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Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Invisible Agent

Universal's Invisible Man saga continued in 1942 with The Invisible Agent (TIA). Where the prior iteration in the saga had no reference to the ongoing war whatsoever, TIA was drenched in it. Curt Siodmak provided the screenplay again. The sci-fi element so minimal as to not really qualify as a sci-fi film. However, it is included here on the coat tails of the others. Tall, dashing Jon Hall stars as the invisible man. Jon Hall stars as the grandson of the first invisible Griffin. Ilona Massey co-stars as the beautiful, blonde double-agent and erstwhile love interest. Cedric Hardwicke and Peter Lorre star as sinister German and Japanese agents.

Quick Plot Synopsis
In 1940, the print shop of Frank Raymond is visited by a group of men who turn out to be a Nazi spy, Stauffer, a Japanese spy, Baron Ikito, and their thugs. Frank's real last name is Griffin. He is the grandson of original invisible man. Frank refuses and escapes. The American government asks Frank to help the war effort by sharing the formula. Frank refuses. After Pearl Harbor is bombed, Frank reconsiders. His one condition is that he be the one to take the drug and be the invisible agent in Berlin. He parachutes in, stripping off his clothes on the way down. The German troops are dumbfounded. Frank makes his way to a coffin maker named Schmidt, who sends him on to a woman named Maria. She is being wooed by an SS officer named Heiser. Frank cannot resist some childish pranks. Heiser later reports to his boss, Stauffer, who recognizes the "accidents" for what they really were. Troops are dispatched to Maria's house. They search, but do not find. Stauffer says something about a book of spy names, which was bait to lure Frank to his office. It worked. Stauffer has Frank trapped in his office. Frank escapes by starting a fire and fleeing down the firemen's ladder -- with the spy roster. Ikito is upset with Stauffer for losing the book. The two axis allies have a falling out. Frank calls Maria, signaling his intent to leave Germany. He first goes to Heiser's cell (Stauffer had him arrested for schmoozing his girlfriend.) He tells of Heiser as the surrogate for all nazi-dom, that he deserves to die. Heiser pleads and bargains info for his life. He knows when the attack on America is to take place. Tonight! When Frank meets Maria at Schmidt's shop (who is away being tortured by the Nazis), Ikito and his minions capture Frank with a nat rigged with fishhooks to discourage wiggling. Stauffer figures out what Ikito has done and rains the Legation. Frank and Maria escape in a truck. Ikito kills Stauffer, and them commit hari kari. Frank and Maria are chased to the airport by troops. There, rows and rows of German planes get ready. Frank and Maria steal one and take off. They fly back over the airfield and Frank bombs the rows of planes, thereby thwarting the attack. Their German plane is hit by flak over England, so they bail out. Frank and Maria are now free to be romantic. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The pace is more akin to a spy-action-thriller, so TIA has that going for it. The "invisible" effects are pretty good. The soaping-up in the bath and applying cold cream scenes worked particularly well. Hardwick and Lorre make excellent evil villains.

Cultural Connection
We're In It Now -- In Univiersal's 1940 film, The Invisible Woman, viewers saw no reference at all to the huge war going on in Europe. That was all changed by the time TIA was released. Post Pearl Harbor, America was in it. As such, the invisible man franchise volunteered to help fight the war, much as Donald Duck and other screen stars were pressed into war service.

Saga Connections -- Jon Hall plays Frank Griffin, who is said to be the grandson the first invisible man, who is then also said to have been named Frank Griffin. In the 1933 film, the character was named John Griffin. In the second film in the saga, the brother of John was named Frank. How the original John had a son is poorly connected. He is shot and killed before marriage to Flora. A prior marriage, perhaps. Either way, this grandson somehow has become the keeper of the formula, but professes to be no scientist as far as making more or understanding it. By this point in the saga, the nasty side effect of insanity seems to have faded out. The third film, The Invisible Woman ('40) is unconnected to the main saga.

Vicarious Victories -- Not uncommon for war-era films, the script takes the opportunity to browbeat the nazi characters with tongue lashings about how evil they are. TIA is no exception. The nazis are denigrated in the usual subtle ways, but more overtly is Frank's rant at Heisel in his jail cell awaiting execution. "You're only getting what you deserve. You sent thousands of people to these rat holes. Now you're in one yourself. In a few hours you'll be shot. Your kind doesn't just kill men, you murder their spirit. You strangle their last breath of hope and freedom, so that you, the chosen few, can rule your slaves in ease and luxury. You're a sadist just like the others. (Karl all afraid, backed into a corner) You're drowning Heiser. Drowning in an ocean of blood around this little island you call the New Order." (Take THAT, you Nazis.)

Star Gazing -- Jon Hall is new to the role of Invisible Man, but plays him again in the next iteration: The Revenge of the Invisible Man ('44). Ilona Massey, who plays the double agent Maria, will play Elsa Frankenstein in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman ('43). Cedric Hardwicke played Richard Cobb, the villain in the second film, Return of…. He also played a Frankenstein (Ludwig) in The Ghost of Frankenstein ('42). Peter Lorre plays Baron Ikito -- in not convincing japanese make up. He was more convincingly made up in his many "Mr.Moto" films. Lorre almost steals the show with his oily sinister (and thereby easy to hate) japanese villain. Lorre is, of course, more famous for his roles in The Maltese Falcon and Cassablanca.

AutoTrivia -- For old car buffs, there are a couple of fun nuggets. There is a brief glimpse of a Ford GP T14, six-wheeled jeep. Willys made one too, for the Army. They weren't common, but were not German. In fact, none of the vehicles in the film are German. Although nearly all of them are decked out with swastikas on their doors, just so viewers know the action is taking place in Nazi Germany. The second little nugget is the truck that Frank steals for his getaway to the airport. The medium sized flatbed was given angular flat-sided fenders, and a boxy fake radiator to make it look vaguely like a Krupp or Henschel truck. It is, however, a 1941 Chevy 1-ton -- but with a swastika on the door!

Bottom line? TIA is thin fare for fans of sci-fi. Other than a drug making a man invisible, there's no science involved. TIA is pretty much a war spy "thriller". On that level, it is a fairly entertaining film. The pace moves right along. The special effects are pretty good. The model work (planes) is a bit weak, but that's a minor element. TIA is still worth a watching, just don't expect much sci-fi.

1 comment:

Ramon said...

This is fantastic!