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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Colossus of New York

This movie is not especially well known outside of 50s sci-fi fans, which is a shame. It is a cut above the usual B movie herd. At first glance, Colossus of New York (CoNY) appears to be yet another adaptation of the classic Frankenstein story, but it aspires to more than that. It does feature a misguided medical genius and his obedient electrical-genius son who creates a big robot to house the brain of biologist-genius other son. None of it works out as the father expected. A man is more than his mind. CoNY double billed with The Space Children -- also a cautionary tale.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Jeremy Spensser is an up and coming humanitarian genius. His work on food production hold the prospect of world peace. Jeremy steps into a street to retrieve his son Billy's toy airplane. Jeremy is hit and killed by a truck. His father, unwilling to let such a promising genius simply die, operates on the body. He removes Jeremy's brain and keeps it alive. Dr. Spensser persuades his other son, Henry to build an electronic interface for Jeremy's brain. He wants Jeremy to continue his contribution to humanity. Meanwhile, both Henry and Jeremy's friend John have started showing romantic interest in Jeremy's beautiful young widow Ann. Finally, the 8 foot tall robot is complete and Jeremy's brain hooked up inside. It takes awhile for Jeremy's brain to learn to communicate and control the robot. Robo-Jeremy continues his work on frost resistant plants in Dr. Spensser's lab. Robo-J develops ESP, seeing a collision at sea. One year later, Robo-J wants to visit his own grave. Hiding, he sees Ann and Bill. Robo-J furious with his father for lying that they died too. Robo-J catches Henry kissing Ann. Henry runs away. He calls later, asking father for money to run away. Robo-J hypnotizes his father to arrange a remote meeting place. There, Robo-J kills Henry with heat beam. Robo-J wrecks the lab, then goes to the UN where his posthumous work is being honored. There, he kills more with is heat vision until Billy stops him. Robo-J tells Billy how to deactivate him. He does. The giant falls dead. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Amid the typical love triangle and human drama stuff, are some interesting musings about the nature of man and the soul. It's also interesting the writers showed Jeremy's brain having to learn to communicate artificially and control his new robot body.

Cold War Angle
This connection is fairly subtle. Human Jeremy is the loving humanitarian working for world peace. His alter-ego, Robo-Jeremy becomes the cold intellect of managed societies (i.e. communism). "Why create food for the maimed, the useless and the sick? Why should we work to preserve the slum people of the world? Isn't it simpler and wiser to get rid of them instead?" The cold rationality behind eugenics.

Ya Gotta Have Heart -- The screenplay spends a fair amount of dialogue exploring the nature of humanity. John asserts that man is the product of body, mind, soul and "the divine spark of the creator." Isolated, a mind would be prone to inhumanity. Even though Dr. Spensser scoffs at such sentiment, the plot proves him wrong, and John correct. There is more to a man than just his mind.

Beyond Frankenstein -- At a superficial level CNY looks like a remake of the classic 1930s Frankenstein story. CNY does have the misguided doctor and his creation -- a tall "monster". CNY goes beyond the 30s classic. Here, the "monster" can speak. We hear his inner turmoil. Perhaps Dr. Frankenstein's creation went through a similar struggle with his terrible new identity. Maybe this was also what drove him into being a monster.

Free Thinking -- Jeremy's mind, given great power via the robot body, develops powers -- both good and evil. He develops ESP such that he can "see" an impending collision of ships at sea. (footage of the Andrea Doria disaster) He also develops a lethal heat vision beam. He could save lives or take them. As the story progresses, we see that his once-altruistic mind, free from the "divine spark" and physicality of humanity, gravitates towards the dark side.

Bottom line? CNY is one of those little-known gems of 50s sci-fi. Overlook the low-budget concessions. Listen to the talky scenes. There's more thought behind the story than a rampaging monster.


Mike Scott said...

Pretty please, Paramount! Can we have DVDs of "Colossus of NY" and "The Space Children"? We promise to eat all our vegetables and not buy the bootlegs!

Nightowl said...

Ah, if only Paramount were cruising obscure movie blogs, looking for suggestions.

Without them, fans are left to such sources as:
creepyclassics.com, etc.

It's not easy being a tiny niche market.

Mike Scott said...

Quote: Ah, if only Paramount were cruising obscure movie blogs, looking for suggestions.

I'd send them an email, but you know where that would end up.

Quote: It's not easy being a tiny niche market.

Well, if Sony can release movies like "Creature With The Atom Brain", then surely . . .! But, if I have to wait too much longer, I'm gonna get me some bootlegs!

Nightowl said...

I hear ya, Mike. I suppose there's always hope. But, if the owner isn't selling a copy, is an after-market copy depriving them of any royalties?

Mike Scott said...

Quote: But, if the owner isn't selling a copy, is an after-market copy depriving them of any royalties?

The thing I don't like about bootlegs, is not knowing what the quality is going to be till after you've slapped down your (non-refundable) $15-20. I'd just as soon watch them on YouTube (if possible).

Nightowl said...

Yes, unofficial DVDs can be quite a gamble. I've had a few copy-of-a-copy-of-a-VHS-recorded-off-TV sorts of things.

In some cases, I was so eager to see the movie (usually something rather obscure) that I was willing to gamble.

I do prefer free, though. That's where Veoh and Scififree.TV have been nice. YouTube too, though it's usually a pretty poor (and small) image.