July 25, 2009

Saint Jeremy and the Genocide of Human Trash

The Colossus of New YorkTHE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1957)
Directed by Eugene Lourié
STARRING:

John Baragrey – Dr. Henry Spensser
Mala Powers – Anne Spensser
Otto Kruger – Dr. William Spensser
Robert Hutton - Dr. John Carrington
Ross Martin – Dr. Jeremy Spensser
Charles Herbert – Billy Spensser
Ed Wolff – The Colossus

Cogito ergo sum, (I think, therefore I am)” wrote Rene Descartes in Principals of Philosophy, summing up the theory of Cartesian Dualism. Simply put, the theory holds that the brain is the seat of the soul, housing everything man is. The body, according to the theory, is completely separate from the brain, useful only as a vessel of life and means of mobility.

Many film-makers have found the 17th century, French philosopher’s theory irresistible. Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931), taken from Mary Shelley is the best known cinematic exploration, but other notable treatments include Donovan’s Brain (Felix Feist, 1953), The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (Joseph Green, 1962), and RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987). The most interesting and direct exploration of Descartes’ philosophy, however, is Eugene Lourié’s vastly underappreciated The Colossus of New York (1957).

Otto Kruger & Ed Wolff

A flawed but strikingly beautiful gem, Colossus not only provides a raw, edgy take on the brain transplant theme, it tells its tale through the prism of a dark family drama; a father and two sons, whose repressed hatred for one another provide the real fuel in this bleak, scathing film. Colossus, though wildly uneven and not as grand, certainly, as Whale’s Frankenstein (and certainly not as beautiful as Whales’ follow-up, Bride of Frankenstein), still has the ability to haunt the viewers’ memory with images of stark, unadorned power.

The plot of Colossus is a very simple construct that is set in motion very early in the film: Dr. Jeremy Spencer (Ross Martin) is a super-genius scientist that is killed in a freak accident. So unique are Dr. Spencer’s scientific gifts, and so important is his work, that his father, Dr. William Spensser (Otto Kruger) and his brother, Dr. Henry Spensser (John Baragrey) decide to place Dr. Jeremy’s undamaged brain in a eight foot mechanical creation, thereby preserving not only Dr. Jeremy’s “life” but his important, scientific work (among other things, Dr. Jeremy is working on ways to feed the hungry of the world). The father and son scientific team are eventually successful in bringing Dr. Jeremy’s brain to consciousness within the giant, mechanical man; but is their creation “life”? And further, is this huge machine, in any sense, Dr. Jeremy Spensser?

The opening scene effectively establishes a competitive friction between the two brothers, who we find in a dark room watching an industrial film lauding the accomplishments of senior brother, Henry. The film shows a large automated plant; its mechanical arms rotating, conveyer belts rolling, and wheels spinning. The effect of all these metallic arms, swinging, gripping, and clamping is vaguely ominous, as if we are glimpsing some harsh, shiny-silver future devoid of human hands and limbs. The film explains how Dr. Henry has developed a heat sensor that somehow makes this automated plant run more efficiently. While watching the film, Dr. Jeremy claps Dr. Henry on the back as the projector clatters away.

Fantastic!” declares Brother Jeremy, honestly trying to sound impressed. “You create any more like this, you’ll put the human race out of business!”

Brother Henry is smiling, watching the film. His smile seems a bit stiff. “Don’t be so magnanimous, Jerry. You know that heat sensing detector was your idea.”

“Oh, now,” says Dr. Jeremy, patting his brother kindly on the shoulder, his voice a little too sympathetic, “stop tearing yourself down. You know your were about to discover that yourself.”

The smile on Brother Henry’s hasn’t changed, and he’s still staring at the screen, his face white in the flickering light of the screen. “All the same,” he says through his brotherly smile, “It was your idea.”

This brief, stunted moment in the sun for Henry is shattered when Jeremy’s wife, Anne (Mala Powers), bursts into the room and flicks on the lights. “May I?” she asks in that annoying way folks have when asking permission for something they have already done. Light floods the room and she waves a newspaper in the air. She is beaming at her husband, the smart brother, Jeremy. “Congratulations, darling!” she says, striding across the room.

“Hey, Ma, put out the light!” whines little Billy (Charles Herbert), who has been sitting on his dad’s lap (Dr. Jeremy). “Not now, Bill,” scolds mom. “This is much too important!”

Mrs. Spensser proceeds to declare her husband a very important man, slapping the headline of the newspaper for evidence. While Anne kisses her husband, it is left to big brother to sing the glories of his younger, more brilliant sibling:

In a voice flat with duty, Henry reads from the paper, which tells of his younger brother winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his epic work in genetics. Jeremy has been developing frost free fruits and vegetables, thereby turning Earth’s frozen polar regions into “a new breadbasket for the world.” The newspaper front page goes on to praise Jeremy for his ground breaking work in many humanity-saving areas, including flood control.

Brother Jeremy, tousling his son’s hair and smiling magnanimously, adopts a thoughtful, humble approach as is befitting a simple man of exceptional genius and saintly sacrifice. “It’s all a bit premature, don’t you think?” he asks with benign, wistful softness. “I mean, an award for peace with peace so very far away?”

“Will it ever come any closer?” asked Henry flatly as Jeremy’s wife gives him a look of sour disappointment for darkening the moment even a degree.

