“Can’t you see it’s over,
because you’re the God of a shrinking universe…”-Muse
We all answer to somebody. Employers, teachers, parents, spouses, media and the government are entities that we must answer to at times. Personal standards and accountability are very much the cornerstone of any normal, healthy thinking individual’s existence. But, just when you think you got everything figured out, THEY tell you what to do, how to do it, and what to think. One needs to turn off the noise of the surrounding world, run a personal self-inspection, and ward off the toxicity of negative beings.
Without a checks & balances in life, we really can’t gauge where we came from, where we are at, or where we are headed in our professional and personal endeavors. With that being said, constant pressure of demanding superiors can be a stressful, daunting task driving some souls deep into withdrawal, depression, and hopelessness. The act of micromanaging to control others, is somewhat similar to the old image of a puppet master yanking the strings of his subordinate puppet only to impose their dominating will while trying to seal the little man’s fate. Today’s feature, Attack of the Puppet People (1958), sees our grim Gepato, create a menagerie of dolls from shrunken people that traipse into his welcoming shop, keeping them under his watchful eye to fulfill his own selfish pleasures.
Welcome to Dolls Inc., a smalltime doll manufacturing operation headed by the warm, terribly lonely Mr. Franz (who resembles Albert Fish), John Hoyt of Cleopatra (1963). We wander with the camera on a tour through Franz’s “factory,” showcasing beautifully, realistic detailed dolls (Wax Museum anybody?), with his special collection under lock & key, stored in glass canisters (like the ones used at banks that are shot through the air chutes, I’ve always wanted to shrink so I could ride in one). What? Like you’ve never thought about it.
Enter Sally, June Kenney of Bloodlust! (1961), at Franz’s freaky factory looking to land a job as the elder’s new secretary. Sally’s first impression of Franz is dead on, finding him a bit eccentric, due to his unhealthy obsession with the dolls. Sally needs the greenbacks, so she reluctantly agrees to take the job, even after it is revealed his last secretary vanished without a trace. That kiddies, is what we like to call an indicator.
Shortly after Sally assumes her secretarial duties, she meets the stereotypical 50s “B” movie leading man, Bob, John Agar of Body Bags (1993). Bob is an out town salesman full of bravado, boasting, and BS, eyeing Sally as his next conquest. Within minutes, and I mean minutes, their love is serious enough that Bob wants Sally to quit her job, which seemed like she had it for only one day, so she become a stay at home wife to iron Bob’s boxers fulltime.
The following day, Sally ventures into Dolls Inc., to meet with since Bob, as he was supposed to break the news to Franz about her resignation. Sally is at a loss, when informed by her eerie employer, that Bob went back home on business and that she should forget him. Sally distraught over Bob’s disappearance and the possible demise of the plans they made together for the future, has a hunch that Franz is behind Bob going bye bye. Sally, like any good citizen would or should do, informs the law. The boys in blue listen to Sally’s cockamamie theory about kindly, old Franz shrinking her beau into a doll with a special machine in his shop (FYI, it does not look anything like the machine in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids). Yeah, the cops didn’t believe Sally’s story. Franz with the new found knowledge of Sally’s suspicions of his activities coupled with her wanting to quit, decides to keep her quiet, by shrinking her.
Bob and Sally are reunited again and joined by other doll victims that were shrunk by the lonely Franz, when they aren’t busy hanging out in a state of suspended animation when stored in their glass containers. Franz lets his dolls listen to music, dance, drink bubbly, and makes them role play like a boy messing with toys, HIS toys, which only he can control so nobody can leave him again. Alex, I’ll take Abandonment Issues for $500. You see, Franz shrinks those he likes and cares for. Franz is in need of serious meds, professional help, and some rest.
In the midst of Franz’s playtime, a longtime friend Emil, Michael Mark of Frankenstein (1931), drops by for an unexpected visit. Franz, visibly anxious with the break in play, humors Emil by catching up like two Nazi war criminals out on Americanization release program discussing the world of dolls and marionettes (you can see the distaste for the latter by Franz). This is an important detail to dissect, as Emil is a puppet master of marionettes bringing joy to an audience, whereas Franz does not need strings to control his subjects and the enjoyment is only for his gratification to fill the void where his heart once beat for his wife.
As time goes on, Franz begins to slip up due to exhaustion, preoccupation with his creations, leading the cops to investigate the possible whereabouts of all the missing persons’ cases piling up at the precinct. One thing leads to another, and our miniature heroes begin to take action in hope of escaping Franz’s sick world and return back to normal size. Will the cops save the day? Will Franz spill the beans on his nefarious activities? Give Attack of the Puppet People a view to find out and see the BIG finale that will surely satisfy, while also leaving one huge question unanswered. They cover a lot of ground in a flick of 79 minutes, but they do avoid the responsibility to the viewer as they fail to tie up all loose ends for the supporting cast. Meh, I’m over it.
Attack of the Puppet People was directed by Bert I. Gordon of Empire of the Ants (1977), with a screenplay by Gordon and George Worthing Yates of Them! (1954). Gordon, always an astute business man with his exploitive “B” flicks (even showing his feature, The Amazing Colossal Man at the drive-in on Sally & Bob’s date), cashed in on the popularity of Richard “I Am Legend” Matheson’s story and screen adaptation of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). Puppet People is a superbly shot film with solid acting though some of the lines are gooey with cheese, the special visual effects are effective for the budget and very reminiscent of the miniature effects used in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Minus the conclusion which leads one to ask more questions than they did at the beginning, Puppet People is a lot like life in that it is not perfect, but it’s fun anyway.
Over the years Puppet People has gained cult fan base due to late night viewing, and rumored various times that it was watched by a lookout the night of the infamous Watergate break-in. Right there is enough validation to view it, as this film was the sole reason for distracting a criminal which in part revealed one of the biggest scandals in American history. That fact alone is why you never see it played on TV anymore. Your best bet to watch it is on YouTube, RiffTrax has a lampooned version, or track down a good DVD copy as part of MGM’s famous “Midnite Movies” collection. If you are fan of 50s sci-fi, “B” movies, or a history enthusiast of Watergate trivia and you haven’t taken a gander at yet, stop playing with your “Tricky Dick” bobble head, and give Attack of the Puppet People a chance.
Even though we all must answer to someone every now and again, keep your dignity intact and don’t let a puppet master determine your fate in life. Your life is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, which you can write and edit your tale as you see fit. Only you can determine if you are going to take charge and not be led astray by the powers that be. Remember what Pinocchio once shared with us, “I’ve got no strings to hold me down, to make me fret or make me frown”…
Check out Attack of the Puppet People
- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
- Twitter Rick Baldwin @RickBaldwin79 and firstname.lastname@example.org