Monday, May 23, 2011

'The Amazing Transparent Man' not worth seeing

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)
Starring: Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith, Marguerite Chapman, Ivan Triesault, and Red Morgan
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Major Krenner (Griffith), the insane commander of a mercenary army forces an ex-Nazi scientist (Triesault) to perfect a process to turn living things invisible. He breaks Joey Faust (Kennedy), a famed bank robber out of prison to use him to do double-duty as a final field test and to steal an unstable radioactive isotope that will make the invisibility process more effective. But the psychopath failed to take into account the stubborn nature of the sociopath... and the now-invisible Faust runs wild.

"The Amazing Transparent Man" is a title that reflects more the hopes of the filmmakers than the actual end result. Joey Faust is one of the least amazing invisible men I've come across, being devoid of imagination or ambition and merely setting his mind to using his invisible state to resume his career as a safe-cracker. In some ways, Faust's lack of ambition seems to mirror that of the screenwriter behind this film. The script offers a constant promise of better things to come, yet the writer never manages to capitalize on those ideas.

This is a film that could have successfully merged sci-fi with film-noirish crime thrills in a way similar to the classic "The Walking Dead", or it could have heighten the horror present by bringing to the fore the darkness in the soul of an otherwise good person with the captured scientist becoming as ruthless as the heroine in "The Man Who Changed His Mind" in an attempt to save a loved one. At the very least, director Ulmer could have tried to live up to his own proven ability to direct movies that take full advantage of the darkness within the characters featured, like he did with "The Black Cat" and "Strange Woman".

I mention those films, because they all came to mind while I watched "The Amazing Transparent Man" as I saw opportunity after opportunity for some good slip by. The actors all give performances better than the script deserves and the same can be said of the technical crew, but nothing they do can make up for the fact that the film's story only works because the main characters behave the way they do or the story would fall apart, and the police are so dumb that even Inspector Clouseau would be embarrassed on their behalf.

What really does the movie in, though, is the inability of Ulmer or the writer to take advantage of the horror situation they've set up. Neither Major Krenner nor Joey Faust are used to their fullest potential as characters... neither exhibiting the dark and foul nature that their dialogue implies they possess and that other characters claim they have. Faust ultimately emerges as an interesting character because he takes on the hero mantle for no reason other than Krenner has ticked him off, but Krenner comes across as idiotic rather than evil; he's the leader of a mercenary army who is supposedly adept at forcing others to do his bidding by knowing their weak spots and exploiting them ruthlessly, yet he picks a man with no attachments to speak of and no concerns beyond fulfilling his own desires to be the subject for the ultimate trial of the invisibility process. That's the act of someone who is not crazy, but stupid.

The ultimate demonstration of incompetent story-telling in this film comes when the secret behind a locked door around much build-up has taken place is revealed. Supposedly, Krenner is keeping the young daughter of the ex-Nazi scientist prisoner in the room, but he forbids anyone to enter it. When Faust finally does break it open, there could have been an opportunity for tragedy, horror, or even pathos. Instead, it's anti-climactic disappointment. The gun over the fireplace might have gotten fired, but the only thing that came out of the muzzle was a flag with "Bang!" written on it.

"The Amazing Transparent Man" can be found in several sci-fi and horror-oriented DVD collections of old movies. You should save it for a time you've watched everything else whatever set you encounter it in has to offer.

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