Monday, October 17, 2022

Cardboard Science: My Giant Fiancé, Season 2

Year: 1957
Director: Bert I. Gordon
Cast: Glenn Langan, Cathy Downs, William Hudson
Run Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

The second entry in our annual Great Switcheroo with Hunter Allen of Kinemalogue (in which I task him with 3 '80s slasher reviews and in exchange he assigns me 3 '50s B-movies) takes us to 1957 and The Amazing Colossal Man. It's this year's entry from notorious director Bert I. Gordon, boasting a screenplay co-written by Gordon (who, at the time of release, was just three months out from having delivered more or less the exact same premise in the abominably stupid The Cyclops) and Mark Hanna (who, at the time of release, was about seven months away from delivering more or less the exact same premise in the minor masterpiece Attack of the 50 Foot Woman).

And you know what? It reads exactly like a movie written by both the Cyclops guy and the 50 Foot Woman guy.

The Amazing Colossal Man opens with the military testing a brand new plutonium bomb in Desert Rock, Nevada (not to be confused with Desert Rock, Arizona from Tarantula, a film that has provided fodder for an incredibly specific double feature this month). After the bomb's chain reaction has been set off, it doesn't detonate properly, and the soldiers who are holed up in a nearby trench for some reason are forced to wait until it either goes off or enough time has passed that it becomes disarmed. Unfortunately, this is the exact moment that a small civilian aircraft crash lands right at the foot of the bomb, so the intrepid Lt. Col. Glenn Manning (Glenn Langan) disobeys orders and rushes to the rescue right when the bomb goes off, exposing him to a whole hell of a lot of radiation. 

For his troubles, all of Manning's skin and hair is scorched off, though doctors are astonished when it grows back within a single day. Unfortunately, the new out-of-control growth of his body's cells is paired with an inability for his old cells to die, causing him to grow at a rate of 8 to 10 feet per day (something that doctors have established after he reaches a total height of 18 feet in 2 days, which - considering the fact that he certainly started at a height of about 6 feet - leads me to suspect that maybe we actually shouldn't take their word for it). While his fiancée Carol (Cathy Downs) attempts to keep him tranquil while doctors seek a cure, he begins to despair that he will never return to the world that is rapidly shrinking away from him.

What a hulk! One might even be tempted to call him incredible!

Any time math or science is touched on, The Amazing Colossal Man accomplishes the amazing feat of making every other '50s sci-fi movie look like a pristine, peer-reviewed thesis. I wouldn't dream of sitting here listing all the ways this movie calls upon square-jawed actors to utter the most garishly stupid thing you've ever heard as if it's a basic fact of the world. Especially because there's already a place for that later on in the review. But trust me, it's outrageous, and really won over my bad movie-loving heart.

In every other respect, The Amazing Colossal Man is actually... kinda good? It's certainly good on the scale of this kind of low budget B-movie, even if it can't achieve the elegant heights of actual great movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Blob. For one thing, it's able to include the title monster a lot more often than a lot of similar projects, because there's no makeup necessary for Langan (nor really a costume - he's in a big 'ol loin cloth for 85% of the movie), and they can make him look big as long as they shove him in a room with some tiny props and keep people from joining him in the frame too often.

For another thing, Langan is delivering a committed and rather unusual performance. Although the character loses his mental faculties at about the point that he goes on a rampage around old-timey Las Vegas, he is otherwise completely coherent while considering his fate. In the hands of any other B-movie actor or screenplay, Manning would probably either face his fate with grit and determination or maniacal panic. Langan finds a completely different route, channeling Manning's rage into the quiet simmer of a man who has already realized his fate is sealed and is only capable of bottling his feelings within gallows humor. This is a much more quiet and contemplative character than a movie like this should even be capable of delivering (see The Cyclops, which handles more or less the exact same character by turning him into a vicious groaning ogre). The last time a movie performance zagged on me so hard from what I would have expected from the character on paper, it was Rebecca Hall in The Night House, and I don't just throw around that comparison lightly.

Although Manning could probably throw ANYTHING around lightly, if he wanted to.

Also, The Amazing Colossal Man is quite capable of drumming up moments of tension, which are generally few and far between in Cardboard Science. While almost every entry we've covered is nominally a horror film, it's not often that the films can reach through the many decades of horror cinema between then and now to really shake up any modern viewer. But it has a little something for both gorehounds (some excellent burn makeup, for one thing, and a war flashback with a gruesome scene shooting an enemy soldier in the face) and people who love simmering tension.

