Cast & Crew
In New York City, scientist and inventor Dr. Henry Spensser, along with his brother, Dr. Jeremy Spensser, and his young nephew Billy, watches an industrial film about Henry's latest creation, a heat-seeking detector currently being used in food manufacturing. Though Jeremy congratulates his brother on the invention, Henry points out that the detector was originally Jeremy's idea. Anne, Jeremy's wife, then bursts into the room to inform her husband that he has just been awarded an international peace prize for his work in developing frost-resistant plants while heading up the World Food Organization. Following his return from Stockholm, where he received the peace prize, Jeremy and his family are greeted at the airport by his father, noted brain surgeon and anatomist Dr. William Everett Spensser, as well as his close friend and fellow scientist, Prof. John Carrington. As they make their way to the airport's parking lot, a gust of wind blows Billy's toy airplane out of his hand, and Jeremy is killed by a truck driver while trying to retrieve the plane. Rather than having his son's body driven to the morgue, William insists that it be taken to his home, where he secretly removes Jeremy's brain from his dead body. After the funeral, William tells John that the brain of a genius like Jeremy should be seen as independent from the rest of the body, while John argues that the brain is just one part of man, that it needs to feel emotions to remain human. Devoid of such impulses, John states, the brain would become dehumanized in monstrous proportions. Though never close to William, Henry agrees to stay on at his father's home, in order to look after him, as well as Anne and Billy, who have moved in with William following Jeremy's "death." After weeks of experimentation, William allows Henry into his laboratory, where he has kept Jeremy's brain alive. William then calls upon Henry, an expert in automation, to create a mechanical body to house the brain. On the night of John's farewell party, the Spenssers finish their creation, an eight-foot colossus. Seeing himself in a mirror, however, Jeremy collapses on the floor in agony. Anne then rushes down to the lab, thinking that she heard Jeremy's cries, but Henry convinces her that it was merely William, upset at the failure of their latest experiment. Back in the laboratory, Henry warns his father that Jeremy's brain could become psychotic if it suffers a second such episode, but William insists that he can convince Jeremy to continue his work, despite the loss of his human life. Though he initially wants to be destroyed, Jeremy agrees to continue his experiments to end world hunger as long as no one aside from his father and brother know of his existence. While working with his father, Jeremy develops extra-sensory perception, seeing an accident between two ships in the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles away, though touch and smell continue to elude him. After one year of continuous work in William's laboratory, Jeremy decides to make a pilgrimage to his grave, despite the objections of his father. There, he sees his young son, and Billy immediately befriends "the giant." Furious with his father, who had told Jeremy that Anne and Billy were also killed in the automobile accident that claimed his life, Jeremy destroys the remote control box that William and Henry use to control his mechanical body when he becomes overly excited. Later, Jeremy overhears the love-sick Henry asking Anne to run away with him to Hawaii, and although she refuses, Jeremy become insanely jealous of his brother. The next morning, Anne calls John and the professor rushes over to the Spensser estate, but does not believe her tales of the colossus. Meanwhile, Henry telephones his father from a phone booth and asks for money so he can escape Jeremy. The psychic colossus, however, knows this and orders William to arrange a meeting with Henry by the East River. There, Jeremy murders his brother with laser beams from his x-ray eyes. Returning to his father's lab, the now deranged Jeremy announces that he is turning his back on humanity, arguing that the weak should be destroyed, not saved, and such extermination should begin with all humanitarians. Now under Jeremy's hypnotic control, William denies the existence of any "monster" when the police investigate Henry's death, and tells Anne to stay away from Billy except at bedtime. While putting her son to bed, however, Anne discovers a toy plane, which Billy innocently tells her was given to him by "Mr. Giant," who had recently asked the young lad to start calling him "Daddy." Soon thereafter, Jeremy orders William to take Anne and Billy to a United Nations conference being held in his honor. Hosted by John, the meeting is disrupted when Jeremy bursts through a plate-glass window and begins killing people with his x-ray eyes. Billy then rushes up to the colossus and tells him that he is bad. Realizing that he has truly lost his humanity, Jeremy asks Billy to turn off the power switch hidden beneath his left arm. The young boy does so, and the colossus collapses to the floor, dead. William then tells John he was right, that a brain without a soul is nothing but monstrous.
