July 19

Max Fleisher (b. 1883)


Most people remember Max Fleisher for his Popeye the Sailor cartoons, but Alvin Clifford’s favorite from the Fleisher animation studios was “The Mechanical Monsters” — a 10 minute Superman short about  bank robbing robots.  While the scientist mastermind operated levers on a huge control panel, miles away robots stuffed dollar bills, coins, and diamonds into drawers that opened from their hollow bodies.

Superman found the scientist’s hidden lab, of course, and battled more than two dozen robots before arresting the scientist and returning the stolen goods.

When he was a kid, the robbery scenes captured Alvin’s attention better than the climactic superhero intervention.  Giant robots moved in perfect unison, marching toward a bank or jewelry story.  Police guards aimed their pistols and fired, but bullets would bounce harmlessly off the metal bodies.  Claw hands smashed through display windows, tore hinges off bank vaults, scooped up loot then transformed themselves into airplanes for an easy getaway.

Such amazing mechanical power.  Alvin dreamed of someday building his own robot army:  an unstoppable force, eager to do his bidding.  Instead, he ended up working as a bank clerk.  He thought maybe a robbery might relieve the tedium of his daily routine, but the robbers, human or otherwise, never bothered to materialize.

A new bit of automation entered his work world, though, when his bank was re-designed to eliminate direct contact between tellers and customers.  Conversations occurred via computer monitors; money and receipts were exchanged through sealed capsules, propelled through pneumatic tubes.  The “improvements” were more like a step backwards, and they made his job even more tedious.

But the impersonal layout actually helped protect Alvin when the robots finally came…


[…continued tomorrow…]