Invisible Avenger/Tômei Ningen (1954)

Invisible Avenger (1954)‘Yes it seems he was studying these things, experimenting with protein collision using the Cyclot Theory.’

A motorist runs over an invisible man in the street. The authorities reveal that he was one of two survivors of a wartime experiment. Panic grips the country as a gang of criminals take advantage of the situation, blaming their crime spree on the surviving soldier…

Five years after Japanese science fiction got a kick start with ‘The Invisible Man Appears’ (1949), the box office went ballistic for ‘Godzilla, King of the Monsters’ (1954). Tucked away in the Big G’s mighty shadow was another production from Toho Studios; a return to the H. G. Wells story of scientific misadventure and ‘things that man must leave alone.’

As with the first Japanese ‘Invisible Man’, our unseen hero foregoes the usual ‘mad scientist and his reign of terror’ for reluctant involvement in criminal activity, as he is forced out of hiding to prove his innocence of a string of robberies. The gang recruit an elderly watchman to assist in their latest caper, promising him the money he needs for his blind granddaughter’s eye operation. Of course, they dispose of him instead, leaving the girl to rely on her neighbours; a kindly clown and a nightclub singer who spends most of her time resisting the advances of her boss, who might just have some skeletons in his closet.

As per usual in a Japanese film, the drama is played totally straight and the cast take the more outlandish twists and turns in the script in their stride. Principals Seizaburo Kawazu (the clown) and Yoshio Tsuchiya (the reporter) both later appeared in Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Yojimbo’ (1962) and Tsuchiya had already worked with the great director on ‘The Seven Samurai’ (1954). It’s a brisk and efficient production all round, with decent direction and black and white photography. The story does threaten to get a little mawkish at times but stops short of getting too sentimental, although there are few surprises for the audience along the way.

Invisible Avenger (1954)

🎵Don’t you love farce?
My fault, I fear
I thought that you’d want what I want
Sorry, my dear 🎵

In a way, the film foreshadows the development of the character as a secret agent in the 1970s on US television. The NBC Network launched former ‘Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ David MacCallum as ‘The Invisible Man’ in their 1975 season, who tried to cure his invisibility while working as an operative for the Klae Corporation. When that didn’t take, the network tried again with the unintentionally hilarious ‘Gemini Man’ featuring Ben Murphy working for INTERSECT and turning himself invisible with a digital watch. Unsurprisingly, it was cancelled after only 5 episodes had been broadcast.

The SFX here are courtesy of Eiji Tsuburaya, who provided the same service to ‘The Invisible Man Appears’ (1949) and was head monster-wrangler for Toho until his death at the end of the 1960s. It appears there hadn’t been a huge amount of technical progress in the five years since the first film, but still the usual motifs are efficiently delivered. After all, where would we be without the floating cigarette and the sinking seat cushions? By this point, Tsuburaya was able to use his own name, having been forced to hide behind a corporate identity in the post-war years, due to his work for the defeated regime during the conflict.

Although no great shakes, this is pleasing production, assisted by its relative brief running time of 70 minutes. Further adventures for the Japanese version of the character followed in ‘Invisible Man Vs. Human Fly’ (1957).

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Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957)

Daughter of Dr Jekyll (1957)‘We’re not dealing with a man. We’re not dealing with anything human.’

A young couple visit her guardian to celebrate her coming of age, but she has a surprise waiting. She’s actually a rich heiress, but she’s also the child of the late Henry Jekyll, who locals still fear prowls under the full moon as a werewolf…

Dreary, low budget programmer with some quality talent but dismal production values and a terrible script with a mystery so transparent that it’s obvious after ten minutes exactly how the story will develop. Writer-producer Jack Pollexfen must bear the lion’s share of the blame, especially as he was just rehashing ‘The Son of Dr Jekyll’ (1951) which he’d written half a dozen years earlier!