That’s the set-up question Jeremy was hoping his more cynical brother would supply. After all, to appear nobly optimistic, someone has to supply the necessary pessimism. Glorious Ying must have somber Yang. Would Abel be the beloved one without Cain? With his arm around his glowing wife, snuggling her against his brother’s unhappy words, Jeremy springs like a cat: Oh, yes,” he says, barely waiting for his brother to finish his sentence, “yes, I think it can. If the people of the world get enough to eat, war might just become obsolete.”

“And that’s what you’re going to work towards--” pipes up Anne, beaming up at her husband now. The two kiss as the much taller Henry looks down at them – a dour, thin-nosed mortician with only the trace of a smile. Anne pulls back from the kiss. “—as soon as we come back from Stockholm!”

“Stockholm?” says genius brother as though accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Sweden were a garden variety irritation - like having in-laws over for supper. “Stockholm? Do we really have to go?”

Smiling like soon-to-be-crowned royalty, Anne tells him that she has already wired his acceptance. The two snuggle some more, grinning and mock scolding over their adorable foibles.

By now it should be clear what a pair of good, noble, self-sacrificing ass holes are Dr. Jeremy Spencer and his good wife, Anne; and what a smoldering powder keg is the tall, cadaverous brother, Dr. Henry Spensser (I choose to believe that the name of this character was not an accident. The English philosopher, Herbert Spenser, shared with our cinematic Henry Spensser a similar earth-bound view of the world and his fellow humans. Herbert said, amongst many other things: “A jury is a group of twelve people of average ignorance;” and further, “Divine right of kings means the divine right of anyone who can get uppermost”).

So, we have one brother, a Noble Prize winner who will soon, without doubt, solve the worlds problems and bring peace to the globe; succeeding where Christ himself had failed. Naturally, Dr. Jeremy is complete with gorgeous wife and properly precocious and adorable son. Then, on the other side of the ledger, we have Henry: An austere bachelor who works in automation, and has just developed a heat-thingy that will increase canning factories by .02%. Is it any wonder Henry has adopted a rather taciturn, business-like view of existence? Further reasons for Henry’s bleak reserve will be soon made evident when we have the pleasure of meeting Dr. William Spensser, patriarch of the Spencer clan of scientists.

It is at Idlewild Airport that the plot thickens and darkens, and it is also our first chance to meet Dr. William Spensser (Otto Kruger), famous brain surgeon and father of Dr. Jeremy Spensser (oh, and also father of Henry as well). As members of the press await the arrival of the recent Peace Prize winner, they are afforded the opportunity to interview the proud father:

“Dr. Spensser,” asks a newshound, pencil and notebook at the ready, “you must be very proud of your son’s achievements.” (They call that kind of question a "softball” in the trade).

“Oh, I am, I am,” says the distinguished, white-haired Dr. Spensser, clearly basking in the small oasis of media attention, “but his past achievements are nothing compared to his future achievements, wouldn’t you agree, John?” The elder scientist introduces Dr. John Carrington (Robert Hutton), Jeremy’s “oldest and dearest friend.” Of course, proud poppa elects to give his other son, Henry, who is standing next to him, no introduction at all. That is left to Professor Carrington. At Dr. William’s introduction, Carrington delivers right on cue: “Well I believe he is one of the true authentic geniuses in this country. Don’t you agree, Henry?”

Smiling, Henry says, “That’s what I’ve always been told.” Henry’s poise during this and other humiliation is admirable, his iron discipline evident just below the rigid, fleshly smiles and soft voice. Carrington then introduces Brother Henry as “being in electronics,” but newshound never bothers to look up from his pad as he launches immediately into other questions for the elder Dr. Spensser.

During the glow of this news conference, Dr. William poses an interesting view of mankind, and the position his glorious son holds in his cosmology. As Dr. William patiently explains to the press, there are three levels of genius, or rather, three levels which men of genius, or men in general, apply themselves: There is level one, where genius is applied only for personal gain; men like Machiavelli or Napoleon, for example (with a sanctimonious smirk, Dr. William informs readers that the majority of the world’s population is in that “first, primitive level.”) Then there is the second level, where men work to satisfy the needs of their immediate family or local community. Then there is the third and highest level, where genius strives to serve the needs of all humanity.

“And I must say,” says Dr. William, coming finally to the conclusion of his analysis of the human race, “my son, Jeremy, is in that third class, if you’ll forgive a doting father!” There is much warm chuckling as pencils scratch at notepads.

Disaster strikes, however, as the Spensser tribe and friends are leaving the airport, after Jeremy’s triumphant return from Stockholm: Dr. Jeremy Spensser, man of genius and soon-to-be savoir of the world’s teeming masses, is struck dead by a common delivery truck as he tries to retried his son’s toy airplane that has blown onto the tarmac. “Call an ambulance!” says Dad, cradling his dead son’s head in his lap. “I’m afraid it’s too late, Sir,” says Carrington. “I said call an ambulance!” snaps Dr. William, his voice for the first time hinting at something tyrannical beneath the professorial veneer.

