Back this week with another double feature of movies I feel should be overlooked.
THE MAGNETIC MONSTER(1953)
I seem to be on the opposing side of this one with a lot of reviewers on IMDB. Too many of them seem to consider it a minor SF classic. I’m not sure if we watched the same movie. I sat in wonder at the awful dialogue, the heavy use of stock footage, the sonorous tones of the narrator. The star was Richard Carlson, a favorite from a number of my favorite monster films of the era(CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, and the later THE VALLEY OF GWANGI), but this one came before all of them. King Donovan played his partner and Jean Byron as Carlson’s pregnant wife. Curt Siodmak directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Ivan Tors.
Carlson and Donovan are agents for the O.S.I., the Office of Scientific Investigation, which investigated strange happenings around the country. The agents were called A-Men(make your own jokes here).
The film opens in a hardware store opening for business and all the clocks are magnetized with the time of 12:02. All metal in the shop is magnetized as well. Naturally O.S.I. is called in. Carlson and Donovan arrive with a load of equipment and eventually trace the magnetic effect to a floor above the store. There they find a dead man and evidence of radiation. The source is gone though.
Carlson functions as narrator also(more on that later) and the warning goes out, Carlson intoning that the source must be found and stopped, shoot to kill if necessary. Eventually they find the plane an old man with a heavy brief case flew out on and call it back as the engines start to fail. Told to isolate that brief case in the back of the plane, the pilot(the co-pilot left to fly the plane is a very young Strother Martin) borrows a cane from a blind man and drags it to the back. When they O.S.I. come aboard, they are wearing radiation protection suits. As a matter of fact, whenever the isotope is moved, protective gear is worn, with folks unprotected walking alongside.
The isotope is a new one formed by accident and it feeds on energy, reaching out every eleven hours(it’s finally figured out) and sucking in every bit in range, doubling in size, radiation, and magnetism. It will eventually overbalance Earth and spin it out of orbit. The plan is to overfeed it, choke it on so much energy, it splits into two stable, inert elements before it gets too big.
The only thing capable of providing such power is a cyclotron in Canada. In order to get it there in time, before the next eleven hour expansion, it’s loaded on a jet fighter. Carlson and crew leave first on a slower plane. here’s where a lot of stock footage came in. I’m no plane expert, so I’m relying on the IMDB entry. The isotope is loaded on a T-33 jet fighter, but the plane in flight is an F-86. Stock footage is used to show in-air fueling, supposedly to save time, and Carlson’s voice ties it all together, saying the wing tanks had been dropped(though we see then attached in the footage) and of course their plane has to be seen refueling also.
The cyclotron in Canada is stock footage from a 1932 German science fiction film titled Gold. You have the mad doctor who doesn’t want to have his machine destroyed despite the Canadian government’s agreement and the eventual fate of the world. The technobabble they spouted to explain it all as they went kept me giggling most of the picture.
It wasn’t a totally bad movie, but by no means a minor classic.
Click for the trailer:
RED PLANET MARS(1952)
Despite the title, it takes place solely on Earth. A scientist takes pictures of Mars and over a period of time, the ice caps seem to be melting, green spreading across the planet. The answer seems obvious(?): intelligent life is adapting the planet. At the same time, Peter Graves’ character contacts being on Mars by radio, at first with mathematical concepts, then specific questions. It seems Mars is a Utopia ruled over by God.
The knowledge causes economic and political upheaval on Earth, mainly in the west. Then the signals from Mars stop.
It turns out to be a dastardly plot by those wretched Commmies from a base in the mountains of Peru, the signals bounced off so they appear to be coming from Mars. It’s all run by a former Nazi scientist and his base is collapsed by an avalanche, thus stopping the signals, the Nazi barely escaping. He heads to America to blow the lid off.
The movie is rather ham-handed in it’s portrayal of Communism and the virtues of religion. Debuting to tremendous reviews, from this point years later, I can only conclude that everyone was afraid to pan the movie what with the witch hunts McCarthy and his bunch were conducting. The title says all I think. Now days, more lucid reviews decry it for what it was: an anti-Communism propaganda film.
Graves and his wife, confronted in their labs by the Nazi. who reveals the true story and his plans to announce to the world what fools they were, make a decision to force the man to kill them, causing an explosion that will wipe out all of them and prevent him from spilling all. Just before it happens, a message from Mars comes in, a real one, that the Nazi frantically tries to stop.
The lab is destroyed, but what message got through was recorded by machines away from the lab. All they got was “Ye have done well my…”
The movie was based on a 1932 play, Red Planet, by John L. Balderston. Never heard of it and wonder if it was really as anti-communist as the film. I don’t think Russia was quite the ogre back then as after WWII.
Click for the trailer:
For a selection of better movies, go to SWEET FREEDOM.