Edwin L. Marin, 1942
Starring: Ilona Massey, Jon Hall, Peter Lorre, Cedric Hardwicke
During WWII a number of American films were given such strong anti-Nazi themes that they were basically propaganda films. Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series is a key example of this, such as Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) and Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943), which both pitted the famous detective against Nazis. It was perhaps inevitable that Universal would do the same to one of their horror franchises, and the fourth film in the Invisible Man series, Invisible Agent, turned away from the horror of the first two films and the comedy of the third to be little more than a spy-propaganda film.
Frank, the grandson of Dr. Griffin from the original Invisible Man, is working in a print shop in New York when he is threatened by Nazis, led by SS Lieutenant-General Stauffer and the Japanese Baron Ikito. They have figured out his identity and demand the invisibility serum, whether he lets them purchase it or they take it by force. Griffin escapes with the serum and agrees to cooperate with the U.S. army. He is parachuted behind enemy lines, where he will use his invisibility to spy on the Germans. His primary goal is to find a list of enemy spies and double agents and he is assisted by German double agent Maria Sorenson. Sorenson is romantically involved with Stauffer and other high ranking Nazi officials. Stauffer, meanwhile, has figured out that Griffin might be involved with Sorenson and sets a trap for them both...
One of the main things that I dislike about Invisible Agent is that the protagonist is sort of a bland, Every Man, all-American soldier type played by Jon Hall (Lady in the Dark, Cobra Woman). While the first three films at least attempted to have interesting leads (and generally succeeded), the insistence on making this a propaganda film strips away a lot of the fun or potential suspense and Griffin is certainly not the most intelligent or imaginative lead in Universal horror. The script also completely ignores the main issue of the first two films: that the invisibility serum will inevitably and often suddenly result in megalomaniacal madness. Think of all the places the film could have gone if, hidden in Nazi Germany, Griffin became mad and wanted Hitler’s power for his own?
There are some worthwhile elements though, namely some of the supporting cast. Ilona Massey (Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman) is beautiful as always and has a compelling role as a double agent with a high ranking Nazi boyfriend. I will watch pretty much anything with Peter Lorre and he gives a good performance here, though it is a bit grating to see a German/Hungarian actor playing a Japanese baron. For modern fans, this will probably seem insanely racist, but you have to consider that Lorre also starred in eight films in the Mr. Moto mystery series about a Japanese spy, and both Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee played Fu Manchu. Weirdly, the film treats the Japanese characters with more respect than the Germans, most of whom are total bumblers and don’t even bother to have German accents. Cedric Hardwick (the antagonist of The Invisible Man Returns) does give a decent performance as the main Nazi antagonist and provides a nice foil for Lorre.
The special effects, still from John Fulton, are decent and overall the film is entertaining, but what could easily have been a very dark film and a return to the horror genre is essentially a light-toned espionage film heavy on the propaganda and willing to rely on some very silly comedic sequences. This is worth watching if you’re a fan of the Invisible Man series, if you love Peter Lorre, or if you enjoy WWII-era films. It is available as part of The Invisible Man: The Legacy Collection along with the rest of the series.