At approximately 33 minutes into Robert Wise's science fiction thriller, The Andromeda Strain, the action shifts to a small conference room. Some government officials are waiting for the President's decision on dropping an atomic bomb on the small town where everyone has been killed by a mysterious alien microbe. Here, the lethal dangers of a deadly, otherworldly, virus are merged with the very real earthbound dangers of nuclear destruction.
One civilian character, identified as "Mr Secretary" is asked his opinion. He firmly states "It's against the Moscow treaty of 1953 to fire thermonuclear weapons above ground." Another character enters the room and tells them the President has decided against using the atomic bomb. Another character comments "It should have been left up to the scientists. It's a colossal mistake."
At least for the movies, this is typical, high-level governmental decision-making: pitting politicians against scientists in a matter of extreme urgency and dire consequences. Analyzing this sequence, one could detect a bit of cinematic irony lying beneath the surface. The character of "Mr. Secretary" is played by Glenn Langan. His dissenting dialogue centers around a statement regarding a thermonuclear device. Fourteen years earlier Glenn Langan appeared in a low budget science fiction thriller titled The Amazing Colossal Man. In it he plays Lt. Col. Glenn Manning, who is exposed to the full effects of a thermonuclear device and then begins to grow into...the Colossal Man. Perhaps it's merely coincidence. Yet one can only wonder whether it was the screenwriter, Nelson Gidding, or the director, Robert Wise, who perpetrated this little sequence, paying homage to a cult sci-fi film auteured by director, Bert I. Gordon.
Glenn Langan's unbilled appearance in The Andromeda Strain was his last appearance on screen. According to IMDb he 'reinvented himself' and went into real estate. However, to any and all schlock film aficionados, Glenn Langan's cult status is firmly set because of his involvement with (and as) The Amazing Colossal Man.
Since The Incredible Shrinking Man made such a hit with movie audiences, The Amazing Colossal Man, assuredly, would do the same. At least this is what Bert I. Gordon surmised. Whatever could be incredible could no doubt be amazing. Part of what was incredible about the incredible shrinking man was the inevitable fact he would continue to shrink to absolute nothingness. What ultimately proved to be amazing about the Colossal Man was that he would continue to grow--until a huge hyperdermic needle put a stop to his growth spurt--and return in a sequel, War of the Colossal Beast, as the colossal beast who would wage war. These are all elements necessary for films to be more appropriately termed science fantasy. Even more amazing, the role of Lt. Col. Glenn Manning was now played by another actor (Dean Parkin), and he also had a sister when it was previously explained he had no family.
In essays on the dubious science in science fiction films, late scientist and author Isaac Asimov pointed out an interesting fact: if you adhere to the principles that the scientific community knows, accepts, and works with, they are often represented totally wrong in movies.
Both Shrinking and Colossal Man films have doctors attempting to explain what is happening to the hapless protagonists. The incredible shrinking man, Scott Carey, is exposed to a strange glittering mist while out on a boat. Since he is wearing only a bathing suit the residue from the mist completely covers him. Was it of alien origin? Maybe it was the product of offshore government testing that was released into the air? Was it conjured up specifically to infect one person, Scott Carey? According to the story presented in the novel and film, no one else on Earth was so affected. This mist simply appears from out of nowhere and exits to nowhere. Later, he is exposed to an insecticide which reacts with the mysterious element. This reaction starts his body to slowly diminish. A medical test strip reveals his body chemestry now contains a new and unidentifiable element (a shrinking hormone?) ingested from the mist. His body is 'throwing off' all of the chemical materials that make up his physical being. This explanation is offered rather than having his atoms physically diminish in size. Since this was the accepted cause, as he reduces in size other factors would come into play. When he becomes the size of a mouse, his brain would be mouse sized, hence he should've possessed the intelligence of a mouse. Subsequently, being the size of an ant he would yet live, but have the intellegince of an ant.
The amazing colossal man, Lt. Col. Glenn Manning, in a failed attempt to save a pilot in a downed plane, is caught in the full blast of a "plutonium bomb." His clothes and skin are stripped away in the blast. This effects scene is repeated in this film and again in the sequel. Within a day's time he is restored to apparent normalcy. However, a plutonium bomb, here, contains that ethereally mysterious and very deadly element (especially in the 1950's)-- radiation. His skin has reappeared, but now his physical makeup contains a new chemical property, the ability to increase in size (a super growth hormone?).
Again, a scientific explanation is offered, and there is a deadly side effect. As his body grows to colossal proportions, his heart grows half as much. In this case his brain is being deprived of blood, hence causing madness. This would work for a normal-sized brain. Taking into account true scientific factors, when an object increases in size it's weight would cube, hence triple. A man growing to just twice his size would not be able to stand, much less walk. Before he would reach a height of 30 feet all internal organs would be pulled down to Earth via gravity and he would, in effect, be crushed. He speaks of 'Army ingenuity' in relation to the expanding garment he is now wearing. One can assume that this same Army ingenuity would either devise an expanding toilet...or even a super absorbent diaper.
That mysterious entity, radiation.
In the movies characters can either be constantly irradiated and not feel any ill effects, or catch minimal doses and suffer deadly results. The human characters of The Thing From Another World were constantly in the midst of strong radiation, extraterrestrial in origin, "...the needle has hit the top!" Yet none of the scientists present seemed concerned with any related danger. A true science fictional (or as author Harlan Ellison would've described, speculative fiction) plot device dominates the action of On the Beach. Here we are presented the few survivors of the human race soon after a global nuclear confrontation. No resultant mass damage is presented but rather simply the inevitable after effect--radiation sickness. No one is shown shrinking, growing, or mutating in any form. Those who were left living are slowly dying.
By the 1980s, just before the dissolving of the Soviet Union, a TV Movie titled The Day After further illustrated what the truer results of radiation poisoning would entail. Survivors were indeed slowly dying, but accompanied with the physical effects of hair loss, skin lesions, and loss of sanity. The final scenes of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove show a variation of what concievably occured before the story of On the Beach; the Earth is covered with a "doomsday shroud" of the fictitious Cobalt-Thorium-G...for 93 years.
If creators of science fantasy were to obey the true laws of science and physics, cult cinema would never exist. We, true cult film aficionados, would rather not be denied such characters as the Incredible Shrinking Man, Amazing Colossal Man, Bert I. Gordon's Puppet People, the Cyclops, the 50 Foot Woman, or even the 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock. What would our filmgoing experiences be without one of the Puppet People's rock 'n roll renditions of You're a Dolly, or the exchange between a doctor and a deputy commenting on 50 foot tall Nancy Acher's jealous tirade in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman:
"She'll tear up the whole town until she finds Harry!"
"Yea, then she'll tear up Harry."