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Friday, December 5, 2014

The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) review



Glenn Langan (Glenn Manning;billed as Glen Langan), Cathy Downs (Carol Forrest), William Hudson (Dr. Paul Linstrom), Larry Thor (Major Eric Coulter), James Seay (Colonel Hallock)

Directed by Bert I. Gordon

The Short Version: The B.I.G. man's most famous work is also his best movie. For some, that won't be saying much. Still, Glenn Langan's performance is as immense as his quickly accelerated size in the film -- usurping the budgetary limitations. Some of the effects work just fine, while most are pretty bad; but the overall package is an Amazing Colossal piece of 50s cult film entertainment.

A plane goes down right in the middle of a military test site where a plutonium blast is about to go off. Colonel Glenn Manning tries to save the pilot and gets caught in the blast for his trouble. With third degree burns covering nearly 100% of his body, Manning is not expected to live. To the surprise of military scientists, Manning survives, and his skin rapidly heals itself. Even more shocking is an unexplained side effect that causes him to grow eight to ten feet every day. With his sanity rapidly depleting, Manning continues to grow, ultimately escaping into the heart of Las Vegas, before a final meeting with the military at Boulder Dam.

It's difficult to watch Bert Gordon's movies and come away with the notion you've watched a well made piece of cinema. The FX almost always tend to do them in. However, in the case of this production, the performances -- particularly that of lead Glenn Langan -- surpasses the crudeness of Gordon's signature special effects work. Some of the effects in COLOSSAL MAN are actually decent for what was obviously a very low budget. Many special effects are not; the most unconvincing come during the climax. If you're familiar with Gordon's techniques then you know what to expect beforehand.

What you may not expect is the high level of characterization centered around the title colossus. It's this focus on character growth (pun intended) that give TACM extra weight when put alongside his other similar works; and especially compared to this films inferior sequel, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (1958). Gordon takes a potentially escapist piece of entertainment and gives it some humanity when he really didn't have to.  

Glenn Langan (DRAGONWYCK, MARGIE) gives it all he's got while occasionally going a bit overboard; this is understandable as while Manning continues to grow, his sanity begins to shrink away into nothingness. Director Gordon takes advantage of every opportunity available in his tiny budget to give Manning as much gravitas as possible before succumbing to this state of madness. 

Like a much hairier giant from a classic 1933 movie, Gordon's Vegas behemoth is the epitome of tragedy. The situations by which the two meet their forlorn fates are different, but you feel for both. Granted, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN will never be thought of on the same plane as KING KONG (1933), but the way Gordon (and co-writer Mark Hanna) writes Glenn Manning goes beyond the parameters of mere Drive-in fodder.

We already get a sense of Manning's personality when he risks his life to save the life of an airplane pilot that has went down right in the path of a plutonium explosion. A foolish move, but it shows the type of man he is; and if he hadn't attempted that valiant, if vain effort, we'd have no movie. Highlighting Manning's morality only serves to intensify his descent into madness later on. The bridging sequence occurs during a flashback as we see various moments in Manning's past that leads to his awakening in a tiny room. Through subtle mannerisms, Langan's living nightmare evokes a sense of panic -- then gut-wrenching horror akin to the sort of shock realization you'd find in one of your finer TWILIGHT ZONE episodes.

There's also some good stuff involving Cathy Downs that could have matched Langan's performance had Downs been up to the task. Her initial frustration is believable, though; getting the runaround from military personnel as to the disappearance of her fiance, she is determined to find him. However, once she does find him, and finds he's not quite the same man she once knew, the remainder of her performance is static; Langan's delivery of a few quasi-deranged speeches towering over her puny pity party. 

Another great moment comes during the finale when Manning goes on a mild rampage. He passes various Vegas landmarks and spies a huge crown adorning the Royal Nevada. He reaches for it, lifts it, as if to place it atop his head. It's subtle, but Langan -- briefly feeling himself a king of man -- is able to display a moment of sanity dwelling in his rapidly depleting brain function. He places the crown back and carries on. He also removes a huge high heel shoe from the top of the Silver Slipper casino. This too is possibly a symbol of Manning's desire, and something he can no longer have -- a woman (well, there's always Allison Hayes). Before his last stop at Boulder Dam, he does engage in some Gigantic Peeping Tom action on an unsuspecting woman bathing in her hotel room!

Backed with a stellar lead role, Gordon's film contains some unusually strong moments of violence. The sight of Manning's irradiated body is fairly gruesome for 1957; as well as the man shot in the face after placing a bayonet in the back of one of Manning's buddies during the Korean War portion of the flashback sequence. Grim theatrics reach an apex during the finale when our heroes attempt to thwart Manning's continuous growth by injecting a serum into him with an equally outsized syringe. His brain nearly fried, Manning repays the Lilliputians by using the syringe like a javelin, fatally spearing the military scientist who was trying to help him.

Gordon's passion for movies, the multitasking approach to his work, and his offscreen personality makes it difficult not to admire the guy in some respects. Sort of a cross between Ed Wood and Luigi Cozzi (probably more the latter than the former), there's no denying Mr. B.I.G. loves the medium even if his efforts never quite match up to his enthusiasm. Melding the seriousness of THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) with the utter kitsch of ATTACK OF THE 50FT WOMAN (1958), THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) has the best of both SciFi worlds. With a little something for both Fabulous 50s fantasy film lovers, and bad movie buffs, this colossal cult item is the most famous, if not the best of B.I.G.'s bunch.

This review is representative of the Italian R2 DVD from Pulp Entertainment. The English soundtrack is included.

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