. That's because they're actually miniaturized human beings in a state of suspended animation. Franz has, in effect, created his own nuclear family and is continuing to add to it, driven by extreme loneliness and a desperate need to control everything in his universe. For the next addition to his collection, he has his eye on his new employee Sally Reynolds (June Kenney). She's replacing Franz's previous secretary who mysteriously vanished without a trace. In fact, the police department has a file on several unsolved missing persons cases but no leads on a possible connection between them until Sally approaches them about the strange disappearance of her fiancé Bob Westley (John Agar) on the eve of their planned elopement. Shortly thereafter, Sally goes missing as well and joins Bob and the rest of Franz's "living dolls" in a bizarre form of captivity where they are periodically aroused from a deep sleep and trotted out to perform and amuse Mr. Franz. The slaves eventually revolt, hence the exploitive title, when they learn Mr. Franz plans to destroy them and himself because he fears the police will soon apprehend him.
Despite the sci-fi trappings a rarely seen invention that reduces humans to doll size and Franz's cursory mumbo-jumbo explanation of how it works - Attack of the Puppet People is not really a bona-fide science fiction feature and unfolds more in the manner of a demented fairy tale. Underneath the surface absurdity is a portrait of a pathetic man who can only relate to other people as tiny beings he can manipulate at will. John Hoyt, whose quietly insane demeanor as Mr. Franz is the only compelling performance in the movie, is clearly puzzled by his miniaturized captives' rebellious nature. "You funny little people," he tells them, "I wonder why it is you always hate me so at first. I haven't really harmed you. You get the best of care. I never let you get too warm or too cold or too tired. You should be grateful. Think, no daily grind. No budget problems. No taxes or debts or family to support. I see to everything. And it's never dull. You sleep away the long, boring hours in your jars and when I take you out to wake you it's only to have fun."
Franz's twisted philosophical views have clearly had a brainwash effect on the other "dolls" that Bob and Sally first encounter; some of them even seem to enjoy their strange existence, with one excitedly exclaiming to her friend who was left in her glass tube, "You missed a lot of fun. We had a picnic in a flowerpot, two dances and a moonlight swimming party in the sink." And Gordon makes sure we get to see some of the dolls' playtime activities including a hilarious sequence where itty bitty Laurie (Marlene Willis) is prodded to sing "You're My Living Doll" to her companions and an even weirder scene where Bob is forced to perform in a marionette theatre; he is so outraged by the situation that he angrily attacks his string-manipulated co-star, tearing its head off.
On some levels, it's hard to defend Attack of the Puppet People; the rear screen projection is never convincing, the performances, with the exception of John Hoyt, range from amateurish to leaden, and Gordon fails to provide even a semblance of plausibility to the proceedings in order for viewers to suspend disbelief. Then again, watching actors wandering amid oversized sets and wrestling with giant props it takes all of the puppet people to lift a phone to call for help has a fascination for some of us and especially Gordon who build his career on the concept of small vs. big.
Ken Miller, who plays the diminutive Stan, recalled in an interview with Tom Weaver for Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks one particularly difficult stunt. "...we had to climb down off of a table and they had to show John [Agar] going down, arm by arm. Well, that poor man, he couldn't move after that, because you use muscles you don't even know you have. I had to climb up, leg by leg, arm by arm, 50 feet up to the top of the soundstage oh, the pain was terrible!...They brought in a guy, a masseur, the next day, 'cause we couldn't actually move right, the pain was so bad. And, my God, they couldn't lose a day's shooting - Puppet People had about a two-week schedule, as I recall!."
Miller also confessed that during his climbing scene, his pants, which were glued on, started to split: "There was no sound and my back was to the camera, so I kept saying, "My pants are splitting." And Bert Gordon kept saying, "Never mind, it's all right." Then at one point he called up to me, "Have you got underwear on?" I said, "Yes," so he said, "Well, keep on going!" They really split, right from the zipper all the way around, but in the film you can't see it."
