Thursday, August 11, 2005

Growth anatomy

Today kicks off Bad Movies A to Z! Let the celebrations commence. As I said before, these aren't all bad movies. They're just not necessarily the popular movies. Think of them as that awkward kid who sat in the back of the class.

Today's movie in a nutshell: The military is testing a new kind of bomb. Our hero, while trying to save someone's life, is caught in the blast. But he doesn't die, he just changes into a monster.

No, it's not another version of The Incredible Hulk.

It's the 1957 Bert I. Gordon classic, "The Amazing Colossal Man."

I first learned of this flick via "It Came From Hollywood" and finally saw it on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" before finding it on video.

The story: Col. Glenn Manning is among those at the testing of a new plutonium bomb. Glenn Manning is played by Glenn Langan. I love it when the main character's first name is the same as the actor's.

If this movie were made today, it would feature Tony Danza.

The countdown reaches zero, but there's no blast. Since they don't know if it will go off or not, they have to just sit there. A low-flying plane is spotted, and efforts to shoo it away fail. It crashes. Col. Manning wants to try to save the plane's pilot, but that idea is shot down. Showing the respect for authority that must have gotten him all the way to colonel, he bolts from the bunker and makes a mad dash for the plane.

He gets about halfway to the plane and then ... BOOM! He instictively shields his face from the blast, which shreds his clothes and vaporizes his hair.

As a result, he blames Superman for his hair loss and becomes his greatest enemy.

Wait. I'm getting my stories confused. Sorry.

Cut to the hospital, where Manning, like this movie's grasp of science, is half-baked. The doctors are dressing him in bandages, putting what looks like stuffing fron a couch cushion under them. Don't ask me.

Glenn's doctor, Paul Linstrom, meets Glenn's fiancee, Carol. He is one of those sensitive doctors, so we know he's in good hands.

To Carol: "I wish I could give you some hope."

The doctors have done what they can, but Glenn has third-degree burns over almost his whole body. They stick him in an oxygen tent and let him hang out in his room.

The next day, a nurse comes in to check his dressings and freaks out. We're lead to believe that his skin is still horribly burnt, but when she comes back with the doctors in tow, they remove the bandages and find that Glenn's skin has regenerated. He still has no hair except for his eyebrows (because he shielded them from the blast).

Suspecting that something is up, the docs bring in the bomb designer, Mr. Kingman, who doesn't think that there's anything particularly amazing about a man surviving a plutonium blast. They look at film taken during the test.

"A man survives an explosion -- "

"A plutonium explosion."

"And then for some reason or other, his skin heals more rapidly than usual. What is the mystery, gentlemen?"

We start a little slow, but things build up a little when Carol is forbidden to see Glenn because of millitary security. She tries to see him at the hospital, but the receptionist on loan from the Department of Redundancy Department tells her that there's no visiting until 2 p.m. in the afternoon.

Undaunted, Carol tracks Glenn down to the Army Rehabilitation and Research Center, which apparently, didn't pay its electricity bill. Nearly all the hallways are dark. This works to Carol's advantage, though, as she uses her ninja training to hide in the shadows before sneaking into Glenn's room.

Having defeated all the security measures at this military installation, what does she do when she sees Glenn?

She screams, natch.

To be fair, he's like 20 feet tall (in wearing a diaper/sarong, to boot) at that point, but still -- use your head, Carol...

Doctors Linstrom and Coulter, apparently the only ones at the base, come and explain the situation to Carol. Obviously, her ninja skills mean nothing to them, as they explain it to her as if she were a moron.

"New cells are growing at an accelerated or speeded up rate."

I know not everyone has the Word A Day desk calendar, but jeez, fellas, give the lady some credit.

If his malady is not cured, then "Glenn Manning will grow until he dies."


Then there's a dream sequence in which Glenn flashes back to fighting in Korea -- his buddy is killed, and Glenn avenges him by shooting the attacker in the face (!). The dream ends with the bomb going off, which marks the third time they reuse the footage of Glenn being caught in the blast.

Glenn, now awake, is for some reason unhappy being a giant freak of nature. And while the doctors are working on a cure, the logical thing for Glenn to do is, yes, you guessed, it, go on a picnic with Carol up in the hills.

He tells Carol that in college, he was voted man most likely to reach the top. And in case we missed the yuks inherent in that statement, the musical score segues into a trumpeted wah-wah-wahhhhhh.

He thinks he'll never be cured: "I just don't want to grow anymore. I DON'T want to GROW anyMORE!"

(This is the scene they use in "It Came From Hollywood" where Tommy Chong interjects, "Yeah, except maybe some hair...")

Later, Glenn refers to himself in jest as "The Amazing Colossal Man." I love it when movie-makers take the time to try to wedge in the title of the flick in the dialogue. My friend and I used to have a rule where we would clap every time it happened while we watched the movie.

Yes, we were dorks. But back to the movie.

The doctors find that Glenn's growth is taking a physical and mental toll on him. Turns out his heart is growing at half the rate the rest of his body is.


But just when things are looking bad for our 50-foot-tall friend, Dr. Coulter makes a breathrough. It's a two-part process. To stop his growth they need to inject a compound into his bone marrow. And after that, a "high-frequency stimulation of the pituitary or growth-controlling gland" will shrink him back down to normal size.

I decided to kinda skip past that, because if I tried to figure it out, my brain would've hurt more than it already did.

After roughly 7 hours of rambling exposition, Glenn is on the loose on the streets of Las Vegas, and boy, am I glad I'm not on the ground to get a peek up his sarong.

One of the signs visible is for The Sands, where Danny Thomas was slated to be playing. Old Glenn, I guess, is not a "Make Room For Daddy" fan; he smashes the sign. Vandal! Savage!

Meanwhile, our heroes are nearing Boulder Dam in a helicopter. It's Drs. Linstrom and Coulter, Carol and a ginormous hypodermic needle. Good thing they had that lying around at the base, eh?

Glenn tries to swat the copter down; at this point, his mental capacity is reduced to trying to ape (sorry) King Kong. The copter lands, and they prepare to inject him. They have to get the needle through the bone into the marrow, so they're only going to have one shot (sorry again).

Bingo! They jab Glenn near his ankle, which really seems to bother him. So much so that he takes the needle out and looks to see who hurt him. He eyes the tiny figures down below and lawn darts poor Dr. Coulter.

The Army is approaching, and they're ready to take him down. But Glenn, taking another cue from King Kong, grabs Carol and starts lumbering around the top of the dam with her. They hold their fire until he sets her down.

Once he does, they let loose, and Glenn tumbles down to the water below. All that's left of him are the words "The End!", which float up and fill the screen right before the movie ends.

Afterthoughts: Well, I made it through the first movie on my list. For starting out so slow, the action picks up right near the end before stopping a little abruptly. But this is a good little 50s sci-fi flick. The effects, while cheesy, aren't horribly so. In fact, compared with the next movie on the list, it's practically "Casablanca."

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