That Schrödinger's Bomb opening is genuinely quite tense, and it's followed by a rather thrilling sequence of "women's picture horror" involving Carol trying desperately to find out what happened to her fiancée and is met with a brick wall everywhere she asks. She gets sidelined pretty quickly after that, but nearly everything in the first act works, and the scenes that follow might be patchier more often, but they always err on the side of enjoyable.

Not everything about the giant special effects has aged particularly well. There are moments of bad compositing that make it possible to see objects through the side of his head, for instance. And for some reason, the sound recording in any scene where Carol and giant Manning share the screen is shit awful. But all in all, The Amazing Colossal Man is both well executed within its limits and entirely entertaining. You certainly won't catch me complaining about that.

That which is indistinguishable from magic:
*I've already harped on the delightfully bad science, but this film also doesn't seem to realize that we already did use plutonium in atomic bombs, so it wasn't really necessary to test it out.
*Now that we're talking about it: Holy shit, how glorious is the reveal that his heart is growing slower than the rest of the body because - as everybody knows - the heart only contains one single cell? 
*Another particularly fishy moment comes when Manning reaches 10 times his height and a total of 18,000 pounds because apparently he has the density of a dying star.

The morality of the past, in the future!:
*When the men are waiting to see if a plutonium bomb within a couple hundred yards from them will detonate, one asks if he can smoke. And he's told "yes, of course you can!"
*It was deeply weird to see a Swift delivery truck show up in one scene, being all 1950s. 

*Was naming the news reporter H. Wells stupid or charming? I vote both.

TL;DR: The Amazing Colossal Man is an entertaining lark with just enough bite to propel one through its morass of hilariously awful junk science.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1313
Cardboard Science on Popcorn Culture
2014: Invaders from Mars (1953) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Them! (1954)
2015: The Giant Claw (1957) It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)
2016: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Godzilla (1954) The Beginning of the End (1957)
2017: It Conquered the World (1958) I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) Forbidden Planet (1956)
2018: The Fly (1958) Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman (1958) Fiend without a Face (1958)
2019: Mysterious Island (1961) Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
2022: Tarantula (1955) The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Census Bloodbath on Kinemalogue
2014: My Bloody Valentine (1981) Pieces (1982) The Burning (1981)
2015: Terror Train (1980) The House on Sorority Row (1983) Killer Party (1986)
2016: The Initiation (1984) Chopping Mall (1986) I, Madman  (1989)
2017: Slumber Party Massacre (1982) Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987) Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
2018: The Prowler (1981) Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) Death Spa (1989)
2019: Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge (1989) Psycho III (1986) StageFright: Aquarius (1987)
2020: Night School (1981) The Fan (1981) Madhouse (1981)


  1. Ah, the sound design (sound mixing, I guess) is my favorite little thing about it; to the extent anything Mr. BIG did was ever "little," it's about as subtle as Gordon's filmmaking ever got in suggesting the psychological as well as physical distance between Glenn and a normal life. Still, I'm glad you liked this one (and, as I peeked ahead, I'm glad you liked the one to come too!). It is astonishing that this and The Cyclops are the same guy separated by barely any time at all, it doesn't feel the same whatsoever.

    "Another particularly fishy moment comes when Manning reaches 10 times his height and a total of 18,000 pounds because apparently he has the density of a dying star"

    Well, one's linear, the other's geometric. They actually got this kinda right! I didn't notice till you pointed it out that they pull that "eight to ten feet a day" completely out of their butts, though.

    1. I'm no mathematician, but I'll allow the weight thing. And the sound element does enhance that feeling of separation, I suppose, but there is a muffled and tinny quality that just feels like bad recording. I would have done it differently, but then again, I have not directed 24 films, so what the hell do I know?

      But yes, this was a very pleasant watch! And I'm very excited to get my Journey to the Center of the Earth review out, but I'm waiting until Halloween to spring it on an unwary world.

  2. God, did he do 24 films? And 15 of them are about giant ______.

    If anything, they get it wrong by underestimate; an African elephant can be about 13,000 pounds already and he's way bigger than that.

    Halloween is the correct time, I feel, and as you know, and it's definitely nothing to do with procrastination born out of some secret silent signal reminding me I hadn't watched a John Carpenter movie in a couple of years.