The infamous musical sequence was also just as uncomfortable for Miller as it appears to be for some of the "living dolls," forced to enjoy it in the movie. "The most embarrassing moment I've ever had on camera," recalled Miller, "was standing there and reacting while she's [Marlene Willis] singing to me that ridiculous song called "You're My Living Doll." I mean, I thought, "What in the f*ck am I supposed to do...? I said, "Let her sing to a doll or something! And they said, "No, no, no..." And that was the hardest thing for me, to react without being completely embarrassed well, I was!....of course, we were a little like dolls, so I suppose that song, in somebody's sick mind, was a clever idea!"
Composer Albert Glasser who scored countless B-movies, many of which were in the horror/sci-fi genre, worked with Bert I. Gordon several times starting with Gordon's giant grasshopper epic, Beginning of the End (1957). He was fascinated by Gordon's production techniques. "I used to watch on the set as much as I could while he was doing the effects," he said to interviewer Tom Weaver. "He used to work a lot out of his garage, where he had his equipment. The funny one, of course, was Attack of the Puppet People. On the set, they made chairs ten feet high so when the actors would sit on them, they would look little. It was cute, a lot of fun. In fact, we wrote a song for that for which they're still paying me..."You're a dolly, you're a dolly." I can't believe it." (From Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver).
John Agar's own memories of making Attack of the Puppet People aren't as fond as Glasser's. He said "I don't know whether Bert Gordon liked me very much; we got into a little difficulty one night because he had promised me that I was only going to have to work until a certain hour. I was on a bowling team then and I was supposed to meet my wife and the team at such-and-such a time. Well, they carried me over past the time; Bert kept putting it off and putting it off, and I told him, "Look, you promised me I could be out of here by now, and you're foulin' me up!" I don't think Bert ever forgave me for that. I stayed and finished the work, but I don't think he thought I was giving one hundred percent...That Puppet People was kind of a nonsense picture." (From Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver),
Most film reviewers thought the movie was a lot of nonsense as well but Variety actually gave the film serious consideration in its review, stating "Gordon is a master of special effects and his tricks are ingenious and intriguing." It also pointed out the movie's shortcoming without taking any unnecessary cheap shots: "The remainder of the production is not up to this technical achievement, however, and the presentation is satisfactory, but no more...Story lacks punch because there is no real point to it, so the ending when it comes is inconclusive and somewhat flat."
Attack of the Puppet People was a family affair for Gordon with his wife Flora assisting him on the special effects and his young daughter Susan (in her film debut) playing the part of an inquisitive child who constantly interrupts Franz's work. Gordon also rarely missed an opportunity to reference some of his other films as there is a sequence in Attack of the Puppet People where John Agar and June Kenney are at the drive-in watching The Amazing Colossal Man - talk about shameless self-promotion! But Gordon learned it first hand from his executive co-producers Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson, who had recently launched their highly successful, low-budget film enterprise, American International Pictures.
Producer: Bert I. Gordon
Director: Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay: George Worthing Yates; Bert I. Gordon (story)
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Film Editing: Ronald Sinclair
Cast: John Agar (Bob Westley), John Hoyt (Mr. Franz), June Kenney (Sally Reynolds), Michael Mark (Emil), Jack Kosslyn (Sergeant Paterson), Marlene Willis (Laurie), Ken Miller (Stan), Laurie Mitchell (Georgia Lane), Scott Peters (Mac).
BW-83m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford
Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver
Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks: Conversations with 24 Actors, Writers, Producers and Directors From the Golden Age by Tom Weaver
Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes: Interviews with Actors, Directors, Producers and Writers of the 1940s through 1960s by Tom Weaver
Attack of the Puppet People
TCM Remembers - John Agar
Popular b-movie actor John Agar died April 7th at the age of 81. Agar is probably best known as the actor that married Shirley Temple in 1945 but he also appeared alongside John Wayne in several films. Agar soon became a fixture in such films as Tarantula (1955) and The Mole People (1956) and was a cult favorite ever since, something he took in good spirits and seemed to enjoy. In 1972, for instance, the fan magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland mistakenly ran his obituary, a piece that Agar would later happily autograph.
Agar was born January 31, 1921 in Chicago. He had been a sergeant in the Army Air Corps working as a physical trainer when he was hired in 1945 to escort 16-year-old Shirley Temple to a Hollywood party. Agar apparently knew Temple earlier since his sister was a classmate of Temple's. Despite the objections of Temple's mother the two became a couple and were married shortly after. Temple's producer David Selznick asked Agar if he wanted to act but he reportedly replied that one actor in the family was enough. Nevertheless, Selznick paid for acting lessons and signed Agar to a contract.