Robert Hutton, Otto Kruger, and John Baragrey (Ross Martin in foreground)

An ambulance is summoned, and Jeremy’s corpse is whisked away - not to the local hospital, but to the Spensser Long Island Estate and mansion, with all its appropriate turrets and gothic architecture. A funeral is held, Jeremy’s cadaver is put into the ground on the estate grounds, and soon Dr. Carrington and Dr. William are seen arguing the matter of the meaning of Jeremy’s death in one of the Spensser Mansion’s oak-filled studies (Brother Henry, as he has done most of his life, watches the two mammoth egos arguing points, his eyes dark, keeping all opinions to himself. Carrington, the friend, has become more of a son than is Henry.):

“I’ll give you a meaning, and I’ll give you an ugly one,” thunders Dr. William. “In this time of world crisis, the world has been deprived of true genius!” True, true, says the irritatingly calm Dr. Carrington, but in times of crises nature provides several men of genius.

This, of course, is pure blasphemy to Dr. William: “Nature?” says Dr. William, his mouth contorted with contempt, “what arrant drivel. Can’t you understand that Jeremy’s brain was unique?” The elderly Dr. compares his dead son’s brain to that of Di Vinci, Michelangelo, and Einstein. What if, speculates the doctor, the minds of these great men were able to continue their work after their deaths, unhampered by the mortal anchor of their bodies. Imagine the advancements for civilization!

Carrington’s reaction is immediate yet reserved: No, every man is the product of his mind and body. It is through the divine spark of the Creator that the interconnection between mind and body combines and creates a unique soul. Dr. William snorts his contempt for any concepts that include such an antiquated notion as a soul. “As a scientist, can you measure a soul?” demands the senior doctor, some real heat now in his voice. “Can you!”

Approaching the subject now with a bit more caution, Carrington continues: “As a scientist, I believe that any brain, unable to feel hunger and cold, pleasure and pain; love and hate -- any brain divorced from human experience must become de-humanized to the point of monstrousness.”

“You are an idiot,” says the once-kindly Dr. William through clenched teeth, his eyes bulging. “An idiot! I tell you that in the brain, and in the brain alone, lies the glory of man! The ability to think, to create! These go on eternally! I tell you! The brain is supreme, it is immortal, and I can prove ---“

Dr. Carrington, sensing that the elder scientist has slipped a gear, tries to calm him before the old man has a stroke or brains him with an ashtray. He places his hands on the older man’s shoulders. “There, There,” he says. Surely all these discussions are theoretical anyway. Dr. William gathers himself, and the mad light in his eyes dims just slightly. He looks around the room as if trying to remember where he is. He rubs the base of his nose. “Yes, theoretical. Quite theoretical,” he says, leaving the room quickly.

Dr. Henry finally steps forward, his eyes betraying nothing. “He’s taking it rather badly,” he says easily.

“I’m worried about him,” says Carrington. “Henry, he’s going to need you,”

“That would be something new,” says Henry simply. “He’s always needed Jeremy before--” Henry’s face hardens for the first time in the film. “Preferred Jeremy. Loved ----“

“That’s all in the past,” says Carrington, cutting him off harshly. “Now he needs you.”

Indeed. Dr. William Spensser does need his lackluster, surviving son, or rather he needs Henry’s specialized expertise in automation and electronics. Horribly, the fevered conversation with Dr. Carrington was not one of theory; but one that Dr. William will soon put into grotesque practice. After Dr. Carrington has convinced not only Henry, but also Mala and little Billy to stay on at the Spensser estate, as a show of familial support for the edgy old man, we soon discover that Dr. William has removed his son’s brain and has it in a oxygenated tank. He keeps it in a locked laboratory, with thousands of filament strands connected to it, latticed like webbing about lab’s interior like silky tendrils of human tissue and nerves (The scene where Dr William shows Son Henry the brain for the first time is excellent. In this scene and many others, Van Cleave’s sparse, dramatic piano score gives the moment the high drama of the silent film era).

Putting theory into practice, Dr. William wants Henry to build him a mechanical man, or better put, a mechanical vessel into which he can transplant Son Jeremy’s brilliant and one-of-a-kind grey matter. Dr. Henry is at first horrified. “No, no,” says Henry when the idea is put to him, but his voice is thin and pleading. Even has he speaks, the conclusion is never in question. He hasn’t the strength to defy his father; and worse, is desperate to imagine he might, somehow, be loved.

The film then follows the creation of this mechanical life, from its ragged and horrific “birth” to its ultimate fate; in which Dr. Carrington’s observations about the twinning of body and mind are proven dramatically correct (and the elegant French philosopher, Descartes, is proved waaayy wrong).

The film, never dull, jumps to urgent life the moment the huge, mechanical “Jeremy” first crackles with electric juice, it’s blank, white eyes glowing with the power of a brilliant intellect.

The mechanical shell that Henry manufactures to house his brother’s genius brain is an eight foot tall robot with massive shoulders, cranium, and jaw; made all the more dramatic by flowing, shoulder tufted cape and white, rectangular, glowing eyes. Henry makes every attempt to give his creation a human appearance, even giving the automaton a rough, Cubist suggestion of Jeremy’s face – and a mouth that moves just enough to suggest torment. The Colossus costume was designed by Charles Gemora and Ralph Lester; and it weighed in at a solid 170 pounds. The actor wearing the costume was Ed Wolff, who was 7’4”. When Mr. Wolff harnessed himself into the structure of chicken wire, burlap, and rubber; the effect is one of the most arresting movie robots ever presented – eight feet of huge, blunt power. The hands alone appear to weigh about 7 pounds each with square, thick fingers. Jeremy, in all honesty, would have kicked the living shit out of Mary Shelly’s ragtag collection of body parts.

