The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)
This little film is a product of famed science fiction director Edgar Ulmer, though an unfortunate example of his work later in life. By 1960, Ulmer was outside the mainstream Hollywood gravy train, reduced to directing low-budget (or no-budget) films starring C-list stars and often shot in just days out the back of a truck. Released in July, 1960, The Amazing Transparent Man was shot back to back with his Beyond the Time Barrier, with principal photography for both films completed in just two weeks. They filmed this one with the money left over from the budget for Beyond the Time Barrier, and even that ran out halfway through, forcing Ulmer to dip into his own pockets to finish it.
I'm using a new Brentwood DVD released just this year, running a mere 58 minutes long, the shortest movie I have reviewed yet. The film quality is surprisingly crisp and clear, and in black and white. Though the sound is fine, with little difficulty in understanding dialogue, there are no subtitles, which is an inexcusable lapse that will be punished by fire and sword.
It was entirely filmed on the grounds of the Texas State Fairgrounds in Dallas and at other locations around that city. There's one main set (a farm house) and some location shoots at various places around town. The cast is small and at times some of them seem to be mailing it in, but generally they try and give it a good effort.
And now on to the show...
The opening credits are just cast and crew, each card lit by wobbling searchlights on a brick wall. Nothing special to see here, but the music is pretty annoying.
We open at a State Prison in Texas. Well, I assume it's Texas, they never say where the movie takes place, but all the cars have Texas plates. A jailbreak is happening, a single inmate jumping over the walls and making a run for it in the dead of night. Searchlights stab the night, and guards fire short bursts of machinegun and rifle fire at shadows. The escapee avoids the dangers and makes it into the woods. It's very possible that much of the above sequence is a mix of stock footage from some prison movie and inserts of our cast member.
The guards call out the dogs and start combing the woods. We see the inmate running for an isolated country road, where a car is pulling up. This is his get-away car, prearranged by a mysterious man who has facilitated his escape (more later). The car is a gorgeous late 1950s Buick Invicta convertible with striking tailfins and massive grill. In it is a middle-aged woman with her hair up in a scarf. He jumps in and they drive off into the night.
Lets meet these two. The escaped convict is safecracker and bank robber Joey Faust, played by 45-year old Douglas Kennedy. Kennedy would be a b-movie regular for most of his career, having a whopping 113 mostly low-budget movie credits to his name. He also appeared on television nearly a hundred times, playing bit parts in numerous popular series. Faust is a portly man, with a stocky build and thick neck, and his voice sounds just like James Garner in The Rockford Files. He's channeling an angry Marlon Brando/Clint Eastwood mix in this movie, brash and arrogant until the last scene.
The woman is Laura Matson, a devious and greedy girl not to be trusted. Laura is played by 42-year old Marguerite Chapman, a busy actress during the WWII years, helping to raise troop morale and pimp War Bonds. After that, she settled down into a series of small roles until the 1960s, and eventually even got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For my peculiar tastes, I remember her in 1961's Flight to Mars. She's a very buxom, tall woman, and very attractive for her age, though a bit heavy and with 1950s hair. In our movie, she's a cold calculating woman who's looking out for herself at every turn (I think I dated her once...).
Laura has a change of clothes for Faust, which helps them bluff their way through a hastily put-up police roadblock. In fact, that was too easy, that lameass deputy should get fired for letting a pretty woman's smile distract him from his job. They drive on through the country for a while, at least until the morning, then turn off onto a dirt road. The road leads to a big multi-story farm house out in the middle of nowhere. I have absolutely no clue where in the world this is supposed to be, and I guess it doesn't really matter, but I'll assume it's North Texas somewhere.
The farm house.
They get out and are met at the gate by a burly man with a Winchester rifle. This is Julian, the requisite dimwitted henchman that every criminal mastermind needs.
They all go inside where we meet the man who was responsible for breaking Faust out of jail. This will be Major Paul Krenner, formerly a US Army spy who's now working for himself. Krenner is played by 44-year old James Griffith, who one of the many actors in Hollywood who worked regularly but never achieved any great success. He specialized in westerns and made the transition to television easily, appearing in well over a hundred episodes of various shows. He's a slim man (much slighter than Faust) and seems uncomfortable with physical confrontation and dirt. He looks faintly like Gary Oldman.