Our leads are John Agar and Gloria Talbott, a couple with extensive histories in these kinds of shenanigans. Agar was the star of ‘Tarantula’ (1955), ‘The Mole People’ (1956) and ‘so bad it’s good’ cult classic ‘The Brain From Planet Arous’ (1957). He went onto deal with the ‘Attack of the Puppet People’ (1958), ‘Invisible Invaders’ (1959) and ‘Zontar, The Thing From Venus’ (1966) among others. He was also Shirley Temple’s first husband. Talbott began her career with bits on TV before graduating to major supporting roles in ‘We’re No Angels’ (1952) starring Humphrey Bogart and ‘All That Heaven Allows’ (1955) with Rock Hudson. But her movie career never took off and she was soon appearing in pictures like ‘The Cyclops’ (1956) (which was released on a double bill with this), ‘I Married A Monster From Outer Space’ (1958) and ‘The Leech Woman’ (1960).

Waiting at the old homestead (seen from the outside it’s a bad model surrounded by twigs) is the usual crew; a flighty maid, the ‘can do’ housekeeper and the sinister handyman. Master of the house is Arthur Shields, an Irish character actor more famous for appearances in John Ford films, specifically ‘How Green Was My Valley’ (1941) and ‘The Quiet Man’ (1952). He was probably more often that not mistaken for his brother Barry Fitzgerald, who won an Oscar for ‘Going My Way’ (1944). He fills in our golden couple on the grisly history of the place, and shows them Jerkyll’s hidden laboratory (a table with some test tubes), which is hidden behind a bookcase that moves when you look inside the helmet of a suit of armour. It appears that the good Doctor was actually a werewolf who can only be killed by a stake through the heart and having his head cut off! A strange mixture of monster mythologies to be sure!

Daughter of Dr Jekyll (1957)

‘Darling, I told you not to wear that jacket…’

The director was Edgar G Ulmer, who has since taken on cult status as a ‘low-budget auteur’ on the back of such interesting projects as ‘Bluebeard’ (1944), ‘Detour’ (1945) and Karloff-Lugosi classic ‘The Black Cat’ (1934), which was his only major studio film.

But there’s little even the most talented director could have done with this hodgepodge of clichés. For a start there’s a lot of talk of ‘trouble in the village’ but we never see that location and the population is almost solely represented by the handyman and a torch-bearing mob, who look suspiciously like they’ve been spliced in from another movie.

There’s also one of the most unconvincing screen murders ever, and Agar wearing a striped jacket that makes him look like he’s changed into his pyjamas or is about to welcome punters to his fairground sideshow. It’s worse for Talbott, who gets a horrible ‘instant victim’ role which sees her disintegrate into an extended bout of hysteria that lasts for most of the film.

Agar once said: ‘Most of my movies didn’t get released – they escaped.’ Perhaps this one would have better remained behind bars!

The Son of Dr Jekyll (1951)

Son_Of_DrJekyll_(1951)‘Legends don’t die – they have to be killed.’

A young scientist whose researches ‘border on witchcraft’ discovers that his father was the infamous Dr Henry Jekyll, who died 30 years earlier. Determined to clear his father’s name, he opens up the old family home and starts poking through his father’s laboratory and his papers…

Minor horror programmer from Columbia Studios that stars former swashbuckler and matinee idol Louis Hayward in the title role. The film opens with a flashback to the death of Jekyll Senior, as he’s pursued down a London Street by a torch-bearing mob who would probably have been more at home chasing Frankenstein’s Monster through the alps around Ingoldstadt. They’re after Hyde because he’s just killed his wife in a cheap boarding house, leaving their infant son behind. Strangely enough, I don’t recall Hyde being married in Robert Louis Stevenson’s original story, but I can imagine that the wedding reception was a lot of fun. The torches come in handy as they burn up Jekyll’s house and the mad scientist as well. Curiously, the whole Jekyll and Hyde situation seems common knowledge 30 years later when young Jekyll faces similar treatment by the public at large.

