Remembering when the combination of box-shaped robots and glamour girls represented the cutting edge of modernism and style.
Robots, traditionally, have not been the sexist things in the world. Things are changing now, of course, thanks to advances in sex robot technology that is already causing fretting in the usual circles about when artificial intelligence reaches the point where issues of consent become a concern (notably, no one seems worried about robots consenting to work in factories or on the battlefield, but then sex for some people is uniquely dangerous and scary). And yes, there have always been sexy automatons, from Metropolis to Hajime Sorayama’s Sexy Robot illustrations, but these humanoid androids have tended to be the exception. For a long time, robots in sci-fi movies, comic books and pulp fiction novels have tended to be large hulking, boxy creations made for manual labour and assisting in Martian invasions of Earth.
Nevertheless, sex sells – or at least it used to before unholy alliances of purse-lipped moralisers and social justice campaigners pushed eroticism and sexploitation out of favour. For many years, science fiction movie producers liked to hedge their bets by including an attractive young woman in the cast and (more significantly) the publicity shots, while publishers knew that a robot terrorising a nubile space gal would attract more attention than a robot demolishing a building. More notably though, the fascination with mechanical men that emerged in the 1930s but reached a peak in the atomic age of the 1950s would see robots crowbarred into all manner of photoshoots and press stunts, posing alongside a young hotty to show that yes, it might look like a few cardboard boxes taped together and painted silver but underneath the metal exterior, the robot was just like you, always ready to get hot under the collar at the sight of a pretty face and a shapely leg. Even the scariest robot could be reduced to the status of comedy prop by having a scantily-clad or naked woman draped over it. Any alien invasion could essentially be ended by a handful of girls in bikinis causing their robot warriors to blow a fuse. This fascination with glamour girls and robots lasted well into the 1980s.
Robots made great props and brought a certain modernism to shoots – a modernism that of course immediately dated and now looks entirely of its time. They said that your film or your business was at the very cutting edge of the future, where these clunky machines would take over the need for back-breaking physical labour, ushering in an age of leisure and progress. Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Anyway – let’s not regret the death of the golden age of the robot (or, for that matter, the golden age of the glamour girl) and instead enjoy this collection of images from the time when square, cumbersome, barely-able-to-move metal men represented both a blindingly optimistic view of the future and acted as comedy stooges, visual props and, in some cases, sex slaves for their female owners.
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