Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Magnet 1950

I have been meaning to feature The Magnet on the 19th Hole for sometime. I did feature it in a recent talk at my local library so I thought it was about time to do so here! The film is held with affection in New Brighton because many of the landmarks seen in the film have long gone or been drastically altered. The film also had importance for Malc as well:

The Goodhearts...after dinner they seek relaxation at their local cinema, the Bay, where there is an English film playing called The Magnet.

But as soon as they enter the cinema Tommy Goodheart thinks he has gone to the next world , is having a dream within a dream, or suffering from extraordinary hallucination.

For the scene before his eyes seems at first to be the very scene along the beach this afternoon, then he realises that the scene is taking place in New Brighton, his own birthplace, on the sands where he played as a boy. And the scene that is playing is that which deals with the exchange of the invisible watch!

Then there is a short description of the film which is continually interrupted -for Mary Goodheart-by Tommy saying “There’s the cathedral! That’s Seacombe pier! That’s New Brighton pier! There used to be a tower only they knocked it down. That’s the old prom – called that the Ham and Egg Parade. Birkenhead Ales, my God! That's the place where I saw the Lion-faced Lady. The tunnel had not quite been completed when I left England though it was already in use," etc

We can only assume from the description above that Lowry saw The Magnet mostly set in his birthplace sometime in the early 1950's in Vancouver at the Bay Theatre. What I find remarkable about the description is the impact it had on the "exiled" Malc - an "extraordinary hallucination." Did Lowry construct the 'Ghostkeeper' story after seeing the movie? I will return to answering that question in more detail elsewhere. One can only imagine the feelings generated in Lowry's mind seeing a film of his birthplace when he was thousands of miles away as well as many years since being there.

The Magnet is a 1950 Ealing Studios comedy film, and gave James Fox his first starring role. The story revolves around a young boy, Johnny Brent (Fox), whose deceptive obtaining of the eponymous magnet leads to confusion and ultimately him being hailed as a hero, but feeling guilt at his slyness.

Johnny Brent (Fox), whilst off school in quarantine for scarlet fever, manages to con a younger boy out of a magnet by swapping it for an "invisible watch". However the little boy's nanny accuses him of stealing, which makes Johnny feel guilty: he runs away but then tries to get rid of the magnet, particularly after an older boy uses it to cheat at a pinball machine and the owner thinks Johnny is involved. He then meets an eccentric iron lung maker who is raising funds for the local hospital and gives him the magnet which is later auctioned for charity. The iron lung maker tells the story of the magnet at the various fund-raising events he attends, exaggerating wildly and portraying Johnny as everything from a Little Lord Fauntleroy to a ragged orphan from Dickens, all the while hoping that he can find him again. After he returns to school, Johnny sees the little boy's nanny and overhears her telling her friend about her budgerigar, which she says has died of a broken heart. Johnny, however, thinks she is talking about the little boy himself and becomes convinced that he is guilty of murder. He hides in the back of a van which takes him to Liverpool, where he conflicts with local boys, winning them over by convincing them he is on the run from the police. He saves the life of one of them when he falls through the floor of a disused pier. The injured boy ends up in the very iron lung for which the fund-raising has been all about and when Johnny visits him he sees the magnet mounted on it - and also bumps into the inventor, who is delighted to have found the little hero at last. Johnny is awarded the Civic Gold Medal, which he gives to the magnet's original owner, his conscience clear. Wikipedia

You can view the entire movie on Youtube:

The cinema Lowry refers to where he saw the film was the Bay Theatre 911 Denman Street, Vancouver (seen below). Constructed in 1938 and now a heritage site in Vancouver due to its poured in-place concrete walls and streamlined design features indicative of the “Art Moderne” style. Other notable features include the sculpted corner entrance and a prominent sign tower.

You can view related posts on my Postcards from Malc blog:

Liverpool Cathedral
Seacombe Ferry
New Brighton Pier
New Brighton Tower
New Brighton Promenade
Kingsway Tunnel

You can also view more still shots of the locations and what they look like now at Reel Streets.

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