Although the film retains some level of credibility for the first half hour, the ridiculous contrivances pile up quickly after that, demanding a higher level of suspension of disbelief that the average viewer can hope to attain. A series of crimes and events combine to put young Hayward in the cross-hairs of both police inspector Paul Cavanagh and nasty newspaperman Gavin Muir, as well as the locals who seem ready to condemn with no real evidence at all. Actually, there’s some critique about the workings of the gutter press and mob rule here, but, not to worry, it’s buried pretty deep beneath the overall silliness.

Son Of Dr Jekyll (1951)

‘My god, it was you! You wrote the script!’

In production terms, we’re in definite B-movie territory with director Seymour Friedman (‘Counterspy Vs Scotland Yard’ (1950), ‘Khyber Patrol’ (1954)) and scriptwriter Jack Pollexfen, who, rather brilliantly, turned the same trick again with ‘Daughter of Dr Jekyll’ (1957)!  Cavanagh and Muir were refugees from the Rathbone-Bruce ‘Sherlock Holmes’ series, and Lester Matthews was the hero of Lugosi-Karloff classic ‘The Raven’ (1935). Heroine Jody Lawrence was Marilyn Monroe’s’ foster-sister when they were in their teens.

Although it’s a fairly painless way to spend 78 minutes, it’s often rather slapdash and makes little effort to remain realistic. Young Jekyll is accused of attacking a young boy, arrested the same night, and finds himself in full court facing witnesses the next day! Wow. The wheels of justice sure moved fast in the old days.

Invisible Man Vs Human Fly (1958)

Invisible Man Vs Human Fly (1958)‘Professor Hayokawa Murdered — Insatiable Rampage of Bloodlust’.

An unhinged scientist has perfected a method of shrinking himself to the size of a fly, and uses his invention to revenge himself on former colleagues. An invisible laboratory assistant helps the police to track him down and foil his nefarious schemes.

Daei Studios were Toho’s main competition in the Japan’s Science Fiction arena during the 1950s and 1960s, and here they deliver an unusual mash-up of a mad scientist and a standard police procedural. So, on the one hand, we get familiar crime picture clichés such as tepid gunplay and a shady nightclub, but we’re also offered a floating head and a villain whose miniature size apparently allows him to fly!

Despite the outlandish elements, the script and cast play it completely straight. Things start off impressively with some inexplicable murders, which are slickly edited and quite unsettling. However, it doesn’t take too long before we know what’s going on, and any sense of mystery has been surrendered to some obvious, and pretty goofy, plot developments. Our young hero owes his invisibility to the side effects of a professor’s experiments into the effects of cosmic rays but his presence is a godsend to the local forces of law and order who find themselves up against it when dealing with our microscopic villain. There are some pretty huge gaps of logic if you look at things too closely, but it’s all acceptable enough if you’re prepared to go along for the ride.

Invisible_Man_Vs_Human_Fly_(1958)

(Human Fly not pictured) Probably…

The SFX are predictably variable, given the era when the film was made, although the invisibility is realised in the acceptable manner first pioneered by SFX technician John P Fulton in the golden era of Hollywood. Indeed, the production is professional in every department, and it’s no easy matter to point out any obvious flaws, but proceedings are simply never very creative or inspired. And exactly why the Human Fly makes a buzzing noise is a bit of a puzzle…

The Daei Studio never played more than second fiddle to Toho, despite plugging away for more than a decade. Probably their biggest success came with the ‘Majin’ series, which featured a giant statue come to life, but even that was a pale comparison to the global recognition enjoyed by Mothra, King Ghidorah and the Big G.

The Woman Eater (Womaneater) (1958)

The_Woman_Eater_(1958)‘The body for you, the brain for us!’

A top scientist returns from a dangerous African expedition with a tree that he hopes to use in his search for an elixir to bring the dead back to life. Police investigate a sudden spate of missing young women in the district while a garage mechanic meets a dancer at the local carnival and gets into a spot of fisticuffs defending her honour.

