Lt. Colonel Glenn Manning (Glenn Langan) is in Desert Rock, Nevada. Not the Desert Rock, Arizona town that had a giant tarantula running around. He is there with his men to witness the detonation of an atomic plutonium bomb. The bomb does not go off as expected. While they wait a small civilian aircraft crashes near the site. Manning rushes toward the plane to look for survivors. At that moment the bomb goes off and Manning is showered in radiation.
Manning survives the blast but is covered in third degree burns. While his fiancée Carol Forrest (Cathy Downs) waits outside surgery, Dr. Paul Linstrom (William Hudson) works on Manning, with the help of a scientist, Dr. Eric Coulter (Larry Thor). Amazingly Manning’s burns heal over night and new skin develops. The Army moves him to a rehabilitation and research center in Summit, Nevada. Carol is not allowed to see him. She sneaks into the center and into his room. When she sees him she faints. Glenn has grown. He is now eighteen feet tall.
Drs. Coulter and Linstrom tell her that Manning is growing eight to ten feet a day. They surmise that exposure to the plutonium did something to his cells and caused them to multiply at an accelerated rate and that his old cells are not dying. The growth acceleration is also affecting his mind. He gets angry and bitter. The doctors find that his heart is only growing half as fast as the rest of him. Unless they can find a cure, Manning will die.
“The Amazing Colossal Man” was released in 1957 and was produced, written and directed by Bert I. Gordon. The film is based on the novel “The Nth Man” by Homer Eon Flint. It is a low budget horror movie made by American International Pictures. As for special effects, Gordon has done a lot of forced perspective films but he never learned to do them well. Still, there is the camp value that makes the movie entertaining. For example, the giant needle is a hoot. I do miss not having the balloon hands that were used for “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” 1958 but you can’t have everything.
AIP had the rights to the novel. Jim Nicholson at AIP thought it could be reworked to cash in on the success of “The Incredible Shrinking Man” 1957. Roger Corman was in line to direct it but he dropped out. The script started out as a comedy. When Gordon was brought in he reworked the script again.
The film did well at the box office. The giant bald guy premise would return when Gordon did the sequel “War of the Colossal Beast” 1958 and “The Cyclops” 1957. Gordon’s stock and trade was either make things big or make them very little. Besides bald guys and other people Gordon super sized insects a lot. Ants, spiders and locust for example. He did do one movie where the people were little in “Attack of the Puppet People” 1958 but that means everything else was big.
“Amazing Colossal Man” is not the worst giant bald guy movie Gordon ever did. As a matter of fact, out of the three it’s probably the best. I had lots of issues with the other two. Although “The Cyclops” did have other giant creatures it. Yeah, OK so they were back screened but they were still there.
A lot of people complain that the film is very wordy. There may be some truth in that. But keep in mind that “The Incredible Shrinking Man” was also wordy. These kinds of movies where the main character goes through some physical trauma will also experience emotional and psychological trauma as well. That aspect of the main characters situation should be explored. Steven King explores these aspects of his protagonist’s psyche all the time. And he uses a lot of words to do it. It seems only natural that a man who grows eight to ten feet a day would have some issues he would need to work out. When all you’ve got going for a movie is a guy growing bigger, you need something else to add tension to the film.
There are lots of questions asked about underlying themes with this strange little film. Many wax philosophical about its undertones concerning the arms race and the meaning of life as a whole. Did Gordon intend to insert issues concerning the human condition? Probably not, but sometimes questions about the mystery of life works its way into our subconscious whether we intend it to or not. And then again, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a giant bald guy is just a giant bald guy.