The Mighty Atom

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14th November 2017

A Real Life Hulk

Imagine a man who stands at just five-feet, four inches but can twist a horseshoe with his bare hands, or stop a plane from taking off with his hair, meet Joseph Greenstein.

I don’t know how closely the original series of The Hulk mirrored the comics. But, in the series, Bruce Banner is obsessed with strength, in particular, he’s interested in the strength of the human mind.

He reads about ordinary people who have pulled off extraordinary moments of strength. Lifting a car off their loved one, breaking open locked doors, all done when they’ve been involved in a crisis.

Banner wants to know how they’ve done this and, if memory serves, he wants to know why he couldn’t when he was faced with his own crisis.

These stories are true, there are documented examples of people who have shown extraordinary feats of strength at exactly the moment they’ve needed to. But imagine if you could do it whenever you wanted…

Joseph Greenstein was an ordinary Jewish boy growing up in Poland. His father died young from consumption and he was told he would go the same way when he reached 18 or 19.

Refusing to believe this, Greenstein ran to a local circus, convinced that the strongmen knew something he didn’t. That they could help him overcome his illness.

A chance encounter with a fellow Jewish strongman, lead to Greenstein running away with the circus and being taken under the wing by his compatriot.

He travelled the world, learning breathing techniques, martial arts and more. He returned to Poland before being forced to flee to the US where he opened a gas station.

A chance encounter with Harry Houdini, who had a flat tyre which Greenstein changed by lifting the car with one hand and changing the tyre with the other, with the occupants still inside, would see him sign with Houdini’s manager and put him on a path to stardom.

He criss-crossed America, playing in all sorts of shows and performing all sorts of stunts. From bending nails, iron bars and horseshoes with his bare hands, to pulling cars with his hair and biting chains and nails in half with his teeth.

Greenstein was known as The Mighty Atom, his diminutive size hiding his raw power. A power that’s explored in this documentary written and directed by one of his many sons, Steven Greenstein.

The documentary is wonderfully put together. It’s crisp, clear and concise and puts Greenstein’s achievements in context from the start by asking a man who regularly lifts over 600lbs to twist a horseshoe, he doesn’t even get close.

We are taken through Greenstein’s life with radio recordings, TV appearances and magazine interviews. He was a big believer in it was all in his mind and he taught his sons to do it as well.

You may have seen one of his sons, Mike, on America’s Got Talent, where, at 93 years of age, he pulled a car full of people with his teeth!

Both he, and one of his sons, could put a nail through a few inches of wood using just the palm of their hands. However, Greenstein was also a bit of a limelight lover and so he started adding metal to his, just because he could.

The Mighty Atom is a fascinating and very well put together documentary about the life of this fascinating strong-man.

The final words must go to the great man himself who, when asked about smoking, drinking and what he eat, said, “you dig your own grave with your knife and fork”.

Imagine a man who stands at just five-feet, four inches but can twist a horseshoe with his bare hands, or stop a plane from taking off with his hair, meet Joseph Greenstein.

Steven Greenstein

Steven Greenstein

Running Time:
1h 14min

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