THE MAGNETIC MONSTER
The Magnetic Monsters, Riders to the Stars and Gog were all set around the fictional Office of Scientific Investigation the same organisation that Steve Austin of The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-8) apparently worked for a government agency clearly modelled along the lines of the FBI but tasked with investigating scientific matters. The OSI appeared in all three films and, although Richard Carlson appeared in the first two films and directed the second, there are no continuing characters.
With The Magnetic Monster, Ivan Tors conceived and wrote the film along with Curt Siodmak, who wrote a number of science-fiction films and novels in his native Germany before fleeing the Nazis and relocating in the US. In Hollywood, Siodmak made a career as a science-fiction and horror writer, most notably with the novel Donovans Brain (1942), which was filmed three times (see below). Siodmak found his calling as a screenwriter in the 1940s and turned out a host of B movies, including several among Universals Frankenstein, Invisible Man and Dracula sequels. His most famous work however was the screenplay for The Wolf Man (1941), which created the essential mythology that the werewolf film draws itself from. Come the 1950s and Siodmak made his debut as a director The Magnetic Monster was his second film and he went on to make a handful of other mostly cheap films. (See below for a full list of Curt Siodmaks other genre films).
What impresses you most about The Magnetic Monster is that it is alone among almost any science-fiction film of the 1950s in trying to root itself in scientific methodology. There is a fascination to the early scenes where Richard Carlson and King Donovan turn up to the appliance store to check the anomaly and we see them tossing iron filings on a surface to demonstrate the existence of the field, throwing bolts at the ceiling that stay stuck there in order to find the source and then putting a geiger counter on the end of a broom handle. It gives the film a fascination that triumphs over Siodmaks otherwise dull visuals. Much of the film has been put together using documentary footage of technology in operation. We are introduced to a mass spectrometer and M.A.N.I.A.C., an early computer, for analysing the results (which one is surprised to find actually operates like a real computer did in the 1950s and doesnt have aspirations to take over the world).
The film is directed with a documentary-like urgency, all accompanied by Richard Carlsons lead agent giving timestamp voiceovers as to what is happening. There is a fascinating drive to the scenes tracking the radiation source to the airport, finding the flight number from the radioactive particles left behind, where the pilot is radioed and urged to slide the briefcase containing the isotope away, which he does using a blind mans cane, the plane is then landed and the passengers evacuated, before the isotope is removed to safety in a lead-lined van. The only scenes that do not work are the interludes with Richard Carlson and his wife (Jean Byron), which seem bizarrely out of place amid the documentary-like tone of the rest of the film in particular, his constant obsession with her being pregnant and not looking fat enough.
The most exciting scenes are those that take place in the Deltatron accelerator where the A-Men go in order to overload and destroy the isotope most of this is stock footage taken from the German science-fiction film Gold (1934). There is something wonderfully exciting to the images of men running between the huge arcing generators with lightning bolts crashing across the reactor floor and the race to shut the massive blast doors as the system goes into overload. With the exception of the journey into the bowels of the Krell plant in Forbidden Planet (1956), this is some of the most awe-inspiringly scaled science-fiction of the 1950s.
The ready exposure to hot radiation by some of the scientists handling the isotope kind of makes you wince today. Although admittedly this is not so much a case of scientific error back in the 1950s not that many in the Atomic Energy Commission had a clue either where, among other things, US servicemen were left in appalling close proximity to atomic test sites in the Pacific. The Magnetic Monster was released four months before the influential The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), which created the 1950s genre of the atomic monster movie. The two films make for fascinating contrast Beast created an allegory for the A-bomb and radioactive fallout with its revived dinosaur; The Magnetic Monster went the other direction and created the most unique atomic monster movie of all one where radiation was a literal monster. Moreover, it was a film that showed that the mad scientist era of the 1930s and 40s where scientists would be punished for unleashing chaos was well and truly dead, that the new hero was the bold scientist of the Atomic Age and impending Space Age armed with the clipboard and slide rule, the engineer who had won the War and created the computer who would confront the menaces of the age with logic and reason alone.
Curt Siodmaks other genre scripts include:- F.P.1 Does Not Answer (1932), Trans-Atlantic Tunnel (1935), The Ape (1940), Black Friday (1940), The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman (1940), The Wolf Man (1941), Invisible Agent (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Son of Dracula (1943), The Climax (1944), House of Frankenstein (1944), The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), Tarzans Magic Fountain (1949), Riders to the Stars (1954), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) and Earth Vs the Flying Saucers (1956). Siodmak also directed/wrote several films with Bride of the Gorilla (1951), Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956) and Love Slaves of the Amazon (1957). Siodmak also wrote the classic novel Donovans Brain (1942) about a millionaires disembodied brain that ends up mentally controlling the scientist that removed it, which has been thrice filmed as The Lady and the Monster (1944), Donovans Brain (1953) and Vengeance/The Brain (1962). Siodmaks lesser known follow-up Hausers Memory (1968) about transplanted memories was also filmed as the tv movie Hausers Memory (1970).