The scene in which Jeremy’s brain is brought to life within his new, metal body is a cinematic moment that compares favorably to James Wales’ similar scene; when Karloff’s Frankenstein is born amid lightening and thunder. In Colossus, Jeremy’s brain is brought on line by a lever in the side of his robot body. Henry has placed this lever at a location that Jeremy, once “living” in the robot, cannot reach. This is so Jeremy cannot kill himself once his brain melds with the machine. “Why should he?” asks William, the Father, his voice unpleasant, his hand poised to throw the lever for the first time. “Why shouldn’t he?” says Henry, understanding the horror on his brother’s behalf.

Otto Kruger and John Baragrey

The lever is thrown, and at first nothing dramatic happens; then Jeremy’s large eye slots blink and then shine with a white brilliance. “Jeremy,” says William. “You can see.” Our perceptive changes to Jeremy, his brain linking with the machine and we see and hear from inside the newly born creature. The screen is a flickering of white noise and streaks – rolling once or twice like a broken television – the sound comes as though from a poor signal, scorched with static. The father continues to speak. You can hear Jeremy. You can see and move. You’ve been very Ill, but you are going to be all right. Finally we see a dim, hazy outline of the father. We change perspectives to see the robot again, its architecture striving to sync with the soft, small brain. Its eyes are brilliant slashes. Its mouth moves and works as if in terrible pain or perhaps struggling to swallow or cry. It begins to make sounds.

The sounds it makes are electronic squeals and deep, scathing catches of sounds and crackles – some sizzling warbles begin to repeat as the subtle brain tries to control the course engine of steel and cable. One can imagine speakers trying to harness the soft edges of speech. It makes a high trilling sound that might be a strangled shout of pain. It is looking at the father. You can move! demands the father, barking orders as if at a stumbling, crying child. Move! Walk! Right Now! The thing makes a strangled bleating sound – then emits a high-pitched, even hum. The monster straightens, towering now to full height. The effect is such that both father and brother straighten themselves, unprepared for the naked strength that radiates from the new creation. A second phase of synchronization has occurred, the fine filaments of nerve tendrils fusing with the hard elements of the body.

The New Jeremy flexes his hands; he begins to move out of the heavy scaffolding that keeps his new body propped upright. He takes steps, but, clearly, the brain is unable to control the sheer mass of the monolith that houses its fragile tissue. The steps sound as though a sledgehammer were thumping and dragging across a wooden floor. The arms are out stretched, the hands like bowling balls – the fingers working. Tables are being knocked over, glass is shattered.

“Henry!” shouts father, his eyes desperate. “Turn off the control!”

But Henry will do nothing of the sort. He is sitting on a stool with his hands folded in his lap, watching his brother’s confused torment with an expression of hooded-eyed joy. The sight of his brother - the chosen son, the families’ shining light - struggling and suffering like a lost and terrified child in this torture chamber of a body, is not a pleasure he will deny himself.

Jeremy stumbles to stand by chance in front of a mirror. He straightens, sees his reflection. His eyes become brighter, and an electrical sound is heard, like multiple circuits overloading and crackling in surges of discharge. The “face”, of course, has no expression. Yet, somehow we now. There is something in the frantic workings of the open mouth - the white-hot blinking of the eyes – that suggest the bottomless depths of shock and revulsion. Finally, by some electrical impulse surging over wires, moving speakers set somewhere in the creature’s head, it makes a shrill emission of air waves.

And, certainly, there is no mistaking this sound. Anything living, anything with a soul, would recognize the high-pitched squalling as an expression of searing, psychic agony. It is a very reddish and even sound, a shrill keening without great volume; as if the sufferer were horse - nearly voiceless - in this place of numbing horror. The sound of it fills the still air and the dark halls of Spensser Mansion, faint yet unmistakable in its suffering.

The first words that Jeremy speaks after learning to approximate word sounds, via his body’s complex electronics, will be ones begging for death.

With that, let us commence with the Good Stuff:

Good Stuff Pt. I: Cain – Soft-Spoken in Suit and Tie.

Before we go further, a word must be said for Dr. Henry Spensser, the thin, stoic brother of genius.

John Baragrey plays Dr. Henry Spenser, brother of brilliant Jeremy; and his performance is a study in cool reserve and elegant control. His words are gentle and never hurried; his manner is one of grace and style - his lean body a thin cool, column sheathed in a perfectly pressed suit. When he speaks to his brother in the early going, the smile is always present: “Don’t be so magnanimous, Jerry. You know that heat sensor was your idea.” He may even be a brilliant man, in his way - very good at automation and electronics. He just isn’t going to save the world. Like his brother, Jeremy. He just doesn’t bring glory to the Spensser name or, far more importantly, glory to the father, William. Like his brother Jeremy.

