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Director: Bert I. Gordon
Starring: Glenn Langan, Cathy Downs, William Hudson, Larry Thor
“What sin can a man commit in a single lifetime to bring this upon himself?”
Sitting on the rights to Homer Eon Flint’s novella The Nth Man, AIP’s Jim Nicholson was the success of The Incredible Shrinking Man and quickly moved to cash in.
Released only six months later, The Amazing Colossal Man would be helmed by Bert I. Gordon, who already knew a thing about giant creatures after films like King Dinosaur and The Cyclops.
Following a similarly tragic path as it’s cinematic forebear, albeit with a more military focus than domestic, it’s a story of a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, who’s life is destroyed by that ever-present spectre of ‘50s horror and sci-fi… the atomic bomb.
When a plutonium bomb test goes wrong and fails to detonate in front of a group of army guinea pigs, Lt. Colonel Glenn Manning (Langan) receives orders to keep his men in their protective trench. When a light aircraft crashing on the test site causes Manning to make a decision to ignore orders and try and rescue the pilot, he is caught in the blast and doused with radioactive fallout.
Suffering from third-degree burns, the Lieutenant is not expected but live, but makes a remarkable recovery when his skin begins to regenerate.
Unfortunately the radiation has another effect, as Manning begins to grow. After secretly moving him to a nearby army base, scientists frantically search for a cure. By the time his fiancé Carol (Downs) tracks him down, Manning is already three times his size and growing st a rare of ten feet per day.
Worse, his heart is not increasing in size at the same rate, meaning the scientists are in a race against time to halt the process. Meanwhile, Manning is slowly going mad…
While the basic concept (albeit in reverse) is similar to The Incredible Shrinking Man, what we have here is a film that feels much more of its time. Tapping into the nuclear fears so prevalent in the era, there’s a real focus on the military and how they are both the cause and solution to the ever-increasing problem.
Manning is established as a good soldier, a strong leader who follows orders, but only up to a point, as he will think nothing of going his own way if it’s the right thing to do. Ultimately, that will prove his downfall and fuel the resentment at his horrific situation and set him down the oath of madness, ending in a gloriously tragic rampage across Las Vegas.
It’s well over an hour before we get to that point though and the film is all the better for it. We get time to get to know both him and Carol, letting us feel the impact the nightmare has on them both as individuals and as a couple. Carol’s helplessness as as she watches the man she loves rapidly grow to 50 foot tall is heartbreaking, while tragically, it’s her presence that reminds poor Manning of everything that he’s losing and accelerates the bitterness that is, in the end, his undoing.
As the helicopter-flying genetic scientist Dr Lindstrom, William Hudson cuts an improbably heroic figure, but his natural charisma offsets the fact that there’s no real heroes in this tale. It’s science and the military who are responsible for Manning’s plight and all the after-the-fact help isn’t going to leave anyone smelling of roses.
It’s a bitter irony that by the time they do find a possible cure, it’s far too late. Manning has went off the deep end and is rampaging around Nevada. There’s a definite nod to King Kong here and not just with the doomed behemoth and a terrified populace. The specific nod with the woman in her bath being observed by the giant eye is as straight up a homage as it gets, but with an added ick factor what with Manning being an actual man and not a huge gorilla.
Watching him stomp around the Vegas landmarks is a real joy too, bringing a very real world into its lyric fantasy. The scene of him considering wearing the giant crown is particularly brilliant, being ludicrous in a way, but also offering a glimpse into his deteriorating mental state. He’s the biggest man that’s ever lived, why shouldn’t he be King?
Likewise, the giant syringe scene is one of the great sci-fi horror tropes of the era. Ridiculous, but so effective. We’re in a warped new world here, where even ordinary medical items are blown up to obscene proportions as uncontrolled science runs wild.
It all ends on the Hoover Dam, an appropriately symbolic example of American achievement. It’s a wonder of engineering and scientific knowledge, but for Lt. Manning, it’s the end of the road.
The Amazing Colossal Man isn’t as inspired or as affecting as the film that came before it, but its enormously enjoyable and carries you along in its huge hands at a fair pace.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy