Though The Magnet oozes middle-class wholesome 1950's family values, which can be seen these days as starchy and very straight-laced, this unusual offering from the Ealing Studios works well on many levels.
With his father, a child psychologist, ten year old Johnny Brent (James Fox) has a very colourful imagination and loves inventing things and questioning everything. Johnny keeps getting under his mother's feet and so he is sent off out to play at the local beach to explore.
There, he trades rather dishonestly a magic (non-existent) watch for a giant magnet from a younger lad. The lad's nanny tells him off and so Johnny scarpers and starts imagining that he's in trouble with the police. Then, through completely contrived, but affectionately drawn events, the giant magnet comes up for auction and raises money for a hospital appeal. Johnny becomes hero.
Yes, this is whimsical nonsense and is rather Disney, before Disney did such things. But it's also the locations and snapshot of British life back then. It'll certainly appeal to the older generation and undoubtedly, to us boys of all ages, more, as it harks back to our own childhoods.
Generally, the acting is quite average and the direction from Ealing regular Charles Friend is about passable, though there are some fantasy sequences which are OK. However, the young James is a tonic, eschewing youthful zest and intrigue. He's completely natural and believable, little wonder that he went on to become the mega star he did.
The DVD transfer is OK but is a bit soft.
All in all, if you're expecting a comedy caper, as in the best Ealing tradition, you may be disappointed. But if you love your Ealing's and want to explore beyond the box-set classics, then this does quite nicely.