Feb. 12th, 2017

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 It's been snowing off and on. Friday night we watched a couple of Universal's lesser-known sequels to The Invisible Man: The Invisible Agent and The Invisible Man's Revenge, both of which were deeply weird.

The Invisible Agent (1942)
It's like Curt Siodmak saw Leslie Howard disappearing into the shadows at the end of Pimpernel Smith and thought "wouldn't it be great to have an invisible guy fighting nazis?" Unfortunately Frank Raymond/Griffin (grandson of the the original Invisible Man), is a lousy secret agent. He's reasonably heroic in the opening scenes, but once he's invisible, he ruins the heroine's honey trap for an SS officer with childish pranks, stealing food off the the table and moving furniture, until the officer storms out without giving away any information, leaving guards to keep the woman under house arrest.
This sets the pattern for the rest of the movie -- Miss Sorensen is brave, clever and committed, and Griffin keeps screwing up her carefully-laid plans with his wild improvisation, especially once he decides she's working for the Germans. I can headcannon that the paranoia and madness seen in the other Invisible Man movies are setting in, but the picture never actually addresses this; maybe Griffin was just always an arrogant dolt.
I haven't mentioned Peter Lorre yet. He plays Japanese ambassador/spymaster Baron Ikito, and it's a curious portrayal; he eschews yellowface or a stereotypical accent -- in fact it took a few scenes for me to realize the character was even supposed to be Japanese -- and while villainous, he seems more dignified than the cartoonishly evil Nazi officers. In fact he ultimately destroys the main villain. It's not exactly a heel-face turn; Griffin and Sorensen have thrown enough spanners in the works to ruin the German plans to invade America, and Ikito, having been double-crossed by the head German spymaster, fatalistically tells him they've both failed, stabs him, and then quietly commits seppuku. The sleazy-comical officer Miss Sorensen was seducing in her opening scenes seems set to ironically come out on top, but gets shot by his own soldiers. Miss Sorensen flies herself and Griffith to safety (by this time I'd have abandoned him) and the last scene is of him recovering in hospital, learning she really is an Allied agent, and refusing to tell her how he became visible again because "it's a military secret." She'll probably figure it out anyway.
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This one was scripted by Bertram Millhauser, who worked on most of Universal's Sherlock Holmes movies, and I kept expecting Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce to show up and sort matters out. In their absence, Robert Griffin comes to England after escaping from a Capetown asylum for the criminally insane, and accuses his old friends Sir Jasper and Lady Irene Hedrick of deliberately leaving him for dead after he was hit by a falling branch on their South African expedition years before. They plead that his injury was showing the expedition down, so they'd left him in the care of the most trusted bearer. This does sound a bit flimsy, and when Griffin comes over all woozy after accepting a drink from Lady Irene, Andrew and I figured she was the real villain and had arranged the original accident.

Griffin falls into a river, falls in with a local yokel who pulls him out, and they try unsuccessfully to sue/blackmail the Herricks. When that fails, Griffin wanders about muttering angrily until he meets mad scientist Dr. Drury (John Carradine). Drury's not such a bad sort, although his animal testing probably isn't up to modern RSPCA standards; he's got a lot of Invisible animals, including his pet parrot Methusulah and his guard dog Brutus. Griffin volunteers to be the first human test subject, then takes off while Drury plans to write up the results and present them to the Royal Society.

He goes back to the Herricks' and harasses them invisibly for a while. When their daughter returns home to care for her stressed-out parents, Griffin decides he needs to be visible again. He goes back to Drury, who has just made Brutus visible again via a blood transfusion from another dog, but balks at draining a human's blood to treat Griffin, so Griffin takes his blood, somehow performing a blood transfusion with no medical training or awareness of blood typing, and leaves him dead. So now he's visible again, but effectively a vampire, as the effects of the transfusion keep wearing off, although Brutus appears to be fine, and after a few more scenes, is ultimately the one who kills Griffin. "Wait," we said, "so was Lady Irene innocent the whole time?"


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