The Colossus of New York is a 1958 American science fiction film produced by William Alland (Tarantula, Creature From the Black Lagoon), and directed by Eugène Lourié (The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Gorgo). It stars John Baragrey, Mala Powers, Otto Kruger, and Robert Hutton.
The film is noted for its haunting, minimalistic piano score composed by Van Cleave.
Shortly after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end World hunger, doting husband and father, Jeremy Spensser (Martin), is struck down and killed by a car.
Jeremy’s father, noted brain surgeon William Spensser (Kruger), is distressed that his son’s gifts will be denied to Mankind and rescues his brain from burial, keeping it ‘alive’ in a bubbling jar of liquid (don’t try this at home) with a view to ensuring his ideas and imagination can continue to flourish, even after death.
Transplanting the brain into a specially contracted giant robotic body, he enlists Jeremy’s brother, Henry, to help keep the project secret. The huge shell is mechanically unreliable and combined with the lack of human contact and affection, Jeremy slowly starts to go mad, gaining immense strength and developing the ability to harness the power and unleash it in the form of death rays from his eyes.
The madness builds until The Colossus goes on the rampage in New York, culminating in a stand-off at the United Nations where only his young son can save humanity.
The Colossus of New York is one of the stranger entries into the 1950s and ’60s wave of films with monsters and aliens on the rampage, with a distinctly serious, almost pious tone, due in no small part by the unique score by noted television composer Van Cleave, harking back to the silent era with solo piano creating the mood and tension without the histrionics of wailing theremins and huge fruity string sections.
The morality of the film is hinted at early on; whilst viewing Henry’s latest automated invention, Jeremy asserts, “You create any more like this, you put the human race out of business”. Playing like a modern Frankenstein, advising against Man’s intervention in matters of life and more especially death, the first word’s the Colossus utters are “Destroy me”, despite his creator’s pleas that his ability to continue the work he began in death is more than worth his personal anguish.
For the viewer’s benefit, the creation is made appropriately ominous-looking to drive home the point that dabbling is bad; why would any brain surgeon make their son a bucket for a head and Joan Collins shoulder pads?
There’s little to cheer acting-wise; the annoying young son is played by Charles Herbert, also teeth-grindingly whiney in The Fly, and his relationship with his now towering father echoes that shown in Son of Frankenstein. Martin appeared mostly on television, notably in Wild, Wild West and two episodes of The Twilight Zone, John Baragrey (Henry), starred in the first Gamera film, whilst the foolish father is played by the always stern Otto Kruger, also seen in Dracula’s Daughter. None excel.
The Colossus also has political leanings; he loses interest in his humanitarian mission to feed the world, declaring, “Why create food for the maimed, the useless and the sick? Why should we work to preserve the slum people of the world? Isn’t it simpler and wiser to get rid of them instead?” He adds: “We must eliminate the idealists.” Calling all Communists! As the film reaches its conclusion, the Colossus stands before an even larger mural with the inscription from the Book of Isaiah:
“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Heavy stuff. Except not really. Good, short (70 minutes) fun with some neat twists on a usually predictable path.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA
“The plot gives out halfway through, but Lourié’s visualisation of the monster’s metallic agonies – much of them subjective – is cruel and potent.” David Pirie, Time Out Film Guide
Cast and characters:
- John Baragrey as Doctor Henry Spensser
- Mala Powers as Anne Spensser
- Otto Kruger as Doctor William Spensser
- Robert Hutton as Doctor John Robert Carrington
- Ross Martin as Doctor Jeremy ‘Jerry’ Spensser
- Charles Herbert as Billy Spensser
- Ed Wolff as The Colossus