Lieutenant Colonel Glenn Manning (Glen Langan) gets caught in the blast of a plutonium bomb. Even though things look dire, or terrible, for him (as over 95% of his body is covered with third-degree burns), his body starts an amazing regenerative, or growth, process, which soon goes out of control, causing him to grow exponentially, or really fast. Soon, because of his rapid growth, his heart begins to show the strain, which causes him to cough a lot and wallow in self-pity. Oh, and he also starts exhibiting signs of mental deterioration, or going crazy.
I find it rather difficult to dislike this, director Bert I. Gordon’s fourth film and first monster hit (pun intended) for American International Pictures. By all reasonable standards, it’s not a very good movie. Still, compared to Gordon’s first three films (King Dinosaur, The Beginning or the End, and The Cyclops), this is Oscar®-worthy material. To its credit, The Amazing Colossal Man is played remarkably straight. With a concept as ludicrous as this film has, it would be very, very easy to play it for laughs. There are a few intentional laughs in the film, but overall, it tries pretty much to keep a straight face. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, the film goes in the completely opposite direction and veers into pathos, with Manning bemoaning his fate…over and over and over.
But don’t let me give you the wrong impression–the film is goofy. For example, the doctors who try to find a way to reverse Manning’s growth in the film have the habit of explaining big words immediately after they use them. Here’s a quote from one of them: “For some unknown reason, new cells are growing at an accelerated, or speeded-up, rate, while at the same time, the old cells are refusing to die.” See the first paragraph under the poster above for my attempt at doctorspeak. And speaking of the doctors, they bring in an elephant and a camel to use in their size-reduction experiments. In one scene, as they stand near the animals, the elephant gets a little inquisitive and starts trying to put his trunk in their faces. It’s hilarious how the actors try to keep going with the scene, all the while trying to evade the reach of the elephant.
And then there’s the extra padding. It looks to me like Gordon’s first cut of the film might not have been quite long enough, so there’s a flashback to Manning’s stint in the Korean War, which serves no purpose except to show what lousy luck he has. There’s also a Las Vegas newscaster who shows up occasionally, adding absolutely nothing to the film except running time. A nameplate on the newscaster’s desk informs us that he is H. Wells, a reference to H. G. Wells, a prime source of inspiration for Bert I. Gordon.
But of course, nobody goes to see a film like this for the realistic characters or the insights it may offer into the human condition. No, the kids flocked to the drive-ins in 1957 to see a giant guy tear up Las Vegas. And that he does, in a rather limited way. One would think that since Bert I. Gordon had just finished making The Cyclops, another film with an oversized character, he would have ironed out the wrinkles in his special effects shots. But he hadn’t, and the same problems that occurred in The Cyclops (such as an inconsistent scale for the model sets and the occasional semi-transparency of the main character) occur here as well. It’s almost as if the effects get worse as the film wears on–at one point, Manning is sitting in the middle of a road, and you can see the cloud formations behind him…and through him as well. Later, as the ACM terrorizes Las Vegas, you can often see people on the street below him through his forehead.
Still, I like the film…and it may be the only chance you’ll get to see a man impaled with an enormous hypodermic needle.
For a fun drinking game, you might try taking a gulp a) every time the doctors explain themselves in easier words, and b) whenever Manning has a pity party. Between the two, you should end up enjoying The Amazing Colossal Man just fine.
A few weeks ago, one could find both the MST3K version of The Amazing Colossal Man and the regular ol’ theatrical version up on YouTube. When I went to add the links to this post today, neither of these versions was available any more…thanks to AIP co-founder Jim Nicholson’s spoilsport widow (and former actress) Susan Hart Nicholson Hofheinz, who now owns the rights to the film. She’s a bit overly tenacious in protecting her interests in the film, and I can’t really blame her for that. I CAN blame her for sitting on the rights and not allowing the film (and several others that she owns) to be released on DVD. C’mon, Susan–none of us are getting any younger, and I sold my VHS a while back. Pleeeeease license the film out for a reasonable sum of money to a nice little DVD company…pretty please?
Oh, yeah…here’s the trailer (at least) from YouTube (with an annoying billboard plastered across the bottom part of the screen):