Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Invisible Man: The Prize & Man in Power

Hammer Films actually took the trouble of clearing the rights to a number of classic Universal monsters, but the one they never got around to adapting was the Invisible Man. The 1958 Invisible Man TV series is sort of the closest thing to a Hammer Invisible Man, even though it isn’t gothic, or even horror. Instead, it placed an invisible scientist (the good guy for a change) in a Cold War espionage context, but it regularly co-starred familiar Hammer players, like Michael Ripper and Thorley Walters. Even the voice of the Invisible Man, Tim Turner, had a Hammer connection as the future narrator of The Mummy’s Shroud. The half-hour format was way too short for the genre, but it is still fun to watch an Invisible Man battle Communists, especially villainous Anton Diffring and Andre Morell in two of the better episodes (which release in yet another DVD-set this Tuesday).

“The Prize” (S2 E4, directed by Quentin Lawrence and written by Ian Stuart Black) was freshly ripped from the headlines, taking transparent inspiration from the Nobel Prize that was awarded to Boris Pasternak, before the Soviets browbeat him into declining it, just less than a year before the episode originally aired. In this case, it is dissident author Tania Roskov (played by Swedish thesp Mai Zetterling) who intended to accept a Nobel-like prize in Europe, but was intercepted by the sadistic secret police officer Gunzi at the border.

You know who else is picking up an award for science at the Nobel-like gala? That’s right, invisible Dr. Peter Brady. Sure, he is still working on reversing the invisibility process, but he achieved something pretty amazing. Distressed by Roskov’s plight, Brady decides to sneak into the unnamed but presumably Baltic nation to rescue her.

Anton Diffring (Hammer credits include
Shatter, Man Who Could Cheat Death, and their Frankenstein pilot) is flamboyantly sinister as the cruel but cultured Gunzi. Zetterling also has some fine moments as Roskov holding to her principles. She has a nice speech telling off Diffring: “after what has happened to me, I know that what I wrote is more true than ever. I shall stand by it.”

The premise of “The Prize” is relatively sophisticated, reflecting an understanding of Soviet propaganda and the control they exercised over their citizenry. However, the short running time forced Black to wrap things up quickly and simply. Like average
Peter Gunn episodes (also half-an-hour), The Invisible Man episodes largely involved Brady getting knocked unconscious, freeing himself, and then returning the favor.

Such was also the case for “Man in Power” (S2 E10, directed by Peter Maxwell and written by Ian Stuart Black), but it too reflects solid grounding in Cold War geopolitics. The western-allied ruler of a Middle East nation (and the father of Brady’s former student) is killed by Gen. Shafari in a coup. The budding dictator intends to enrich himself by selling his country’s influence to the highest bidder. Of course, Brady intends to save the rightful heir and reinstall him on the throne.

Andre Morell (Hammer credits:
Hound of the Baskervilles, She, Plague of Zombies) seethes quietly but violently as Shafari. However, Andrew Keir (Hammer credits: Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Quatermass and the Pit) is largely wasted as Hassan, a tribal leader with great influence at court. The intrigue surrounding unaligned nations was highly topical for its time, but again, a lot of noggins get bonked in this episode.

Frankly, considerable intelligence went into this series, but creator Ralph Smart and his writers just did not have enough time to do their ideas justice. In fact, there was an episode featuring a Soviet sailor hoping to defect that predated the Simas Kudirka affair by eleven years. As a result,
The Invisible Man (a.k.a. H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man, even though it really wasn’t) is a rather enjoyable Cold War time capsule to dip into, especially “The Prize” and “Man in Power” for Hammer fans. A new DVD-set releases Tuesday (11/16) and the series streams on Tubi.