Baragrey’s performance, like the character he portrays, is all about dignified control. Baragrey’s Henry will always say the right thing, offer congratulations to his brother at every proper moment, yet Baragrey makes it subtly clear, as the picture moves along, that Henry is a man giving away a small piece of his hidden heart with every smile; his sweet, flat voice a scream of pain too modulated to hear. The actor captures the tone perfectly, and one can’t help but feel something for this unloved brother. Pity? Something more, perhaps? Empathy. Yes. Empathy, for so few of us will save the world, and so many of us know the workings of Henry’s quiet pain. Henry is not the man he wishes to be; does not inspire the passion in others he longs for. To make matters worse, his above-average gifts are forced to dwell in the dimly lit corners of the brilliant illumination that is Jeremy.

Pain is the word for Henry. It is painful to watch Henry trying to make things better for his sister-in-law and nephew after his brother’s death. “Billy?” he calls, entering the house soon after the funeral. “Billy, I have something for you.” Billy is sitting on the floor, dourly playing with a toy carrousel, solemn and still as children are in grief.

“Billy!” says his mother, standing beside Henry with her arms crossed. “You should answer when spoken to.” Billy shuffles over with his eyes down.

“Billy, want to look in my pockets and see what I found for you?” says Henry, holding up his arms. Billy begins to go through Henry’s topcoat dutifully. “Ah you’re pretty cold there. Colder. Warmer.” Eventually Billy pulls out a toy boat from a pocket. All has gone according to Henry’s plan: He has gone to a toy store and selected an appropriate gift, perhaps taking his time. He has made a fun game of his nephew finding this gift, as beloved uncles often do. He has even placed his hand on the boys head. Yet something essential hasn’t clicked. “Thank you, Uncle Henry,” says Billy. “It’s very nice.”

Inevitably, Henry falls in love with Anne, his brother’s widow; his polite hand-holding overturns, though, are met with cool reserve and obvious boredom. It’s a mute point, anyway, as suave Dr. Carrington, with his natty little mustache and flowery talk of the soul, has beaten him easily to the punch without even trying. Henry just isn’t a man that can inspire passion or love; the genius brother has seen to that – all through their lives, any love or powerful feeling that came near the brothers’ orbit was completely drawn into the frightful gravity – the black hole -- of Jeremy’s charisma; the atmosphere around Henry growing colder by degrees .

Henry hates is brother, Jeremy. But, of course, sibling hate is never a simple thing, skittering as in does on the indistinct borders of love. When Jeremy’s father shows Henry the brain, Henry’s cool reserve is broken; and he is horrified for his brother. When Jeremy stirs to consciousness, birthed in electronic shrieks, it is Henry that wants to spare his brother the horror of the monster shell; touching, for just a brief moment of compassion, the bond brothers share. “No. No . . . It’s inhuman,” he says, his voice choked, staring around the lab while the tank bubbles methodically, his face somehow youthful in his moment of terrible understanding, his expression raw with compassion for his brother.

John Baragrey

Yet, as Blake has said, “the human face a furnace seal’d.” This compassion from Henry is something primal – a brother’s bond; but this center will not hold. As Jeremy’s soul is ruined by the cold metal, and his mind encased in steel becomes nothing more than a savage calculating machine, Henry grins at the metal features of the colossus in naked glee at his little brother’s horrible torment.

John Baragrey gives us a performance strong enough to make us believe both sides of Henry’s tortured feelings for his own blood.

The Good Stuff Pt. II: Saint Jeremy and the Calculation of Genocide

After being born into his titanic shell, it takes Jeremy a bit to master his body armor. Quickly though, standing stock still, he can communicate in a rough, electronic imitation of his human voice. His first order of business?

“You want to help me?” he asks, forming his words very carefully. “Then destroy me.”

The father cannot do this, of course. After a conversation in which Father William has taken advantage of every possible avenue of manipulation, Jeremy agrees to try to continue his noble work providing that his mechanical afterlife is kept a secret from the world. “I . . .will try.” He says, his flat voice communicating tremendous suffering.

Very quickly though, as Dr. Carrington has predicted, a mind divorced from the human stimulus of a physical body becomes something terribly cold and analytical – a thing devoid of the lush pleasures and the shades of sensitive concern which mesh in the soul. Slowly, inexorably, Jeremy forgets the pleasures - and loves - of the flesh. To make things even more terrible, his runaway mind, no longer hampered by the limitations of a physical being, becomes clairvoyant – capable of seeing the world’s horrible events before they happen (the Jeremy Robot, improving his body as will befit the dreadful formulations of his mind, will soon develop his optics to include the ability to hypnotize as well as shoot out curtains of death rays). Jeremy’s mind begins to twist and gnarl blackly in the horrid wind of his ever-increasing, godlike power.

One afternoon Henry finds himself alone with his brother in the laboratory. Henry is sitting behind a desk, regarding his brother, who has hung himself in his frame of heavy scaffolding to rest. Suddenly Henry smiles, then laughs unpleasantly. “What is it you find so amusing?” says Jeremy, his metallic voice registering an obvious warning.

“Not amusing,” says Henry, his eyes mean slits, “Ironic. It occurred to me how ironic it is that your grave should lay just a few hundred yards form here, and yet all this time you continue to so brilliantly exist.”

