Friday, October 28, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Magnetic Monster (1953)

One good Richard Carlson monster movie deserves another, so I followed up last night's screening of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) with a film Carlson made one year earlier, THE MAGNETIC MONSTER.

The "monster" in this film is actually a "hungry" radioactive element that keeps doubling in size; its magnetic force threatens to ultimately throw the world off its axis. This information prompted my favorite lines in the movie, when a general, played by Roy Engel, reacts by saying, "I like this world. Let's keep it in one piece."

Richard Carlson plays Dr. Jeffrey Stewart, a government "A-Man" (love it) from the Office of Scientific Investigation. It's up to Jeff and his assistant, Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan), to find a way to stop the radioactive monster before it's too late. The battle is especially personal for Jeff, as he and his wife are expecting their first child. The scenes of brief respite Jeff has at home during the crisis made me think a bit of Richard Widmark as the doctor and Barbara Bel Geddes as his wife in PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950).

As an aside, films such as THE MAGNETIC MONSTER and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON made Carlson the perfect actor to later star in Frank Capra's great series of science films, HEMO THE MAGNIFICENT (1957), THE STRANGE CASE OF THE COSMIC RAYS (1957), and THE UNCHAINED GODDESS (1958). HEMO gets my vote for the best educational film of all time. I saw it regularly in elementary school in the '70s. When the big film cannisters were brought in I always crossed my fingers the movie would be HEMO and not the dreaded THE RED BALLOON (1956), which just about put me to sleep every time.

Returning to the film at hand, THE MAGNETIC MONSTER is my kind of scary movie, where the fear builds around a scientific theory rather than an actual creepy-crawly monster. My dad described it to me as "a lot of time turning the dials on the big machines," and I loved that aspect of the movie. It's great fun watching the earnest Dr. Stewart and his assistant scanning, pushing buttons, spinning dials, and feeding information to a supercomputer improbably named MANIAC. The entire film seems emblematic of the scary new postwar nuclear era which was just a few years old when this film was made.

Southern Californians may enjoy some great 1950s footage of Long Beach Airport, including the interior of the terminal as well as the exterior. I always enjoy seeing this beautiful little Art Deco airport turn up in movies. Jacqueline wrote a post on the airport last year at Another Old Movie Blog. Following that line of thought, I'd love to read Jacqueline's thoughts one day on THE MAGNETIC MONSTER against the context of the nuclear/Cold War era; coincidentally just this week she reviewed another 1953 film with nuclear themes, Dick Powell's SPLIT SECOND.

The special effects were by Harry Redmond Jr., who passed away this past summer at the age of 101. More information on Redmond's remarkable career, including links to obituaries, can be found at the bottom of this post.

The climax of the film incorporates footage from a German film called GOLD (1934). According to information posted at IMDb, Richard Carlson's wardrobe in the final scenes was designed to match the stock footage.

The film was directed by Curt Siodmak, who cowrote the screenplay with producer Ivan Tors. Siodmak was the brother of director Robert Siodmak. Curt Siodmak also wrote the screenplay for I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), which I watched just a couple of weeks ago.

The supporting cast includes pretty Jean Byron (THE PATTY DUKE SHOW) as Carlson's expectant wife. Kathleen Freeman, Jarma Lewis, Byron Foulger, Harry Ellerbe, Leo Britt, Leonard Mudie, John Zaremba, and Strother Martin are also in the large cast.

The movie runs 76 minutes.

THE MAGNETIC MONSTER does not appear to have had a release on VHS or DVD. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available online.

Update: This film is now available on DVD.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you for the link. The minute you mentioned the Long Beach Airport I wanted to watch this movie. I hope I run into it sometimes soon. It's on my list now, thanks. Ever since "Best Years" I've developed an strange fondness for that airport. Someday I'm going to take one of my goofy field trips just to see it.

5:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I suspect you'll enjoy it, Jacqueline -- as I watched it, you crossed my mind, between the airport and the very '50s nuclear anxiety. Fun movie. :)

Best wishes,
Laura

10:05 AM  

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