Tuesday, October 28, 2014

INVISIBLE AGENT (1942)

A diverse bunch of obvious villains—including Cedric Hardwicke with a German lilt to his voice and Peter Lorre made up very much like Mr. Moto—comes into a small stationery story and threatens the owner (Jon Hall) with disfigurement unless he gives up the invisibility serum he inherited from his grandfather, the first Invisible Man. Hall manages to kick some ass and get away; he also says no to the American military folks who ask—much more nicely—for it, until Pearl Harbor, when he not only offers the serum to the Army but insists on being the guinea pig agent who is sent into enemy territory and injected with the serum in order to bring back Nazi military secrets. He parachutes behind lines (in a nice sequence in which he turns invisible as his parachute falls, takes off his clothes, and hides from German soldiers in a barn) and gets in touch with sexy Ilona Massey, Hardwicke's mistress, who is willing to help Hall with his mission. He almost gives the game away when, either drunk or tired or suffering side effects of the serum, he toys around in Massey's living room and is almost caught by J. Edward Bromberg, a Nazi underling who wants to have his own rendezvous with Massey. There are success and reversals, and at one point, Hall is sure that Massey is actually working with the Nazis, but in the end, he manages to stop a planned attack on the United States and, back in England, after the serum wears off, he finds out that Massey is actually a British spy—and she's quite taken with the visible Hall.

None of the Invisible Man sequels are up to the original, but that's par for the course. This one takes a sharp turn away from horror and functions as a spy thriller with a front-and center science-fiction element, and on that level, it works fairly well. Hall, known best for his exotic adventures with Maria Montez, is very good here—robust, humorous, fairly heroic—and I also liked Massey. In fact, the cast overall is fine, especially the reliable Lorre, Hardwicke and Bromberg. None of them feel particularly ethnic, but it's the Nazi uniforms that matter most. The FX are serviceable; occasionally you can see wires or outlines but the relative sexiness of the proceedings here are interesting; the fact that Hall is naked (though invisible) around Massey is highlighted and Massey herself is often changing in or out of nightwear. As wartime propaganda sci-fi B-thrillers go, this is fun. [DVD]

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