ROBOT: Robby the Robot
QUOTE: “Sorry, Miss. I was giving myself an oil job.”
—Robby the Robot, explaining to his master’s daughter, Altaira, why he did not answer the bell when she called him.
Forbidden Planet became a cult classic for its pioneering special effects and a satisfying combination of 1950s cheesiness and sexual innuendo, not to mention a young (and serious) Leslie Nielsen. But the real star of the film is a hilariously smug robot named Robby. While his predecessors had all the personality of a toaster, Robby behaves like a deadpan Shakespearean clown (the film’s characters and theme found an unlikely inspiration in The Tempest). He is pompous yet clumsy, domineering yet still willing to get drunk with the crew. More advanced than humans could create, Robby was constructed by a man named Dr. Morbius who used plans from an alien computer system.
Robby is not just a charmer, he also has heart, following the same robot morality introduced by writer Isaac Asimov in his 1940s and 50s I, Robot stories. Because he is programmed to follow three basic tenets: obey human orders, protect his own existence and never injure humans, Robby faces a philosophical dilemma when he is ordered by a human (Dr. Morbius) to kill a human (Dr. Morbius) in order to save his own life.
To date, Robby is the first and only movie prop to receive “star billing” in a film, perhaps because he cost so much to make — a reported $125,000 in the 1950s, the equivalent of a gazillion dollars today. He later re-appeared in TV shows like The Twilight Zone and inspired countless robots after him, most notably Star Wars‘ C-3PO.
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