“Bril-liant-ly,” says Jeremy, his temper flaring, making his words break and crackle. The air is filled with the sound of circuits starting to sputter. “AHM AHM AHM AHM - I warn you. Henry.” Jeremy lifts himself from his resting frame, towering now, eyes white. He holds his hands out. “These are powerful, Henry. You know how powerful, because you made them.” The creature takes a step toward Henry. “Do not goad me, Henry. I warn yooouuaaahhh na na na! “

Henry’s expression has instantly gone from vindictive satyr to scared-shitless weenie and, quick like a bunny, he scrambles for the control box and switches Jeremy off. As Jeremy’s eyes go dark and he slumps back into his resting frame, Henry sits gulping for a moment or two amid the scorched ozone; understanding for the first time that his brother truly is dead and gone; and that what remains is a killing monster with 7 pound hands.

Perhaps because of his brother’s viscous taunts, Jeremy Robot begins to visit his mortal grave in secret, clumping heavily through the Estate grounds. It is at his own gravesite that monster Jeremy befriends his son, Billy, in some of the movie’s most saccharine and false moments. The stilted, wince-producing dialogue of the son-with-mechanical-father scenes, of which where are gratefully few, are totally incongruous to a script that is otherwise clean and hard. It is the perfunctory, contrived nature of this relationship which will mar the picture - give its conclusion a slight false ring, and reduce its grade to “gem” from a possible ranking of “masterpiece.”

Yet this tender relationship with his son proves only a brief respite from the coming gale of a corrupted intellect. No human feeling can begin to halt Jeremy’s rapid slide into the crystalline light of rampant madness. As Jeremy struggles to hold onto the last, bitter dregs of his sanity, as well as his darkening humanity, he explains himself thus to his father:

“Shall I tell you what you have given me? Shall I show you? This, Father--” Jeremy, now able to stand and walk without support from his rest braces (like a child learning to fully control its body), picks up a long letter opener off a table and calmly plunges it to the hilt into his chest. It makes a sound like an oil can being slowly and methodically crushed. “You’ve given me this body. This flesh that cannot feel. Cannot feel—“ Jeremy begins to approach his father, who makes a crab for the control box. “No!” shouts Jeremy, smashing it onto the ground. As the pieces of the box tinkle and rattle around, Jeremy and his father stare at one another, both realizing the Rubicon has been crossed; and that this mammoth, terrible infant has entered some freakish version of manhood, beyond the manipulation of the father.

Then, as Jeremy descends fully into the awful logic of his electrified brain, he finds the bottom of his mind to be as cold and sterile as the edge of a razor. There is nothing in the pit with him but icy light. The correct course of action becomes very simple and blindingly clear to him: Step one of Jeremy’s final solution is to kill his brother, whom he has come to see as an enemy (not to mention Jeremy, with his powers of clairvoyance, realizes that Henry is in love with he wife). Jeremy, by the latter half of the movie, has become a sweaty, terrified mess and on the run for his life; his once smooth voice a shaking tremor of fear and desperation. “Can’t you understand,” he pleads his father from a phone booth in Manhattan, begging him for getaway money; “He can see me. Where ever I am, he can see me!” This proves to be true and Henry, the doomed lesser light, dies in a shower of death rays spraying out from the eyes of his brother. Henry dies alone on the rain-black streets of a Manhattan night; and it is the killing of his brother that seems to unleash the Pandora’s box of Jeremy’s destruction.

One evening, Dr. William comes running to the sound of destruction coming from the lab. He rushes in to discover the Jeremy combine smashing the place to atoms, pounding his metal fists through the tanks holding the vegetable and fruit plants of his research, smashing the tables and beakers to bits.

Jeremy pauses to explain the logic of his final solution to his father.

“Why produce food for the lame and the sick? Why should we work to preserve slum people of the world? Isn’t it simpler and wiser to get rid of them instead? Unfortunately there are so-called humanitarian scientists, and I am one of them, who tried to keep human trash alive. It will be necessary to get rid of those humanitarians first. Do you understand? We must eliminate the idealists.” Here, Jeremy steps over to his father, a hulking gargantua casting his father in shadow. Jeremy leans close, his flashing, hypnotic eyes casting strobes over his father’s white face. “You will help me,” he says.

The Good Stuff, Pt. IV: The Slaughter of the World

Jeremy hypnotically instructs his father to attend the World Food Convention at the United Nations Building, in which Jeremy was to have been given an award for his work in world hunger (Dr. Carrington is to accept the award in his place as the world thinks he is dead). Jeremy has instructed his father to be there, along with his wife and son, promptly at 8:30.

The United Nations Building will symbolize the entire globe, with people from many nations milled about at the convention. It is here, amid the cries and screams of the world, that Jeremy will begin his genocide of the human trash including, for good measure, his entire family.

To make the convention at the UN Building, Jeremy crosses the East River by walking long the bottom of it, emerging on the Manhattan side undetected (the shots of the mechanical Jeremy, walking under water accompanied by Van Cleave’s elegant piano score, are strangely beautiful and frightening). Jeremy then crashes into the convention through one of the United Nations Building’s huge glass panels. As the shrieking begins, Jeremy marches to a balcony, and turns to face the population of the globe.

