Invisible Agent (1942)

*. I’ve mentioned before how the figure of the Invisible Man is a blank slate that almost any type of character or genre can be written upon. That’s the case again here in the fourth instalment of the initial run of these movies. It has only a very loose connection to The Invisible Man, with the hero in this film being Griffin’s grandson, and has skipped over the plot of The Invisible Woman entirely. But then that latter movie was an outlier in a lot of ways.
*. We’ve also brought things up to date historically, so that Griffin is fighting Nazis. Everyone was fighting Nazis in 1942. Even England’s greatest detective had enlisted in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror. So instead of being a villain the Invisible Man is now an action hero, parachuting into Germany to find out about German plans for a sneak attack on the U.S. Instead of the monocaine or duocaine, or whatever the secret formula for invisibility is, driving him insane, it only acts as a narcotic, causing him to fall asleep at various inopportune moments.
*. There are comic bits too, as the Nazis are not unlike the bumbling gangsters in the previous film. But there’s also a distinct strain of cruelty that’s new to the series. Griffin is threatened with having his fingers sliced off with a paper cutter. An old man has his fingers broken during an interrogation. Griffin is caught in a fishnet laced with some nasty-looking hooks. “Naturally,” a doctor says later, as he’s cutting the net from Griffin, “he’s lost a lot of blood.” “Oh, naturally,” Baron Ikito, who will go on to commit seppuku, insouciantly replies.
*. “I can’t tell you Japs apart,” our hero snarls. Not even when Ikito is being played by Peter Lorre? Did the Tojo glasses fool him? Or his proficiency with judo and karate?

*. I jest, because Lorre turning Japanese is even less convincing than Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice (where Bond was at least only supposed to be disguised as Japanese). That said, Lorre and Cedrick Hardwicke stand out here as the Japanese and German heavies respectively. A contemporary review in the Hollywood Reporter praised the film for presenting villains who were actually pretty smart, and this does add something to what is an otherwise predictable plot.
*. Ilona Massey as the love interest and Jon Hall as the invisible man (he’d be back in the next film in the series too). Effects again by John Fulton, with a few wrinkles thrown in with the usual repertoire of mysterious footprints and floating cigarettes and glasses of brandy. I liked Griffin stripping out of his clothes while in his parachute harness, and the expedient of his covering his face in cold cream was something new. But I also had to wonder why he was bothering doing that. I mean, obviously the cold cream made him easier to film so there were less of the expensive process shots to engineer, but why does Griffin want to make his face and hands visible anyway? He just puts the cream on and then falls asleep.
*. Not a bad little entry in the Universal catalogue. The ending in particular is pretty impressive, with Griffin dropping bombs on a German airfield. And yet it’s not all that memorable. After Rains and Price, Hall is a bit of a zero. As much as I like Fulton’s effects (and he was nominated for an Oscar here), there’s nothing all that special to any of them. But for fans of the films of this period I think it still rates above average.

2 thoughts on “Invisible Agent (1942)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    I’m really enjoying the way this wacky franchise goes; like Sherlock Holmes, they thrust this character into patriotic service, which is an odd fit, but makes for a fun watch by the sound of it…


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