The Magnetic Monster

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(4/10) In a nutshell: This 1953 film uses least 10 minutes of special effects from the German film Gold and steals its premise from an Arch Oboler radio show, but still manages to come off as something quite original. Made by Ivan Tors and legendary sci-fi writer Curt Siodmak, the film follows a sort of sci-fi FBI, trying to neutralise a radioactive material that keeps growing and threatens to sling the Earth out of orbit. Starring sci-fi cult actor Richard Carlson and features a bit-part by comedienne Kathleen Freeman.

The Magnetic Monster (1953). Directed by Curt Siodmak, Herbert L. Strock (uncredited) & Karl Hartl (uncredited). Written by: Ivan Tors & Curt Siodmak. Inspired by The Chicken Heart by Arch Oboler (uncredited). Edited from the film Gold (1934, uncredited). Starring: Richard Carlson, King Donovan, Jean Byron, Harry Ellerbe, Leo Britt, Leonard Mudie, Byron Foulger, Kathleen Freeman, Hans Albers, Michael Bohnen. Produced by Ivan Tors for A-Men Productions. IMDb score: 6.0

King Donovan and Richard Carlson in a magazine ad for The Magnetic Monster.

King Donovan and Richard Carlson in a magazine ad for The Magnetic Monster.

Legendary low-budget producer Roger Corman made many of his most famous sci-fi films by taking lavish European special effects films that were virtually unknown to American audiences or even critics, and intercutting them with newly shot scenes with American actors. The method wasn’t new. In 1943 Edward Dmytryk took a good portion of his Captive Wild Woman (review) about an ape woman from a 1932 lion taming film called The Big Cage. But what probably inspired Corman even more was German expat Curt (Kurt) Siodmak’s 1953 film The Magnetic Monster, which basically took its whole last 20 minutes from the German sci-fi thriller Gold (1934, review). Continue reading

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Gold

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(7/10) In a nutshell: This smart, well filmed and very successful 1934 film marked the beginning of the end for German science fiction before the Nazis banned the genre. Hans Albers shines as the heroic scientist kidnapped by an evil businessman to make gold out of lead, and screen legend Brigitte Helm gives one of her most understated and balanced performances.

Gold. Germany, 1934. Directed by Karl Hartl. Written by Rolf E. Vanloo. Starring: Hans Albers, Brigitte Helm, Michael Bohnen. Cinematography: Günther Rittau, Otto Baecker, Walter Bohne. Editing: Wolfgang Becker. Art direction: Otto Hunte. Music: Hans-Otto Borgmann. Produced by Alfred Zeisler for UFA. IMDb score: 6.7

The impressive set-piece designed by Otto Hunte - the gold-making, atom-splitting machine.

The impressive set-piece designed by Otto Hunte – the gold-making, atom-splitting machine.

Germany was the leading country when it came to sci-fi films in the twenties, much thanks to cinema legend Fritz Lang and his two masterpieces Metropolis (1927, review) and Woman in the Moon (1929, review). In the early thirties USA started catching up, mostly through Universal’s and Paramount’s horror films, many of which dealt with explicit sci-fi themes. Lang himself moved to the States discarded sci-fi to instead begin pioneering film noir, but the German film industry still had an ace up its sleeve, and it was called Karl Hartl, who made the sluggish F.P.1. Does Not Answer in 1931 (review), and in 1934 he followed up with Gold, shortly after Kurt Bernhard had scored a hit with the 1933 film The Tunnel (review). (Trivia: neither Lang nor Hartl were born in Germany, but Austria.) Gold also featured Germany’s two most popular actors at the time; Hans Albers and Brigitte Helm. Continue reading

F.P.1. Does Not Answer

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(5/10) In a nutshell: German director Karl Hartl directed this ”subtle sci-fi” film in 1932 in three different languages with a different cast. This review mainly concerns the German ”original”, with some words about the English version. The ”sci-fi” idea of a floating gas station for planes is very dated today, and the rest of the film plays out as a mediocre spy thriller/love drama. At least the German version is saved by some superb acting.

F.P.1. Does Not Answer (F.P.1. Antwortet Nicht), 1932, Germany. Directed by: Karl Hartl. Written by Kurt Siodmak, Walter Reisch. Based on the novel by Kurt Siodmak. Starring: Hans Albers, Peter Lorre, Sybille Schmidtz (Conrad Veidt, Charles Boyer). Cinematography: Günther Rittau. Produced by Eberhardt Klagemann, Erich Pommer for UFA. IMDb score: 6.1/6.2

Filming airplanes for F.P:1. Aviation was still extremely fascinating for filmmakers and audiences alike in the thirties.

Filming airplanes for F.P:1. Aviation was still extremely fascinating for filmmakers and audiences alike in the thirties.

This movie is curious, if not for anything else, then at least because it highlights one of the peculiar (and short-lived) practices of the early days of talking movies, namely the making of multilingual film versions. In the silent era films language boundaries were practically non-existent in the film industry, since it was a fairly simple procedure to change the title cards depending on where the film was shown. This was of course one of the reasons as to why, for example, European movies, other than British, were a serious threat to the American film industry in the early days of cinema – and as a result many influences from the vital and experimental European films scene quickly transplanted themselves to American film. It also opened up for a very collaborative European film industry, as actors, writers and directors could work freely in countries where they understood very little of the language. A cast consisting of Danish, British, French, Polish, Hungarian and Italian actors could all portray wholly German characters without anyone raising an eyebrow. Continue reading