Brilliantly cheap and inept British horror thriller, which is saddled with a ridiculous plotline, priceless dialogue and a cast who don’t look like they’re in on the joke. Our top man and all round egghead is George Coulouris, a familiar face in supporting roles, who had been a member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre and had appeared in ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941)! By the look of his filmography, he hardly ever stopped working, and this project was probably just a quick paycheque that he tried desperately to forget.

Coulouris is Doctor Moran, a top scientist/explorer/medical man, who has a funny turn watching a tribal ceremony in deepest Africa (heroically played by the studio with added pot plants). Of course, he brings native witchdoctor Tanga (Johnny Vaughan) back to Blighty, along with this carnivorous tree thing. How he got them through customs, god only knows. Hang on, a carnivorous tree?! Yes, you read that right. Apparently, sacrificing young women to it whilst Tanga plays toms-toms is a sure and approved scientific way of working. The only problem with his experimental methodology is that he doesn’t have an endless supply of raw material, and even the dozy local police begin to notice something strange is going on.

Meanwhile, in a different film, we meet hula dancer Vera Day (‘Cor blimey, Guv’nr!) She’s getting a hard time from her boss at the local carnival (heroically played by the studio with added bunting). Things get ugly and heroic garage mechanic Fortescue St John Farqhaur (Peter Wayn) steps in to give the rotter a damn good thrashing. Ok, ok, so that’s not the character’s real name, but Wayn sounds as if he’s just been for tea and crumpets with the Queen and is probably the least convincing grease monkey in cinema history. Acting in the 1950s in the U.K. meant compulsory training at RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and graduates were always ridiculously well-spoken. It was known as ‘BBC English’ and the sad evidence is there for all to see, but mostly hear, in British movies of the era.

The Woman Eater_(1958)

God, I hope Orson never sees me in this…

Our lovebirds wander into the doctor’s fiendish web when bottle blonde Day gets a job working at the big house, much to the disapproval of housekeeper Mrs Danvers, sorry Mrs Santor, played by Joyce Gregg. Unbelievably, Coulouris falls for Day almost immediately and he declares his love in no uncertain terms. But she’s not impressed; Wayn’s already asked her to marry him, despite the fact that they’ve only known each other a couple of days.

You have to feel sorry for the Doc; what with strangling Gregg in a rage, the police closing in, Tanga smirking suspiciously, and his monster urgently needing a spot of din-din’s, what’s a mad scientist to do? How the plant actually devours its prey and why it only seems to eat buxom young women is all a bit of a mystery really, but you know how it is…there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the mind of a producer of cheap B-movies.

lt’s all very formulaic, of course, but wonderfully silly, aided in no small part by the non-existent budget, choppy editing and a director who seems more interested in the contents of Day’s tight sweater than anything else.

For lovers of bad movies, it’s a neglected classic!

The Electronic Monster (1958)

The_Electronic_Monster_(1958)‘Monster Machine Vs. Helpless Beauty!’

An insurance investigator goes to the south of France to look into the death of a famous movie star. He finds that the actor had recently checked into a mysterious psychiatric clinic, and that the institute is also linked to other deaths. He becomes suspicious of both the methods of the leading doctor, and the clinic’s shady owner.

Limp, and rather dull, science fiction picture from the United Kingdom. Canadian Rod Cameron (‘The Jungle’ (1959)) leads an international cast, mostly from the U.K., Germany and Austria. French accents are in short supply and the local car of choice appears to be the Volkswagen Beetle, leading to the slight suspicion that perhaps they didn’t actually make it to the Gallic countryside at all.

Plot wise we have this strange institute owned by Paul Zakon (Peter llling) where Doctor Maxwell (Meredith Edwards) seem to treat all his patients and all their nervous disorders in exactly the same way. By inducing visions of ballet filmed at the private theatre also owned by Zakon, of course! Obvious when you think about it. This rather unusual arrangement does offer us a convenient heroine in the shape of ‘film star’ Mary Murphy who is appearing at the theatre, is engaged to Zakon and, even more conveniently, has a tonne of unfinished business with Cameron.

