Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: A petty crook with an alibi you can see through spices up The Amazing Transparent Man.
The Amazing Transparent ManDirector: Edward G. Ulmer
Cast: Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith, Margeurite Chapman, Ivan Trisault
US Release Date: 1960-07
Alternative title: Heart of Glass
Tight, quickly-pacd noir thriller.
Good performances and little melodrama.
Cool special effects.
There's a hamster.
Everybody's double-crossing everyone else (except the hamster, and I'm not totally sure about him).
Too short! (Only 57 minutes).
Is invisible bank robber a "monster?" You decide.
Tough guy's change of heart is just a wee bit unbelievable.
SYNOPSIS: We first meet Joey "Hard Case" Faust when he's breaking out of jail, with the assistance of one Laura Madsen. It soon becomes apparent that Faust knows neither Madsen nor her boss, Major "Tough Nuts" Kramer, who has taken up residence in a just lovely farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Kramer is clearly no farmer, but he seduces Joey into working with him, using these slickly oiled words of friendship: "You're bitter, Faust! Mean and bitter! You trust no one and you hate everyone! You're the kind of man I need and understand." Well gosh—who could resist a charming come-on like that? Besides, a little blackmail goes a long way, especially in flyover country.
Meanwhile, "eminent nuclear scientist" Dr. Ulaf beavers away in his secret radioactive lab, perfecting his unique machine. Unique machine that does what exactly? Well, Dr. Ulaf (you can tell he's a doctor by his funny accent) demonstrates on Millie, the Amazing Transparent Hamster. Faust is duly impressed, though he fails to see why Kramer is so excited about the military applications (an invisible army, yipee!). Rather, our boy Joey has other ideas (invisible bank robbers, anyone?). His curiosity is also piqued about that other door in the lab—you know, the one he's not allowed to open. Don’t get too excited, though; when it does finally open, it's something of an anticlimax.
Before long, Faust goes under the machine himself, and wakes up Amazingly Transparent. The story grows more engaging from here on out, as power relationships shift and Faust gets cracking. Safecraking, to be exact. Everybody gets suspicious of everyone else's motives, and rightly so, and things grow increasingly hairy for all concerned. And then, just when you think that docile lab rodents are the last truly reliable thing in the world, Millie the hamster begins developing resistance to the invisibility machine, resulting in her becoming Unamazingly Opaque. Fearing the same will happen to Faust, new material is introduced into the experiment. Of course it hasn't been tested fully. Of course he doesn't know that. And of course there might be side effects from using this experimental stuff. But how bad could they be? Well, fairly bad, of course.
Best line of dialogue: "Honey, right now I need a car more than I need you."
What gets obliterated: Three people, one house and a big hunk of a midwestern farm state (Nebraska? Kansas? It's never made clear).
What gets saved: Oh, our children's future, probably. Also the Soviet Union's children's future, come to think of it. At least for a while.
Did you notice? Faust threatens Major Kramer when he mentions Faust's kid: "If you ever mention my daughter's name again, you'll have another hole in your head I promise you!" Okay, but Major Kramer never mentioned the daughter's name in the first place. He only referred to "a child" that Faust has never seen. Pssst! Better switch to decaf, Joey.
Moral of the story: Under certain, highly controlled circumstances, crime does pay, at least for a while.
Read yer books, dude: In classic literature, Faust is the hero of Christopher Marlowe's play (Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare) which was reworked several hundred years later by German poet and playright Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. There are many other versions of the story as well, but in all of them, Faust is the guy who made a deal with the Devil, bartering his soul in exchange for riches. Hmmm.
But who knows, really: Different sources cite this as either a 1959 or 1960 release. In the interest of promoting a little-known but entertaining movie, I'm filing it under "1959" for the pruposes of this column. However, imdb.com lists its release as July 1960. Ah well.
Somehow their careers survived: Douglas Kennedy (Joey Faust) starred in a whole lot of '50s and '60s TV, especially Westerns such as Bonanza, Gunsmoke and The Virginian. James Griffith (Krenner) had a small role in Stanley Kubrick's early masterpiece The Killing (1956). Marguerite Chapman (Laura Matson) had starred in 1951's Flight to Mars, and was also a TV regular. Estonian-born Ivan Trisault (Dr Ulof) featured in Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) among many other films. Director Edward G. Ulmer had directed The Man From Planet X (1951), and still enjoys a cult following due to such offbeat productions as The Black Cat (1934) with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and Bluebeard (1944) an early sicko starring John Carradine.
BOTTOM LINE: A surprisingly taut, suspenseful Cold War noir-sci-fi thriller.
NEXT WEEK: Varan, the Unbelievable (1958)