“When was the last nuclear test in Vegas?”
That question is never a good sign for people in a horror / science fiction film from the 1950s, but it’s for the viewers who know they’re watching.
The atomic bomb, radiation etc were the catalyst for the favorite films of the era as they were the oversized ants of. created She!, a Huge Gila monster and the human monstrosities in The day the world ended and War of the Colossal Beast.
The magnetic monster (1953) is another film in which the horror generated by radiation takes on epic proportions. In a twist, we never see the title character, only her earth-destroying power and destruction, which is enough.
Who can save the world from such horror? The A-Men can.
The A-Men were the investigators in a film trilogy by producer Ivan Tors through the Office of Scientific Investigation. The magnetic monster was the first in ’53, followed by 1954 by Rider to the Stars and Gog, perhaps the most famous title of the trio.
The films were shot under the banner of A-Men Productions, a company Tors founded with actor Richard Carlson, who starred and directed the first two films Rider to the Stars.
In other words, the real A-Men Productions has made three science fiction films in which fictitious A-Men saved the world. That’s kind of awesome.
In The magnetic monster, Richard Carlson and the OSI research strange radiation and magnetic anomalies. I was excited to see that Carlson was also in the second film. Rider to the Stars. But wait – he’s re-enacting his role as the happily married future father and scientist Jeff Stewart of The magnetic monster. He’s Jerry Lockwood, a college professor who is blindly in love with a model who obviously has no interest in him other than using his car.
And although the classic film star Herbert Marshall is the leading scientist in driver and Gog – You guessed it – they are not the same character either. It’s puzzling that they each returned for a second film but played different roles, especially since the films were released within a year. On the other hand, I’ll see everything with Carlson and Marshall.
Although the OSI films are not a trilogy in the traditional sense, with a direct ongoing storyline and recurring characters, they share the common theme of space exploration. Here’s a quick look.
The magnetic monster
Dr. Jeffrey Stewart (played by Richard Carlson) is one of the A-Men – science graduates – who work in the Office of Scientific Investigation. “A stands for atom. Atom stands for power – the power man has unleashed, but has not yet learned to control, ”he tells us in his dark voice-over that opens the film to speak of new dangers that threaten the earth when we go to heaven look.
He describes the A-Men as “the last word of a prayer” as in the earth’s last line of defense and that is exactly what they will be. His narrative continues through the film, jotting down dates and times to show how quickly the world can be on the verge of destruction. Here it only takes 5 days.
It is July 18th, a completely normal day. Jeff arrives at OSI where he is met by his colleague Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan) is asked about the recent nuclear test, which has found unexplained anomalies. But they get called quickly across town, where everything in an equipment store is haywire. Could they be related?
All the clocks in the store are at 12:12 pm, even though it was 9 am when the store opened. Objects fly through the room, dryer doors open and close and in a slightly strange moment an innocent-looking push lawn mower almost cuts over the employees.
“Somebody is destroying my shop with magnetic force!” Yells the excited owner.
The A-Men discover that there is an unusually strong magnetic attraction in the building, which leads them to a body and a strong source of radiation.
They follow it to Dr. Thinker who got on a plane with a briefcase but is now pretty sick. How do we know? Our stewardess tells us. “We have a sick person on board – his gums are bleeding!” She screams.
The friendly Dr. Thinker spills as much information as he can before the radiation poison takes over his body. And here our film goes beyond the usual sci-fi mumbo jumbo and uses facts from the expert advice of scientists whose names were included in the credits.
Denker experimented on an artificial radioactive isotope called serranium, which he bombarded with alpha particles for 200 hours, causing it to become unstable with an insatiable hunger for energy. It implodes every 11 hours as it needs to be fed and doubles in size. Eventually it will destroy the planet.
“It’s monstrous,” proclaims Denker. “It is hungry, it needs constant feeding, or it reaches out its magnetic arm towards everything and kills it.”
One way to stop it could be to overfeed it with electricity until it bursts and splits into two stable elements. That’ll take 900 million volts of energy, but the closest they can get is the 600 million volts from the world’s most powerful deltatron, which is located in a top-secret underwater facility in Nova Scotia.
