Colossus of New York, The (DVD Review)22 Aug, 2011 By: Mike Clark
Stars John Baragrey, Mala Powers, Otto Kruger, Ross Martin.
Were he not one in a long line of former child actors who, as revealed in adult interviews, harbors unhappy memories of the experience, it would be easier to make jokes about the trauma and presumed subsequent therapy sessions Charles Herbert possibly had to endure, given some of his youngster roles in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Even before he starred in William Castle’s 13 Ghosts, there was that familial double-whammy for the ages in 1958: playing the son of the you-know-what opposite Al (later David) Hedison in the original version of The Fly — as well as some decidedly non-quality time spent with dad in this polished and mildly creepy “B” directed by Eugene Lourie, who was predominantly an art director but did enjoy a brief filmmaking tenure with creature features (e.g. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms).
Paramount Pictures, especially in the ‘50s, didn’t leap too much into horror or sci-fi, but ’58 turned out to be an exception, what with The Blob, the sleeper I Married a Monster From Outer Space and this twisted pretzel of a domestic drama. How twisted? Well, sibling scientists John Baragrey and Ross Martin (as the father of young Herbert) are in a kind of Smothers Brothers situation over the affections of their own brain surgeon father (Otto Kruger). You see, dad loves the latter more (winning a Nobel Prize probably helped). Unfortunately, a gust of wind whisks a toy airplane out of Herbert’s hands at the airport, and a taxi kills his favored father during the retrieval process (how’s that for guilt?). Then, the surviving brother starts getting designs on Martin’s widow (Mala Powers with several good-hair days and at least one nightgown scene). Then Kruger determines that he can take his dead son’s brain and implant it into a giant robot. But the robot is discomforted and confused (this is not a normal state) on his way to a psychotic state. After a time, he (or it) develops a strange relationship with “son” Herbert when they begin meeting in the woods — a visual that somewhat brings to mind memories of Boris Karloff and the doomed little girl in the original Frankenstein.
The robot costume, if that’s the word, is pretty cool, and here I’ll just quote from the AFI Catalog for the 1950s: it “was eight feet tall, weighed 160 pounds, and was created from burlap, plastic, rubber and fine chicken wire. Inside … were batteries, cables, air tanks and oxygen tubes which both moved mechanical parts and assisted Ed Wolff, who played the colossus, in breathing. Because it took over forty minutes to get Wolff in and out of the costume, a special rack was designed for the actor to rest on between shots.” Colossus has a spare and very effective piano score, which, when juxtaposed against this behemoth, is substantially eerie. Photographed by John F. Warren, who did a few big features but worked even more in TV (including for Alfred Hitchcock Presents), I suspect this movie would have spooked me out some as a child, though I missed it at the time.
But so as not to go overboard, Baragrey was a fairly colorless actor (I remember him from childhood as one of the two standout heavies in the Martin & Lewis Western spoof Pardners — the one who wasn’t Jeff Morrow). And Martin (Ross that is) gets killed off early — four years before he was unforgettable as “the breather” in Blake Edwards’ extortion chiller Experiment in Terror. This leaves it to Kruger and Powers — who, in a departure from this kind of bottom-of-the-bill material, actually seem to believe in the material and pretty well act their hearts out. Later a respected acting teacher, Powers got some notice early in her career as the rape victim in Ida Lupino’s ahead-of-its-time Outrage and as Roxanne in the same Cyrano de Bergerac that got Jose Ferrer his Oscar. She deserved more than being cast as the widow of a future stalking robot, but as these things go, Colossus is pretty decent of kind — with a 70-minute running time keeps the picture from wearing out its welcome. Especially when the print looks as clean as it does here.