Faust, of course, wants to know why Krenner arranged to get him out of jail. Krenner tells him that he has need of his special skills as an expert safecraker. He needs Faust to steal him some radioactive fissionable materials, a very dangerous job. While Faust owes Krenner a debt for springing him, he's unsure if he wants anything to do with this plot, worried that he will end up back in the slammer or dead.
Krenner has Faust over a barrel, however, and knows it. If Faust doesn't go along with the plan, then they shoot him and collect the dead-or-alive $5,000 reward on Faust's head. If Faust agrees, he'll be paid handsomely for each job he pulls off. Perhaps just looking to buy some time until he can figure a way out, Faust says ok.
Now they go upstairs to a laboratory set up in the attic. Here we meet Doctor Peter Ulof, a former nuclear scientist now working against his will on Krenner's nefarious plan. The Doctor is played by 62-year old Ivan Triesault, an Estonian-born actor who had a lengthy career in movies and television, mostly typecast as Germanic or Slavic professors or bureaucrats. Notably, he was Von Kleist in 1965's Von Ryan's Express and King Demaratus in 1962's The 300 Spartans. He's a very short man, aged and unkempt in this movie, looking a bit like Jerry Stiller from Seinfeld, or Albert Einstein with shorter hair.
It's clear from this first meeting that the Doctor has nothing but thinly-veiled contempt and simmering hatred for Krenner. He burns a hole through him with every glance, but his body language suggests a complete and total resignation to his unfortunate fate. We will learn his story later.
The Doctor has constructed a machine that is revolutionary in both design and function. It turns living creatures invisible! Wow, that has to be worth trillions! The prop looks pretty cheap, kinda like an x-ray machine with some extra doodads bolted on and mated to a bank of flip-switches and cathode ray tubes. I applaud the effort to make it look futuristic, but they need fewer flashing lights, which are just so overdone in these types of movies. I've been in a couple of labs in my life and there aren't that many banks of unmarked flashing bulbs blinking rhythmically on and off. [Editor Pam: I believe you're right about the x-ray machine, but the tall rectangular boxes with all the lights and dials may actually be authentic for the time. It's not something you'd see in a modern lab, but I can recall seeing some very obsolete pieces of equipment that looked like these in a storeroom of the engineering building at the college I went to. Nobody used them, but they were too much trouble to get rid of, so they were left there. The flashing bulbs were, I believe, some sort of indicator of how much radiation was detected, although some of them may have been meant to illuminate the dials. However, the lightning-like flashes of light we see when the invisibility ray is used are definitely not accurate. The rest of the lab looks fairly realistic, so somebody involved with the movie must have had at least a little laboratory experience.] They do have a neat little control station behind what looks like a massive wall of lead to keep the radiation out. While it looks cool, I can't imagine the floor of the attic would be structurally strong enough to hold up all that lead weight. Unless it's really just made of plywood painted gray... For that matter, how the hell did they get that lead wall up the narrow stairs to the attic to begin with? [Editor Pam: The floor might not even be able to support the small lead cabinet the Doctor was standing next to. Not only that, but since the lab is in the attic, there would have to be lead on the floor to shield anybody in the room below. It would have made more sense to build a separate building to house the lab, and in that case, it might be possible to use something cheaper than lead for shielding. This much lead is very expensive, and I'm wondering how easy it would be to get that much and fabricate the wall. It's not something you can buy off the shelf.]
Didn't think about that, did you?
I must say, the idea of having your secret lab in the attic is novel, though not well thought-out. The roof is clearly made of corrugated uninsulated sheet metal and the one window we can see is blacked out. With no visible fans or air circulation ducts, it must get to 200 degrees in the summer up here! I've been in North Texas, it's hot and steamy a lot of the year, I'd think that much heat wouldn't be good for all that electrical equipment. This is why Mad Scientists put their labs in their basements.
