Those Fabulously Dreadful 1950s Monster Movies Part 2
In 1957 the fear of atom bombs, destruction and mutation reached its peak, and Bert I Gordon was there to capitalise on it. He specialised in films about really big things. In ‘The Amazing Colossal Man’ it’s an ordinary man who’s mutated by errant, uncontrollable atom energy. After the huge success of ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ it seemed like an accident waiting to happen, and this film really feels like an accident.
Lt Col Glenn Manning gets caught in the blast of a ‘plutonium bomb’ (i.e. atom bomb) and starts growing at a rate of ten feet a day. Pretty soon he’s being housed by the military in a circus tent and weighs 2,987 pounds. ‘The doctors are working night and day to find a cure,’ says Glen’s sister Sally several times over, as if she accidentally mimeographed the pages of her script. The scientists experiment on a camel and an elephant, but they come out the size of small dogs. ‘It’s not going so well, is it?’ asks the doctor, making the understatement of the year. You’ll notice a slight discrepancy between poster images and actual stills.
The big question is – what will Glenn wear as he grows? Glenn points out the army’s ingenuity in making him an adjustable elasticated sarong. The scientists make rubber models of Glenn to work out how big he’ll get. ‘The reason for this is rather technical,’ said the doctor to Sally, patronisingly. ‘His mind will go first, and then his heart will literally explode.’ He has clearly decided not to spare her feelings.
‘Please Glenn, don’t torture yourself,’ says Sally. Glenn develops a scary bitter laugh and runs off to Vegas, where he watches a girl having a bath. The doctors have an idea. ‘I’ve had an oversized hypodermic needle constructed,’ says one, presumably having come back from the props department, and off they go to try and find a gigantic lumbering man in a diaper. Sally heads off with the handsome doctor/future love interest. ‘How did you learn to fly a helicopter?’ she asks. ‘Well, I just wanted to learn how and did,’ he replies.
‘He’s been moving back and forth in an aimless pattern,’ says a colonel, either describing the Colossal Man or their director. ‘Someone must have seen a fifty foot high man.’ Despite the lousy effects, there’s something energetic and committed in the performances. But just when there should be an exciting third act we get a boring lecture about road closures at army HQ, where they’re more worried about what to do with a gigantic man after they’ve dropped him.
‘We can help you!’ yells the doc, armed with the six-foot syringe which Glenn uses to spear him with before falling over the Hoover Dam, and we slam to ‘The End’. But Glenn’s not dead! He comes back in ‘War of the Colossal Beast’, which moves to Mexico, where a terrified peon loses a truck and falls into a ditch. For some reason the local story makes international news, alerting Glenn’s sister. Moments later she’s offering the army officers drinks and asking if they’ve seen any really big footprints. One of them asks her out to dinner, which feels rather inappropriate when she’s looking for her missing brother.
Glenn is indeed alive, although now hideously deformed, insane and still sixty feet tall, and spends his days looking for things to eat in toy trucks. Glenn’s wife finds a giant footprint. ‘That is a very big footprint,’ says the doc, ‘it would make him about sixty feet tall.’ ‘Glenn was sixty feet tall!’ says Sally, suddenly remembering her giant brother. They could be onto something.
As the giant hypo wasn’t terribly successful they switch to using drugged bread. ‘How do you reason with a sixty foot giant?’ asks a scientist, but Sally bravely tries. ‘Find something else to occupy your mind,’ suggests the doc. There’s some awkward light comedy with men behind desks as everyone tries to figure out what to do with the now-drugged Glenn, who dreams very long extracts from the first film to pad out the running time.
Glenn does a Kong and escapes from an aircraft hangar, crawling out like a giant baby. He’s knocked out again and yet more debate ensues among the prevaricating militia. A doctor tries to explain; ‘If he doesn’t respond to anything it means amnesia.’ Sally describes Glenn’s childhood bicycle, trying to jog his memory. Glenn’s next escape happens offscreen to save all of us wasting more time. TV crews and puzzled teenagers want to know what’s going on. ‘Maybe the martians have landed,’ suggests one girl, catching the mood of the era.
The army shout contradictory instructions at Glenn through megaphones. Glenn lifts a bus full of screaming teens in the most iconic pose from the film. ‘Try to think,’ suggests his sister. Glenn has a brief moment of lucidity before grabbing the power lines, sending the film briefly into colour, and disappears. Before you can ask ‘What the – ?’ ‘The End’ comes up.
Did these films have any inkling of their own charming awfulness? The very best book on the subject is the hilarious ‘A Youth In Babylon’ by David Friedman, about making such movies on the run and dumping them on Middle America.