The first time I saw Eugène Lourié’s The Colossus of New York, I think I was about ten or eleven and stayed up all night on a Friday or Saturday just because it came on at something like 2 or 3am. I recall falling asleep somewhere in the middle and waking up for the ending, disappointed that I missed whatever robot rampage the cloaked metal man went on. It turns out that I didn’t miss much of a “rampage” at all, although the thing did wreak some havoc on some poor important folks down at the United Nations before getting shut down for good without the military blowing it to scrap metal with a bunch of rockets.
Anyway, featuring some fine performances and an brilliant (and sometimes unsettling) piano score by Nathan Van Cleave, this is an interesting albeit flawed sci-fi film with a more human side to its fantastic bits thanks to the internal conflict of Jeremy Spensser (Ross Martin) who finds his brain in that bulky cyborg after he dies in an auto accident and his genius dad (Otto Kruger) and second genius (but somewhat devious) son (John Baragrey) decide to keep him living in that metal shell…Why? Well, before his accident, Jeremy was on the verge of creating a potential solution to world hunger and his dad wants his work to live on even though the man behind it is dead and gone. The film is more or less another take on the Frankenstein story, but with no ill will intended on the part of the creator and a “monster” that’s quite the soft spoken brainiac for a spell. Unfortunately, Jeremy is locked up away from his wife and child for obvious reasons (although, yeah, it WOULD be cool as heck to have that colossus pop into Show and Tell or a science fair for the best ever exhibit) and this isolation eventually forces the Colossus out of hiding when Jeremy can take no more alone time.
That and yep, over the time Jeremy is his holed up working and ruminating, his genius (but somewhat devious) brother falls for Jeremy’s lovely wife (Mala Powers), knowing full well that Jeremy (well, his brain) wouldn’t approve of that sort of move. Let’s just say things don’t go well between the brothers once that cat’s out of the bag and the Colossus gets in a little Cain and Abel action before things get really out of hand. The film is only an hour and ten minutes long and despite the “B” movie aesthetic, it packs a nice wallop despite some languid moments and a few convenient plot holes. Unlike many robots of the era, that Colossus is intimidating thanks to his height, lighted eyes and thick (Grecian? Roman?) robes.
Sure, if you try and assign complete reality to the film, the very idea of an eight foot cyborg creeping around parts of Manhattan in the dark with no one paying mind is a bit silly, but at least there’s an undertone of menace in those scenes (thanks to that minimalist Van Cleave score). Then again, If I saw something that huge tromping around, I’d be running for the hills and too busy running for those hills to ring up the police. While it’s not a “classic” sci-fi movie at all, there’s a nice sense of seriousness here and really no out and out intentional humor (despite that Mystery Science Theater 3000 version that bumped up the laughs needlessly).
While looking up the trailer, I realized this is also the name of a book by Coulson Whitehead that has NOTHING to do with the film at all. This was actually pretty amusing because I’d only heard of the book about a decade ago and until I saw a copy in a book store and skimmed through it, thought it was the novelization of the movie. Oops. Well, you learn something new every day, I suppose…