Friday, October 21, 2016

The Magnetic Monster

Cost-averse producers have been using stock footage for decades to augment low-budget features, but rarely does a film exist solely because of stock footage. According to Curt Siodmak, credited with directing and co-writing the picture with producer Ivan Tors (FLIPPER), Tors came to him with ten minutes of spectacular footage from a 1934 German feature called GOLD and wanted to build a science fiction film around it.

Meant to be the first of a series about the fictional Office of Scientific Investigation (only RIDERS TO THE STARS and GOG followed), THE MAGNETIC MONSTER was also the science fiction debut of star Richard Carlson, one of several actors, along with John Agar and Richard Denning, who would become synonymous with the genre during the 1950s. Other good Carlson films, besides THE MAGNETIC MONSTER, are CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE.

Inspired by DRAGNET, the pilot for which was edited by MAGNETIC MONSTER editor Herbert L. Strock (more on him shortly), the film stars Carlson and King Donovan (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) as OSI agents (or “A-Men,” for atom) investigating an outbreak of magnetism in a Los Angeles hardware store. Their plodding inquiries lead to an elderly scientist played by Leonard Mudie (FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT), who has created a radioactive isotope that is killing him. Worse, the isotope feeds on its surroundings, growing rapidly and presenting a deadly danger to the entire world.

The expensive-looking GOLD footage is used in the climax to represent an underground Canadian facility where the isotope can be destroyed. While the special effects are impressive, the ending’s fantastic nature clashes with MAGNETIC MONSTER’s previous semi-documentary style, and the ludicrous wardrobe changes Carlson and Donovan endure to match the footage is distracting. Still, the tradeoff is acceptable, and the tightly paced production ends with excitement.

Siodmak, a writer of excellent genre pictures like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and THE WOLF MAN, was something of a washout as a director (not much of a cult for SKI FEVER and LOVE SLAVES OF THE AMAZON). According to editor Strock, Tors fired Siodmak after a few days of production and hired Strock, who was intimately familiar with the stock footage, to direct the film. While it is basically accepted that Strock directed without credit, supporting actor Michael Fox claims Siodmak was the director. What is for sure is that Tors later hired Strock to direct GOG, but we may never know the truth about THE MAGNETIC MONSTER.

Perennial ninth bananas Byron Foulger and Billy Benedict play hardware store employees (the less said about the pathetic actress in their scenes, the better), Jerry Lewis fave Kathleen Freeman is a telephone operator, and a barely recognizable Strother Martin is an airplane co-pilot. Jean Byron (THE PATTY DUKE SHOW) is nice as Carlson’s pregnant wife. Tors’ insistence on scientific plausibility (not the same as accuracy) was successful and led to his creation of SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE, a syndicated anthology television series that focused on science over space opera.

1 comment:

David Hanson said...

Love slaves of the Amazon river or an actual Amazon woman? Either way, sounds like a ready made cult film.