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"The Invisible Agent" (1942)


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Tonight on METv's Svengoolie is 1942's The Invisible Agent:

 


 

Now, this is far from being considered a classic movie like the first entry in Universal's series of Invisible Man movies. And it has all the "continuity" that Universal's horror movies are famed for (When did the original Invisible Man have an opportunity to have a son, much less a grandson?). And, regardless of the venue it is being shown on tonight, this one can not really be classified as horror. Or even as science fiction.

 

But if one is in the mood for a simple World War II spy movie that is primarily propaganda with comedic overtones, this is a workmanlike effort that will fit the bill (assuming, of course, that one can deal with the host). And one can't go wrong when the villains are portrayed by Peter Lorre (revisiting the look and martial art moves of Mr. Moto) and Sir Cedric Hardwicke. With Jon Hall in the title role. Plus the ever-lovely Ilona Massey prior to her introduction to Frankenstein's monster or the Wolf Man. And appearances by J. Edward Bromberg (who, based on this one, would have fit in nicely on Hogan's Heroes), Albert Bassermann, Holmes Herbert and Keye Luke.

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Thanks, Liam. 

 

I thought I might miss this tonight as my channel went off the air this morning. The only thing displayed for most of the day was a message stating Sun activity was disrupting that particular channel - all the others were fine. I couldn't watch an invisible agent on an invisible channel. It's back on now.. YAY!

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I recorded it and watched it this afternoon. It's a shame TCM does not air more of these forties Universal 'lite horror' classics, as I call them. It would be nice to see them commercial-free and uninterrupted by a host. 

 

Maltin complains about the dialogue in INVISIBLE AGENT. And yes, the dialogue is pretty bad-- and a lot of the special effects are definitely sub-par-- but what this film has going in its favor, in addition to the excellent supporting cast, is the convincing atmosphere. The cinematography helps convey the mood nicely which helps one go along with a mostly inane plot. I kept trying to imagine what it was like to be in the audience at the time this film was first shown (to women, kids and men not at war). Even they had to recognize it was propagandistic fluff, but still entertaining nonetheless.

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I would also prefer for these types of movies to be shown more often on TCM. Since I was born and raised in Chicago, I feel somewhat nostalgic about Svengoolie and, therefore, am probably a lot more accepting of him than many others on this message board. But it is always nice to have the possibility of seeing movies complete and uninterrupted.

 

I also agree that this movie's dialogue is inane. And maybe that was the effect that Curt Siodmak was attempting to achieve. But, more than likely, when one starts with an inane premise ("Hey, Timely Comics is making money off of that Captain America character of theirs. Why don't we turn the Invisible Man into a superhero and have him fight the Nazis too."), a certain amount of inanity is going to survive until the end.

 

As for the special effects, I hesitate at providing a valid opinion on that subject for a movie released 70+ years ago. Have I been spoiled by the visual effects that are possible with modern movies? Are flaws simply more noticeable because I am watching a digital transfer of an older movie (I have The Invisible Man - The Legacy Collection DVD set in this particular case.) playing on a Blu-Ray device connected to an high-definition television rather than in the format and venue the movie was originally intended for? Or are flaws simply more noticeable because this is a movie that I have seen before or read about in advance? Since the answer to all of those questions could easily be yes, my primary concern is that a movie's special effects are at least good enough to keep me from being knocked out of the story.

 

On a related note, Invisible Agent was one of the ten movies that were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Special Effects for that year (along with The Black Swan, Desperate Journey, Flying Tigers, Jungle Book, Mrs. Miniver, The Navy Comes Through, One of Our Aircraft is Missing, The Pride of the Yankees and the eventual winner, Reap the Wild Wind). So it appears that this movie's special effects were at least considered acceptable back then.

