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Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Most Dangerous Man Alive

We must digress a bit. This is a 1961 film -- one of those marginally-sci-fi pictures -- which escaped review with the rest of '61's films. If you didn't see the copyright date of 1960 for The Most Dangerous Man Alive (MDMA) you could swear it was a 50s B sci-fi. In a way, it is. It was shot in 1959, but not released until 1961. The story line is also very 50s: nuclear radiation alters a lone man who then becomes something of a monster to the world. More on the similar movies in the notes below. MDMA is, in large part, a mobster drama with a dash of sci-fi to stir things up.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Reports of the escape of Eddie Candell has members of a mobster gang nervous. They had tried to muscle him out for threatening to blow the whistle on them. Eddie shot one of them. During Eddie's trial, they all perjured themselves to send him to the gas chamber. Then, he escaped. Wandering alone in the desert, he happened across an odd water tower which was actually a nuclear bomb test. It detonated. Eddie was not killed, however. Instead, the radiation altered his cells so that they absorbed metals (like the handcuffs) giving his body the invincibility of steel. Eddie eventually catches up with the mobsters. They try to shoot him, but the bullets do no harm. Most of them escape. Through a series of plot threads, the mobsters want Eddie dead, and the police want him stopped. A Dr.Meeker wants him alive for study, but worries that the radiation will have affected his brain, making him a hating, killing monster. Only Eddie's girlfriend, Carla, is good to him. The mobsters try to kill him again, but fail. Eddie takes two of them out to a gravel pit so they can announce to the assembled cops that he is innocent and they are guilty. This goes poorly and both mob boss and his mol are killed. Carla clings to Eddie, so the cops can't fire their flame throwers at him. In a last show of compassion, Eddie pushes Carla away. The flame throwers torch him. He falls dead. His body turns to ash. People say poignant words. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The basic trope is not new, but it is a somewhat different spin on it. The visual flavor is very much 1950s B movie, which has a charm of its own. The acting is reasonably good for a low budget production. It's always fun to see Morris Ankrum, here as tough a police captain.

Cold War Angle
This could be a reach, but Eddie can be seen as the dark side of humanity (the communists) made almost invincible by nuclear weapons. The contemporary angst was that if the commies did not feel vulnerable (because of our nukes), they would surely cause trouble.

Indestructible II -- The 1956 film Indestructible Man also featured a criminal who becomes immune to bullets, etc. In his case, it was a mad scientist experimenting with electricity on dead bodies. That film was a lesser remade of the 1941 horror film, Man-Made Monster which also featured electricity. For Eddie, it was the more trendy nuclear radiation that does the trick. Once indestructible, the same revenge motive drives the plot. Interestingly, flame throwers were also conspicuous.

Manning & The Beast -- Eddie wanders into a nuclear test site. He survives, but is mutated. This happened to Colonel Manning in The Amazing Colossal Man ('57). Manning became a giant. It happens to Josef Javorski in Beast of Yucca Flats ('61). Javorsky became a brutish hulk. Similarly, the Japanese fishermen become the liquid "H-Men" when exposed to a Pacific test. Each become a monster in their own way. They all fit the analogy of nukes making men into monsters (dangerous political brinksmanship).

Power Corrupts -- MDMA features the recurring literary theme: man (with his fallen nature) cannot handle immunity. Make him unstoppable and he'll go bad. H.G. Wells featured this in The Invisible Man back in 1897. Less stellar examples from the 50s include, The Amazing Transparent Man ('60), and The 4D Man ('59). Give the average man an unstoppable advantage, and he'll eventually use it for evil. They form a sort of dark-side antithesis of Superman who used his invincibility for good.

Monsters With Heart -- Hollywood liked to soften up their monsters. They might be bad, but show some glimmer of compassion at their ends. Colossal Manning ('57) sets Carol down, allowing the army to blast him. Beast Manning ('58) sets down the bus full of kids before he dies. Transparent Joey blows up the evil Krenner (and himself). Yucca Beast kisses the bunny. In this softie tradition, Eddie pushes Carla away from himself so she doesn't get hurt when the army blasts him.

Bottom line? MDMA may appeal to fans of old mobster movies, as that comprises the bulk of it. Fans of saucers, aliens and special effects will find little to like. Yet, as an installment in the unkillable-man trope, it's above average.


Blaze said...

I'd never have claimed "The Incredible Hulk" was a unique offering by Marvel Comics, but I had no idea the "man at ground zero test bomb" plot had been done so many times.

Nightowl said...

Yes, it did seem a useful direct metaphor for mankind in the atomic age. One man, one bomb, got to represent us all wrt the dangers of radiation.

After a half-dozen or so uses, the trope does seem to have become cliche. Now that such above-ground testing is banned, the opportunity is gone anyhow.

Terence said...

First saw this movie on local television (before color became mandatory) and always liked it, but not the policemen in it. They were too prejudiced against Randell's character who killed, mostly, other rats that betrayed or attempted to slay him.
Given some of the affects of radiation on living flesh, he got off better than some I've seen pictures of but still an entertaining film.