“What is A Man?”

By Dr. Abner Mality


“He will learn how to laugh, how to cry, be afraid, how to hate. To become an R-96 is a real sacrifice.” --Ultima Thule

The creation of artificial life has been an obsession of mankind since the days when humans first gained consciousness. In the dim past, magic was one way of bringing an artificial man to life...for example, look at how Rabbi Judah Ben Lowe brought the Golem, the Man of Clay, to a semblance of humanity. Mechanical men, also known as robots, androids, and automatons, have been a fixation of scientists for centuries. In the 21st century, we seem to be getting pretty close to the dream of creating an artificial lifeform.

Along with the nuts and bolts aspect of bringing such constructions to life come huge philosophical questions. What exactly is life? Are robots mere things...or do they have free will? Do they even have a soul? Could they be superior to their creators?

Dr. Raven and Ultima Thule

Lots of films have dealt with the subject, from the metal temptress of the silent classic “Metropolis” to the human-seeming replicants of “Blade Runner” and beyond. Well, in Dr. Mality’s considered opinion, no movie has ever dealt with questions of artificial life more effectively or intelligently than an obscure low-budget effort from 1962 known as “Creation of the Humanoids”.

The movie for years was notorious as being Andy Warhol’s favorite film. Whether Andy was trying to be “ironic” with this or his love for the movie was sincere is unknown, but his devotion to it helped keep it afloat in the public consciousness. But it’s not really fair to “Creation of the Humanoids” to think of it solely as “Andy’s favorite”. It deserves respect and admiration for its own merits.

It is one of the purest science fiction films ever made. 99% of all sci=fi films get watered down by studio execs and bean counters, their more daring and imaginative aspects pruned away for being “too cerebral”. Very few make it through the development gauntlet unscathed...Kubrick’s “2001” and “A Clockwork Orange” come to mind. So do the films of Tarkovsky. Is “Creation of the Humanoids” on the same level as those movies? In terms of budget, cinematography and appearance, no. But in terms of fidelity to its vision, yes, it is.

The entire film is one large musing on what makes a human being “human”. It is almost a philosophical debate in the form of a low budget science fiction movie. The film is frequently criticized as being “too talky”. And this is certainly true. There is almost no physical action outside of one intense fight scene. It is in fact a movie of talk. But the talk is fascinating talk and completely unlike any other SF movie of the early 60’s.

Most films of that period were obsessed with man’s conquest of space or fear of atomic war. Nuclear war plays a strong part in “Creation...”, but it’s just the springboard to other issues. Most films of the period like “On the Beach” and “The World, The Flesh and The Devil” are concerned with the immediacy of nuclear destruction. “Creation...” deals with the long-term effect of atomic war on humanity, such as mass infertility and society’s reaction of that issue.

The movie was directed by Wesley Barry, who was a popular child actor in films of the 20’s and 30’s before becoming an assistant director on films of many genres. “Creation of the Humanoids” was a complete oddity for him, as most of the films that he was lead director for were low budget westerns. In “Creation...”, he has some very creative moments with an almost negligible budget. Although the film is static due to the large amount of dialogue, there is an artistic flair to several scenes, such as those in Dr. Raven’s lab and in the chambers of the Order of Flesh and Blood.

The screenplay was by Jay Simms, adapted from a work by the prolific science fiction writer Jack Williamson, whose career spanned 70 years. Simms would be best known to sci-fi fans for writing the scripts for beloved B-movies such as “The Giant Gila Monster” and “The Killer Shrews”. While those films dealt with the usual subjects of giant monsters and deadly mutations, “Creation of the Humanoids” was a much more thoughtful and detailed work, creating a unique post-holocaust society with plenty of nuance. Simms later wrote for many TV series ranging from “Gunsmoke” to “The Rat Patrol”.

“Creation of the Humanoids” is often described as being a filmed stage play. It certainly could work as a theater piece with just a few modifications. The action, such as it is, is confined to a few locations...the Robot’s Temple, Raven’s lab, Esme’s apartment, the Order’s headquarters. The minimalist scenery and moody lighting could also work for a play. The trio of robot leaders who comment on developments works almost like a Greek chorus, delivering exposition and filling in details. But it is unfair to just call the movie a filmed play...unfair to Barry’s direction and sometimes clever camera work.