Lorence V. Kerr
John P. Fulton
John F. Warren
The Colossus of New York - THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK - 1958 Sci-Fi Cult Favorite on DVD
Produced on a small scale, The Colossus of New York is an effective monster film whose appeal seems limited to children. To compensate for the lack of depth and complexity in the storyline, director Lourié imparts a fairytale-like graphic simplicity to its fairly innovative monster, an eight-foot cyborg with more than a few similarities to the sci-fi masterpiece RoboCop made thirty years later.
The brilliant, wealthy Spensser family is celebrating a Nobel Peace Prize win by the young genius Jeremy Spensser (Ross Martin), for his development of plants that can be grown in cold conditions. But all are horrified when Jeremy is killed in a traffic accident upon his return from Stockholm. Jeremy's surgeon father William (Otto Kruger) takes the body to his lab, emerging several hours later to admit that his efforts to revive his son have failed. But William has saved Jeremy's brain, and with the help of his other son Dr. Henry (John Baragrey), a specialist in automation, builds an artificial body to house it. While family friend Dr. John Carrington (Robert Hutton) stays close, Henry comforts Jeremy's widow Anne and his son Billy (Mala Powers and Charles Herbert), who have moved into the Spensser mansion. William and Henry secretly help Jeremy adjust to his mechanical body, teaching him to speak electronically and walk by moving his massive steel boots. But as John had predicted, Jeremy suffers a profound alienation. Feeling like a ghost in his metallic body, he must be coaxed into staying alive to continue his philanthropic-scientific work.
A year later, Jeremy-Colossus has developed extra-sensory perception to compensate for his lack of other senses. Visiting his own grave, he encounters little Billy, who believes that he is a storybook giant. As he was told that his wife and child are dead, Jeremy-Colossus is enraged. He then sees Henry trying to coax Anne into a Hawaiian vacation. Unleashing death rays from his eyes and exercising new powers of mind control, Jeremy plans a grandiose revenge on the world he once loved, starting with a symbol of the "useless humanity" he once loved: the United Nations.
A standard Frankenstein joke once asked why, after The Monster's many murders, the Baron didn't simply make a little monster. The benign Jeremy becomes a humungous steel robot, an obvious threat. Why does his father give him such a frightening face? The Colossus retains several aspects of the original 1920 German Golem, including the monster's jealousy and a prominent "off" switch tucked under his armpit. Little Billy's secret meetings with his friendly Iron Giant set up the Golem-like finish, but they also seem more than a little perverse: "Billy! Don't ever touch me there!"
The unsubtle script charts Jeremy's trauma over his human/robot issues. Haunted by his inability to reconnect with his human family and enraged by lies and deceit, the robot runs amuck. He unaccountably develops the ability to shoot death rays from his electronic eyeballs, a la Gort, the interplanetary policeman of The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Producer Alland was tasked only with producing an inexpensive horror attraction. Yet The Colossus of New York misses the boat for not exploiting the situation of a man's consciousness transplanted into another "body". Good wife Anne never comes face-to-face with the new Jeremy, a confrontation that might have made Colossus a truly memorable fantasy. The later RoboCop of course derived much of its power from its cyborg hero's attempt to recall his previous life as a Detroit cop. The most interesting scene in the Hammer film Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed occurs when a brain transplantee talks to his wife through a screen, so she won't be traumatized by his new face. It's possible, I suppose, that the Production Code might have discouraged a macabre meeting between robo-Jeremy and Anne, as a sick idea that might say bad things about the sanctity of life and the meaning of marriage. Letting the Colossus go berserk and kill a lot of people was much more acceptable as kiddie fare.