They know Faust won't believe them about the invisibility ray, so they have a test set up. A cute little helpless guinea pig is strapped down on the table and the machine is powered up and turned on. From the lead room they watch as the pig phases out, first the skin, then the bones, until nothing remains. The "special effects" to do this are ok for the budget, I guess, but certainly nothing spectacular. Faust is duly impressed, though his raging ego won't allow him to show any emotion other than mild disinterest. Neither will he touch the invisible pig, despite urgings by Krenner. It's clear that Faust is not too fond of technology, being an old fashioned kind of guy.
In a bit of foreshadowing, the Doctor mentions ominously that they need to be careful with the fissionable materials around the machine as any undue contact might cause a "chain reaction". Maybe you should keep the materials out in the garage?
We also see that there is a room up in the attic that has a locked door. When Faust comments on this, Krenner suspiciously shuffles him away from it.
So Krenner suggests Faust retire now for the night and they will talk more in the morning. Julian shows him a room on the ground floor and Faust goes to bed. Krenner comes and tells Julian he's leaving for a bit and he's to make sure that Faust stays in his room.
Krenner leaves the house and Julian takes a seat in the living room...facing away from Faust's door! Julian, you are a dumbass. Sure enough, Faust sneaks up and bonks him on the head with a shot glass. He drags the unconscious Julian into his room, ties him up, and takes his Winchester. What's Faust trying to do here? I don't think he's thinking this through.
Faust sneaks back upstairs to the lab. He looks around and then goes over to the locked closet door, his curiosity piqued. As he's working on it, he's surprised by the Doctor, who apparently sleeps on a cot in the lab behind a partition.
Faust asks the Doctor how he got messed up in all this, the Doctor tells him his sad story. He was once a scientist for the Nazis at a concentration camp and he was conducting experiments on inmates against their will. The subjects were hooded, so the Doctor didn't know that he once killed off his own wife in an experiment. Hmmm...dubious, was the Doctor a Jew, or did he just marry a Jewish girl? If so, then I seriously doubt the Nazis would have been using him to begin with. [Editor Pam: I doubt it too, since the Nazis liked to act as though Jews really were nothing more than animals. From what I've read, the Nazi scientists experimenting on concentration camp inmates were all doing it of their own free will. They were hoping that this research would be a big boost to their careers, and also probably figuring that it was keeping them from being drafted into the army where they'd get shot at. It's possible the Doctor's wife wasn't Jewish but was considered "defective" in some way and therefore expendable, and the Doctor was tricked into killing her.] And just what was he doing? He's said to be a "nuclear physicist" so maybe he was conducting radiation exposure experiments on the inmates? Anyway, following the war, the Doctor escaped to America with his infant daughter Maria.
He thought he was going to live the life of obscurity in America, but some time ago Krenner found him. Krenner used to be in Army Intelligence and I guess was somehow involved with Operation Paperclip so he knew about the Doctor. Krenner kidnapped them and is now holding Maria (who must be like 15 or 16-years old by now) in that locked room. If he doesn't work for him, Krenner will kill her.
Sad story, but why doesn't the Doctor make himself invisible and escape? Or make Maria invisible and send her off to get help? Or with all his smartyhead knowledge, surely he could whip up some sort of stun gun or explosive to kill Krenner and Julian and then escape. It seems to me that the Doctor might not be here as much against his will as he says. Perhaps he's secretly happy he can do his experiments and one day reap the rewards. Or perhaps he's just worried that he will be jailed for being an escaped Nazi scientist.
Just then they're surprised by Laura! She comes up the stairs holding an automatic pistol, wearing a fringy nightgown. I guess she woke up and then found Julian and came looking for Faust. She takes him back downstairs, warning him that he's in trouble now when Krenner gets back. The Doctor dejectedly goes back to his cot, after casting a forlorn look at the locked door.
Downstairs, Laura and Faust make small talk, Laura still holding the pistol. You can tell that these are two conniving con-artists oiling each other up. Faust tries to talk Laura into teaming up with him (and presumably eliminating Krenner) in a bank robbing business. He says that with her and the invisibility machine they can be rich. Why does he need her in particular, wouldn't any accomplice do? I think he's just trying to play Laura against Krenner, he has to know she's a double-crossing bitch. She replies to his offer, "I need background music for this commercial. Full orchestra and violins". You can tell she's thinking about it, though.
