Holmes HerbertPeter LorreCedric HardwickeIlona Massey
Invisible Agent
Medium: film
Year: 1942
Director: Edwin L. Marin
Writer: Curt Siodmak, H.G. Wells
Keywords: rubbish, World War II, Universal
Country: USA
Actor: Ilona Massey, Jon Hall, Peter Lorre, Cedric Hardwicke, J. Edward Bromberg, Albert Bassermann, John Litel, Holmes Herbert, Keye Luke
Format: 81 minutes
Series: << Invisible Man >>
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034902/
Website category: Other
Review date: 28 September 2012
It's Universal's fourth Invisible Man movie. Sometimes it's good, but I hated it.
Premise: it's World War Two and the grandson of H.G. Wells's original Griffin is living in America. He's played by Jon Hall, who'd play a different Invisible Man in the next film in the series. German and Japanese agents come to him to get the formula. He refuses. He doesn't think anyone should use it. However when Japan attacks Pearl Harbour, Hall agrees to take the formula himself, become an invisible agent and parachute into Berlin.
That's a nice idea. Unfortunately the film is "throw things at the screen" stupid. Before I start, note that there's no surprise factor because the Nazis know all about Hall's invisibility formula and indeed had been trying to strong-arm him into handing it over.
1. The safest way for an invisible man to enter Nazi Germany would be to walk across the border. No one would know you're there. A risky alternative if time is pressing would be to strap on a parachute and jump out of a plane. (The Germans would see an empty parachute coming down, which would look peculiar but you might get away with it.) Considerably less sensible would be (a) to jump out of the plane while still looking normal, (b) turn invisible in mid-air while lots of German soldiers are watching you, (c) take off your clothes in a bravura John P. Fulton special effects sequence and then (d) land.
2. Hitler's about to leave for the Eastern Front, yet he's also planning an assault on America. Germany's about to bomb New York, furthermore with planes in 1942 that can apparently fly the whole distance in a single trip. This is apparently a suicide mission, presumably using kamikaze pilots who'd woken up one morning and decided to be German instead of Japanese.
3. You're an invisible agent in the apartment of a beautiful spy (Ilona Massey) who's wining and dining a high-ranking Nazi officer (J. Edward Bromberg). Do you stay silent and listen? Alternatively do you start eating Bromberg's food, drinking his wine and eventually tipping up the table so that everything on it goes all over him? This nearly made me angry. It's like having the scriptwriter spitting in your face. If you buy this film, I might bet money that you'll bail during this scene and put the DVD in the bin. Anyway, it ends with Massey under house arrest. "Too much champagne on an empty stomach," explains Hall.
4. You have two contacts in Germany. One is an old man (Albert Bassermann) in the place you've landed. The other is Ilona Massey. They're 70 km apart, but you can visit either as almost if they live next door.
5. In wartime Germany, you can make a telephone call in English to book a taxi or call the fire department and this will be in no way suspicious. Furthermore they'll understand what you're saying. Meanwhile the Germans' accents might sound German, British, American or anything else.
6. You're the hero, unarmed and fighting Nazis in a prison cell. They have guns. You knock one of them down. What do you do with the other? (a) shoot him with his fallen comrade's gun? (b) keep going with the fisticuffs? Hint: you're the hero in a film of much stupidity.
Thus I hated this movie. If I hadn't been going to write a review, I'd have abandoned it halfway through. It's not without good and occasionally even intelligent stuff, but nowhere near enough to drag it up to zero. I liked the way a villain who's temporarily being rescued still goes back to kill a couple of people. I liked the way Sir Cedric Hardwicke stopped being merely a comedy Nazi and started doing full Gestapo interrogations and torture towards the end. I particularly liked the way Hall doesn't blindly trust Massey, as you'd expect of a stupid film like this because she's hot. That was refreshing.
The cast is also worth checking out. Hall does enough to get asked back next time, Massey is fine and Hardwicke is a big name, but best of all is Peter Lorre. All hail the mighty Lorre. If you're not in love with all Lorre's performances in all movies, you're dead. I was gobsmacked to realise 38 minutes into the movie that his character was supposedly Japanese, mind you. Admittedly until Pearl Harbour he'd been the star of the Mr Moto franchise (a Japanese Charlie Chan), but even so he sounds, moves and looks wrong. There's something fundamentally slimy and low-status about Lorre. His modesty works quite well, but he has anti-awareness of authority, status and respect. I wouldn't have believed him in any Japanese role, but here he's playing a high-level representative of the Japanese government in Berlin! I bought him as Baron Ikito about as much as I'd have bought him as Shirley Temple.
However that said, he's still Peter Lorre. It's worth watching this film just for him, which isn't something I say lightly. His final scene in particular is awesome, also incidentally showing more respect for Japan than I'd have expected in a wartime American movie. Probably a factor is that the scriptwriter (Curt Siodmak) was a refugee from Hitler's Germany and so is much more interested in doing down the Nazis than he is in being anti-Japanese.
Most of the cast is European too, incidentally. There are Germans (Bassermann), Hungarians (Massey, Lorre, Bromberg) and Brits (Hardwicke and Holmes Herbert). Hall's almost the only American. No Japanese actors, though.
John P. Fulton's special effects are as impressive as they'd been earlier in the series, though. Hall having a bath is the biggest eye-popper, although a heartless, mean-spirited person (me) would be able to nitpick. Food disappears immediately on being eaten, there's no invisible outline in a smoke-filled room and we see Hall's teeth in the "cold cream" scene.
In summary, not good. I ended by saying an obscenity at the screen. It looks fine, it's got a strong cast (if you can stomach the accents) and it's as good-looking as you'd expect from a Universal movie. You'll probably enjoy it a lot if you don't care about plot logic and your favourite phrase is "it's just a movie". There are elements I liked a lot. For me though, a train wreck.