 

To me, this movie's major flaw was in the casting of Jon Hall in the title role. And this flaw is not the fault of Mr. Hall but, rather, the fault of Universal. Because I feel that, when one is casting an actor for a role that is primarily heard but not seen, that actor should have a great and distinctive voice (a subject being covered in your "Who Has The Best Voice...?" thread over in "General Discussions"). And since Universal gave us Claude Rains in 1933's The Invisible Man and Vincent Price in 1940's The Invisible Man Returns, it seems apparent to me that they once felt that way too.

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I would also prefer for these types of movies to be shown more often on TCM. Since I was born and raised in Chicago, I feel somewhat nostalgic about Svengoolie and, therefore, am probably a lot more accepting of him than many others on this message board. But it is always nice to have the possibility of seeing movies complete and uninterrupted.
 
I also agree that this movie's dialogue is inane. And maybe that was the effect that Curt Siodmak was attempting to achieve. But, more than likely, when one starts with an inane premise ("Hey, Timely Comics is making money off of that Captain America character of theirs. Why don't we turn the Invisible Man into a superhero and have him fight the Nazis too."), a certain amount of inanity is going to survive until the end.
 
As for the special effects, I hesitate at providing a valid opinion on that subject for a movie released 70+ years ago. Have I been spoiled by the visual effects that are possible with modern movies? Are flaws simply more noticeable because I am watching a digital transfer of an older movie (I have The Invisible Man - The Legacy Collection DVD set in this particular case.) playing on a Blu-Ray device connected to an high-definition television rather than in the format and venue the movie was originally intended for? Or are flaws simply more noticeable because this is a movie that I have seen before or read about in advance? Since the answer to all of those questions could easily be yes, my primary concern is that a movie's special effects are at least good enough to keep me from being knocked out of the story.
 
On a related note, Invisible Agent was one of the ten movies that were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Special Effects for that year (along with The Black Swan, Desperate Journey, Flying Tigers, Jungle Book, Mrs. Miniver, The Navy Comes Through, One of Our Aircraft is Missing, The Pride of the Yankees and the eventual winner, Reap the Wild Wind). So it appears that this movie's special effects were at least considered acceptable back then.
 
To me, this movie's major flaw was in the casting of Jon Hall in the title role. And this flaw is not the fault of Mr. Hall but, rather, the fault of Universal. Because I feel that, when one is casting an actor for a role that is primarily heard but not seen, that actor should have a great and distinctive voice (a subject being covered in your "Who Has The Best Voice...?" thread over in "General Discussions"). And since Universal gave us Claude Rains in 1933's The Invisible Man and Vincent Price in 1940's The Invisible Man Returns, it seems apparent to me that they once felt that way too.

 

Definitely hard to believe it earned an Oscar nomination for effects. It reminded me of the Topper movies, especially the business with the chicken being devoured, where they superimpose a vanishing object on top of the main action. Very cheesy. I don't think these effects were very good, even for 1942. Recently, I watched Selznick's version of THE GARDEN OF ALLAH, made in 1936, and the technology in that movie, six years earlier, seems vastly superior to this Universal offering. 

 

I agree about Jon Hall. Actually, he is very good in westerns but this genre is not tailor made for him (or maybe I should say he is not made for this genre). It occurred to me that the role of an invisible lead character would work best for someone who has limited mobility (like perhaps a crippled or wheelchair bound actor) because half of the performance is simply a voice-over. Hall lacks the kind of rich voice someone like Claude Rains demonstrates. Although he was playing the grandson of the earlier character, they could have easily just dubbed Hall's voice with Rains in the scenes where Hall is on camera. And then during the invisible parts just go with Rains again entirely. We could believe a grandfather and grandson had practically the same type of voice.

 

I wanted to briefly mention lead actress Ilona Massey because nobody has said anything about her. I checked her filmography and she barely made a dozen films during her Hollywood motion picture career. I wonder if she was cast in INVISIBLE AGENT solely because as a Hungarian, she could convincingly pass in a role as a double agent (appearing to sound and look German to audiences). She was a beautiful woman and while her acting is quite limited, I can accept her casting in this picture more than I can Hall's.

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