Ah, yes, the ’50s, the desert, atomic tests, and an unfortunate mutant. The comfort zone of classic-era sci-fi fans. As we now know, all the guys in the trenches would be in some danger from the test blast’s radiation, regardless of their dark glasses. Col. Glenn Manning (Glenn Langan) is doubly brave–trying to rescue a downed pilot at ground zero. Carol (Cathy Downs), his fiancee, is pretty good grieving over his painful predicament.
We’re dealing with actual personalities here, not just the ‘usual suspects’ common in this genre: the scientist, the hothead, the authorities, the locals, the girl, even the girl/scientist, etc. Well, those types are present too, but only in supporting roles. There’s pretty good suspense too, as Carol, surprised by finding out suddenly that she can’t see the Glenn for “security reasons.” So she knows something’s wrong, but has no idea what. His records have been destroyed. She does some sleuthing and skulking about, film-noirish style. And, then, she finds her fiancee all right, all eighteen feet of him.
Then we get the junk-science ‘explanation’ from the doctors. Interestingly, Manning has a flashback to his Korean War days. Very good mixture of stock footage and live action. There’s a pretty violent ambush scene in which he loses a buddy. Then another memory: an innocent scene with Carol on a picnic. Lastly in his reverie, the blast happens again. Manning wakes up, now 22 feet tall. It seems naive, but Carol tries to comfort him. Ironically, like the freak that he feels he’s become, he’s going to be put up in a circus tent.
The newscast from Las Vegas, with a pan of the casinos, hints that we’re going to see more from there. “By the way, where’s Manning?” asks a doctor; he and Carol are hanging out. That seems hokey, but again, there’s an authenticity to their interactions. He’s depressed and angry, but more or less ok. In fact, most of his interactions are fascinating. “I think you’re the freak!” he tells the soldier who brings him food. His fatal flaw is an underdeveloped heart. “His mind will go first, then his heart will literally explode.” the doc tells Carol. More tension, more suspense.
Glenn basically tells her to buzz off–he just can’t take the embarrassment anymore. Then he does what all movie monsters do–he gets loose. The doctors think they have an answer; they’ve figured out how to shrink animals…could the jibber-jabber fix work on Manning? Fittingly, two drunks spot him first. By now, of course, he’s considered dangerous; he’s a wanted man. He’s dying, and he’s losing it mentally.
It takes awhile to spot him again. Too many meetings and such. The scenes in the casino area is great; you can see that Manning is curious, even fascinated by how things look. He muses over the over-sized casino doodads–the crown, the shoe, the Arab figure. But (thanks to the afore-mentioned hothead types) he’s shot at. Time for a bit of a rampage. Everything is heading for a denouement at Hoover Dam. The gigantic hypodermic needle is well-modeled; skewering the soldier with it was a unique bit too. Fay Wray-style, Carol gets scooped up. Putting her down, he’s blown off the dam to his death below.
The ending is the weakest part of the movie. Why don’t they tell Manning what they’re injecting him with? For all he knows it might be lethal; No wonder he reacts violently. And why kill him if there’s a chance he could return to normal size? After all, what got him into all this was an act of kindness and bravery. He’s not a bad guy. The special effects weaken as well; Manning is partly invisible in all of the Las Vegas and Hoover Dam scenes.
Still, The Amazing Colossal Man is mostly successful. The premise is certainly interesting, the pacing, though lagging in the middle, is generally good; both Langan and Downs give solid, sympathetic performances. The special effects are uneven, but not bad overall. There’s few movie ‘monsters’ who are drawn as thoughtfully as Col. Mannings’s character.
Recommended for classic-era sci-fi fans, despite its flaws. Farmermouse says seven acorns. 7/10.