Of course, 600 volts is not enough. Of course Jeff will push his limits. And yes, the overprotective inventor of the Deltatron will say lines like “This is absurd. … That’s impossible. … She will split up! “
The magnetic monster is filled with these wonderfully funny and melodramatic lines written by Tors and director Curt Siodmak. Other favorites: “We used the power of the city to keep a monster alive.” And “It’s growing – Jeff, that’s a living thing!”
All of this leads to the exhilarating climax where the human in the Deltatron fights human and an invisible creature, an impressive “set” that you will remember metropolis for good reason. The Deltatron footage is from the 1934 German film gold with the set designed by Otto Hunte, who also did it metropolis. The two films merge pretty seamlessly thanks to some rear projection and additional set building.
Rider in the sky
This second film in the trilogy also begins with a narration, this time by Herbert Marshall as Dr. Donald L. Stanton, who explains how man has mastered every challenge except travel into space.
What’s holding us down? That rockets – and thus people too – are destroyed in space. The thought that meteors can fly through space without being destroyed (until they get into Earth’s atmosphere) starts a crazy idea that will lead to a lot of cloak and dagger activity trying to find men for a mission that will so dangerous they all have to be single.
An “electronic computer” searches 150 million names and reduces them to 12 men who only know that the government needs their help. They can’t even talk about their area of expertise when they first meet to undergo physical and mental tests from scientists like the smart and lovable Jane Flynn (played by Martha Hyer).
“I hope you will forgive us for putting your patience to the test,” she tells them and means business. The men have been together in a room for two hours to test their patience. When one of them collapses under the pressure – “I’m a scientist, not a guinea pig,” he yells – he’s out.
Before he leaves, he calls it a suicide squad and he’s not far. The “winners” of this competition will travel into space trying to snatch a meteorite and stow it in a security vessel on their ship to keep its outer shell intact for testing on Earth.
How do you grab a meteor, you ask? With a meteorite shovel. And yes, it’s a stupid invention even for a B-movie.
Eventually three men make it: Jerry, Dr. Stanton’s son Richard (William Lundigan) and poor Walter Gordon (Robert Karnes) who just seems to have a third expendable guy.
Meanwhile, Jane and Richard have bonded through the stars and each other, if only to answer the question: Why is there an over-the-top love song about the stars that plays over the opening credits of the film?
The highlight here is the trio of men in space, each in their own rocket, trying to collect a piece of meteor. If you made it this far in the film, just join in.
Herbert Marshall returns, this time as Dr. Van Ness calling OSI after his top secret underground facility in the New Mexico desert is sabotaged and people die. Two scientists testing the idea of freezing humans (with monkeys, of course) in order to survive space travel are frozen to death.
OSI sends David Sheppard (played by Richard Egan) to investigate and joins Joanna Merritt (Constance Dowling) who works undercover there. The two have to hide their professional – and personal – relationship.
To give the film an authenticity, everyone is wearing fancy overalls or lab coats with color-coded armbands that allow them access to different floors.
Although they quickly track the sabotage to the NOVAC (Nuclear Operative Variable Automatic Computer), which controls everything in the system, they don’t know who and how it is doing it. What role, if any, does the creator of NOVAC, the arrogant Dr. Zeitman (John Wengraf), who also made the robots Gog and Magog. The robots are certainly clumsy and harmless-looking by today’s standards, but they are “always terrifying” to Joanna and the audience at the time.
As they desperately work to unravel this deadly secret, the bodies continue to pile up in unusual and, I may say, clever ways, such as death from high frequency sounds.
With the help of Dr. Van Ness, the A-Men (and this time an A-Woman) solve their case again.
After Tors completed this final film in the trilogy, he created the science fiction anthology syndication series Science fiction theater which aired 78 episodes from 1955 to ’57. A hoped-for A-Men TV show never came to fruition Gog as their final investigation.
Ivan Tors later such family-friendly animal films as Pinball machine, Clarence the cross-eyed lion and the TV shows Sea hunting and The Aquanaut.
Constance Dowlings last film screening was in Rider to the Stars. She was married to Ivan Tors from 1955 to 1969 when she died of a heart attack at the age of 49.
Richard Carlson is known for his appearances in horror and science fiction B-movies. The magnetic monster was his first in the genre.