WWII Vet Bert I. Gordon Was the King of Low-Budget Sci-Fi Movies

Attack of the Puppet People
"Attack of the Puppet People." (American International Pictures)

Army Air Forces veteran Bert I. Gordon wrote and directed dozens of science fiction movies on a shoestring budget, many of them featuring once-famous movie stars in the waning days of their careers. The World War II veteran died at age 100 in Los Angeles on March 8, 2023.

Gordon earned the nickname Mr. B.I.G., partially because of his initials but mostly because he liked to use camera effects to put giant creatures in his movies. His signature techniques were less than convincing, but he managed to get the job done and deliver movies that made money for his distributors. And, in America, that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Gordon managed to convince an impressive list of actors to appear in his movies, although none of them was commanding top dollar by the time he hired them. What other director could claim to have worked with Orson Welles, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Basil Rathbone, Joan Collins, WWII Navy vet Ralph Meeker, Marjoe Gortner, Ida Lupino, Don Ameche, Lon Chaney Jr., WWII Army Air Forces veteran Peter Graves, Vince Edwards and WWII Army veteran Chuck Connors over the course of his career? He even managed to wrangle Beau Bridges and Ron Howard when they were both child actors.

Gordon holds a record that he didn't necessarily want: More of his movies have been mocked on the cult comedy show "Mystery Science Theater 3000" than those of any other director. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gordon didn't enjoy the dubious honor. "I watched it one time, and I didn't like them making fun," he said. "I take my films very seriously."

The man was nothing if not sincere about his work. Gordon shot his movies in a couple of weeks with total budgets that wouldn't cover the catering bill on most Hollywood blockbusters. During the 1950s at the height of the Cold War, his movies often featured monsters that were created by radiation exposure. Gordon made his final film, "Secrets of a Psychopath," at age 93 in 2015 with former MTV VJ Kari Wuhrer in the lead role.

Here are five memorable Bert I. Gordon films:

King Dinosaur (1955)

Take four actors, some primitive camera effects and $15,000. Mix vigorously and throw in some modern iguanas to stand in for the "dinosaur" in your movie's title. In "King Dinosaur," scientists travel to a new planet that has entered our solar system and discover giant insects and a dinosaur. Somehow, he found a distributor and launched a career that would be filled with giant creatures.

The Cyclops (1957)

Scientists searching for a missing test pilot encounter a 25-foot-tall, one-eyed man who has mutated due to radiation exposure. Lon Chaney Jr., more than a decade removed from his success in Universal Pictures horror movies like "The Wolf Man," shows up for a day or so of work so he can get killed by the monster.

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

If a director can use camera tricks to make animals seem enormous, why not reverse the effect to make humans seem small? Gordon came up with a story in which a toy factory owner (John Hoyt) owns a collection of surprisingly realistic human dolls. Except they're not dolls ... they're shrunken humans! Chaos ensues when he shrinks the wrong girl.

Necromancy (1972)

Orson Welles stars in this horror movie that promises to bring "life to the dead and death to the living." Welles was desperate for cash to fund his own movie, so he agreed to take the lead role in this quickie. Gordon had been warned that the portly actor and director would be difficult to work with, but Gordon insisted that Welles had been a dream on set once provided with a personal chef, a patio dressing room and a refrigerator full of Chicago ribs.

The Food of the Gods (1976)

Ida Lupino, who had herself directed the classic film noir "The Hitch-Hiker" (1953), made her next-to-last screen appearance in this movie very loosely based on a collection of H.G. Wells short stories. The movie's highlight comes when star Marjoe Gortner is forced to fight a flock of giant chickens.

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