Their conversation is interrupted by Julian coming out of the room and smacking Faust on the head with a beer bottle! Faust is stunned and woozy but doesn't pass out. Julian accuses Laura of thinking of screwing over Krenner, and Laura has to think fast and tells Julian that Krenner will kill him for letting Faust out of his room to run around the house. Pretty dicey argument, but Julian goes for it.
So Julian and Laura agree to cover for each other this one time. Just then Krenner comes home, and seeing the broken beer bottle on the floor, he starts to get mad. The slow-minded Julian thinks much quicker on his feet than I would imagine possible and talks his way out of trouble. That would be an "out of character" moment if I ever saw one.
The next morning, we see Laura pounding down some vodka. Krenner comes down and takes the drink out of her hand and says she has had enough. Then he slaps her hard across the face! Ouch! He tells her that Julian told him about the conversation she and Faust had before and he's pissed about it. He warns Laura against double-crossing him and then slaps her again!
Tell me why Laura is with Krenner to begin with? Are they married? Does Krenner have something on her, like he does on the Doctor? What's she gaining from this relationship? Is she hoping to be Queen of the World when Krenner's Evil Plan comes to fruition? Personally, I think she's just nuts. I'm reminded of a scene from The Incredibles when Mirage says about Syndrome, "He is attracted to power, and so am I..."
So now is the time for Faust to go under the invisiblility machine for the first time. He lies on the table and the machine is turned on. He's nervous but his ego keeps his mask of bravery on. The machine working perfectly, Faust is quickly rendered invisible. Note that his clothing is invisible as well, and presumably anything in his pockets at the time. What's up with this machine? Before the Doctor made a long spiel about how it affects only the living tissues and bones, but then why would it affect his clothing ? During the test with the guinea pig from before, the straps holding the pig down didn't disappear. I'm sure the answer lies in money, or lack thereof. The tiny budget for the film wouldn't allow for complicated and expensive floating clothes shots, so they sidestepped it altogether. [Editor Pam: They could have just had him take his clothes off before he got on the table, but then they'd have had to be careful about filming him so the audience wouldn't see more than audiences in 1960 were supposed to see in a family movie. They probably thought it was easier this way.]
Now, we saw this coming. Faust takes advantage of his invisibility to smack Krenner around a bit and demand more money. Krenner would have to be a fool not to think that a violent ex-con would act any differently, but he seems genuinely surprised and afraid that Faust now has the upper hand. We find out that Krenner was only going to pay him $1,000 per job, but Faust now demands $25,000! Krenner balks, but is aware that he needs Faust to do the job so he agrees. I suspect that he's now planning to kill Faust after he gets the goods, if he wasn't already planning on it to begin with.
Krenner gets choked...by himself.
And the first job is to break into what I assume is an atomic energy laboratory to steal a container of fissionable material. This is not a military installation (from what I can see) and security is handled by a private security company. Maybe it's a university lab, or even an actual power plant? Perhaps it's the Pantex nuclear weapons plant over in Amarillo? That wouldn't be too long a long drive from Dallas.
Where ever it is, it's night time and we see just two guards on duty. Neither is aware that the invisible Faust is now in the building. Faust disables the alarm by simply opening a circuit breaker panel and flipping a breaker, and then opens the big steel safe holding the materials. One of the guards sees the door opening and comes running with gun drawn. The invisible Faust beats him up and knocks him out, and leaves with a largish silver container of material. How he managed to get back out without anyone seeing the floating silver container is not shown.
No, that's not going to arouse any suspicion.
At this point I don't understand why Faust doesn't just run off. He's invisible (for the time being) and he could easily go anywhere he wants. I guess he comes back because he wants to be back to normal at some point.
The material is taken back to the lab where the Doctor is really uncomfortable with continuing to use this powerful stuff on a human without more tests. He tells Krenner in private that even the guinea pigs are starting to show mortal side effects. The Doctor is sure that the machine needs much more testing and tweaking before it can be used safely. Krenner is not concerned with the danger to his test subjects and tells him to use it on Faust or else. He says that the Doctor is, "too old fashioned to be a genius."
