It’s always good to scratch another title off your list. This remains true despite rarely finding one of the diamonds, or even cubic zirconia, you were hoping for. If nothing else, The Most Dangerous Man Alive illustrates the wisdom of Bill Warren, who overshot the decade in his seminal survey of 1950s sci-fi films, Keep Watching the Skies, by a couple of years. MDMA might have been made in 1961, but it sure feels like it was made in the ‘50s.*
[*Keep Watching the Skies is an expensive tome worth every single cent, by the way. Take my advice and add it to your Amazon wish list; it might be the single most impressive book about genre movies. For instance, from reading Mr. Warren’s four-page (!) entry on this movie after I finished my piece, I learned that it had actually been shot in 1958 but not released until 1961.]
Basically an exact amalgamation of The Indestructible Man and The Amazing Colossal Man, the film chronicles flamboyant hood Eddie Candell. When his associate Andy Damon decides Candell likes the spotlight a bit too much, he railroads Eddie into the gas chamber with the connivance of Eddie’s moll, Linda.
The latter is thrown into a tizzy when Eddie manages to escape from the cops. Even worse, Eddie’s escape route takes him across (what else?) an atomic bomb test site, with predictably bad timing. Of course, tons of evidence establishes the fact that this is never fatal; see The Hulk, the Amazing Colossal Man, the Beast of Yucca Flats, the Atomic Kid, etc.
After the blast, Eddie staggers off and collapses in a nearby shed. Luckily for him, although his fate was witnessed by a team of horrified scientists, nobody goes to look for him. When Eddie wakes later, he watches as amazement at the steel cuffs around his wrists disappear. Pulling himself together, he manages to steal a vehicle and makes his escape.
Meanwhile, scientist Dr. Meeker calls in two members of the inaptly named “Intelligence Police.” The elder cop is Capt. Davis (the inevitable Morris Ankrum) and the younger is hotheaded flatfoot is Lt. Fisher, who is woefully prone to moralistic yelling. Fisher comes off like a more rigid if less charismatic version of Robert Stack’s Elliot Ness.
Explaining that he’s part of a team “experimenting with the mutation effects of atomic fallout on living matter”—such as you are exposed to at ground zero an a bomb blast, apparently—Meeker shows off the usual Amazing Artifacts. A watermelon the size of a pear, a carrot the size of a watermelon, etc. Sadly, the giant banana from Sleeper fails to make an appearance, however.
There’s also a large melon that on the side facing the bomb now proves as hard as metal. As Meeker explains, the blast has melded the skin of the fruit with the steel of the bomb tower. He worries that the same thing may have happened with Candell, that the “rays fused steel into the living tissues of the man.”
When the cops seem incredulous, he laughs. “Impossible, gentlemen? The dark side of the moon has been photographed. Natural laws and balances no longer exist. [Huh?!!!] Eddie Candell is the first man on Earth to be exposed to Cobalt Element X. Potentially, he is now the Most Dangerous Man Alive!” Meeker also worries that as Candell’s body further assimilates the metal, Eddie will be inevitably turn increasingly homicidal. Why? Because, er….Look, a fluffy dog!
Sadly, this display of Hilarious Science is followed by a pretty slow plot as Candell serially tries to force his associates to clear him of the murder they framed him for. During one such escapade he looks as surprised as anyone when he proves bulletproof. This is fortuitous, actually, since otherwise his strategy of walking into an obvious ambush makes him appear to be The Most Inept Man Alive.
Eddie eventually hooks up with Carla, the Good Girl Who Has Always Loved Him. She ultimately enlists the Scientist to try to cure her love. This is all pretty perfunctory, but at least we are entertained by the occasional downright Woodian line of dialogue, as when Eddie bleakly muses, “Cure? Is that even a word for what I’ve become?”
