SATURDAY AFTERNOON B-MOVIE CAPFEST: “The Amazing Transparent Man” (1960)

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 10/31/09

Man, we’re getting a lot of these pictures that I’ve never heard of, much less seen. Let’s run a quick checklist, shall we?
* Cosmos: War of the Planets - Never heard of it, but I’m pretty sure I saw at least the last half hour of it on TV around 1979 or so. Rare example of Seen, but not Heard. It’s crap.
* War of the Robots - Never saw it prior to this, Never heard of it. It’s crap.
* Unknown World - Never saw nor heard of it prior to now. It’s crap.
* The Phantom Planet - Must have seen it at least 5 or 10 times in my youth. It’s mostly crap, but with an oddly unexpected and out-of-place poetic bent.
* Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe: Never saw nor heard of it prior to now. It’s crap. (Crap from 1991, however, so I can be forgiven in this case)
* They Came From Beyond Space: Never saw nor heard of it prior to now. It’s crap. British Crap!
* First Spaceship on Venus: Saw it at least four or five times as a kid. It’s crap.
* Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet: Never saw nor heard of it prior to now. It’s jaunty crap.
* Moon Zero-Two: Heard of it, but never saw it. Surprisingly, it’s not crap.
* The Giant Gila Monster: Seen it a hundred times. It’s staple crap.
* The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues: Never saw nor heard of it prior to now. It’s crap.

Which brings us to “The Amazing Transparent Man.” Never saw nor heard of it prior to now. It’s crap. But, oh, the crapfulness of it!

PLAY BY PLAY:

A man is broken out of a prison that consists entirely of stock footage. Improbably, he’s wearing a tuxedo. (Evidently a white-collar prison). A chick drives him for a LONG time, but refuses to explain where they’re going, or why she broke him out. They get to the least-secure checkpoint in history, and pass without incident. “Can I see his ID?” “He doesn’t have any. He got a DUI.” “Oh, well, no matter then. Sorry to bother you.”

They get to a really nice Victorian (Or is it Edwardian?) farmhouse in the middle of Kansas or something, and the fugitive meets a thug with a gun named Julian, and a skinny guy named “The Major.” Said Major explains he needs a man of the con’s skills in order to do what needs to be done, and the con reluctantly agrees. Then he’s taken upstairs to meet an accented European scientist dude who sounds and acts Jewish, and who’s backstory is likewise Jewish, but who is mysteriously Catholic. The Major is holding the scientist’s daughter hostage, thus forcing the guy to do what he says. The con makes a half-hearted attempt to get away, but is recapture. It becomes apparent that the Major likes slapping women around, and also that the chick isn’t entirely loyal to him, it’s more of a mercenary relationship.

This takes, no joke, half the film.

The con man goes along with all this reluctantly, and it turns out that The Major wants to turn the con invisible so that he can steal some fake-sounding radioactive isotope called “X-13” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-13 ) to use in making even more people invisible. This they then do, and the con steals the isotope without incident. This takes maybe five minutes. Then it’s back to the farmhouse for more exposition, and again pretty much anything of note fails to happen for about another quarter of the film, and then they turn him invisible using the X-13, though the professor expresses some moral reservations about this. And if you can’t trust the moral reservations of a guy who experimented on humans for the Nazis, who can you trust? Meanwhile a detective is introduced who mostly chides security guards for being useless.

Anyway, the con man decides that rather than steal yet even more X-13, he’s gonna’ rob a bank. This he then does, but his inviso-power fails while in the bank, and he’s identified by a woman who says “Oh, Good Lord!” (Presumably a Zoroastrian). Back at the barn, The Major and Julian (Which is a gay folk duo out of Portland, by the way. They do a great version of Phrank‘s version of “I enjoy being a girl.”) have heard on the radio that the con robbed a bank, and they’re preparing to bug out before the feds show. The con and the chick - who are suddenly a romantic item - separate, and the con’s iviso-power kicks in again. He walks in to the farmhouse, frees the scientists’ oddly mute teenaged daughter, and locks the Major in there.

Julian tries to stop them, but the chick says “Your son is dead!” and he immediately changes sides. As they leave, the professor points out to the con that he’s dying of radiation poisoning, and that he needs to go in and martyr himself to make sure the Major doesn’t get away. Curiously, the con agrees to this, and goes in just as The Major gets out of the little girls’ room. (One of those things that sounds dirty, but probably isn’t.)

A fight ensues in which the Major is evidently trying to kill the con using the invisibility gear. This goes badly, and the whole place explodes in a stock footage mushroom cloud. The next day, the scientist and the detective are talking, and the detective wants the secret of invisibility, but the scientist alludes to the atomic bomb and says perhaps it’s best to just let the secret die with them. “It’s a difficult decision.” Then he turns to look at you, in the audience, and says, “What would you do?”

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Pardon my French, but for a guy who’s allegedly a career-military guy who left the service due to an injury, The Major fights like a little bitch. I’m quite serious here: he fights like a girl, he doesn’t punch much, and the punches he throws all suck. He tends to slap and hit people with things, and when the con grabs him around the waist, and the Major just drums on his back furiously like - seriously - like a chick being picked up by a guy in a gorilla suit. It’s embarrassing.

