Part of my quest to “See Reptilicus and Die,” that is, to see every film depicted in Denis Gifford’s ’70s-era study of monster films, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. AKA The Holy Bible.
THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK is produced by William “News — on the March!” Alland and directed by Eugene Lourie, a duo with considerable form in the monster/sci-fi/trash field. But Alland was also the voice of the newsreel in CITIZEN KANE and the intrepid, chinless Thompson, newsreel reporter on the trail of Rosebud, “dead or alive,” while Lourie was a successful production designer who worked for Ophuls in Germany and Renoir in America and India. As producer and director, the two men were, shall we say, less distinguished. Lourie kicked off with THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, which is a Ray Harryhausen monster film and therefore we want to love it, but it’s pretty prosaic when placed alongside the beautiful Ray Bradbury story that “inspired” it. I’d like to have seen the filmmakers start the film with an exact rendering of Bradbury’s beautiful (overwritten to hell yes but beautiful) The Fog Horn, before taking off into their own story, the way Siodmak’s THE KILLERS starts off with Hemingway and then goes a-wandering. Lourie also tackled THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, which I reviewed here, and GORGO, a favourite from my childhood but not, I repeat not, in any way, an actual good movie.
Alland’s track record is patchy too: I have some regard for his work with Jack Arnold, like THE SPACE CHILDREN or even CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, but not much can really be said in defense of THE MOLE PEOPLE, except that it made good fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Fiend Without a Anything.
But THE COLOSSUS has more to its credit than expected. Delightfully, the opening seems like a nod to CITIZEN KANE, with a film-within-a-film (they should’ve got Alland in to narrate it in stentorian fashion), which is an early clue to traces of wit. The title sequences, with suitably gigantic lettering rising in front of the UN Building, casting reflections in the waters, accompanied by an excellent Van Cleave piano score, also raises expectations. If the solo piano was chosen for economical reasons, as seems likely (a late entry in Alland’s monster cycle, the movie is short on SFX and production values are generally slight), the solution is a brilliant one, the pounding of the keys creating a paradoxically epic effect, evoking silent movies, PEEPING TOM and Rachmaninoff.
What follows is fairly clunking set-up stuff, as we meet brilliant scientist Jeremy Spensser (why the sstrange sspelling?), played by not-brilliant actor Ross Martin, and his jealous non-brilliant brother Henry Spensser (I guess the sspelling is handy to distinguish him from ERASERHEAD’s protagonist), and doting, brilliant scientist dad William Spensser. Also Jeremy’s very 1950s son, who just hadto be called Billy, and his bland spouse, whom Fiona christened Chesty McTitwife after seeing her in her nightgown, jiggling. She is in fact Mala Powers, which is the perfect B-movie name, but in this movie she simply doesn’t get to do the kind of things an actress called Mala Powers should get to do.
(WHAT AN ACTRESS CALLED MALA POWERS SHOULD GET TO DO: black magic; seducing schoolboys; piracy on the high seas; night club chanteusery; mannequin in a classy story; nude modelling for neurasthenic sculptors; stick-ups and heists; gangster’s molling; gangster’s mauling; jungle cult goddess stuff; whip-wielding (assorted); transforming into black panther/snake/killer sloth; alien dominatrix activities; Satan in high heels.)
(Also — a possible relative of Mala’s turns up in the film, named, and I kid you not, MAX POWER.)
Anyhow, Jeremy is such a brilliant scientist he promptly runs in front of a truck, chasing little Billy’s toy aeroplane, and becomes dead. But his grieving dad isn’t ready to let go yet, and believes that the contribution his son can make to humanity is so great, it justifies extreme measures ~
Very ROBOCOP. I love the sound effects, especially the truly fierce electric crackling – and the inaudible lines. Thelma Schnee’s script is somewhat fatuous when it plays things straight, but becomes evocative and intriguing whenever there’s muddle. For instance, she can’t decide if Jeremy the Colossus is evil, insane, or lacks a soul. The other characters do talk about his soulless nature, recalling the subtitle of Edison’s FRANKENSTEIN (LIFE WITHOUT SOUL), but Jeremy the Colossus seems all too spiritual, suffering from separation from his family, and anxiety and shame over his new appearance. I do think dad and brother could have paid a bit more attention to styling their robot creation. The chunky head, emotionless face and glowing eyes are, perhaps, essential design features but the weird flowing robe is an odd touch. Do robots need clothes? If so, do they have to be special robes. Who is his tailor?
If only Pop Spensser had bought his colossal robot son a selection of casual daywear, a lot of people might not have been death-rayed.
“Are you a real giant?”
The script can’t quite decide what to do with its Colossus, now that he’s assembled. Jeremy (the Colossus) discovers he has second sight, but this doesn’t lead anywhere. He finds an interest in eugenics, declaring that useless people should be destroyed, but then he forgets about this and starts playing with his son, in scenes reminiscent of FRANKENSTEIN (deliberately so, I think). This seems ironic, since little Billy is about as useless as can be.
Jeremy’s dithering is what gives the film its feeling of being packed with ideas, when it’s perhaps more accurate to say it’s packed with loose ends. It does seem more than usually suitable for remaking, though — but ROBOCOP did kind of go there already with its reanimation scene (featuring POV shots interrupted by static) and the pounding footsteps of Officer Murphy are very much like those of Jeremy (well, one pounding footstep is perhaps much like another). A weird effect that accompanies those footsteps: sometimes Jeremy appears to by slightly speeded-up. This gives his walk a jerky, mechanical quality that’s eerily effective, while at the same time, a bit crap. Hey, I think I just wrote the tagline for this movie.
Finally, the Colossal Jeremy, having killed his traitorous sleaze of a brother, heads off to the city that doesn’t sleep and starts randomly zapping people in the UN. Why did they equip him with a death ray anyway? That’s asking for trouble. Hilariously, and somehow frighteningly, his first victim can be seen lying dead BEFORE he zaps her. Cut to Jeremy, death rays beaming from his eyes, cut back to the frightened onlookers, and suddenly the victim is standing up, only to get hit by the death ray and fall down into the same position she was last seen lying in.
THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK was edited by Floyd Knudtson. I suggest you write to him to point out his blunder. Maybe it’s not too late.
Floyd Knudtson, c/o The Edward Deezen Home for Idiots, Schenectady, New York.