I might as well tell you here that Krenner has Big Plans to create an "Invisible Army" to take over the world. How evil! Of course, if his army starts dying of radiation poisoning a month down the road, he might have some trouble on his hands. This is a grand plan for Krenner, but we're never given any motivation for his actions. Perhaps it's just sheer greed and lust for power, but it wouldn't have hurt to give us a few lines of dialogue to get a better view of Krenner's character.
"So, could you make me invisible? There's a cheerleader convention in town...". [Editor Pam: I see a crucifix over the Doctor's bed, so I assume he's not Jewish, and is probably Catholic. His conscience ought to be bothering him big time.]
They need more fissionable material so Krenner sends them out again to hit the lab. The security has been tripled at night, but the day shift remains vulnerable, especially to an invisible man. Why they need to go back is not said. Perhaps Faust didn't bring back enough the first time? Anyway, Faust is put under the ray once more.
Driving back into town by themselves, Laura and the invisible Faust start to talking. I wonder why Krenner would let just Faust and Laura go on these jobs, especially knowing how devious both of them are. He seems to have absolutely no assurance that they won't just drive off into the sunset. Indeed, they decide to forget about Krenner and go rob a bank and run off to Mexico and make babies.
So they go to a branch of the National Bank in the town of "Coatesville" (There is no Coatesville, Texas, but I figure they just made the name up anyway). Faust goes in, walks into the open vault and walks out with a bag of cash. Since the bag isn't invisible, people see it, including the guard who tries to grab it. Faust punches him out and then suddenly parts of his body begin to phase back into visibility! What the hell? Faust freaks out and runs for the car. Halfway there, he completely turns visible and everyone recognizes him as the escaped con. They speed away in the car.
A head, a hand, a bag of cash, and a gun.
So they head back to the farmhouse. Hmmm...why? Why don't they just drive to Mexico right now? They have a bag of cash and a fast car. But they decide to go back to the farm, maybe so Faust can get his hands on the machine and the Doctor?
But while they're driving there, Krenner and Julian have found out about them. They have been listening to the radio and the news comes on of escaped con Joey Faust robbing a bank and mysteriously disappearing. Krenner is enraged, they have betrayed him! He tells Julian to load his gun and keep a watch out.
Umm...something must have been cut out here. They make an effort to show us that the nuclear plant guards and the bank guards are all employed by the same Security Company. We even get a few scenes in the office of the company as the guards try and explain the invisible man. This subplot goes nowhere and I have a feeling that in the original script they had more of a role. I guess with the lack of money (resulting in an abbreviated shooting schedule) there wasn't time to fully flesh out this idea. As such, we're left scratching our heads as to why they spend so much time with these Security Company officials.
I don't think this belongs in our movie.
Ok, so as they approach the farmhouse, Faust phases back into invisibility. Laura tries to get him to run away to Mexico with her, but Faust suddenly wants nothing to do with her. Laura now seems totally flustered. She can't go back to Krenner, and now she knows that Faust won't have her, so what can she do? Invisible Faust heads off for the house, leaving Laura in the road.
At the same time, Krenner is telling the Doctor that it's time to pack up and move their operation elsewhere before the authorities find them. The Doctor is resistant but Krenner is adamant. Krenner opens the door to the Doctor's daughter's room. Out she comes, a lovely looking young woman who doesn't seem at all like she's been kept prisoner for a while. I get the impression (perhaps totally false) that this girl was the daughter of one of the production crew or one of the actors and she was given a bit role.
Maria, there on the far left.
Suddenly Krenner is knocked down from behind by invisible Faust! Faust then pushes Krenner into the room and locks the door before he phases back into visibility. The Doctor now holds the cards, telling Faust that he will treat his problem only if he takes him and his daughter away to a safe place. Faust has to agree.
Faust and the reunited family head down the stairs. On the landing they're confronted by Julian and his rifle, along with Laura who has come to the house. Why did Laura come back, knowing she would probably get shot by Krenner for backstabbing him? I don't know. It looks ugly until Laura convinces Julian that Krenner has been lying to him about his son all this time (It seems that Krenner has kept Julian under his thumb by promising him that he will get his son out of jail when he is King of the World). What's with all the endangered kids and this movie? Julian is dejected and hands his rifle off to Faust. Hey, Julian, maybe you shouldn't be so ready to believe what she's saying. Hasn't she proven to be willing to lie through her teeth to get what she wants?
