Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

Despite having directed one of the most commercially successful of the Universal horror movies of the 30s, The Black Cat, Edgar G. Ulmer was destined to spend most of his career making ultra low budget movies. Towards the end of his career these included quite a few science fiction movies that are often far more interesting than their minuscule budgets might suggest.

The Amazing Transparent Man was released in 1960. Invisible man movies were nothing new but this one does add a few new twists.

Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy) is a bank robber whose escape from prison has been engineered by Major Krenner (James Griffith). Krenner is a man of indeterminate nationality who has served in the military forces of a number of countries. Joey Faust has no idea why Krenner would have wanted to spring him from prison. The explanation is something he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams.

Major Krenner has Faust brought to his secret laboratory where his reluctant collaborator Dr Peter Ulof is working on bizarre scientific experiments on invisibility. This interests Faust insofar as he can se the potential that invisibility could have for someone in his own line of work. An invisible bank robber should have a lucrative career.

Major Krenner has other ideas in mind. His plans are far more ambitious, and far more sinister. For Krenner invisibility is the key to power.

Krenner and Faust are both equally treacherous and they spend most of the movie trying to double-cross one another. Krenner’s girlfriend Laura (Marguerite Chapman) is trying to double-cross both of them. Poor Dr Ulof just wants to save his daughter, held hostage by Krenner.

The plot is far-fetched but Jack Lewis’s screenplay is reasonably interesting and as the story digresses it becomes a lot darker and a lot more morally complex than you generally expect in low-budget potboilers of this type.

Even on a budget of almost nothing Ulmer could make his films look fairly stylish. The laboratory set is obviously cheap but Ulmer uses it skillfully and creates the right sort of atmosphere. The scenes in which Dr Ulof and Krenner watch the results of their experiments through tiny windows in a lead-lined cubbyhole are quite creepy.

Ulmer’s big problem was always that he was rarely able to work with decent actors but in this film the principals give quite effective performances. James Griffith as Major Krenner is clearly both cynical and slightly deranged. Douglas Kennedy as Joey Faust is  just as cynical but he has some decency in his character even if he himself is not aware of it.

The special effects are what you expect in an ultra low budget sci-fi movie but they get the job done. The very short running time (just 58 minutes) is a definite asset. If you don’t have the money for fancy special effects or action sequences then you’re always well advised to keep your movie short and snappy.

The ending manages to be both very 1950s and unexpectedly drastic.

The movie dispenses with the technobabble so beloved of 1950s science fiction movie-makers. There is no attempt at offering any kind of explanation of Dr Ulof’s invisibility machine. In some ways that’s a pity - I personally love technobabble and silly pseudoscience. Perhaps Ulmer felt that such things would distract the viewer from the interpersonal dynamics between the characters. Which is fine, but if you want human drama you probably need actors of slightly higher calibre than this. 

Ulmer made two other science fiction movies at the beginning of the 1960s that are well worth checking out, Beyond the Time Barrier and Journey Beneath the Desert.

Shout! Factory and Timeless Media have included this film in their Movies 4 You - More Sci-Fi Classics release. The transfer for The Amazing Transparent Man is very good. 

The invisibility angle is used cleverly, the movie is fast-paced and the end result is very entertaining in a low-budget B-movie kind of way. By no stretch of the imagination can The Amazing Transparent Man be described as a classic but it is fun. Recommended.

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