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The Amazing Colossal Man - Review

A Review by Mike Bogue

2½ Stars - Pretty Good

(Released Sept. 1957 by American International Pictures, a.k.a. AIP.)

Direction: Bert I. Gordon

Screenplay: Mark Hanna and Bert I. Gordon

Special Effects: Bert I. Gordon

Music: Albert Glasser

Producer: Bert I. Gordon

The Amazing Colossal Man Still. Call him the Mr. Clean of the giant set if you must, but despite its many defects, The Amazing Colossal Man is a fairly diverting example of cost conscious 1950’s Grade-B sci-fi – at least for baby-boomers.

A plutonium bomb explosion transforms Colonel Glenn Manning into a bald giant who grows by leaps and bounds each day.  If his growth continues, a sage scientist tells us, his heart – which isn’t expanding along with the rest of his body – will give out.  But the real problem isn’t his heart, it’s his head, for as less blood flows to his noggin, the more trouble he has holding onto his sanity.  Eventually the sixty-foot Colonel Manning goes nutsoid in a big way (pun intended).  At that point, our resident psychotic giant goes on a low-budget rampage of Las Vegas.

Over the years, this movie has received more than its share of gleeful mocking, especially from the MST3K crowd.  And the film’s flaws do glare like a sustained chain reaction.

For example, producer-director Bert I. Gordon’s special effects often falter.  At times, the Colossal Man seems almost transparent, and the matte lines during his Las Vegas pillage often appear to have been drawn by a heavy black marker.  In addition, the story wavers, as does the dialogue.  Likewise, Albert Glasser’s music score is just too sappy during scenes meant to convey poignancy, said scenes instead generating capacity volumes of cinematic corn.

Nevertheless, as a whole, the movie works, even after all these years.  On the plus side, director Gordon keeps the pace moving, and some of the film’s set pieces are effective; perhaps the best sequence is the intense opening, in which a civilian plane crash-lands in the detonation area, causing Colonel Manning to rush out of the observation trench to see if the pilot is still alive – only to find himself caught in the plutonium bomb’s delayed blast.

Also, Glenn Langan’s performance as the hapless title character triumphs over the sometimes mediocre melodramatics, bringing a touch of much-needed pathos to the ever-growing giant’s predicament.  Colonel Manning’s mantra “I don’t want to grow any more” seems genuine.  Bitter and resentful, at times the giant soldier appears menacing even before he goes nuts, such as when he receives food and a newspaper from a luckless orderly.

The Amazing Colossal Man Still.

In addition, some of the effects prove memorable, in particular the shot in which the bomb blast seemingly sears the skin from Colonel Manning’s torso.  And who could forget the unintentionally surreal six-foot hypodermic needle?

For the record, producer-director Bert I. Gordon was responsible for a number of low-budget giant monster movies during the fifties – indeed, his fans call him “Mr. B.I.G.”  (And because this is a family-friendly review, I won’t tell you what his critics call him.) 

Along with The Amazing Colossal Man, Gordon’s modestly priced productions include King Dinosaur (1955), The Cyclops (1957), Beginning of The End (1957), Earth vs. The Spider (1958), and War of the Colossal Beast (1958).   In the sixties he gave us 1962’s The Magic Sword (featuring a giant ogre and a two-headed, fire-breathing dragon) and 1965’s Village of the Giants (an attempt to combine 1960’s “teen theme” movies with sci-fi giantism).  And during the seventies, Gordon produced two final big beastie flicks – The Food of the Gods (1976) and Empire of the Ants (1977), both allegedly based on H.G. Wells’ tales.

The Amazing Colossal Man Still.

Incredibly, the aforementioned Village of the Giants is also supposed to be based on Wells’ Food of the Gods.  Undeniably Gordon’s worst film, it stars, among others, Ron Howard (!) and Beau Bridges (!!) in a vapid story of teenagers who grow to gigantic proportions and implausibly take over a small town.  Parts of the movie are particularly cringe-worthy, such as a scene in which the giant teenagers gyrate to the movie’s faux-rock soundtrack while a crowd of people just stand and stare, as though transfixed by the almost cosmic ineptness of it all.

While none of Gordon’s films compare favorably to the best of Japanese giant monster epics, some of Mr. B.I.G.’s movies are moderately entertaining. The Amazing Colossal Man is one of his best, a baby-boomer favorite even as we enter a new century.  It’s also notable as the only fifties AIP monster epic to warrant a sequel – 1958’s War of the Colossal Beast.

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