When people think of 50's sci-fi B-movies, they conjure up images of really poor special effects and monsters that obviously look like a guy in a costume that was created in someone's garage. That wasn't always the case though, and one good counter example is The Magnetic Monster, a picture released through United Artists that has recently seen the light of day once again through MGM's MOD program. This is a well scripted solid SF film, rumored to have been a pitch for a TV series, about a group of scientists that track down strange and unusual phenomena in the atomic age. Much better than the typical 50's SF low-budget fare, the movie has ironically been largely forgotten. Hopefully this release will remedy that situation.
Dr. Jeffrey Stewart (Richard Carlson) works for the Office of Scientific Investigation (O.S.I.). They are a governmental organization that's charged with looking into any odd phenomenon that might occur, just the way that the FBI handles large criminal investigations. One morning he gets a call from a police station that they have a report that everything in an appliance store has become magnetized. Stewart and his assistant investigate and with the help of a Geiger counter discover that a radioactive element was being held in an office on the second floor, but now it's gone. What's more, their main clue is the body of a man who died from radiation poisoning.
The O.S.I. starts tracking down the missing radioactive element, and when the do find it they discover more than they bargained for. It's a substance accidently reacted by a nuclear scientist doing some unauthorized experiments that is not only strongly magnetic, but also one that creates mater from energy and doubles in size every eleven hours. At the rate it's growing, it will get so large as to throw the Earth out of its orbit and destroy all life on the planet. It's up the Dr. Stewart and the members of the OSI to discover some way to stop this menace.
This was a surprisingly intelligent movie. While the scientific explanations have their problems and are a bit dated, the plot is firmly rooted in science which is something you can only say about a very few movies from that time. Their discussions of magnetic monopoles, alpha particles, geometric growth, and other scientific concepts might not be the equivalent of the Feynman lectures, but they at least got the broad ideas correct and made a valiant attempt to put 'science' into science fiction.
The film plays out more like a scientific version of Dragnet than anything else. Dr. Stewart, who narrates too, is always giving the date and time, just like Sgt. Joe Friday did in the famous police show. The movie follows the procedures they use to track identify what's causing the magnetic anomaly, and then find out what happened to the element before finally showing how they solve the problem of what to do about the dangerous element. It's exactly like a police procedural, except with a Geiger counter and a computer called MANIAC.
While I enjoyed the film, it's easy to see why it is largely forgotten today. Despite the title, there really isn't a creature just an uncontrollable substance locked in a can. Instead there's a lot of talking and, let's face it, more than a little purple prose and scientific techno-speak. I'm sure the audiences of 1953 that saw the film on its original release felt cheated. Added to that is the fact that the film doesn't do a very good job of creating tension, even at the end. Even with these flaws it's an interesting film that works much better than it should.
The film comes with the original mono soundtrack and it sounds fine. Nothing to write home about, but there's really not a lot to complain about either. The dialog is easy to hear and there isn't any distracting background noise.
The unrestored1.33:1 black and white image looks very good, especially for such a forgotten B-grade film. The lines are tight and the level of detail is good. The contrast is excellent too. Viewers will be very pleased with the way this disc looks.
The only extra is a trailer for the movie.
The Magnetic Monster is a scientific procedural that is much better than most of the other 50's sci-fi B-movies. Grounded in science and without a silly looking monster, the film is actually quite good. A mostly forgotten film, this MGM MOD disc is a great chance for a new audience to discover it. Recommended.