(aka We Called Him Robert)
One occasionally runs into some very strange things while exploring Soviet film.
No, I’m not referring to the fact that the legendary mime, Marcel Marceau makes and appearance in the 1967 science fiction comedy. Western artists did, in fact, make appearances on the far side of the Iron Curtain at times (see, for example, the number of notable western artists, writers and even legendary cameo maker — and director — Werner Herzog, involved in making the East German/Russian Co-production Hard to Be a God [Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein] (1989) as the wall fell down all around them).
Instead, we need to look at something far more fundamental in His Name Was Robert: its Soviet genius scientist of the materialist persuasion invents a robot which rejects his materialist view of the universe.
And you have to admit that is very strange.
Mind you it takes place within a framework we’ve seen used for other robot comedies: the scientist has created a robot which looks just like him and he decides to try an experiment: he sends it out into public to see just how well it will fit in.
And, of course, he thinks it will prove better than any mere human being. After all, it is free from all of man’s emotional baggage.
His experiment gets off to a bad start, thanks to the robot’s failure to understand our world. He tries to be helpful by turning on the lights.
When they are turned down in a theater.
But things get worse because the scientist sent it to the theater with a co-worker’s girlfriend, and the robot is supposed to do everything she says — although he probably didn’t expect that she would tell it to jump in the river as a joke.
Far worse, though, is that the robot gets very attached to her, so attached that it ignores its creator’s orders and follows her to a ski resort.
Well, it has some excuse. After all it was supposed to follow her orders.
The only problem is that its literalism tends to cause problems. Plus, once the inventor arrives at the resort, things get even more complicated as he gets mistaken for the robot. To complicate things even further, members of the local Voluntary People’s Druzhina (a group of volunteer law enforcement officers, much like the British Home Guard) decide that the robot’s roommate at the hostel is a robot and start following him.
And it just doesn’t help at all that the scientist is also interested in the girl…
It’s an amusing little film, and I’ll admit it is a nice touch to see a robot that longs to be able to know what wet grass would feel like on his knees.
But it isn’t one of the best Soviet Science Fiction Films of the era. It looks…routine, and the scenes at the ski resort are probably more visually interesting than the scientist’s laboratory.
However, sharp-eyed viewers will note that his first robot looks…almost familiar. Ignore the silly head with the goofy metal grin: that has been added. Its body is that of “John” the massive robot from Planet of the Storms, which has to be one of the best designed robots of the Fifties. It’s a shame he had to lose his impressive head and got stuck with this tin can, but that’s the way it goes. After all, even Robbie the Robot didn’t get to keep his in many of his movie appearances.
Well, if you love Soviet film, you will probably have to watch this one. It is reasonably entertaining and has a lot of good moments.
And, yes, “John” makes an appearance.
But, if you really aren’t into Soviet film, and if perhaps you are just hoping to find an enjoyable Sixties Soviet Sci Fi film, you would probably do better with The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin (1965) which is funnier, better looking, better written and far more interesting…