war of the colossal beast - posterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the 1958 Bert I. Gordon flick WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, up now in the March 2015 edition of the HWA NEWSLETTER.






The Towering Terror From Hell! 

So reads the original lobby card for today’s movie, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (1958).

WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST is the sequel to THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957), and both these classic giant man-in-a-diaper movies from the 1950s were written and directed by Bert I. Gordon (B.I.G. himself), the famous writer/director who gave us such movies as BEGINNING OF THE END (1957), EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958), THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) and EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977).

I’ve always had a soft spot for WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, mostly because of the old 8mm copy of the film I had when I was a kid.  That being said, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST really isn’t a very good movie.  It’s a sequel, and it plays as such, and in terms of quality, is slightly inferior to the first film, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.  The most creative thing about the movie is its lively title, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST.  I love that title!

At the end of THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, the colossal man— turned colossal because of exposure to a plutonium bomb explosion- is shot by an army bazooka and falls to his death from the Boulder Dam.

In WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, we learn that Glenn Manning- Mr. Colossal Man himself— survived the fall and is hiding out in the deserts of Mexico.  Hot on his trail is his sister Joyce (Sally Fraser), who must be his long-lost sister because in the previous film it’s mentioned how Manning had no surviving family members.  As Joyce gathers evidence that her brother is indeed still alive, the military arrives and attempts to help her find him, and find him they do, only now Manning is even more far removed from the man he once was.

In the previous film, Manning was gradually losing his mind, becoming a crazed lunatic giant.  In COLOSSAL BEAST, Manning boasts a hideous face, the result of either the bazooka blast or the fall from the dam or both, and now he can no longer speak, instead making only animal-like growls and snarls.  Have I mentioned yet that the Colossal Beast is pretty darned scary?  When I was a kid, he used to give me nightmares.  He’s still rather frightening.

Anyway, the army captures the Manning Beast and brings him to Los Angeles where army scientists hope to find out if there’s any hope of restoring his sanity.  They pretty much decide he’s beyond hope and plan to bring him to a deserted island where he can live out his life in seclusion where he won’t be a danger to society, but Manning has other plans and escapes, terrorizing Los Angeles in true 1950s giant monster movie fashion.

The best part of WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST is the actual beast.  He’s gruesome looking and quite frightening.  Director Bert I. Gordon uses his grotesque face to full effect and crafts a couple of really cool scenes in this one.  His first appearance, for example, as he jumps out from behind a mountain in a quick shock shot, packs quite a jolt.  The scene just before he escapes from his army captors, where he pretends to be asleep, is also creepy.

The Colossal Beast's frightening first appearance.

The Colossal Beast’s frightening first appearance.

Dean Parkin takes over the role of Glenn Manning from Glenn Langan, who played him in THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.  Langan was excellent in the role in the first film, and his presence is definitely missed in this sequel, even though the Glenn in this movie only snarls and growls.  Langan turned in a superior underrated performance in the first film, and was particularly effective in scenes where he talked about his fears of growing larger and larger.  It was these scenes in particular which made THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN better than it should have been.

While I have no problem with Dean Parkin’s performance here as the more monster-like colossal beast, I still miss Glenn Langan’s dramatic take on the role.

The rest of the cast is pretty awful, sorry to say.  Sally Fraser is particularly bad as Glenn’s sister Joyce, and it doesn’t help that she has to speak some horribly bad lines of dialogue.  Roger Pace as Major Mark Baird, the male lead in the film, isn’t any better.

While Bert I. Gordon is credited with the story, the screenplay was written by George Worthing Yates, who actually has some impressive credits.  He received story credit for THEM! (1954) – arguably the best giant bug movie ever made—and wrote the screenplay for the Ray Harryhausen special effects films IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956), among others.  WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST has a decent story but its dialogue is nothing to write home about.

I do like Bert I. Gordon’s direction, however.  This one is full of energy, and there seems to be a concerted effort to make this film scary, much more shocking than the first one.  Plus there’s that final shot in color, which black and white films did back then, so we get to see the Colossal Beast’s demise in vivid color.

Of course, the Colossal Beast would have been even more frightening had he learned how to run.  He pretty much does his terrorizing at a leisurely pace, strolling through the deserts of Mexico and later the streets of Los Angeles like a man getting his newspaper, not like a giant chasing down people to kill.  I guess he was afraid he’d trip and fall.  But even so he’s still a convincing monster.

And Bert I. Gordon also created the film’s special effects, and they aren’t half bad.

So, if you’re looking for some 1950s horror movie fun, the type of film you used to find at the drive-in during those days of yesteryear, look no further than WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST.  It’s entertainment of gargantuan proportions.


