Wednesday, March 18, 2015
INVISIBLE AGENT (1942)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociologiical*
Of all the "Invisible Man" films from Universal in its classic period, INVISIBLE AGENT is the only one that provides the protagonist with villains worthy of his powers.
Compared to the 1933 original, this entry is distinctly lightweight, even though it does pit the newest version against the Axis. Chemist Frank Raymond (Jon Hall) is introduced as yet another individual who somehow gets hold of the formula invented by Doctor Griffin. This time Raymond is an actual descendant of Griffin's, but he unlike his predecessor is well aware that the drug has a tendency to madden those that use it. However, agents of the Axis-- including German office Stauffer (Cedric Hardwicke) and Japanese agent Baron Ikito (Peter Lorre)-- accost Raymond in his lab and try to torture the invisibility formula out of him. The scene sets the tone for all future appearances of the two primary Axis nationalities, for Stauffer and the Germans are largely buffoons, while Ikito and his Japanese surbordinates are subtle schemers.
Raymond escapes these agents-- whom he will later encounter again in Germany-- and runs straight to the American government. Very improbably, the government not only doesn't try to force the secret from him to use in the war, they blithely accept his word regarding the serum's evil effects. Even more improbably, Raymond, a scientist with no field experience in espionage, tells them that only he can be trusted with becoming the Allies' "invisible agent"-- and the authorities blandly accept Raymond's terms.
It's possible, though, that war-weary stateside audiences entered into the film with a sense that it was intended to be a juvenile version of wartime espionage. Certainly Raymond's first invisible feat upon entering Axis territory-- parachuting into Germany and turning invisible on the way down-- has the air of loony comedy about it. Later, after Raymond has met his undercover contact, a lady named Maria (Ilona Massey), he ends up pulling invisible pranks on another German buffoon who comes courting her. Though technically Hall isn't "on screen" most of the time, the script gives both Hall and Massey enough good lines that they generate better-than-average chemistry.
In fairness, Raymond does have a few bad moments as he tries to complete his espionage, and some of them may be called by the disorienting effects of the invisibility drug, though the script isn't explicit on this matter. He's finally captured by Baron Ikito, who shows himself to be far more resourceful than Stauffer, and in truth the interference of the blundering Germans works to the advantage of the Invisible Agent. After Raymond flees with Maria and the information he needs, Ikito has a memorable scene committing seppuku for his failure-- which at least establishes that he possesses a code of honor, one rarely seen in wartime depictions of the Japanese.
AGENT is an efficient formula-film, with no scary stuff but some decent action-sequences and a strong cast.