Entry updated 24 July 2023. Tagged: Film.
Russian film (1935; vt Gibel Sensatsii; vt Loss of Sensation; vt Jim Ripple's Robot; vt Jim Ripl's Robot). Mezhrabpomfilm. Based on Idut Robotari ["The Robotariat Is Coming" or "Robots Are Coming"] (1931) by Volodymyr Vladko (see below and Ukraine). Cast includes Vladimir Gardin, Pavel Poltoratskiy, Vergiliy Renin, Nikolay Rybnikov, Sergei Vecheslov and Mariya Volgina. 86 minutes. Black and white.
In an unnamed English-speaking country whose currency is the dollar, engineers Hamilton Grimm (Renin) and Jim Ripple (Vecheslovare) (spelt in the film as "Ripl") are working on means to increase industrial production (see Invention; Technology); but the workers find it difficult to keep up with the new Machinery, some collapsing or being driven insane. Later Jim mulls over the situation at a night club. Working-class himself, he is concerned by the strain the capitalist system is imposing on the proletariat; whilst he does so a woman selling "automatic dolls" passes (what makes them "automatic" is unclear) and he buys one. Returning home he tells his sister Claire (Volgina) that capitalism must be destroyed, and that he believes he can create a non-violent revolution to do this. Some time later at a family gathering he introduces Micron, a child-sized Robot: it can be controlled by sound or radio and is able to perform complicated tasks; we see it operating a sewing machine. Jim explains these can replace workers in factories (see Automation), their efficiency causing prices to plummet, leading to the collapse of Capitalism (see Economics). His announcement is not met with the acclaim he expects: his brother Jack (Gardin) points out these machines will become the tools of the capitalists and the workers will be unemployed: the robot is vandalized and Jim leaves in disgrace.
He is now offered a job to develop his robots by Hamilton's father, Percy Grimm (Poltoratskiy), a government minister (see Politics). Later Hamilton speaks to representatives of industry and the military, explaining Jim's robots will be the solution to the "proletariat problem" as they will not pose a revolutionary threat (this is a time of much unrest). Jim now joins them, bringing a four-metre robot into the room: he whimsically uses a saxophone to control it and runs it through various exercises to show its "exactness, strength and quick reaction". The guests are impressed, since they believe war is coming and realize the robots have military potential: a secret factory is set up to mass produce them, using only officers and black workers, whom they wrongly think will not be interested in what is going on (see Race in SF). Jim, growing concerned over developments – particularly that he might be a traitor to the workers – gets drunk and, using the saxophone, has the robots dance.
A general strike is called, which the black workers join. The Government brings in robots to run the factory that employs his brother. Jim sends out a robot, speaking through it to the strikers picketing the factory, insisting they can all work together and build a better world – but then one of the strikers is accidentally injured by the robot. When Jim rushes out to apologize the crowd throw stones, knocking him senseless, and the troops protecting the factory open fire, killing five. The strikers barricade the streets and a general (Rybnikov) orders Hamilton to take radio control of the robots and march them into the workers' village: on arriving they begin tearing down the houses. Regaining consciousness, Jim races to the village and attempts to use his saxophone to stop them, but is trampled to death. However, engineers among the strikers have been studying Micron and have built their own radio controls – and they prove more adept than Hamilton, who is dragged from his tank and crushed. When the general sees the robots returning from the village he is overjoyed, until an aide explains what is happening: he calls for his car. The military and politicians are cornered and probably killed.
The robots might be considered early Mecha, of the remote-controlled rather than piloted variety. Jim's failure seems to argue there can be no peaceful proletarian revolution, only a violent one will succeed: which we is what we see – the workers and robots defeating the army. The unsubtle propaganda does hinder enjoyment of the film – however, the concern that advances in Technology will be used to take people's jobs is still relevant today. Though patchy, there are nonetheless many rewarding scenes – particularly those with the robots: they look ponderous, but alongside humans at the factory their large size gives them a looming, ominous appearance. Contrasting with the film's clunky propaganda are scenes like those at the nightclub, which show the influence of German expressionism, and – adding a surreal touch – the drunken Jim making the robots dance.
The robots have "RUR" on their chests, standing for Ripple's Universal Robots, a nod to Karel Čapek's R.U.R.: Rossum's Universal Robots: Kolektivni Drama (1920). Though some sources suggest the film is based on this work, the plots are very dissimilar – though it is clearly an influence, directly and/or via Volodymyr Vladko's short novel. Vladko's tale won a Ukrainian literary prize in 1929 under the title Idut robotari ["Robots Are Coming"]. An expanded version was published in 1936, then as the novel Zalizny Bunt ["The Iron Riot"] in 1967. Vladko's work differs from the film by focusing on a journalist and the factory owner who is building the robots, whilst the Jim Ripple storyline is either absent or only a minor detail. [SP]
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