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The Colossus of New York

directed by Eugene Lourie
1957 / 20th Century Fox / 88′
written by
Thelma Schnee from a story by Willis Goldbleck
original music by Van Cleave
cinematography by John F. Warren
starring John Baragrey, Mala Powers, Otto Kruger, Robert Hutton, Ross Martin, Charles Herbert
released June 19th, 2012 by
Olive Films
video: 1080p / 1.78:1 / B&W / Mpeg-4 AVC
audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono (English)
subtitles: none
discs: single layer BD25 / Region A (B, C untested)
The Colossus of New York is now available on both DVD and Blu-ray through the usual online outlets.

A product of producer William Alland’s (It Came From Outer Space, Tarantula!) brief late-’50s stint with Paramount Pictures, 1958′s The Colossus of New York was never granted the time or resources necessary for it to be truly great in its own right, but in terms of pure style it’s second to none among the genre output of the decade. A bit like Frankenstein by way of Donovan’s Brain but with an odd, temporally estranged sensibility all its own, Colossus really hooked me as a kid in its infrequent television airings. The film was never made available on VHS or Laserdisc (officially), much to my young disappointment, but thanks to Olive Films (and their quest to release seemingly everything that lies dormant in the Paramount back catalogue) Colossus has been resurrected not just on DVD, but in a newly-released Blu-ray edition as well.

The story here, credited to Willis Goldbleck (Young Doctor Kildare) and future parapsychologist Thelma Schnee (better known as Thelma Moss), is a pretty straight-forward affair. Just after receiving the Nobel Prize for his advancements in mechanized industry, genius scientist and father-of-the-year Jeremy Spensser (Ross Martin!) is struck down in a freak accident while chasing down his son Billy’s toy plane in a parking lot. The shocked family mourns, but Jeremey’s father (Otto Kruger, Dracula’s Daughter), an ace brain surgeon, refuses to allow fate to deprive the world of his son’s genius. With the help of Jeremy’s less successful brother Henry (John Baragrey, Shockproof), dear old dad transplants Jeremy’s brain into a grand new mechanical body. At first horrified and resentful of his newfound inhumanity, Jeremy, unbound by bodily constraints, soon finds his mind possessed of impossible abilities. Brilliance perverts into deranged hubris, and sympathy turns to revulsion. Jeremy’s once-humanitarian pursuits give way to an insane dictatorial ambition and the Colossus finally looses itself, roasting the toast of the scientific community in the lobby of the United Nations.

First things first, it must be said that the eponymous Colossus is as indelible a thing as was ever to emerge from the mid-century golden age of science fiction. There’s a decidedly classical influence on the design, which is heavily reminiscent of various sculptures of Roman dignitaries. Indeed, the 8-foot-tall Colossus even looks more sculpted than mechanical, its ambiguous, unalterable expression set as though in marble, and its broad shoulders boast a suitably noble robe. The shear magnitude of it begs the obvious question – why would Jeremy’s father construct such a large body for his dead son’s brain, except to more easily facilitate its inevitable malevolent turn? Beyond the necessity of having a monster, I always thought there was a certain elegant sense to the doctor’s design for the Colossus. Blinded by his own single-minded determination to see the world benefit from his son’s mind, the father devises a self-same monument / benefactor whose appearance directly reflects the importance he attributes to his son’s intellect. In his arrogance he can’t possibly see the monstrosity of what he is creating, obvious as it it may be to the rest of us.

Adding a bit of welcome psychological complexity to the proceedings is Jeremy’s brother Henry, who assists in his father’s scheme as a way of garnering some paternal attention for himself, so long deprived of the same by Jeremy’s position as the favored son. Henry’s resentment of his brother’s success doesn’t end there, however. With Jeremy’s body hardly cold, and his brain chilling in an aquarium in the household lab, Henry begins positioning himself as suitor for his brother’s widowed wife and fatherless son. It’s no surprise, then, when the robotic Jeremy sets his death-ray sights on his errant brother, a move that cements his megalomania and sets him on his murderous course.

Of pre-eminent art director Eugene Lourie’s four forays into feature film direction (the other three of which are quintessential dinosaur-on-the-loose movies), The Colossus of New York always struck me as being the most interesting, if not exactly the best. A lot of that, I suspect, is to do with the literal timelessness of it all. The various machinery on display – laboratory equipment, an airplane, automobiles, a television set, even the Colossus itself – are all quite modern, but the style is something else entirely. Despite its contemporaneous trappings The Colossus of New York feels much older, oozing an aesthetic that recalls the end of the silent era – as a kid I remember having trouble telling just when the film was supposed to be taking place for this very reason. In addition to the moody expressionist lighting and occasional diffused close-ups, themselves enough, taken with the black and white photography, to secure the film’s old-school pedigree, Colossus features another throwback, brief bursts of undercranking that speed-up some of the action set-ups. The clincher here, however, is the piano-only score from prolific composer and music arranger Van Cleave, itself a novel solution to a strike by the Musicians’ Union at the time of production. Van Cleave’s score, written for three keyboardists, has also seen something of a resurrection as of late, courtesy of a CD release (along with the same composer’s work for Jack Arnold’s The Space Children) from Film Score Monthly.

The Colossus of New York isn’t a perfect film. Constrained by the aforementioned time and budget it can’t help but feel smaller than it ought to (even the primary location, the Spensser family estate, is only a table top miniature in its wide shots), but with a brisk running time of less than 70 minutes one can’t accuse it of overstaying its welcome. Perhaps most notable now for the brief appearance of Ross Martin (Experiment in Terror), here only a few short years away from his immortal turn in TV’s The Wild Wild WestThe Colossus of New York nevertheless maintains a unique appeal, if for its eponymous monster and retro style alone. Frequent readers know where I stand on this sort of cinema, and for fans of the same Colossus is a must-see.

Previously available only in gray-market dupes from old television screenings, Olive Films’ officially licensed Blu-ray treatment of The Colossus of New York is nothing short of a revelation. Presented in 1080p with the open-matte photography cropped comfortably to 1.78:1, the image here is unrestored but, given the nature and age of the production, I can’t complain. There’s plenty of minor damage to ponder – frame-specific specks, flecks, scratches, emulsion marks and so on – and there’s a persistent printed white hair visible at the center of the right side of the frame for a lengthy stretch, from roughly 9:30 to 33:30, but given the quality of the transfer otherwise I was undeterred.

Detail is surprisingly crisp where DP John F. Warren’s (Torn Curtain) photography allows, and contrast is rich. The image appears free of any undue digital manipulation, and a fine layer of film grain is visible throughout. I have to admit that I was at first taken aback by the meager technical specifications (the brief feature is granted a modest single-layer Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average bitrate of 23.5 Mbps), but aside from some minor posterization the show never really suffers for them. Audio is healthily related by way of a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 monophonic track, and Van Cleave’s score sounds especially strong. As is becoming too common for these sub-licensed releases there are no subtitles, and par for the course for Olive Films, with the exception of a functional menu the disc is void of any extra content.

I’ll not argue the virtues of high-price boutique label releases here, as it seems I’m doing that practically every other article these days. Suffice to say that, being very fond of the picture and having paid premium prices for bootleg copies in the past, I thought the disc was well worth what I put into it. Olive Films’ The Colossus of New York was never going to be the must-own Blu-ray property of the year, and it was never intended as such, but those keen on the film’s unique brand of sci-fi are certainly encouraged to indulge.

Screenshots were captured as native resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

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