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Gordon, Bert I

Entry updated 8 May 2023. Tagged: Film, People.

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(1922-2023) US filmmaker who typically directed, produced, co-wrote, and did the special effects for his low-budget productions in collaboration with Flora May Gordon (1925-2016) during their marriage (1945-1979). After serving in World War Two and making some Television commercials, he began his film career with King Dinosaur (1955), a generally dire saga of the discovery of living Dinosaurs on another planet. This introduced his trademark technique: filming actors in front of rear-projected footage that made small creatures seem enormous, in this case ordinary lizards presented as dinosaurs. But his next Monster Movie, The Beginning of the End (1957), was significantly better, achieving a strange sort of conviction in its tale of giant grasshoppers invading Chicago despite the unpersuasive special effects, and this unheralded film may represent his best work. Along with other 1950s films along similar lines, like The Cyclops (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958; vt Six Inches Tall UK; vt The Fantastic Puppet People) and Earth vs the Spider (1958), Gordon then made his most famous film, The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), which endeavours to duplicate the sense of pathos evoked by the man growing very small in The Incredible Shrinking Man, in a manner both literally and figuratively clumsy, by presenting a man who is growing very large (see Great and Small). While far from effective, the film made enough money to prompt an inferior sequel, War of the Colossal Beast (1958; vt The Terror Strikes).

In the 1960s, Gordon made one more of his typical sf films – Village of the Giants (1965), an almost unwatchable reimagining of H G Wells's The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth (1904) as a teen comedy – but otherwise branched out in other genres: fantasy with The Boy and the Pirates (1960), Famous Ghost Stories (1961) and The Magic Sword (1962); horror with Tormented (1960), Picture Mommy Dead (1966), Necromancy (1972); and the Sex comedy How to Succeed with Sex (1970). But he returned to sf films in the mid-1970s with two more adaptations of Wells's stories, another version of Food of the Gods (1976) and Empire of the Ants (1977), purportedly based on "The Empire of the Ants" (December 1905 Strand). As if he had been stung by criticisms of his previous rear-projection, the enormous creatures in these films are genuine artifices that interact with the actors, but the films as a whole are really no better than his earlier works, despite the higher budgets and the presence of recognizable stars, and they lack the sporadic charm of his 1950s films.

Gordon's reputation is not perhaps as high as it should be because he was victimized by the growing perception that all older films lacking the polish of contemporary productions are suitable solely to be laughed at (Gordon was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 [1988-1999] more than any other filmmaker). Yet Gordon made clever use of very limited resources to make films of a sort that many people in the 1950s wished to see, and many other filmmakers were not then making; his labours were therefore welcomed by audiences of his time; and his better films can still be appreciated today by viewers who resolve to be entertained instead of condescendingly amused, and open their minds to their crude but genuine evocations of a Sense of Wonder. [GW]

Bertram Ira Gordon

born Kenosha, Wisconsin: 24 September 1922

died Los Angeles, California: 8 March 2023




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