BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE MAGNETIC MONSTER

By • Feb 6th, 2012 •

Share This:

“In nuclear research, there is no room for lone wolves.”

IMDB lists the budget of this sci-fi meller as an estimated $105,000. Considering how much 1953 dollars were capable of buying on an independent production, that figure seems a sizable over-estimation. The camerawork is good, it has capable performers and a number of sets, but the big stuff is borrowed from a 1934 German film called GOLD, and much stock footage is also used. This is about as threadbare a decent fright film as I can recall until the turn-of-the-century cycle begun with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

THE MAGNETIC MONSTER is the brainchild of Curt Siodmak, who can’t stop reminding us that he is indeed a brain (not DONOVAN’S BRAIN, also his). The film is meant to exist primarily in the realm of scientific ideas, such things not being subject to budgetary restraints. We hear an introductory voice over intoning about modern science, and the potential threats to mankind there in, which would make Nigel Kneale’s head spin. The script is the work of Siodmak and Ivan Tors, but having known Siodmak, I can certainly feel his voice throughout, but there’s only so much sci-fi-chatter one can absorb if one is going to a movie to see something happen. The big act Two crisis, a building imploding, is talked about in the protagonist’s home and never seen (not even its aftermath). The big third act extravaganza, while effective, is the aforementioned borrowed footage.

Richard Carlson, the film’s lead, plays an earnest member of the Office of Scientific Investigation, uncovering potential worldwide atomic threats. We see him with his doting, pregnant wife periodically , so as to lend a domestic, human side to his character, and to introduce a thread of concern about the fate of an unknowing population, vulnerable fetuses, etc., should the threat become a cataclysm. He’s solid, though best when intent on solving the planet-imperiling problem, and less effective when playing the concerned hubby.

Leonard Mudie plays Dr. Denker, a rogue scientist who is lugging around a dangerously unstable element in a briefcase ( REPO MAN anyone?) . He ends up dying of radio-active poisoning on a plane, lending the film such a convincing air of thespian honesty that the gears reverse and the narrative becomes quite compelling, and also upsetting (everyone on the plane is probably contaminated to some degree, a la Mike and Velda in KISS ME DEADLY). From that point on we’ve got a real investment in what’s going to happen. I also liked Mudie two years later as the old health club concierge who gets slapped around mercilessly by bully/gumshoe Ralph Meeker in none other than KISS ME DEADLY.

King Donovan is Carlson’s right hand man, Dan Forbes. Laid-back and contemplative, but devoted to his job, he still somehow manages to communicate a sense of doubt about the usefulness of what these A(for atom)-Men are up to, Carlson included. Playing it real, he gives the spine of the film another solid disc to sit on. He would turn in a highly memorable performance three years later in the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Off-celluloid he was married to Sid Caesar’s TV partner, comedienne Imogene Coca, until his death in 1987.

On the downside cast-wise, Byron Foulger, an interesting character actor who plays agitation well, with tremors in his voice as its pitch rises under duress, feels played to elicit amusement from the audience. Even though he’s a prissy boss, there’s an unwanted caricaturishness in his first act setup of the crisis. Once the A-Men investigate the floor above his store and find a human arm protruding from underneath a pile of boxes, things begin to get grim, and the airplane sequence erases any early missteps in casting/direction.

The tone is docu-drama. Long takes. Voice over. Often newsreel-like grain. One library footage scene of jet planes refueling in mid-air was used to considerably more surreal effect by Stanley Kubrick in the title sequence of DOCTOR STRANGELOVE.

The tight shots of family planning between Carlson and Byron are slightly painful but also integral. And the eponymous monster, with its unleashed appetite, anticipates the hopefully-just-paranoid fears at large today about current scientific experiments which might create an earth-swallowing black hole.

There were a number of super-low budget theatrical releases around this time. Excluding Roger Corman’s vast repertoire, others that come to mind are ROCKETSHIP XM (budget est. $94,000) and FIVE (written, produced and directed by Arch Oboler, and shot in a Frank Lloyd Wright house for invaluable, non-art-directed production value). These three are all of lasting value. Soft historically, perhaps, but worthy nonetheless. And most similar is GOG, very much carved out of the same mold, by some of the same key people, for a budget of $150,000 more allowing for color and the ability to use all their own effects, props, and sets. These two are reviewed currently on FIR’s site, and they belong together for etermity.

Share This Article: Digg it | del.icio.us | Google | StumbleUpon | Technorati

Leave a Comment

(Comments are moderated and will be approved at FIR's discretion, please allow time to be displayed)