If you're of a certain vintage, odds are you first got
to know Tor via the ads for Don Post masks that appeared
in the back pages of Famous Monsters magazine. As
a kid, I knew the classic monsters, but what the heck was
a Lobo? It was my father who recognized Tor Johnson's likeness
as that of the Super Swedish Angel, a pro wrestler who'd
appeared sporadically in films since 1934, often billed
as, "Strong Man," "Weightlifter," "Wrestler," even "Torturer."
Baby boomers have made the rotund ex-"rassler" something
of a cult-film icon based largely on his desperate collaborations
with Ed Wood. But Tor had been in the business for over
two decades prior to his Wood work.
10. Ghost Catchers
I'm willing to bet that the majority of our readers do not
recall the comedy team Olsen and Johnson. (C'mon, Hellzapoppin?)
Their partnership was a long one but their movie success
was spotty. While their peculiar brand of vaudeville does
not date well, any film that features Olsen, Johnson, Lon
Chaney, Leo Carrillo, Kirby Grant, Andy Devine, Martha O'Driscoll,
Ella Mae Morse, Mel Torme, Morton Downey, future schlock-filmmaker,
Jerry Warren AND Tor Johnson is B Monster material!
9. Alias The Champ
This obscure, 1949 detective potboiler revolves around the
world of pro wrestling, which was poised at the time to
take the nascent television industry by storm. Tor actually
gets to play the Super Swedish Angel alongside the one and
only Gorgeous George as -- the one and only Gorgeous George,
the man who made outrageous glitz and cock-of-the-walk strutting
hallmarks of the sport.
8. Behind Locked Doors
This early directing effort from the recently deceased Budd
Boetticher (billed as Oscar at this stage in his career)
is by turns goofy and effectively atmospheric. B-movie mainstay
Richard Carslon takes up residence in an insane asylum in
hopes of ferreting out a judge on the lam. Tor plays "The
Champ," a hulking (needless to say) mute (probably needless
to say) ex-wrestler. This film has been known alternately
as Human Gorilla, perhaps a distributor's attempt
to capitalize on Tor's imposing screen presence.
7. Abbott & Costello in the Foreign Legion
The title says it all. The boys (and isn't it charitable
how, like The Three Stooges, they were referred to as "boys"
even as they were qualifying for senior discounts?) find
themselves in Algeria while searching for a pro wrestler
they hope to promote. Before long, they're hijacked into
desert duty and the sandy shenanigans commence. Tor is on
hand as the hulking (that word again) Abou Ben.
6. Plan 9 From Outer Space/Night of the Ghouls
There'll be no Ed Wood bashing here. If you're looking for
yet another diatribe castigating the eccentric filmmaker,
maybe Harry Medved has a page you'll like. Plan 9 From
Outer Space is not a very good movie. (Duh!) But if
you think it's the worst movie ever made, then you need
to see a LOT more movies. It does, however, mark one of
the few times Tor gets to talk in a film. Let's just say
that as a seasoned police inspector, convincing he ain't.
In the sad, cheap, untenably talky Night of the Ghouls,
kind of a sort of a sequel to Plan 9, characters,
including Paul Marco's Kelton, make vague references to
events that occurred in Plan 9, but Tor reprises
his Lobo role from Bride of the Monster. It's as
though Wood wasn't really sure which film he was following
5. The Beast of Yucca Flats
Fascinating in that "car accident" sorta way, but sad simultaneously.
Tor was so obese at this point in his life, a team of stagehands
tugging ropes were required to hoist him up and down sand
dunes. The non sequitur packed voice-over narration plays
like a ransom note, as though someone snipped a sentence
here, a word there, threw them all up in the air and then
pasted them onto the page: "A man runs. Someone shoots at
4. The Lemon Drop Kid
Certainly the best movie Tor was ever in. Based on a Damon
Runyon story, Bob Hope stars as a racetrack hustler in debt
up to his soon-to-be-broken kneecaps. The winning cast includes
Marilyn Maxwell, Lloyd Nolan, William Frawley and among
Hope's entourage, Tor as -- who else? -- The Super Swedish
Angel. It's genuinely touching to see the big lug dressed
up as Santa. The film introduced the classic X-mas ditty
Silver Bells. It's curious that television doesn't run
it more often during the holidays. (Tor as Santa? How ridiculous!
That would be like casting Whoopi Goldberg as ... Hey, wait
a minute ... )
3. The Unearthly
From the sublime to -- the opposite of sublime. You don't
need the Maltin guide to tell you this one's a stinker,
and I'll be darned if I know why I enjoy it so much. It
could be Allison Hayes, Sally Todd or that six-foot-four-inch
sugar-cured ham, John Carradine. In spite of the crappy
trappings, Carradine plugs along, chomping away at the scenery
as though it were his last meal. Tor plays Lobo, who this
time is not-quite-mute. In fact, the film's best line is
his: "Time for go to bed!"
2. Bride of the Monster
Probably the best film made by cult-movie whipping boy Ed
Wood. It's cheap, it's bad and it is great fun, due mostly
to Bela's bravado. Surely Lugosi was aware of the depths
to which his career had sunk, but notwithstanding, his heart
and soul is on the screen for all to see. He gives Wood's
fractured, childlike dialogue a resonance and pathos it
most certainly does not deserve. This is Tor's initial appearance
as Lobo, the mute, lumbering and supposedly love-struck
lab assistant who turns on his master.
1. The Black Sleep
Certainly the best HORROR movie Tor ever appeared in --
and no, he does NOT play Lobo. His name is Curry, one of
Dr. Basil Rathbone's ill-fated guinea pigs. In fact, the
crazed medico has created a basement full of failed experiments
in his attempts to perfect a brain operation that could
revive his comatose spouse. This Aubrey Schenck, Howard
Koch shocker was directed by B-movie vet Reginald LeBorg.
It's atmospheric, fitfully scary, sometimes shocking and
boasts a terrific cast, including Akim Tamiroff, Herbert
Rudley, Lon Chaney and Lugosi. This time around, Chaney,
Lugosi and Tor are ALL mute. Fortunately for viewers who
are uncomfortable with awkward silences, John Carradine
is on hand as a deranged, bellowing, religious zealot.