Archive for September 15, 2009

Fat Man and Little Boy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2009 by dcairns

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Two atom-age ubermensch fantasies came my way in quick succession this week — I’m just lucky that way. THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE is kind of a hiccup in my growing appreciation of Allan Dwan, because it’s really not very good. Petulant gangster Ron Randall, escaping the gas chamber, is caught in an A-bomb test, and the experimental nuke causes him to absorb steel into his cellular system (or something), making him bulletproof. Out to get the guys who framed him for a crime he sort of did commit, anyway, RR stomps through dingy locations in a plodding series of sequences served up by Dwan with a sort of weary efficiency, like a cook dispensing mash with a ladle.

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The two headed-monkey — really a sort of monkey-gonk cross — is the film’s only arresting image, and best actor. Maybe it’s going to split in two, like a monkey version of THE MANSTER — a “mon-ster,” if you will.

My copy was fuzzy and degraded, which is kind of how I felt after watching it, but I don’t think a cleaner image would dispel the bleak, stark blankness of the visuals, which is kind of the film’s best feature. I’m sure Debra Paget would look better though — they should restore her and leave the rest as it is. The crummy dialogue, which practically comes encased in speech balloons, or maybe wooden overcoats, occasionally gets bad enough to make you sit up — as when the doughy scientist offers Randall the chance of a cure:

“Cure? Is that even a word for what I’ve become?”

Better yet, a discombobulating moment as RR throttles his arch-enemy. The A-E doesn’t want to ‘fess up and clear RR because that would incriminate himself, nor does he want to have his neck snapped by Randall’s steely arms, so he blurts — “We could run away together — just you and me!” Not so much a case of homoerotic subtext, I think, as a writer typing so fast he forgets to even consider which cliche he’s using.

Much much better is WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, a sequel by the Notorious Bert. I. Gordon (Kenosha’s most famous son! Or maybe not) to his own muscular B travesty, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN. A handy flashback encapsulates the earlier film, saving me the bother of watching it, though I might anyway. I had to watch this one as part of my mission to See Reptilicus and Die.

In this one, Colossal returns, having been bazooka’d off the Boulder Dam in Part One, only now he has a disfigured skull-face and seems to have suffered brain damage — he’s lost the power of speech, and “communicates” with a strange bellowing that sounds something like a yak farting into a megaphone. Quite scary, actually.

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I recalled some Medved-type worst movies show including a clip of the scene where Colossal is tackled by a couple of guys with a giant syringe and a loudhaler, which almost seemed too comical to be true, and in fact the whole sequel has that kind of pitch-perfect straight-faced parody aspect. If you were going to make a spoof of atomic monster movies, you really couldn’t beat this. In MANT, Joe Dante’s film-within-a-film from MATINEE, there’s some fantastic stuff and a real affection for the material, but it’s obviously a comedy. ACM never tips you the wink, as if B.I>G. had written it as comedy but never told his cast. I mean, can this really be intended as po-faced melodrama? ~

“He started growing at a rate of eight to ten feet a day. You may have read about him.”

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“This creature’s presence there would constitute too great a police problem. That applies to every other large downtown building including the Coliseum. Have you considered the Hollywood Bowl?”

“We can’t leave him exposed to the weather — even if he IS a giant!”

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“He ought to be in a hospital, getting treatment.”

“They don’t make hospitals that big, Joyce.”

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“I’m afraid the world doesn’t think of a sixty-foot man the way a sister does.”

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“We’re going to try to stimulate your brother’s mind… with various ideas.”

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Part of the comedy is simply examining the idea of a sixty foot man and dealing with the consequences. You would, after all, NEED a giant syringe to give him a shot. It’s reasonable. But that’s how comedy works too, by following an illogical idea to its logical end. They say you shouldn’t explain a joke, but I quite like unpicking the logical assumptions in a gag, uncovering more layers of absurdity. It’s not as instantly gratifying as the first burst of laughter, but it’s a real, quiet pleasure, akin to what I feel when I see a giant man in a nappy crawling out of an aircraft hangar.

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In addition to all the laffs and yocks, there’s a generosity towards the audience, contrasting with the impoverished, grudging feel of THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN ALIVE and all too much exploitation cinema (audiences, remember: it’s YOU that’s being expolited!) — B.I.G. wants you to have a good time, and he’ll pull out at least some of the stops to make that happen. He’s budgeted for maybe 45% of the stops.

So at the end, when Colossal (I call him Colossal) zaps himself on a pylon, the film goes colour, flashing and changing hues in an electric rainbow of death, and then Colossal just fades away, in a totally inexplicable fashion, and one that leaves at least some possibility open for another sequel. It’s not too late, Bert! I for one will be there for that, front row centre.

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Thanks to Douglas Noble for His Colossal Beastliness.

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