The bizarre ending carries an uncomfortable subversive charge: a philanthropic recipient of the Peace Prize commits a massacre at the United Nations. Art director John Goodman sketches the U.N. with minimal sets built around a broad checkerboard floor and a large plaque bearing a pacifist credo. Restricted camera angles lend this final scene a dreamlike quality, as does Eugène Lourié's bizarre direction: the various U.N. dignitaries stand in place, waiting patiently to be fried by the cyborg's death rays. A sound effect from The War of the Worlds is repurposed, and optical artist John P. Fulton animates the deadly ray blasts. Editor Floyd Knutson must have been left with no options for cutaways, because he's forced to use a shot out of order and continuity. Before the first female victim is zapped by a death ray, we see her already lying in place on the shiny U.N. floor. Adding to the dreamlike weirdness, nobody comes to the aid of the fallen dignitaries, not even this woman.
Actor Otto Kruger is no stranger to horror fare, and his Doctor Frankenstein character is the kind of credibility stretch we accept in movies of this sort. But as a tragedy in a dynastic family of scientists The Colossus of New York makes little sense. At the end Kruger's Dr. William walks innocently away, with a sad look on his face. As he's directly responsible for everything bad that has happened, to have his daughter-in-law accept his monstrous deceit is just nonsense. The other actors are given fairly colorless roles. Ross Martin is most often singled out because of his subsequent TV career, and he makes a fine impression in the film's opening. We wish that the Colossus seemed more like him -- we look in vain for the "Jeremy" in the monster. Little Charles Herbert got more than his share of film work at this age, and does well considering that the script makes Billy behave in a way that seems too young for his age.
William Alland's Paramount features pinched pennies when it came to monster making. The Colossus has formidable robot hands and boots, but the flowing robe that covers most of his body makes him look like a mechanical Roman Senator. Our attention soon goes to the little screens under the robot's eyes that enable actor Ed Wolff's real eyes to see. Paramount's I Married a Monster from Outer Space, made the same year by producer Gene Fowler Jr., has a superb monster design. "Monster maker" Charles Gemora was involved in both projects.
With its moody set pieces The Colossus of New York takes itself more seriously than many other monster romps from the late 1950s. Jeremy/Colossus begins as a promising monster creation, and by the end becomes just another lumbering intruder, smashing through glass walls. At least director Lourié gives him some expressive scenes along the way.
Olive Films' DVD of The Colossus of New York is an excellent enhanced transfer of a B&W Paramount show filmed with that studio's high standards of quality. Early word that the transfer would be flat was corrected by Olive FIlms, to everyone's relief. The rich blacks register best in the moody night scenes of the Colossus keeping a murder appointment on a dockside street. It's amusing that a slow-moving, eight-foot monster can come and go in the busy metropolis and remain undetected.
Of special mention is the film's music score, an effective piano solo composed by the prolific (Nathan Lang) Van Cleave. Some find the music monotonous and others feel that it's an interesting alternative to a full orchestration. But the choice wasn't an artistic one: a musicians' strike early in 1958 had studios recording film scores overseas and in some cases doing without them altogether.
For more information about The Colossus of New York, visit Olive Films. To order The Colossus of New York, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
The Colossus of New York - THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK - 1958 Sci-Fi Cult Favorite on DVD
The Colossus of New York was released by Paramount on a double bill with another William Alland production, The Space Children (see below). According to modern sources, the colossus was designed and built by Charles Gemora and Ralph Jester. The costume itself was eight feet tall, weighed 160 pounds, and was created from burlap, plastic, rubber and fine chicken wire. Inside the costume 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.
Modern sources also state that the funeral sequence in The Colossus of New York was shot on the grounds of a run-down Hollywood mansion. The film's score is played on a single piano. The Variety reviewer noted its effectiveness, but speculated that "either economy, or perhaps the studio musicians' strike" May have been the rationale for the unusual practice. In an interview published by modern sources, actor Ross Martin claimed that the funeral scene had to be reshot because he fell asleep in the coffin and his snoring could be heard over the dialogue.