“Though shall beat their swords into plowshares, hook their spears into pruning-hooks. Nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more,” are the words carved into the marble wall behind Jeremy, who stands over the populace with his hands at his sides. Suddenly, wave after wave, curtain after shimmering curtain of eye death-rays are spread over humanity – as represented by the screaming men and woman in evening wear engulfed in the lethal light. Jeremy, in his ultimate way, is making the scribe of ancient Isaiah absolutely true: Nations will never learn war again. As Stalin believes, so believes Jeremy: “No man – No problem.”

Nations of men and women fall, howling in agony as their lives are seared from their bodies; dropping one after another to the tile-checkerboard floor of the world, curling so as to appear fetal and birthed into death.

Again we recall the words of Isaiah, as it is Billy, the little child, that will lead them and save the world form holocaust: Amid the howls of the dying, Billy dashes up the stairs of the balcony to his Father. His enormous, mechanized father lifts him, and for one glorious moment – er, I mean for one dreadful moment - we imagine that he is going to crush the sweet child to pulp; but no. Jeremy holds his son to his chest while Billy beats his metallic breastplate with his fists, screaming his hatred.

“I cannot stop myself,” says Jeremy, having a rather sudden and tardy flash of humanity. “Billy, I want you to stop me.” Unable to reach the suicide, fail-safe lever that is attached to his side, Jeremy instructs his son to throw it. “Harder, Billy. Harder,” says the father in is flat, mechanized voice.

Finally, after several annoyingly feeble attempts (don’t be a puss Billy! Put some ass into it, Goddammit!), Billy is finally able to throw the death lever, and Jeremy tumbles over the balcony railing to the floor with a crash (we see a reaction shot of Jeremy’s fall to earth via Dr. William, who flinches at the smashing sounds offscreen as though watching a server drop a tray of dishes).

We are given a final shot of family exiting the building; and Dr. William Spensser grimly admitting to Dr. Carrington that he was right all along, that an intellect separated from the human impulses of a mortal body will invariably lead to monstrousness. The End.

In conclusion, we have to admit that Dr. Carrington was certainly correct as far as his theory goes: It is the mind/body connection which creates the possibility for a sensitive humanity; but it is the deeds of the father, Dr. William Spensser, which demonstrate that a mind need not be divorced from a body to become monstrous. The good doctor’s life provides a fine example, as do so many in our race's bloody history, that a mind and body can combine to form a monster just fine.

Colossus of New York

Dr. William Spenser, after all, as had quite a busy time of it. He has pulled the brain of one son from the mouth of the grave, not out of love but out of a desperate need to sustain his own vicarious glory. He has brought the brain, and the son, back to a hideous aberration of life wherein said son will destroy his own noble legacy. Further, he has sent another son screaming with fear into the night, only to die at the huge hands of the resurrected bother. And, not for nothing, his created Jeremy - this clairvoyant, extermination machine - has symbolically eliminated a fair share of the world’s population before coercing his son to help him commit suicide.

Dr. William has shown us, as though a refresher course were actually required, that monsters aren’t really robots or spacemen; they don’t have fangs or change into wolves when clouds pass before the face of a full moon. No. They often have advanced degrees, large studies full of books; well pressed suits and pleasant manners - have large dogs as pets.

The real monsters of the world don’t die by silver bullets or wooden stakes. They aren’t blasted from the sky with ray guns. Hell, they seldom die at all. Often the real monsters of the earth simply shrug their shoulders at the carnage, brush off a trouser leg, and go home to a nice fire and a glass of sherry.

26 comments:

  1. I thought I had seen a lot of B-Movies - but I have never even heard of this one.

    Now after your write-up I must see it. I'm going to have to look through my collection and see whether I've got a copy hiding away in one of those 50 B-movie collections.

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  2. MCB, Esq.: I am very happy my efforts have inspired you to see this wonderful film! Thanks for the kind words. Colossus is very dificult to find. I know of only one source. Try here: Ghost House Productions.

    Again, thanks for stopping by! -- Mykal

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  3. certainly another one I will have to add to my watch list soon enough, another great review of encyclopedic quality Radmobile!

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  4. Very well done sir!

    I think my dvd was recorded off tv. It looks somewhat bootleggish, but I don't mind. I like everything about this movie.

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  5. Carl: Well, speak of the Devil (so to speak), and he will appear! I was just over at your joint! Thanks for the drop-by. Hmm, the Radmobile. I like that. I'm thinking a 1957 Bel Air Convertible, cherry red, of course!

    KW: The copy I have, from the source I hyperlinked on my post, also looks as if taken from a third-party source, but the image quality is OK to Good. I agree, this is one cool movie!

    Thank, Gentlemen. -- Mykal

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  6. I had never even heard of this movie before. Wow. It sounds pretty cool. Great review. I do always enjoying your posts. I learn a lot about movies, especially ones I didn't even know existed.

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  7. Great write-up! I've GOT to check this one out!

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  8. Keith: Hey, pal, thanks for stopping by as always. I agree, the unexpected gems, like this one, are always a special thrill.

    CrazySexyMetalChick: And thanks as well for finding your way to my place, and thanks for the kind words. Please do see this one. It really suprised me, as you can tell by my post.

    -- Mykal

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  9. Great review - I can't stress enough your great writing skills.

    I can't wait to see this film after reading your great review - so glad that I actually have it, so I can watch it!

    - Sebina

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  10. Sebina: So cool that you have it! You must tell my what you think once you've seen it. Spend some time with it with a cup of tea, like you did on Sunday with your comics (with me it's always coffee).