Meanwhile, he ends up killing some of Damon’s goons with some regularity, which doesn’t seem to be helping his case much. Moreover, although his steel skin lends him certain advantages, it’s inflexible nature sadly also makes his body increasingly less responsive to feminine wiles and ministrations, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
Sadly, even at 82 minutes the film overstays its welcome by a good ten or twenty minutes. Eddie’s rampages are too short and too infrequent, as the clearly shoestring budget doesn’t allow for a whole lot of Luke Cage-esque action. And for whatever reason, they also went with a really minimalist make-up. At one point Eddie refuses to turn on the lights so that Carla can see him. When he finally does…he just looks normal. My print wasn’t pristine, but at best he maybe had a little gray make-up on his face, which serves to make him look a tad scuffed up rather than metallic.
One humorous aspect is that Eddie never changes out of the Clark Savage Jr. Collection For Men shirt he got from the atomic bomb blast. (This later burns up, proving that fire is hotter than a pointblank atom bomb detonation.) The shirt is torn to rags, but he keeps it on the whole picture, and even continues to wear his tie hanging over his bared chest. Indeed, he takes the tie off at one point, but in the next scene it’s loosely around his neck again.
Warning! Stills make movie look much more exciting than it actually is.
While Butcher Benton from The Indestructible Man was never anything but a kill-crazy villain, Eddie goes the Amazing Colossal Man tragic route. Candell seems a pretty jake guy for a hood, and only wants to clear his name. Later, as his humanity slips away, he seeks only a cure. However, anyone conversant with movie morality of this period knows Eddie’s shot at a happy ending are slim and none. Indeed, the film seems to be indicating at the very end that Eddie’s body is reverting to normal on its own. Sadly, this occurs just in time for him to get kacked.
I’m glad to have finally seen the movie, but I can’t really recommend it on its own virtues. The film is slow and largely boring, and nobody involved seems terribly invested in it. It’s certainly not the worst thing out there, but its sluggish pacing sucks a lot of life out of it.
Morris Ankrum is the biggest genre name here, as he played cops, scientists and (mostly) military men in a slew of ‘50s sci-fi movies, including Earth vs. the Flying Saucer, The Giant Claw, Rocketship X-M, Flight to Mars, Red Planet Mars, Invaders from Mars (I’m sensing a trend here), Zombies of Mora Tau, Beginning of the End, Kronos, Giant from the Unknown…well, you get the idea.
Anthony Caruso (Andy Damon) spent his entire career playing hoods and other tough characters. Most memorably, he was a gang boss in the classic Star Trek episode, “A Piece of the Action.” Otherwise his genre credits are scant; he had small roles in The Catman of Paris and the Karl Malden version of The Murders in the Rue Morgue. He appeared in about a zillion TV western shows, though.
Australian-born Ron Randell (Eddie Candell) also had a long career as a movie and television character actor. Early in his career he played both Bulldog Drummond and Michael Lanyard the Lone Wolf in minor efforts, but he didn’t get a lot of starring roles past that. Genre credits include the post-apocalyptic Captive Women with Robert Clarke (the two men died the same day) and a cop in The She-Creature. He also appeared in an episode of The Outer Limits, and starred in the short lived ‘50s TV show OSS.
The most prominent name in the cast by far was actress Debra Paget (bad girl Linda), although as you’d expect, her career was on the skids by this point. Early on the beauteous Ms. Paget was playing major roles in studio films such as Prince Valiant and The Ten Commandments. She also starred opposite Elvis in Love Me Tender. The slide got severe after that, though, and she eventually ended up in Corman movies like Tales of Terror and The Haunted Palace before retiring fairly young.
Further trivia note: Ms. Paget was the lookalike sister of actress Lisa Gaye, who starred in her own b-movies: Face of Terror and Castle of Evil. Ms. Gaye also appeared in a metric ton of TV shows during her salad days. Much like her more famous (if somewhat less busy) sister Debra, however, Ms. Gaye retired young from show business, at the age of 35.