In a move that really surprised me, Faust then tosses Laura in the bedroom and locks her in. She yells and screams but Faust is sure that she's not worth the effort to bring her along. She isn't, but I'm still surprised that he didn't take her with him. I kept expecting some sort of love interest to spark up between Faust and Laura, but it never did. In fact, their relationship remains adversarial to the bitter end.
So they all head out for the car to leave. The Doctor pulls Faust to a stop and begs him to go back and kill Krenner. He tells him about Krenner's plot to create an Invisible Army and appeals to his national patriotism. Faust has no such feelings, however, and waves that off.
Then the Doctor drops the other shoe. Faust is dying from the radiation and has only weeks, maybe only days to live. Faced now with the inevitable, Faust decides to go out a hero instead of a goat. The Doctor turns to Maria, visibly sighs at having to actually read this line from the script, sets fire to his SAG card, and says, "There is a man who has unlocked every door, except the one to his own soul. Now he has the key."
By this time, Krenner has shot his way out of the locked room. Why did he wait so long? He had the gun on him the whole time, why did he wait? Faust runs back inside to find that Laura has gotten out of her room as well. They have a little moment in the living room before shots ring out! Krenner has come halfway down the stairs and shot Laura dead. Faust has the Winchester and chases Krenner back up into the lab with a shot.
The end of Laura.
Faust runs up into the lab, to find Krenner frantically doing...something. It looks like he's trying to turn the machine on to make himself invisible, but maybe not. Perhaps he thinks this is the only way he can escape and kill off Faust and the rest of them who have double-crossed him.
Faust and Krenner wrestle around the lab, knocking over stuff and grunting a lot. The camera moves slowly to the upended container of fissionable material, now rolling dangerously close to the running machine. And sure enough the material explodes with a nuclear boom! Remember, the Doctor warned them about getting the material too close, they should have listened. [Editor Pam: There are a couple of peculiar things about this scene. In one shot, we can see that the cabinet in which the fissionable material is stored has no back. In the next shot, which is closer to the cabinet, if you look closely you can see that there's still no back to the cabinet, but the lighting has been changed so that the interior of the cabinet is dark and its backless state is hard to see. I wonder what happened here? Did they start shooting before they saw the back was gone and not want to waste the time or the film to re-shoot? Another odd thing, Faust has Kenner on the floor and Kenner is screaming, but Faust is just sitting on him, not choking or hitting him. And those "omega" rays must be awfully powerful to penetrate the shielding container, which is designed to keep radiation from getting out of the container and therefore will keep radiation from getting in. But to be fair, no known form of radiation shielding is designed to exclude omega rays.]
We get two quick stock footage snippets here, one a classic showing a wooden house being blown away in a controlled nuclear test, and the other a wide shot of a mushroom cloud over a test range. I sure hope Julian was driving away this whole time, otherwise they would have been caught in the blast wave.
Some time later, maybe the next day, we see a car driving up to a police roadblock. In it are two security company men and the Doctor. The police won't let them get too close to the explosion site so they get out and look through binoculars. In one of the worst uses of stock footage ever, we see a few shots of radiation-suited scientists picking through the remains of a blasted house. Each clip is from a different angle and distance, but all have the "binocular black-out pattern" around the edges. Ugh.
The police say that "half the county" was blown up, but we can clearly see that the farmhouse itself is still partially standing! This doesn't match up with the stock footage nuclear explosion, but would have if they didn't feel the need to show us more stock footage of scientists around a burnt-out house.
The Doctor is glad that Krenner and the machine are both destroyed. He says the CIA has contacted him about it already. Hmmm...what? This must mean that he told someone who told the CIA, right? Why did he do that? He was so concerned before that the technology would "fall into the wrong hands", so why didn't he just keep it to himself? Dumb movie.
Bonus! Some handy statistics:
11: Number of people in the entire movie with speaking parts.
5: Number of those 11 people who Faust kills or physically injures in some way, including himself, strangely high for our film's "hero", eh?
5: Number of cigarettes smoked by the cast.
0: Number of times the word "transparent" is spoken, despite the title of the movie.
Written in April 2005 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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