Friday, January 5, 2018

Invisible Agent mixes World War II, Nazis and patriotism

By Doug Gibson

How many of you have heard of "The Invisible Man," the one starring Claude Rains from Universal in 1933? Probably a healthy percentage. It's a legitimate classic, with Rains, then an unknown, giving an intense, unforgettable performance as scientist Jack Griffin, turned insane by his invisibility formula.

Precious few likely recall "The Invisible Agent," one of four sequels to the Rains' original, which was also directed by James Whale, by far Universal's best horror director. However, the 1942 "Invisible Agent" was Universal's top-grossing sequel in the Invisible Man series. It was part of a long series of World War II-era patriotic, propaganda films that cast the Axis, mostly Germany and Japan, as the baddies to be defeated by tough Allies.

Playing a Nazi and a Japanese follower of Toho are respectively, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Peter Lorre, and both are very good in their roles, particularly Lorre. The veteran actor is very sinister and menacing. In a particularly strong horror scene, he disembowels Hardwicke with a knife and then kills himself with the knife, because both men failed in their duty.

The hero of the movie is two-fisted everyman Jon Hall, playing the grandson of Raines' character. Although working as a printer in the USA, Hardwicke and Lorre try to grab his invisibility formula. They fail. Hall goes straight to the U.S. military, eventually allowing the USA to use his formula if he can be the spy. He embarks on a very dangerous into Nazi Germany, battling Hardwicke, Lorre and others to grab a list of Axis spies in the U.S. 

While there, he matches wits with a beautiful double-agent spy, the truly gorgeous starlet Ilona Massey. Both are attracted to each other but Hall's character is never sure if Massey can be trusted.

All ends well in this pro-war effort film, which is quite exciting. Directed by Edwin L. Marin, it plays often as a tightly directed, higher quality "daredevil" serial-like movie, as Hall and the other good guys escape death on several occasions. Supporting cast includes veteran character actors J. Edward Bromberg, as a pompous Nazi officer, and Keye Luke as a Japanese surgeon.

There is one twist to this Invisible Man series film. Hall, particularly in scenes with Massey, swaths himself in cold cream, and shades and head covering, to present a very lifelike outline of himself. It's a bit too lifelike, though, as we can see his teeth and inside of his mouth. In one scene designed to show the cruelty of the Axis, actor Albert Bassermann, an Allied spy in Germany, is tortured by Nazis. When Hardwicke's character demands he sign a "release" form stating he was not mistreated, he displays his mangled, broken fingers, explaining he can't write due to the torture.

At 81 minutes, "Invisible Agent" is well worth the asking price. Amazon sells it as part of the Universal Invisible Man series. Watch the trailer below.

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