I’m now going to dive deep into the plot of the movie itself. But the ultimate denouement, with its multiple surprises, I will leave for you to discover and ponder yourselves…

Like many films of the atomic era, “Creation of the Humanoids” opens with stock footage of nuclear bombs going off. But the first words of the narrator mark this immediately as something very different from most films of the day: “Nobody remembers who started it. Or why it started. But that doesn’t matter now.” So already the nuclear war is not turned into the usual “us vs. them” angle. The war happened. And the results were so terrible that blame seems entirely unimportant.

How terrible was the war? Narration informs us that 92% of the human race was killed in the immediate aftermath. And among those who survived, fertility was drastically reduced to 1.4 offspring produced per union. This results in a shrinking human race that is staring its own end in the face. But apparently the survivors maintained the ability to manufacture high technology. To help with everyday labor, robots are mass produced.

The early robots are very clunky, as a visual montage graphically shows. These early vaguely humanoid robots look pretty ridiculous...the sharp viewer will recognize the earliest model as one of the alien space suits from “Earth vs. The Flying Saucers”. Human beings psychologically had a very hard time working alongside these obvious automatons so work began on creating more human-looking robots. A scientist named Hollister Evans had a great breakthrough resulting in true humanoids. But these humanoid robots are themselves eerie looking creations, with no hair, greenish skin and huge golden eyes.

This is a good place to mention that makeup for the humanoids was the last work of the great makeup artist Jack Pierce...the same man who created Karloff’s Frankenstein and Chaney’s Wolfman, amongst many others. Pierce became something of an embittered maverick in his later years, but his work was outstanding right up to the end. The humanoids are entirely successful and believable, especially when coupled with deliberately “stiff” acting from the actors chosen to play them.

The reaction of humanity to these advanced robots differs wildly. Some accept them completely, almost treating them like true humans. But others hate and fear them. The humanoids are insultingly called “Clickers” by these anti-robot bigots.

Our story really begins when two of these Clickers are stopped and questioned by two members of The Order of Flesh and Blood, an anti-robot organization that is gaining power. The main “Flesh and Blooder” is a hulking man named Cragis, or rather “The Cragis”, as he is the head of his family. Played by Don Megowan, Cragis is the central character of our story. This early scene of the humanoids being grilled about “having papers” and “assignment cards” is certainly poignant considering the movie was released at the dawn of the civil rights era. It doesn’t take a genius to see the Order of Flesh and Blood is not too far from the Ku Klux Klan. Or maybe Oathkeepers or other extremist “patriots” in our own 21st century time. The robots are definitely treated as second-class citizens, if not completely without rights.

The robots are finally free to go to their destination, which is the “Recharging Temple” where humans are off-limits. We already see that the humanoids have something like their own religion. We are introduced to a council of three humanoids who are obviously in charge of a conspiracy involving Clickers. One of the two humanoids stopped by Cragis earlier is going to be transformed into a robot almost indistinguishable from a human being. This is a grave crime in this future world. Robots follow numerical designations, with an R-70 being the most advanced robot allowed by law. After the transformation, this test robot will become an R-96. R-100 is an actual human being.

The Clicker Ultima Thule delivers the test robot to the laboratory of the eccentric human genius Dr. Raven, who is helping the humanoids with their secret conspiracy. Raven is a cantankerous old fellow who grumbles and argues with Thule, providing some of the best and sharpest dialogue in the movie. As played by Don Doolittle, Raven is a delight to watch. He has already turned the test subject into an R-96, which looks completely human. The robot is designed to look like a spaceman named Kelly, who died in a drunken brawl just hours earlier. The robots have already “processed” Kelly’s body.

The only thing left is for Raven to perform a “thalamic operation”, which will give the test humanoid the memories and personality of Kelly. The robot will then believe itself to be Kelly, except for brief periods when a signal will revive its knowledge of being artificial. It will then be interviewed by the robot council, giving valuable information on human plans and attitudes. The operation is very tricky and results have been varied. Since Kelly was drunk and in a fight when he died, his mental state may be compromised.

A thunderous knock on the door and a voice announcing that the Order of Flesh and Blood has arrived throws the conspirators into a panic. Their work must not be compromised. Dr. Raven demands that Ultima Thule kill him...if he is interrogated by the Order, they will use mindscans to find out the truth. Thule answers that it is impossible for him to kill...”it’s the first law of The Manual”...but the Kelly humanoid might be able to do it. He is “activated” and attacks Raven immediately, believing him to be the enemy he was fighting at the time of his “death”.


