Thursday, November 10, 2011

Who Needs the Shadow?

Read/Watch ‘Em in Order: Entry #6

Watching The Invisible Agent (1942) made me think of a story about the old-time radio version of the Shadow. During World War II, the Mutual Broadcasting System used to get angry complaints from people, demanding to know why the invisible super hero wasn’t being used as a spy against the Axis forces.

But, heck, we didn’t need the Shadow. We had Frank Griffith, the grandson of the original invisible man, sneaking into Berlin to do some invisible espionage.

I enjoy this movie enormously, so I’ll get the things that bother me about it out of the way first, so we can get to the good stuff.

There’s a couple of continuity errors in regard to the earlier film—mostly inconsistencies with some of the problems and limitations of being invisible that seems to have been forgotten or ignored by the filmmakers this time around.

To be fair, though, I’m watching this just a week after having viewed the previous film, while audiences in 1942 had waited two years since the last installment. And it was by then nine years since the first film. So continuity errors probably weren’t as noticeable.

{For the record, here's the inconsistencies: There's no mention at all that the drug eventually drives its user insane, though to be fair, the hero is only invisible for a couple of days, so the side effect may not have had time to become a  danger. The invisible agent can eat without the undigested food being visible inside him and he can fight Nazis in a smoke-filled room without showing up like a bubble. Also, unless I mis-heard a line of dialogue, the original invisible man seems to have been given a different first name.}

But the movie is still fun regardless. Frank Griffith is running a print shop in New York under an assumed name. He has a run-in with German and Japanese agents who are after his grand-dad’s formula, but manages to get away. All the same, he also initially declines to let the U.S. have the dangerous formula either.

Pearl Harbor changes his mind, but he won’t let anyone besides himself to use the drug. So, before long, he’s parachuting while invisible into Germany.

He contacts a drop-dead gorgeous blonde spy who’s been vamping an SS officer for information. Soon, the Germans figure out he’s active in Berlin, but it’s hard to track down an invisible spy.  Frank goes after a list of German and Japanese agents in the United States, then learns of a plan to send a fleet of suicide bombers to New York City.

But a trap involving a fish net lined with hooks might just be more than even an invisible man can handle.

It’s enjoyable and fast-moving storytelling. John P. Fulton continued to do a fine job with the special effects, most notably a scene in which Frank turns invisible and undresses while descending to the ground on parachute.

And Curt Siodmak’s script is interesting on several levels. Aside from being a fun story, it also works as a heartfelt condemnation of tyranny. It’s also an effective character study about the sort of men who hold power in a totalitarian government. The movie portrays Nazi officers and Japanese spies who plot against each other as much as they plot against the Allies. Frank Griffith has some great dialogue when he confronts one of the villains about this:

One of your own gang pushed you off. Someone else will push him off. And that’s how you’ll all go, killing your own. Dog eating dog--until only the biggest and the hungriest are left. You were a little dog, Heiser, and they’re pretending you’re mad so they can shoot you tonight.

Peter Lorre is one of the bad guys, using the same subtle mannerisms and speech patterns he employed as Mr. Moto to portray a Japanese. Keye Luke (best known as Charlie Chan’s Number One son) has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part as a doctor in Berlin’s Japanese embassy. Cedric Hardwicke and J. Edward Bromberg are the two main Nazi villains.

Bromberg, who played the bumbling but evil governor of Spanish California in The Mark of Zorro (1940), plays a bumbling but evil SS officer here. He strikes a perfect balance, providing some comic relief without ever losing track of the fact that his character is a man who has others brutally killed to further his own career.

Well, that covers three of the five  Invisible Man films. So far, we have two good guy invisible men and only one bad guy invisible man. We’ll have to see what the final score is after we watch The Invisible Man’s Revenge and the Abbot and Costello entry.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...