It’s an entertaining film and has held up better than the many “rubber monster” films of the period.
There are strange doings afoot in Anytown, U.S.A. In a local appliance store, all the clocks have stopped at precisely the same time, the washing machine doors flap open and shut for no discernible reason, and a push reel lawn mower takes off under its own steam. It’s clearly a case for the A-men of the Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI), who trace the problem to a “paramagnetic force” emanating from the office above the shop.
A-men (presumably the A is for atomic, since they’re like G-men who specialize in investigating “unseen forces”) Drs. Jeffrey Stewart (Richard Carlson) and Dan Forbes (King Donovan), after conferring with their boss at OSI headquarters, venture upstairs wearing protective clothing and armed with a Geiger counter. They discover a corpse (which they diagnose on the spot as having died from radiation poisoning) and a container that they deduce used to hold highly radioactive material. Back at the lab, they use various scientific-looking equipment and a computer that they call “the MANIAC” (for “Mathematical Analyzing Numerical Integrator and Computer”) to try to determine what is going on.
Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of The Magnetic Monster, a 1953 film directed by Curt Siodmak (yes, the same guy who wrote The Wolf Man and I Walked with a Zombie). It’s a classic 1950s low-budget sci-fi, complete with voice-over by Carlson, generic locations indoors and out, lots of scientific-sounding proclamations, and unshakable faith in the ability of white men to take care of everything, including the messes created by other white men. Stewart has a pregnant wife (Jean Byron, the mother on the Patty Duke Show) at home (which you’d think might make him think twice about getting too close to anything radioactive), and there’s a silly female clerk in the appliance story, but otherwise this film is a boy’s club from start to finish.
The problematic radiation/magneticism is traced to a science experiment gone wrong. It seems rogue researcher Howard Denker (Leonard Mudie) decided to try bombarding the mythical element of serranium with alpha particles, and in the process created a magnetic substance that consumes energy and doubles in size every 11 hours. At that pace, it will soon become large enough to destroy the entire world if our heroes can’t figure out how to destroy it. This element is the “monster” of the title, and the A-men talk about it as if it were as alive as Godzilla. (Extra credit to screenwriters Siodmak and producer Ivan Tors for having Denker put the deadly element in his briefcase and take it on a plane ride!).
The climax of the film involves taking the deadly element to an underground chamber in Nova Scotia, where the A-men intend to zap it with a huge dose of energy. The trip involves some stock footage of planes refueling in mid-flight, and the big finale incorporates footage from a 1934 German film. Both are fully within the realm of acceptability for this type of film, and in truth you’d sort of miss that sort of budget-stretching cleverness if it weren’t there. All in all, The Magnetic Monster won’t win any prizes, but it’s an entertaining film and has held up better than the many “rubber monster” films of the period. | Sarah Boslaugh
The Magnetic Monster is distributed on Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber. Extras on the disc include an audio commentary track by Derek Botello (Fangoria writer and author of The Argento Syndrome) and a gallery of five trailers. This release is based on a HD remastering and both image and sound are crisp and clear.