Among the many regrettable downsides to Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s legacy is the tendency of its more snarky fans to completely write off the work of any filmmaker to ever be showcased on the series, however tangentially. The career of Roger Corman was defiantly renegade enough to effectively counter such trends, but another of the program’s notorious victims was filmmaker Eugène Lourié, who began as a production designer for Jean Renoir before going on to helm a string of science-fiction films, with his directorial swansong, Gorgo, among the best films ever featured on MST3K (a fact humorously played up by middlebrow mainstay Leonard Maltin, who appeared in a rare celebrity cameo for that particular episode). Lourié would only direct four theatrical films in his career, ultimately relegating himself to art-direction and production-design work out of distaste for the science-fiction genre to which he’d been typecast. It’s a minor tragedy that his talent wasn’t cultivated on stronger projects within the genre, for few had so great an impact on its overall framework in so short a time. One need only look to his ethereal The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which effectively jumpstarted the kaiju genre in 1953 (Godzilla, a direct result of its success, debuted the followed the year), to see why. Less influential but equally resonant was 1958’s The Colossus of New York, a frequently overlooked classic in an oversaturated decade of monster movies, but one that nevertheless carries the torch from past landmarks like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to more recent entries like Source Code and RoboCop.
Jeremy Spensser (Ross Martin) is a brilliant young scientist and family man expected by all to leave a magnificent impact on human progress—that is, before a senseless tragedy cuts his time on Earth short (on the eve of his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, no less). A renowned brain surgeon and unyielding man of reason, his father William (Otto Kruger) believes the mind can be reactivated independent of the body, and, arguing that we’d all be that much better off had the likes of Da Vinci and Shakespeare been allowed to carry on their mental labors indefinitely, crafts a synthetic body in which his departed son can once again function. The hulking metal mass evokes the archetypal mask of Greek tragedy, with forever-open white eyes and a gaping mouth that awkwardly moves with the words of its helpless occupant. Jeremy’s longing (for love, for death) soon clashes with the suffering of his mourning family and the love and generosity that defined him in life rapidly transforms into contempt and, ultimately, bloodthirsty hate. The plot is sporadically sloppy in its details (how Jeremy’s Colossus manages to navigate the city without drawing more than a passing interest in the local law enforcement is a question best left unanswered), but it’s all the better to cut to the core of the central moral quagmires up for debate. Lourié‘s empathetic direction suggests the creeping coalescence of a childhood nightmare or fairy tale (William is frequently framed as the monster—that is, before Jeremy finally goes berserk), and Nathan Van Cleave’s brooding piano score (an effectively simple approach necessitated by a musician’s strike during production) casts a tone of palpable melancholia over the proceedings. The Colossus of New York is frequently threadbare and even a little silly, such as the scene in which Jeremy first discovers a romantic betrayal, but it stings like the best of them.
Olive Films delivers a crisp, pleasing transfer of this technically modest work. Blacks are quite satisfying, as is the level of grain; details virtually unrecognizable on cable broadcasts, VHS, or DVD, such as the final reveal of Jeremy's eyes within the mask of the monster, are ripe for rediscovery by genre enthusiasts. The included mono DTS track is a fine match. Dialogue is clean and separate from the menacing Van Cleave score and infrequent, but booming, sound effects.
Sci-fi geeks may bemoan the lack of features on this release, but the lack of notoriety attached to this title probably means we should be grateful for this much.