Marilyn Monroe Shines in RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954)


River of No Return - posterStreaming Video Review:  RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954)


Michael Arruda

I recently reviewed MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011), the Oscar nominated flick about Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) filming THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (1957) with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh.)  Watching that movie and enjoying Michelle Williams’ performance as Marilyn Monroe, got me in the mood to watch a Marilyn Monroe film.

I decided to choose one I hadn’t seen before, and so I went with RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954), now available on Streaming Video.  In RIVER OF NO RETURN, Monroe co-stars with Robert Mitchum, and I have to say, it’s one of the finest performances by Marilyn Monroe that I’ve seen, mostly because it was so refreshing.  Monroe is not cast as a ditzy blonde but as a strong-willed feisty frontier woman, and she pulls it off nicely.

In RIVER OF NO RETURN, Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum), recently released from jail after serving time for murder, is reunited with his young son Mark (Tommy Rettig) at a gold rush town.  Before returning home together, Mark asks to say goodbye to the woman who’d been looking out for him, a saloon hall singer named Kay Weston (Marilyn Monroe).

Later, at their farm, Matt and Mark are approached by Kay and her gambler husband Harry (Rory Calhoun).  The couple is traveling by raft to the next town to register a mining claim Harry won in a poker game.  When Matt refuses to give Harry his only horse and rifle, Harry steals them and leaves his wife Kay behind.  Something tells me Harry isn’t winning any Husband of the Year Awards!

When Indians attack the farm, Matt, Mark, and Kay have no choice but to escape onto the river using Harry’s abandoned raft, and thus begins the excitement in this old-fashioned adventure yarn which pits Mitchum and Monroe against the natural elements of a raging river, a hungry mountain lion, vicious Indians, and ultimately, the weasel of a husband, Harry Weston.

RIVER OF NO RETURN is a fairly entertaining movie, standard western fare from the 1950s.  The script by Frank Fenton, based on a story by Louis Lantz, isn’t anything special.  The story of three people against a raging river is a good one, but compared to some of the classic westerns of the decade, it doesn’t measure up.

We don’t know a lot about Matt or Kay for one thing.  We know that Matt seems to be a good guy, but he served time for shooting a man in the back, and his character is darkened by a jarring rape scene in which he attacks Kay.  Thankfully for her, a hungry mountain lion comes along and Matt has to rush off to protect his son.  After a scene like this, one has to ask, how good a guy can he be?

Yet, Monroe’s Kay falls for him anyway, setting the stage for a happy ending that comes as no surprise.  This is 1950s cinema, after all.

Kay isn’t clearly defined either.  She keeps telling Matt that if he only knew the truth about her husband Harry, he wouldn’t hate him so much for stealing his horse and rifle.  But the only truth we continually see about Harry is that he’s a jerk and a weasel.  I’m not sure what Kay is talking about.  Is she a poor judge of character?  All her other actions imply that she’s a pretty smart person.

RIVER OF NO RETURN showcases some colorful cinematography by Joseph LaShelle, with some breathtaking background shots of the mountains of the northwest.  But the river scenes with Monroe and Mitchum on the raft were obviously shot in studio, and they look it.

The film was directed by Otto Preminger, a first-rate director, but RIVER OF NO RETURN is simply not on par with the classic westerns of the decade, films like THE SEARCHERS (1956) and HIGH NOON (1952).

But Marilyn Monroe is impressive, and by far, she’s the best part of the movie.  She has such a screen presence.  It’s difficult to take your eyes off her, and not just for the obvious reasons. She has a charisma here that is exhilarating.

While I certainly enjoyed Monroe in such films as SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) and THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955), in those movies she’s playing the role she will be forever identified with:  the ditzy blonde.  Here in RIVER OF NO RETURN, she’s not ditzy at all.  I had a lot of fun watching Monroe act, realizing just how good she was, and really just sitting back and enjoying her performance.  It’s easy to see based upon her performance in this movie that Monroe had a range that was rarely exploited.  It makes her untimely death all the more tragic.

Robert Mitchum is also very good, understated as usual.  I can’t say that this was one of his better roles however.  Matt Calder is a weird character, unsavory at times, heroic at others.  I found him kind of creepy, which I’m sure wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers.

And for you classic TV buffs, young Tommy Rettig who played the son, Mark, would go on to entertain TV audiences that same year as Jeff Miller on the LASSIE TV show.  Rettig would play Jeff for three years, before being replaced by Jon Provost as Timmy Martin for the show’s next seven years.

RIVER OF NO RETURN is nothing spectacular.  We’re not talking four star classic here.  However, it’s a phenomenal showcase for Marilyn Monroe’s acting abilities, and for that, I enjoyed it immensely.

So, if you’re in the mood for a river trip, take a ride on that raft with Monroe and Mitchum on the RIVER OF NO RETURN.  It’s an entertaining, colorful excursion, and hey, Monroe even sings.

Better yet, she acts.