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Magnetic Monster
     

The Magnetic Monster

Director: Curt Siodmak

Cast: Richard Carlson, King Donovan, Harry Ellerbe

 

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Curt Siodmak's The Magnetic Monster (1953) is a truly novel science fiction film, in terms of its rather cerebral plot and low-key, quietly intense execution. As much a mystery and, in its first half, a manhunt, as it is a sci-fi-thriller, the movie pushed lots of suspense buttons for viewers in 1953 and still holds up more than a half century later. Richard

Overview

Curt Siodmak's The Magnetic Monster (1953) is a truly novel science fiction film, in terms of its rather cerebral plot and low-key, quietly intense execution. As much a mystery and, in its first half, a manhunt, as it is a sci-fi-thriller, the movie pushed lots of suspense buttons for viewers in 1953 and still holds up more than a half century later. Richard Carlson (who also co-produced) plays Dr. Jeff Stewart, an agent for the Office of Scientific Investigation. Stewart and his colleague, Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan), begin searching for a dangerously radioactive element, which they have good reason to believe is somewhere in the Los Angeles area. They soon learn that this is no ordinary investigation -- among its other attributes, the unknown element generates enough radiation to kill, and also manifests a powerful magnetic field. The trail leads them to Dr. Howard Denker (Leonard Mudie), a rogue scientist who, working on his own, has created a new isotope of an element called serranium, which proves to be not only highly radioactive, but dangerously unstable in ways that science has never seen before. Every 11 hours, the serranium mass enters a growth cycle requiring massive amounts of energy, which it obtains by absorbing the energy from the atomic structure of any matter around it, releasing huge amounts of radiation in the process. The serranium mass doubles in size with each cycle, doubling its energy needs in the process, as well as the potential destructiveness of the next cycle. The danger lies not only in the potential for destruction in the serranium's rapidly increasing energy absorbtion, but its ever-increasing mass, which, at some point, will threaten to unbalance the Earth itself, in its rotation and orbit. Long before that, however, the resulting radiation is going to start killing large numbers of people, and the destructive force accompanying it will threaten to split the Earth's surface apart. Stewart and Forbes soon recognize that the only hope they have of stopping the process is to get ahead of it, by bombarding the serranium with enough energy to force it to divide into two relatively stable elements. The only possible source of sufficient energy is the world's largest cyclotron, which has been built by the Canadian government in Nove Scotia -- but is even it powerful enough to do the job, and can they get the deadly isotope there in time?

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
The Magnetic Monster is one of the most intellectually stimulating and suspenseful science fiction films of the 1950s -- high praise, indeed, for a release that was really the failed pilot for a proposed television series. Producer Ivan Tors and actor/co-producer Richard Carlson had originally conceived of The Magnetic Monster as the pilot for a series to have been called "The A-Men," which would have dealt with agents from the Office of Scientific Investigation, going out on different cases each week involving scientific mysteries. It didn't work as a series -- the idea was probably too cerebral for the television networks of the early '50s -- and first-run syndication was too new an idea and a field in which to pursue it. Instead, The Magnetic Monster became a feature film released by United Artists, and one of the best science fiction films of its decade. It's very much a hybrid work, resembling, on the one hand, Dragnet and other crime shows of the period, and also the kind of technology-based thrillers that Ivan Tors did manage to get on the air in 1954-1955 on "Science Fiction Theater," but with a bigger production budget and a longer running time in which to tell its story. Part of the secret behind the movie's success is the low-key approach to the suspense taken by screenwriter/director Curt Siodmak (in only his second directorial assignment). The main influence on the pacing of the first half of the movie is clearly Dragnet, with its emphasis on process and procedure over characterization, and the presence of a narrator (which recedes in importance as the film unfolds). The second half delivers the expected goods in terms of visual thrills, mostly in the scenes at the Canadian cyclotron -- this was where Tors and Siodmak's genius came into play. Instead of creating this section of the movie from scratch, which would have looked lousy or busted their budget, Tors licensed footage from Karl Hartl's 1934 German science fiction-thriller Gold, and integrated it into The Magnetic Monster. The scenes fit together beautifully and gave The Magnetic Monster a very expensive looking, visually striking finale for very little money. The overall film was (and still is) spellbinding, filling the needs of mystery, suspense, and science fiction audiences without leaving any of them feeling cheated. Tors and Carlson later collaborated on Riders to the Stars and were partners in the production company, A-Films, through which The Magnetic Monster was made.

Product Details

Release Date:
12/20/2011
UPC:
0883904256854
Original Release:
1953
Source:
Mgm Mod
Presentation:
[Full Frame]
Time:
1:20:00
Sales rank:
22,355

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Richard Carlson Dr. Jeffrey Stewart
King Donovan Dr. Dan Forbes
Harry Ellerbe Dr. Allard
Leo Britt Dr. Benton
Leonard Mudie Dr. Denker
Byron Foulger Simon
Michael Fox Dr. Serny
Jarma Lewis Stewardess
Frank Gerstle Colonel Willis
John Vosper Captain Dyer
John Dodsworth Cartwright
Watson Downs Mayor
Douglas Evans Pilot
Kathleen Freeman Nelly
Michael Granger Smith
Strother Martin Copilot
Lee Phelps City Engineer
Charles Williams Cabby
Elizabeth Root Joy
John Zaremba Chief Watson
Jeane Byron Connie Stewart

Technical Credits
Curt Siodmak Director,Screenwriter
Jack R. Glass Special Effects
Herbert L. Strock Editor
Ivan Tors Producer,Screenwriter
Charles Van Enger Cinematographer
George C. VanMarter Production Designer

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