The next scene takes place at the headquarters of the Order. One notices right away it almost seems to be a church-like structure, complete with a stained glass window. We also notice the membership seems to be exclusively male. Hart, the leader, announces “that which we most feared has come to pass...a Clicker has learned how to kill”. Cragis presents the Kelly humanoid to the has now been “deactivated” and is in a passive state. Cragis tells the story behind the raid at Dr. Raven’s, including Raven’s own death at “Kelly’s” hands. He also announces that the humanoids have advanced to a level far beyond the permitted R-70 level. They are now just a few points shy of being a “true human”. He also announces that Ultima Thule has been “deactivated and processed”. These revelations cause great consternation to the Order, who believe the robots are now ready to move against the human race. But Cragis says the revelations have come just in time...much of the conspiracy is now in the open.

After the meeting has broken up, Hart takes Cragis to the side to tell him some unwelcome news. It’s been discovered that Cragis’ own sister, Esme, is “in rapport” with a Clicker, i.e. she is having a relationship with one. Cragis is outraged and sets out in the middle of the night to confront his sister.

“Get out of my way, you stinking Clicker,” Cragis growls to Pax, the humanoid his sister is involved with when he arrives at Esme’s apartment. It’s pretty easy for a savvy viewer to substitute any racist insult for “clicker” to see a lot of what the film-makers were aiming for. Esme is a rather haughty and very self-assured woman, who immediately accuses Cragis of being overly dramatic. Pax is easy going and doesn’t react to Cragis’ prejudices.

A rather long and very involved debate plays out between brother and sister. We learn something of the Cragis family history. It seems their father was a very conservative and anti-robot fellow. “He’d be proud of you, Cragis,” sneers Esme. “If he was still here, you could go around rattling swords with him.” Esme’s first human husband is also revealed as a “drunken, insensitive beast”. “Pax is more of a man that he was...or you’ll ever be,” says Esme. An interesting tidbit in the dialogue reveals that marriage in this post-atomic world is done through contract that can be annulled by either party. In fact, multiple marriages are encouraged because of the low human birth rate.

Cragis also reveals something of his own fears. He doesn’t really hate the humanoids, but he hates the fact that they seem to be doing everything for mankind. They are turning men into coddled pets who can’t control their own destiny. This is actually a very good point and really makes you think more about the Order’s concerns. Are the robots “helping” men to death? You can look at our own addiction to computers and machines in our own world and see some validity to the argument. Keep in mind, this movie was made in 1962!

The discussion is interrupted by a visitor, Esme’s friend Maxine. An extremely attractive girl, Maxine is a low level employee at Telefax, which seems to be a state run news and information network. Like Esme, Maxine has no problem with the Clickers but she is immediately attracted to Cragis, who returns the interest. The two decide to leave the apartment together.

Once they’re gone, Pax begins to laugh uproariously...a strange sight. “Oh, the irony!” he chortles. We are mystified by his amusement...for now.

In a public space, Cragis and Maxine get to know each other better, revealing more of their family histories and discovering things in common. They are ominously interrupted by two Clickers, who demand that the pair accompany them to the Recharging Temple. Oddly, the two meekly obey…

They are taken before the Robot Council overseeing the great conspiracy. It is here that the most stunning secrets of the humanoids are revealed...and of humanity, as well. But it’s better that you watch the film yourself to find out exactly what is going on in this strange futuristic society. Are the robots out to help humanity...or destroy it?

The real question posed throughout “Creation of the Humanoids” is: what makes a human being human? As Dr. Raven states during the film, the physical body is just a vehicle used to transport the person from place to place. “The human brain is merely the vault in which the man is stored,” he muses. This is a philosophical riddle which man has been trying to solve since the dawn of consciousness.

If a man’s mind, memories and attitudes are placed in a robot body, does that man still exist? Or is he just a copy of himself? A shadow of himself? Or something superior to flesh and blood?

That’s the central question of the movie, but there’s more to it than that. When machines do all the work for men, when they even think for him, have they reduced men to useless puppets? This is a question we are beginning to ask ourselves in this digital age. Also, questions of fertility, propaganda and destiny are addressed during the film.

Many consider “Creation of the Humanoids” a “pompous” and “self-important” film. And so it is. Does that mean the issues it considers are rendered moot? I don’t think so. In our age, people look at only the surface of a movie...its sets, effects and costumes...and evaluate it. Beneath all that is something deeper in “Creation of the Humanoids”. Look beneath the shell to find the soul of the matter. Dr. Raven would approve.

“The operation was obviously a success...or you wouldn’t be here.”--Dr. Raven