And yet, you know what? I kind of like it! It’s completely accidental, mind you, but it adds to this otherwise bland movie. The Major is a guy who prides himself on being completely in control, and he fancies himself as something of a cold-eyed badass, and smart as well. This is fairly bland, but the mask comes off when the Con goes invisible the first time and strangles the Major, just to prove what he can do. The Major’s eyes go wide, his face flushes, he completely freaks out, his voice goes up about three octaves, he completely looses control. I’m not sure if this was in the script, or just a mediocre actor chewing the scenery, but it works, and it tells you a lot about the character that - frankly - probably wasn’t written in the script or intended. In the big fight scene in the end, it is strangely rewarding to watch the guy flat on his back, powerless, screaming as shrill as any crying baby with something approaching real terror as the con kills him. It’s a surprisingly powerful scene in a boring piece of crap movie. And again, it’s probably mostly an accident because the actor didn’t know how to modulate his voice or whatever. Or maybe it was deliberate: James Griffith had a long career as a minor bit player in TV, with guest spots in Batman, The Monkeys, the Man From UNCLE, and his final credit was “Trapper John, MD.” Obviously, he must have had some skills. His plan - to create an invisible army, and use it to take over America - has some very obvious holes in it from the get go.

As the Con (Named “Joey Faust,” but people keep sluring his name, so I wasn’t sure about it until I looked it up on IMDB later), Doug Kennedy is a prototypical palooka. He plays the part well, he doesn’t give a damn about anything but himself, and when he dies heroically at the end, it’s mainly to spare himself a long lingering death in a hospital bed. He’s probably best known as the Sheriff from “The Fastest Guitar Alive,” if that tells you anything about his career. Faust/The Con dresses entirely in black, and makes a deal with the devil for his life, and when the deal goes south later on, he fights the devil and dies in the process, presumably saving the world. That’s what they were going for, anyway, but most of that didn’t really come off. I *do* like that the con isn’t a complete idiot. He’s uneducated, but not stupid. He’s trying to figure out everything before he makes a decision as to what to do.

As the professor, Ivan Triesault made a career out of playing Russians on TV, which wasn’t exactly typecasting since he was really Russian. HE did a few episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the Girl from UNCLE, Hogan’s Heroes, you name it. He’s instantly recognizable. It’s interesting that they make him catholic in this - there’s a crucifix over his bed - in our day and age, the holocast is synonymous with Judaism, but it’s often overlooked that about 12 million people died, and half of them weren’t Jewish - gypsies, homosexuals, catholics, lots and lots of people went in the ovens.

Man, was the reveal on the professor’s daughter anticlimactic, or what? She’s kept locked up in a room, no one’s allowed in, the professor sleeps right next to it, there’s never a peep from there, and we’re told that the prof experimented on her back in WWII. I assumed she was some kind of horribly deformed monster who’d provide a third-reel complication to the story, but no, it’s just a teenaged girl with the unlikely name of “Carmel Daniel,” in her only film role. Carmel, if you’re out there, drop us a line! We’d love to talk about the making of this film! Her room - which was alluded to be just a closet - turns out to be a kind of nice cupola room, and her unexplained silence is eerie. Again, that's a random and accidental element that no doubt ended up playing out as better than intended.

This is only barely an SF film, if I’m honest. Primarily it‘s a caper film, with a tiny bit of cold war realpolitik thrown in incongruously : the invisibility has next to nothing to do with it, and is, again, only a Magoffin. If it had been eliminated from the script entirely, it wouldn’t have affected things much, though the robbery scenes would have had to have been a bit longer and frankly more interesting. The ham-fisted attempt to make a social commentary, comparing the A-bomb to invisibility, comes out of nowhere, and doesn’t really sit well based on what we’ve seen, and the fact that everyone in this movie is despicable.

A whole lot of things come out of nowhere in this movie: the revelation that Julian is only working for The Major for hopes of seeing his son again, the where-the-hell-did-that-come-from romance between the chick and the con, the allegory at the end, this whole thing is sloppy writing 101. “Oh, did I forget to set that up earlier in the film? Well, I’ll just throw it in here, and no one will notice.”

As the Chick, Marguerite Chapman is probably too old for this kind of film. He’s 42, and is kind of lacking that sort of tumbledown sex appeal that a film like this needs. Her performance is kind of flat - not that she’s given anything to do - and that whole romance angle is so out of nowhere, and so completely off-camera that it makes me wonder if there were scenes left on the cutting room floor. Her only other genre credit is “Flight to Mars” in 1951, playing “Alita.”

This movie is bizarrely short - a scant 57 minutes! Seriously, as far as I can tell, this *is* the complete film, as released in 1960, but if feels as though it’s missing the entire middle act, or, perhaps, that the movie was written as a 90-minute piece, but then the script was flensed down to an hour on the fly for some reason, presumably budgetary.

Another odd aspect is that this movie came out in 1960, and yet it LOOKS ten years old by that point. Clothing, cars, styles, sets, everything was already horribly old fashioned by the time this was made. Frankly, they could have made this film as early as 1948, and it wouldn’t have looked any different.

And that’s about it. In the end, the only thing worthwhile is the final fight sequence between the con and the Major. If you’d like to see that, you can watch the whole movie online here:

http://www.archive.org/details.php?identifier=The_Amazing_Transparent_Man

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