The Magnet (film)

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The Magnet
The Magnet1950.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Charles Frend
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by T. E. B. Clarke
Starring Stephen Murray
Kay Walsh
James Fox
Music by William Alwyn
Cinematography Lionel Banes
Edited by Bernard Gribble
Distributed by GFD (UK)
Universal Pictures (US)
Release dates
  • 19 October 1950 (1950-10-19) (UK[1])
  • 26 February 1951 (1951-02-26) (US)
Running time
79 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Magnet is a 1950 Ealing Studios comedy film, and gave James Fox his first starring role. The story revolves around a young Wallasey 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.[2][3]

Production and casting[edit]

The Magnet was filmed on location in and around New Brighton, Wirral, Cheshire and Liverpool, and at Ealing Studios, London, in black and white. Given its setting, however, authentic local accents are absent until almost the end of the film, in a scene filmed in the shadow of the Anglican cathedral.[3] A Chinese boy appears in this scene, which was unusual for the time in film, although there had been a significant Chinese community in Liverpool since the 1860s, but when he is called home by his mother in Chinese, explains this to his friends in fluent scouse.[3][4]

James Fox (then known as William) had appeared in The Miniver Story earlier in the year, and this was his first starring role, at the age of 11;[2] his performance was largely appreciated, being described by the British Film Institute's reviewer as "certainly lively enough as the over-imaginative Johnny".[3] Stalwarts of Ealing's repertory ensemble, however, such as Stanley Holloway and Alec Guinness, were absent, although James Robertson Justice made a small appearance as a tramp, using a Gaelic pseudonym;[5] at the time he was a candidate in the General Election.[6]


The film has not achieved the general popularity of better-known Ealing Comedies such as Passport to Pimlico and The Lavender Hill Mob, although described as "a mild-mannered affair and the comedy gives way to a decidedly poignant conclusion".[2] Leslie Halliwell similarly described it as a "very mild Ealing comedy, not really up to snuff".[7] The British Film Institute's reviewer criticised it as "somewhat burdened by cumbersome moralising and too many credibility-stretching coincidences and misunderstandings" and described it as "an attempt to revisit the success of Clarke's earlier Hue and Cry".[3]



  1. ^ The Times, 19 October 1950, page 2: First advertisement for The Magnet at Odeon Leicester Square, London
  2. ^ a b c Fortgang, Jon. "The Magnet Movie Review (1950) from Channel 4 Film". Channel 4. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "screenonline: Magnet, The (1950)". Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  4. ^ "Port Cities: – Culture and Ethnicity Differences in Liverpool – Chinese Community". Retrieved 24 April 2009. 
  5. ^ Alleged to mean "Big James with the beard":"James Robertson Justice". IMDB. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  6. ^ Watson, Howard. "James Robertson Justice". Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  7. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (1997). John Walker, ed. Halliwell's Film and Video Guide. Harper Collins. p. 466. ISBN 0-00-638779-9. 

External links[edit]