Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Magnetic Monster


Here’s a perfect illustration of two sort of sad facts. One, I’ll bet a lot of drive-in audiences were pretty pissed off at this film. There is no “monster,” as most patrons would expect. It’s about some mysterious “element” that absorbs energy and turns it into matter, doubling in size every 11 hours. Soon, it will be heavy enough to knock Earth out of its orbit. It also manifests “unipolar magnetism,” magnetizing every metal thing around it. So if you were expecting giant radioactive crab lice—and wasn’t everyone, in 1953?—you were certain to hate this. So the poster and the title were fucking with us. And, two, if you do try to make an SF movie with at least a nod toward real science and scientists … it’s boring. I’ll admit it, I watched this hoping for those giant crab lice. Instead, we get scientists peering at oscilloscopes and other lab furnishings of the era (most of it actual devices and not just random flashing lights, according to the credits), and solemnly talking about stuff that almost makes sense if you know any real science. Curt Siodmak, writer and director, made a lot of early SF things like this, and he did know a little science, enough to shoot the shit more convincingly than most people in Hollywood. He was best known for Donovan’s Brain, book and movie, which wasn’t bad. The head scientist is the ever-reliable, ever-grimly-and-humorlessly-concerned Richard Carlson, of I Led Three Lives. You old enough to remember that cold war turkey? The movie is peculiar, as for the first hour it is super cheap. Long takes of people walking into buildings, cars arriving in driveways, time-filling shit like that. Crude office sets, cheesy labs. Then suddenly in the last 15 minutes we are brought to a huge set, the “deltatron” deep underground in Nova Scotia. It’s five or six stories high, swarming with people, and resembles the sets in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Where did that come from? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a leftover set from something with a bigger budget. Grade B moviemakers did that a lot. If it was, IMDb doesn’t mention it, and I can’t identify it. Whatever, it’s pretty impressive. But in the end, this isn’t really worth your time.