Review: The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

The Amazing Transparent Man

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith, Ivan Triesault, Marguerite Chapman

Early in the film, Dr. Ulof explains what his “invisibility ray” does.

“This ray neutralizes all tissue and bone structure in the body,” he says. “This machine utilizes  x-ray, alpha, beta, and omega rays and ultraviolets, combining them for best effect and filtering out qualities which would hinder our operations.”

Even when you ignore the fact that Dr. Ulof looks like an old man whose trip to the grocery store has gone on longer than his liking, this statement still seems a little long-winded and roundabout. But in its own way, it’s the most telling bit of dialogue in the entire movie. Because while The Amazing Transparent Man seems like it’s about an escaped convict who goes invisible, it’s actually an hourlong PSA on the dangers of nuclear weapons.

But before it dissolves into philosophical excrement, it’s about an escaped convict named Faust who gets hired by a guy named Krenner to steal radium for experiments in invisibility. Dr. Ulof, a scientific genius, is held prisoner by Krenner so he can perfect his invisibility ray. Faust is zapped with it so he can steal radium undetected. But Krenner didn’t count on Faust deciding to use his newfound ability for personal gain. Even though Faust is an escaped convict. ESCAPED CONVICT.

Anyway, the setup allows the film to do a number of things, all equally ridiculous and wonderful. Once Faust is turned invisible, sacks of money float through banks. Security guards get into fistfights with thin air. Whoever thought they could make an invisible man movie with a budget of five dollars and a nickel deserves a medal. Or a stern reprimand. I can’t quite tell which.

The actors are either pitch-perfect or completely, insanely miscast. Douglas Kennedy is so relentlessly awesome that it pains me to see him tied up in a laboratory (“laboratory” here means “room full of toasters”) and shot with a ray gun. James Griffith, the film’s evil villain, looks and acts like your gay neighbor who sometimes brings over freshly-baked bread and hot rolls. And poor Ivan Triesault. Every time he walks on screen, I’m shocked he’s not wearing a bathrobe and grumbling about minorities.

There are flashes of Edgar G. Ulmer’s directorial prowess early on in the picture, before the science-fiction aspect of the film kicks in, but the best bits of the movie are decidedly the stupidest ones. And that’s what the film will be remembered as. A whole bunch of stupid.

By the end, I was conflicted. So much of this movie is great, yet so much is terribly boring. The director seemed to be sleeping most of the time and the screenwriter crammed in great lumps of stilted social commentary on prisons, nuclear weapons, and the dangers of invisibility. Then I remembered what Dr. Ulof said.

The Amazing Transparent Man combines all these things for best effect and filters out qualities which would hinder its operation. And its “operation” is presenting the dumbest entertainment it can. Modest, I know, but admirable all the same.

Links:

Amazon – The Amazing Transparent Man DVD
Amazon – The Amazing Transparent Man VHS
YouTube – Full Movie
YouTube – Original Theatrical Trailer

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