    And thanks for the wonderful compliment, and I look forward to your reaction to Colossus. -- Mykal

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  11. Fantastic! You write any more like this, you’ll put the human race out of business!

    Actually I had seen Mr Colossus many times in a clips medley in a documentary I have, and never knew what film he came from. This sounds very interesting indeed...

    But even more interesting: I've just looked up this Eugene Lourié
    guy - is this the most weird and amazing career ever or what???
    Art decorator on Gance's Napoleon! Set decorator on Grande Illusion!! Production designer on La Regle du Jeu and La Bete Humaine!!! Art director on Abbott and Costello's In Society, Chaplin's Limelight, Battle of the Bulge and the tv series Kung Fu!!!! Actor in Breathless!!!!! And director of this and Gorgo and Beast From 20000 Fathoms!!!!!!
    What a guy!!!!!!!!
    Have you ever read any interviews with him or anything? I mean, how did he see himself???

    Another top post!

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  12. Matthew: You were able to turn up more about the director than I was. Judging by this movie, I sure want more.

    I have searched but been unable to find any interviews or an other full-length articles about him.

    I can say Colossus really benifits from a very classic sense of shot composition. As I said in my post, it really looks like a vintage silent film at times, something perhaps from early Fritz Lang. -- Mykal

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  13. Mykal: I'm glad and I definitely will!

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  14. From your post: "Herbert said, amongst many other things: “A jury is a group of twelve people of average ignorance;” and further, “Divine right of kings means the divine right of anyone who can get uppermost.”)."

    Herbert Spensser sounds like my kinda guy. :)

    Another epic write-up! I've also observed a non-licensed version of this for sale over @ Cinema de Bizarre... & I have a cheesy book entitled 'A Field Guide to Monsters' which actually is pretty comprehensive and features an entry on the 8-foot 'Colossus', glossy photo and all.

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  15. J. Astro: Nice to hear from you again, and thanks for the alternative source for this movie. I'm going to have to search for a copy of "A field Guide . . " The only reference I could find on it was a write-up in Bill Warren's wildly complete Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Finction Movies of the Fifties. Mr. Warren, however, was somewhat less than enthusastic in his support of Colossus; a postiion I will never understand.

    Thanks for the kind words! -- Mykal

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  16. I've been looking around and I've found virtually no positive crit, but quite a few sneery putdowns by people who give no evidence to suggest they've actually seen it. But Michael Weldon in the Psychotronic Guide calls the big fella "one of the screen's finest science-fiction creations."

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  17. Matthew: There is precious little written about this film and it seems to have had a long history of relative obscurity. I approached this film with little expectations, as what I can remember reading about it (from what sources I can't remember) focused mainly on the robots' relationship with the son which, admittedly, weren't the movies' strongest elements. But I found the few stills I had seen of the Jeremy Robot so arresting in their strength, I was dead curious. I am so glad I satisfied my curiosity about this film. I found it much worth seeking out. Have you seen it? I don’t know where you can get a region 2 copy.

    By the way, Carl at I Love Horror Movies has given me a "Good Read Award.” Expect Carfax Abbey to be so awarded by me soon. Stay tuned. -- Mykal

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  18. I am intrigued by how you occasionally (but JUST occasionally) review a film I know absolutely nothing about...and I am a hard one to stump! Kudos to you!

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  19. Mae: Thanks for stopping by. This is one worth seeing if you ever get the chance! -- Mykal

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  20. Great review Mykal. As always, thoughtful and articulate. I am asshamed to say that I haven't seen this film - but your review has certainly whet my appetite and I shall keep an eye out for it... Keep up the good work!

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  21. James: I think it may be more available in region II (format for viewing) than it is in my region I stomping grounds. I hope you get the chance to see it. I think you will appreciate it. -- Mykal

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  22. You might be interested in http://www.sfsite.com/gary/alla01.htm where Gary Westfahl lays much of the credit for this film at the feet of producer William Alland.

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  23. As a child growing up in early 70s Detroit, I was privileged to see this movie several times on Saturday afternoon TV. It ALWAYS scared the hell out of me, and the reasons cascaded upon each other: the monster, the superb sound engineering, the weird and unsettling piano score.

    There are so many potent, frozen-moment scenes, too: the toy airplane, Jeremy coming to life, the hypnotic takeover of his dad, the murky underwater crossing, Henry's death on the docks and the UN scenes that pervert the Lincoln Memorial scenes of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

    I speculate that its short running time has made this movie unjustly obscure to today's fans. It doesn't package well for a two hour TV window unless you have a lot of drop-in segments like those the old-school TV hosts created.

    Anyway, thanks for the superb writeup... this is one movie it's hard to overanalyze, given the subtlety of its makers.

    DAVE

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  24. Dave: Thanks for the kind words. I love your insights into it. Yes, I love this film, too, and think it great. There's a new release of the film with a beautiful restoration. Click Here!

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  25. Olive films have released a beautifully crisp, clean new print to DVD. A little pricey (no extras), but unmissable and essential. And thanks for your beautiful consideration of a terrific movie.

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  26. Ian: I have the Blu Ray release, and it's beautiful. Finally the film gets the treatment it has deserved for so long.

    And thanks for the kind words.

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