Agar's first film was the John Ford-directed Fort Apache (1948) also starring Temple. Agar and Temple also both appeared in Adventure in Baltimore (1949) and had a daughter in 1948 but were divorced the following year. Agar married again in 1951 which lasted until his wife's death in 2000. Agar worked in a string of Westerns and war films such as Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), Breakthrough (1950) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). Later when pressed for money he began making the films that would establish his reputation beyond the gossip columns: Revenge of the Creature (1955), The Brain from Planet Arous (1957), Invisible Invaders (1959) and the mind-boggling Zontar, the Thing from Venus (1966). The roles became progressively smaller so Agar sold insurance and real estate on the side. When he appeared in the 1988 film Miracle Mile his dialogue supposedly included obscenities which Agar had always refused to use. He showed the director a way to do the scene without that language and that's how it was filmed.
By Lang Thompson
DUDLEY MOORE, 1935-2002
Award-winning actor, comedian and musician Dudley Moore died on March 27th at the age of 66. Moore first gained notice in his native England for ground-breaking stage and TV comedy before later building a Hollywood career. Like many of his peers, he had an amiable, open appeal that was balanced against a sharply satiric edge. Moore could play the confused innocent as well as the crafty schemer and tended to command attention wherever he appeared. Among his four marriages were two actresses: Tuesday Weld and Suzy Kendall.
Moore was born April 19, 1935 in London. As a child, he had a club foot later corrected by years of surgery that often left him recuperating in the hospital alongside critically wounded soldiers. Moore attended Oxford where he earned a degree in musical composition and met future collaborators Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. The four formed the landmark comedy ensemble Beyond the Fringe. Though often merely labelled as a precursor to Monty Python's Flying Circus, Beyond the Fringe was instrumental in the marriage of the piercing, highly educated sense of humor cultivated by Oxbridge graduates to the modern mass media. In this case it was the revue stage and television where Beyond the Fringe first assaulted the astonished minds of Britons. Moore supplied the music and such songs as "The Sadder and Wiser Beaver," "Man Bites God" and "One Leg Too Few." (You can pick up a CD set with much of the stage show. Unfortunately for future historians the BBC commonly erased tapes at this period - why? - so many of the TV episodes are apparently gone forever.)
Moore's first feature film was the 1966 farce The Wrong Box (a Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation) but it was his collaboration with Peter Cook on Bedazzled (1967) that's endured. Unlike its tepid 2000 remake, the original Bedazzled is a wolverine-tough satire of mid-60s culture that hasn't aged a bit: viewers are still as likely to be appalled and entertained at the same time. Moore not only co-wrote the story with Cook but composed the score. Moore appeared in a few more films until starring in 10 (1979). Written and directed by Blake Edwards, this amiable comedy featured Moore (a last-minute replacement for George Segal) caught in a middle-aged crisis and proved popular with both audiences and critics. Moore's career took another turn when his role as a wealthy alcoholic who falls for the proverbial shop girl in Arthur (1981) snagged him an Oscar nomination as Best Actor and a Golden Globe win.
However Moore was never able to build on these successes. He starred in a passable remake of Preston Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours (1984), did another Blake Edwards romantic comedy of moderate interest called Micki + Maude (1984, also a Golden Globe winner for Moore), a misfired sequel to Arthur in 1988 and a few other little-seen films. The highlight of this period must certainly be the 1991 series Orchestra where Moore spars with the wonderfully crusty conductor Georg Solti and leads an orchestra of students in what's certainly some of the most delightful television ever made.
By Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - John Agar
In the scene at the drive-in, Bob and Sally see an earlier Bert I. Gordon film, Amazing Colossal Man, The (1957).
British release title "Six Inches Tall". Shooting title: "I Was A Teenage Doll".
The giant phone prop was supplied by the phone company.
This film was rushed into production by American International and Bert I. Gordon to ride the success of Universal-International's Incredible Shrinking Man, The (1957)
The working title of this film was The Fantastic Puppet People.