Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Amazing Transparent Man, The (1960)

... aka: Search for a Shadow

Directed by:
Edgar G. Ulmer

Somewhere in Texas, Laura Madison (Marguerite Chapman) helps bust violent-tempered burglar Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy) out of prison. Oddly enough, she happens to be a complete stranger and he has no idea why she's done this or what she wants with him. After evading the police, the two go to a house out in the middle of nowhere, where the mean, bitter and distrustful Faust is introduced to Major Paul Krenner (James Griffith), an evil spy whose military career was cut short thanks to a piece of shrapnel. The Major happens to know a lot about Joey, including the fact it was his wife who squealed on him and that he's never even had a chance to meet his own daughter. He also knows that Faust has a reputation in the criminal underworld as a genius when it comes to cracking safes and vaults. Krenner would like to put Faust's skills to use stealing raw materials from government research facilities for some vague experiments being conducted there by Dr. Peter Ulof (Ivan Thiesault); a former Nazi concentration camp scientist. Dr. Ulof has created an invisibility ray which "neutralizes all tissue and bone structure in the body" and "utilizes x-ray alpha, beta and omega rays and ultra violets" and they plot to use that technology to get Faust in and out of heavily-guarded buildings. What could possibly go wrong there?

After Dr. Ulof demonstrates his ray on a guinea pig; making it invisible and then restoring its visibility, to show how safe it is, Faust is convinced. Not that he has much of a choice anyway. He either cooperates or he's turned back over to the authorities. Pretty much everyone working under the major is only doing so because he's blackmailing them. He's keeping Dr. Ulof's daughter Maria (Cormel Daniel) prisoner in the home and threatens to kill her if he doesn't cooperate. The Major's rifle-toting thug Julian (Boyd 'Red' Morgan) is only loyal because he claims to know the whereabouts of his missing son. Laura is his lover, but he keeps her in check by slapping her around. And now he has Faust, but he's not planning on taking orders from anyone. Once he's turned invisible, he steals a metal canister of nuclear material from a vault, but then he decides he wants lots of money, so he has Laura drive him to a bank so he can steal a bag of cash. The whole arrangement seems too good to be true, and that's because it is. Because Ulof has been using radioactive materials in his experiments, both he and Faust have come down with lethal radioactive poisoning and their days are numbered.

This low key crime drama with horror and sci-fi touches was one of the final films for the fairly prolific Ulmer, who has a handful of gems under his belt, including the Boris Karloff / Bela Lugosi Gothic horror classic The Black Cat (1934) and the superb low-budget film noir Detour (1945). He also contributed the worthwhile Bluebeard (1944), starring John Carradine as a murderous artist, The Man from Planet X (1951), a silly though ahead-of-its-time alien invasion tale, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) and others to our beloved genre. In its own small, unoriginal, zero budget way, Transparent Man shows the hallmarks of an experienced director who knows what he's doing. Filmed for peanuts, it's efficiently made, very quickly paced and doesn't really waste any time on unnecessary filler like similar films. As a result, this whole thing is compressed into a tidy 57 minutes. The performances are also pretty competent, though there's not much here that can't be seen elsewhere (primarily in Universal's Invisible Man series). But hey, if you've got an hour to kill, this can do just that pretty painlessly... you just won't be remembering it about a week later. It received the Mystery Science Theater treatment in 1995.

Filmed in 1959 under the title Search for a Shadow, Ulmer shot this back-to-back with Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) around Dallas over a 2 week period. It was one of the first efforts for Roger George, who'd keep busy for the next 30 years doing special effects for such wide-ranging films as The Dunwich Horror (1970), Blacula (1970), Humanoids from the Deep (1980), The Howling (1981), The Terminator (1984), Night of the Demons (1988) and many more. He also did invisibility fx for Invisible Invaders (1959), The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), Invisible Strangler (1976) and others.  Photographic effects are by Howard A. Anderson. Legendary Universal make-up artist Jack B. Pierce gets a credit, though I can't really recall any make-up effects work in this one.


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