By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 179th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films
Boy, have I been loving May at Turner Classic Movies, where they have been showing some wonderful monster and horror movies of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s with Dennis Miller hosting. It has been tempting to review only these movies for a while. I broke with that last week when I looked at Arsene Lupin and the Barrymores.
But here we are again with The Magnetic Monster, a ’50s science-horror movie.
Following the development of the atomic bomb, science as most Americans knew it changed drastically. Science became something terrifying and unfamiliar. And Hollywood was ready to move into this unexplored land.
The Magnetic Monster starts simply enough. The workers at Simon’s Department Store find that all their clocks have stopped. Mr. Simon (character actor favorite Byron Foulgar) begins berating Albert (Bowery Boy William “Billy” Benedict), who vows that he had wound all the clocks. Other appliances are also affected by some mysterious magnetic force which seems to have originated in the apartment above the store. The nearby Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI) is contacted and it dispatches two agents, Dr. Jeffrey Stewart (Richard Carlson) and Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan). They find evidence of radioactivity and massive magnetism from a lab above the store. The lab belongs to Dr. Denker (Leonard Mudie), who is carrying a dangerous isotope aboard an airplane. Denker dies from radiation poisoning. He had been bombarding this radioactive isotope with alpha particles, initiating all sorts of weird happenings.
The isotope suddenly began to defy all laws of physics by converting energy into mass, which doubles every 12 hours. While the sample size on hand is small at a quadrupling every 24 hours, it was going to become a huge threat within a few days. At 10 days, the mass would have grown by more than one million times its original size. Five more days would be a billion times. Imagine how much energy that would consume. The OSI began to speculate about how long it would take before the earth was thrown off its orbit.
The MANIAC, a giant card fed computer, taking up about a city block, runs the calculations. There’s lots of footage of the computer working, which means tape moving and cards being moved around. MANIAC finally determines that bombarding the sample within 24 hours with 900 million volts of electricity might do the trick. The experimental power station in Nova Scotia is the only possible place this might happen, even though the unit has a top rating of 600 million volts.
Tensions reach a height as the material is being bombarded and the generator’s creator does not want to see it destroyed.
The film gets tense, and aside from the faulty hand wavy science, I found myself fairly engaged. It was not a giant bug or monster film, though a giant isotope runs wild. Curt Siodmak, who gave us many fine films over the years, provided the screenplay. My favorite of his works was Donovan’s Brain, a 1942 novel which was filmed in 1954 with Nancy Davis and Lew Ayres. Siodmak also directed The Magnetic Monster. The film’s producer was Ivan Tors, in his second production, and Richard Carlson was in the prime of his career with It Came From Outer Space and Creature From the Black Lagoon appearing in 1954. According to Wikipedia this was the first in a three film series featuring the OSI, It was followed by Riders to the Stars and Gog, both in 1954.
This wasn’t a spectacular production but an OK way to enjoy an evening. Give it a try if you have the chance.
Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.