Review of “Invisible Agent” (1942)

trailer from YouTube

This week’s pizza and bad movie offering is a fair-to-middling black-and-white bit of war propaganda. The wine was yummy, and the pizza was hot. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

Mild-mannered Frank Raymond (Jon Hall) is busy minding his print shop when four men barge in. They mention the name “Frank Griffin,”* lock the door, and pull the shades down. The strangers know this is his real name—he was named after his grandfather, the invisible man. Our hero still has some of his grandfather’s invisibility formula around, and they want it. They’re willing to resort to torture and slicing Frank’s fingers off.

At first, Frank accedes, but he fights them off and runs away.

Two of his assailants are SS Gruppenführer Conrad Stauffer (Cedric Hardwicke) and Baron Ikito (Peter Lorre). Lorre is suitably creepy and quietly threatening during the attack. As later becomes clear, he’s meant to portray a Japanese man. Did imperial Japan have barons? On the other hand, it might have been difficult to find Japanese actors to fill the role. Not the smallest obstacle was that at the time the movie was made, Japanese-Americans were being sent to internment camps.

The Allies approach Frank. Apparently, the government has known about him for a while, but they’re gentlemen and request his grandfather’s formula. Frank refuses; there are dangers with the formula. The Allies accept his refusal, albeit with regret.

The news comes the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. Frank is all in. He offers his grandfather’s formula to the military on one condition: he must be the one to use it. Rumors have come that the Nazis plan to attack the United States. Without training, he’ll go behind enemy lines and retrieve the information the Allies need to prevent this attack.

Thoughts:

This film is part adventure and part comedy. The special effects might not pass muster in 2022, but for 1942, they were pretty good. Frank parachutes (apparently his first jump, too) into enemy territory. His head disappears, and he strips—in the air—so the bad guys can’t see him. Bad guys with swastika armbands take binoculars from their eyes and wipe the lenses, unable to believe what they see.

Reynolds lands on the roof of a barn. When the bad guy Nazis come looking for him, he defeats them by throwing hay on them from the loft and escapes to find a contact in a coffin-maker’s shop, Arnold Schmidt (Albert Basserman). Schmidt directs him to Maria Sorenson (Ilona Massey).

Is it tacky to remind the reader that Reynolds does all this in the buff?

At Maria Sorenson’s, he finds she’s getting ready to host a dinner guest, Gestapo Standartenführer Karl Heiser (J. Edward Bromberg). Reynolds gets a little tipsy. He’s also sweet on Maria and thus decides to ruin dinner, even though Heiser is second-in-command to Gruppenführer Stauffer, one of the guys who roughed him in his shop. Heiser also brags about talking to der Führer and about the big plan to attack the United States. Heiser balks at telling her exactly when, though.

Reynolds is not visible to the viewer during this scene. His antics devolve into slapstick—Heiser slaps food against his face, Reynolds plants a chicken bone in his pocket, and so on. At the point where the table tips and dumps everything (where did he get lobster during the war?) onto his lap, Maria laughs. Heiser has had enough. He posts a guard and struts off.

When Heiser’s boss Stauffer sees his clothes, he ‘fesses up to the dinner disaster. Mama Stauffer didn’t raise a Dummkopf. He clues into what’s happening and sets a trap.

There are a lot of special effects in this movie, and while they’re hardly perfect, they are good. I couldn’t help wondering if this movie didn’t help inspire some Indiana Jones movies. It has some airport scenes that bring that movie to mind, even if no one dies by propellor blade.

On the downside, the Nazis are mere cartoon buffoons and bullies. The Japanese are slimy, sinister, and inscrutable. In some way, the movie is neither fish nor fowl, an adventure film and slapstick at the same time. No doubt, plenty of folks know more on the subject than I do, but I don’t believe the Nazis had the capability of running bombing missions from Berlin to New York City, as was depicted in this film.

On the plus side, the flick is full of silliness. To “show” himself to Maria, Reynolds dons a bathrobe (hmmm… she has one in his size?), smears cold cream on his face, wraps his head in a towel, and wears a pair of her sunglasses. Spa day? He then falls so deeply asleep she can’t wake him when Gruppenführer Conrad Stauffer and a pack of thugs come goosestepping back.

Is it a great movie? No. Is it awful? No.

Invisible Agent was nominated for an Oscar for best special effects in 1943. Writer Curt Siodmak and director Edwin L. Marin were nominated for a (retro) 1943 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation—Short Form.

Invisible Agent can be watched here.


*The original 1933 invisible man was named Jack Griffin. His brother, Dr. Frank Griffin shows up in The Invisible Man Returns in 1940. In the present film, our hero is the grandson of the original invisible man, but they call his grandpappy Frank Griffin. Oh, well. Little matter. It’s all for destroying the Nazi war machine, right?


Title: Invisible Agent (1942)

Directed by
Edwin L. Marin

Writing Credits
H.G. Wells…(novel)
Curt Siodmak…(original screenplay) (as Curtis Siodmak)

Cast (in credits order)
Ilona Massey…Maria Sorenson
Jon Hall…Frank Raymond
Peter Lorre…Baron Ikito
Cedric Hardwicke…Conrad Stauffer (as Sir Cedric Hardwicke)
J. Edward Bromberg…Karl Heiser

Released: 1942
Length: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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