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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Amazing Colossal Man

Bert I. Gordon produced (wrote and directed) quite a few "big" monster movies in the 50s, but The Amazing Colossal Man (ACM) is probably his most famous. To make the central character into a giant, Gordon re-uses many of the low-budget techniques from his earlier giant-thing films. By mid-50s standards, his effects were mediocre. The story does not hinge on the effects, fortunately. Gordon's ACM is, in many ways, the story of The Incredible Shrinking Man in reverse. Like the shrinking man, the colossal man manages to evoke sympathy rather than horror. Gordon first toyed with a giant man story in The Cyclops earlier in 1957. This second giant-man story has much more depth. The third giant-man film, War of the Colossal Beast is supposedly a sequel. It will be reviewed later.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Troops are in trenches near a Nevada test site for the first test of a new plutonium bomb. The bomb fails to explode as expected. A small airplane with engine trouble crash lands in the area. Colonel Glenn Manning rushes out to try to save any survivors before the bomb does go off, but it detonates as he runs to the plane. He survives, but is burned over 95% of his body. Doctors don't expect him to live. Miraculously, the next day his skin is 100% healed. His body is also growing. Despite a veil of army and bureaucratic secrecy, Manning's fiance, finds him, as an 18' giant. Manning is tormented in his dreams and cannot accept his bizarre fate. They keep Carol on hand as a calming influence. While he grows 10 feet taller each day, doctors are at a loss for how to help. Manning's heart is not growing as quickly, so soon his mind will suffer. A few days later and he'll die. Doctors think they have a cure, but Manning runs away into the desert. They find him near Las Vegas. He's not lucid, but a lumbering simpleton. The police fire at him. He tears up some casino landmarks. The army doctor gives him the injection via a 6 foot long hypodermic. In anger, Manning kills the doctor, grabs up Carol and plods onto Boulder Dam. When he puts Carol down, the army blasts him. He falls into the frothy outwash below. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
It is interesting to see the story of The Incredible Shrinking Man told in reverse. There are a few thoughtful moments which try to pull this low-budget B movie into a more meaningful plane.

Cold War Angle
The dangers of nuclear bombs and nuclear testing were intertwined with war angst. Like the giant ants in Them! and Godzilla, Manning becomes a sort of poster child for things in this new atomic age going horribly wrong.

Asking the BIG Question -- Like many people throughout time, Manning asks "What sin can a man commit, in a single lifetime, to bring this upon himself?" As the engaged, heroic young man, Manning typifies what the world would call a "good" man. Yet, he suffers a terrible fate. The movie does not attempt to answer his question.

Bald Kong -- Once he's a giant, Manning recreates scenes made famous in King Kong. He peeks through a window at a woman. He smashes some local landmarks. He ventures atop a famous landmark clutching the blonde beauty. He puts her down and is shot by the military. He falls to his death (or so we assume). Also like Kong, the viewer feels some sympathy for him -- a misunderstood giant, torn from his originally happy life, stranded among small-minded people, smitten with blondes.

Radiation Supreme -- In the 50s, popular imagination had not settled on just what radiation might do. It was still too much of an unknown. Radiation might mutate someone into shrinking. On the other hand, it might mutate someone into growing! Radiation might cause immortality, or premature aging. It might yield super strength or invisibility. No one knew. It is this anxious wonder that runs through many 50s sci-fi films.

Fun With Needles -- Once the doctors have what they think is a cure for the giantism Manning suffers, they had to create a giant hypodermic needle to deliver it. Notice that the prop department simply enlarged a regular hypo. It has huge finger loops and is marked with huge numbers. Like the normal-sized doctors needed those things? Once they inject Manning, he pulls out the painful needle, throws it like a dart, and impales Major Coulter. Not your typical movie moment.

Viva Las Vegas -- Looking rather like blatant product-placement, the giant tours and interacts with several famous Las Vegas casinos. He ponders the big plastic sultan of The Dunes' sign -- a giant like him. He peeks at a bathing woman at the Riviera. He puzzles over and plays with the giant crown atop the Royal Nevada. He smashes the sign of The Sands. He plucks off the big shoe from the Silver Slipper. He stands eye to eye with the famous big cowboy of the Pioneer Club. When a policeman fires at him, Manning smashes the cowboy and throws parts at the policeman. Manning walks out of town, past the conspicuous sign for the Riviera. Did some casino owners help Gordon with funding?

Bottom line? ACM was not the first 'giant' movie, or the best, nor would it be the last. It is the most remembered. What it lacked in budget, it made up in earnestness. It's one of the 50s sci-fi "B" classics.

1 comment:

thejcowboy22 said...

This movie should be remade.Maybe Tim Burton could do a spin on this epic.Even the title should read simply "GLEN".For obvious reasons the original couldn't deal with real human conditions.For example how does Glen releave himself? Wash? Anyway will leave that to the imagination.