12/13/06

309 The Amazing Colossal Man

(1957, Horror-Giant Critter, b&w)

What sin could a man commit in a single lifetime to bring this on himself?

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

Radiation burns make an army officer go insane and grow to sixty feet tall.

Summary:

How come the shortest word gets the most space?An army announcer robustly narrates the test site of a plutonium explosion, where soldiers wait in a trench near ground zero so that the army can see what happens. The announcer counts down to the explosion, but nothing explodes. Our intrepid heroes wait in their trench to see if the bomb will go off after all, or if it will fizzle all the way out.

A light civilian plane flies overhead, then crashes nearby. The officer in charge (Glen) ignores orders to stay put and runs out from behind cover to rescue the pilot. Predictably, the bomb goes off and fries him.

Handsome doctors wrap him in seaweed and phyllo dough, cover him in plastic wrap, and call him done. His distraught fiancé (Carol) sits outside his room while a reporter, a nurse, and the doctors tell her shockingly insensitive things.

They unwrap him next morning to find him miraculously healed, so the doctors interrogate a recalcitrant plutonium expert, who shows them footage of Glen frying but doesn’t actually know anything. Someone visits Carol in the middle of the night to tell her that she can’t see Glen anymore, so she snoops around to find that he’s been taken to a mostly abandoned hospital in the middle of the Nevada desert. She slips through the rather lax security to find the new economy-sized Glen still growing at an incredible rate.

The doctors explain something about unchecked cell growth to her in some rather boring and incomprehensible pseudo-scientific talk. Meanwhile, Glen dreams of a lengthy picnic and some stock footage of the Korean War. He awakes to find himself enormous, bald, and wearing a diaper, and immediately assumes that he’s being punished for vague and horrible sins.

The army obligingly puts him up in a circus tent and feeds him meat by the truckload. Glen grows grumpier by the day, laughing himself into heart attacks and fighting with Carol at every opportunity. The doctors explain that this is because his heart isn’t growing as fast as the rest of him because, as everyone knows, the heart is a single cell, and, also as everyone knows, small hearts cause insanity.

By the time the doctors figure out how to cure him, Glen has finally gone off the deep end and wandered into the desert. He ends up in Las Vegas, trashing famous hotels, throwing palm trees, and gawking at giant glittery clothing accessories. They chase him out to the Boulder Dam, where the doctors inject him a giant syringe. The addled Glen spears one of them with the syringe, picks up Carol, and lumbers away like King Kong. The surviving doctor talks him into putting Carol down so that the army can shoot him off the dam and into the river below. The end. Or is it?

Introduction:

He seems to have grown a bit taller than sixty feet.Tom and Crow have built themselves a fort out of a cardboard box and declare it off-limits to humans in jumpsuits. They have become neo-luddites, and hate all technology, including themselves.

Host Segment One:

Joel extracts Crow from the fort with a pair of pliers. When Frank remarks on the difficulty of raising robots, Dr. Forrester responds, “Does it hurt much?” The Mads have invented a snooty talking fern that reviews classical music. Joel has invented a temporary tattoo with many uses, such as your grocery list. Frank asks, “Does what hurt much?”

Host Segment Two:

Joel shows footage of the insensitive hospital staff, then asks the ‘Bots to come up with some sensitive things to say to the fiancĂ© of a nuclear accident victim. Tom and Crow think of various food-related quips, such as, “he’ll sure come off the bone easy.” Then they sensitively discuss Joel’s dire circumstances on the Satellite of Love.

Host Segment Three:

Joel climbs into a dollhouse and loudly bemoans his fate as a 50-foot man. Tom and Crow ask him stupid questions, and then make fun of him with Ken and Barbie dolls. Crow asks Tom, “How’d you get your arm to work?”

Host Segment Four:

Joel and the ‘Bots sit around and wonder what they’d ask Glen if they ever met him. The Satellite crashes into Glen, and they talk to him for a while, asking insightful questions such as, “Is it true Cher had some ribs removed?” and “How many kinds of fish can you name?” Glen laughs himself into an infarction and leaves.

Host Segment Five:

Joel and the ‘Bots think of things that Glen could have done to have fun with his new gigantic size, such as try on the giant slipper from the Silver Slipper. They read letters. TV’s Frank pushes the button just as Dr. Forrester skewers him with a giant syringe.

Stinger:

Glen laughs himself into an infarction.

Thoughts:

That small heart is acting up again.For a SciFi movie from the fifties, this wasn’t half bad. It wasn’t half good either, but you can’t expect too much from a movie called The Amazing Colossal Man. Sure, the acting was bad (Glen in particular was way over the top), the special effects were crappy (you can right through Glen in several of the double exposed shots), and the pseudo-science was stupid to the point of insulting (high frequency radio waves can shrink elephants and camels?), but the exposition was limited to a short boring session or three, the story moved right along, and it was kind of fun to see Glen trash Las Vegas.

The host segments are pretty funny. I particularly enjoyed Joel’s size-induced self-pity, though the sketches where the ‘Bots prove their sensitivity and have a conversation with Glen work very well also. The invention exchange and the ending discussion about how Glen could have fun as a giant were okay, but not great. Kevin Murphy comes off well as the snooty music-loving fern, and Mike Nelson does great as Glen, the fifty-foot man. I couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to be looking at while he was talking, though. Gypsy’s stupid again in this episode.

The film segments slow down for a few expository scenes, but even then the SOL crew keeps it moving with their interjections. When one of the doctors explains that Glen will grow and grow until they figure out how to stop him, Joel exclaims, “It’s just like Clifford, the big red dog!” When the doctor tells Carol, “Your name was the only word he spoke,” Tom says, “Well, that and AAAUUUUGGGGHHH!!!!” When Glen wakes up for the first time after he’s grown large, Crow says, “I’m being held in Barbie’s Malibu Dream House!” I could go on and on. It’s one of the more quotable episodes I’ve seen. I’d watch it more than once.