by Larry Ham
The Colossus of New York is a 1958 sci-fi movie directed by Eugene Lourie. It’s not a movie a lot of people are familiar with, but if you are a fan of 1950s sci-fi, or even 1950’s movies in general, this is a film I highly recommend.
The Colossus of New York is as much a morality play as it is a science fiction story. It tells the story of a gifted scientist, Jeremy Spensser, who is killed in a traffic accident. His grieving father (also a scientist), transplants his dead son’s brain into the head of a robot in order to enable him to continue his humanitarian efforts. Once dad and his other scientist son get the robot to work, it starts displaying powers no one anticipated, including premonitions, hypnotism and a pretty cool death ray he shoots out of his face.
He also has some tremendous inner conflicts about what he sees as the futility of his existence. He’s a human being trapped in a robot body and longs to be able to communicate with his wife and son, who don’t even know he is still technically alive. He also discovers that his brother is trying to woo his wife. That’s not going to go over well with any man, especially a ten-foot tall robot with a death ray shooting out of his face. He ends up going on a rampage of death and destruction. The movie ends with a great scene at the United Nations building, where the robot zaps random people and then falls off a balcony to his destruction.
Ross Martin plays Jeremy Spensser. He is probably the best known actor in this excellent movie. He is best known as the star of the sixties TV classic The Wild, Wild West. He is only in the movie for the first several minutes before he is run over by a truck.
Mala Powers plays Jeremy’s widow, Anne. She is quite lovely and does a very good job as a widow who suspects something is awry in her father-in-law’s laboratory, but stays out of it, for the most part.
Otto Kruger plays Jeremy Spensser’s scientist father, William. He’s very believable as a father who knows his son’s death cheated the world out of a brilliant mind, and is determined to do something about it.
Robert Hutton plays Jeremy’s best friend Robert Carrington, who is also a scientist and tries in vain to dissuade Jeremy’s father from making his pal into a robot.
The rest of the cast all give good performances as well, but the robot is really the star of this memorable movie. He is menacing, sensitive, and gigantic.
So many of the sci-fi movies of the fifties were pure silliness, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But this movie was a serious effort and really stands out as an example of a somewhat far-out story idea that was made believable and enjoyable.
I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Jeremy’s father and his best friend Robert debate the ethics of what makes a person a human being – a brain or a soul, or perhaps a combination of both. I also liked the scene where the robot ventured outside the laboratory and secretly visited with his young son. It’s pretty difficult to get a gigantic robot to seem sensitive and vulnerable, but director Eugene Lourie makes it work. I guess that’s what is so remarkable about this film. The storyline suggests another silly sci-fi movie, but the excellent skills of those involved make it work beautifully.
The Colossus of New York is available on DVD at places like Amazon.com and Ebay. I highly recommend it as much more than just another sci-fi flick from that wonderful decade of the fifties.