The_Electronic_Monster_(1958)

‘Give me back my silly hat at once!’

Director Montgomery Tully also offered up the equally uninspired ‘Battle Beneath The Earth’ (1967), and the hilarious, no budget alien invasion travesty ‘The Terrornauts’ (1967) which featured ‘Carry On’ star Charles Hawtrey, and a tea lady. Here, he imbues proceedings with all the urgency of a forgotten TV episode, and events proceed, and conclude, in exactly the way an 8-year old would predict after watching the first five minutes.

A late effort to convince us all it’a a plan to take over the world with mind control is about as convincing as the entire setup. On the credit side, it’s not exactly painful to watch, and some of the weird, electronic noises on the soundtrack are quite nice.

The film has had a multitude of different, and misleading, titles over the years, including ’Escapement’ (USA), ‘The Dream Machine’ (UK Reissue), ‘1,000 Volts To His Death’ (Austria) and ‘The Terror Has No Boundaries’ (ltaly). But my favourite has to be the American pre-release title: ‘Zex, the Electronic Fiend.’ Now, if only they’d made a movie worthy of that title!

Lost Planet Airmen (1951)

Lost_Planet_Airmen_(1951)‘You know, he was convinced you were insane trying to build an atomic powered rocket suit.’

Science Associates are plagued by a number of accidents, which Jeff King suspects are sabotage. Teaming up with the supposedly deceased Professor Millard, he dons a flying suit and becomes ‘Rocket Man’. His investigations reveal that mysterious supervillain Vulcan is behind it all…

If the plot sounds familiar, that’s because this is the retitled feature version of the Republic Studio’s serial ‘King of the Rocket Men’ (1949). It’s all set on Earth, which doesn’t seem to be lost, and there’s only one airman, but apart from that it’s a wonderfully accurate new title. The episodic nature of serials – with everyone usually after a new McGuffin each week – means that it is possible to squeeze nearly five hours of footage down to around 60 minutes, and retain some level of coherence in the storyline. It’s not perfect, of course, but it just about gets by. This was common practice for Republic in the early 1950s when the popularity of their serials was waning, and they were beginning to struggle with the balance sheet. Selling to television was the inevitable next step.

Lost_Planet_Airmen_(1951)

Who needs an iPhone 7?

But there is some fun to be had here, all the same. The pace never lets up, of course, which isn’t surprising in the circumstances, and there’s a pleasingly absurd amount of fisticuffs, explosions, and last minute narrow escapes. We still have the rocket suit’s wonderful control system — ‘Off/On, Up/Down, Fast/Slow’ — and a stuntman jumping on a trampoline just out of shot before flinging himself into the air.

Tristram Coffin usually played henchmen in movie serials, but he makes a good show as King and holds his own with newspaperwoman Mae Clarke. She was an excellent actress, particularly at comedy, who somewhat ironically will always be remembered for two straight roles; being menaced by Karloff as Colin Clive’s bride in ‘Frankenstein’ (1931) and having a grapefruit pushed in her face by Cagney in ‘The Public Enemy’ (1931). Her career would have probably maintained such a high level, but for ill health and an automobile accident in the mid-1930’s.

This is all good, undemanding fun, especially as it was one of the studio’s best later serials. Sure, this ‘new’ release was a rip-off and some young filmgoers might have felt cheated, but this is Hollywood baby, and the bottom line takes priority.

Watching this film in a rundown motel in the late 1960s, musician George Frayne thought this feature was one of the Commando Cody’s outings. He was another Republic hero who donned the Rocket suit. Frayne may have got slightly confused, both with the character and the spelling, but ‘Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen’ have released approximately 20 albums over the past 45 years.