‘Each molecular combination can always be related to the intensity of the various components of its structure.’
Industrial spies target a research laboratory searching for the cure for the common cold, but the blame falls on a top biochemist when an experimental virus goes missing. He’s unable to refute the allegation until he accidentally consumes a potion sent to him by a colleague from Nepal and becomes invisible. With his newfound superpower, he sets out to track down the real culprits…
Is there a lamer science-fiction movie sub-genre than the ‘invisible man’ comedy? The darkly funny moments cooked up by Claude Rains and director James Whale for ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933) really should have been the beginning and the end of it. Unfortunately, many filmmakers have gone back to this (dry) well ever since. Here, our old friend Antonio Margheriti (as usual credited as Anthony M Dawson) tries his hand at the pump and comes up as empty as everyone else.
Work at the Geneva Research Institute is a hoot for Doctor Peter Denwell (Dean Jones). He’s brilliant but eccentric; driving an old 2CV and feeding his shaggy dog a plate of eggs and bacon at the breakfast table. Even wackier is colleague Ignazio Leone, who specialises in creating exploding eggs for some reason (obviously closely related to germ research). But, worse than all this wackiness, our hero is also socially awkward; completely tongue-tied when he tries to confess his feelings for beautiful colleague Irene (Ingeborg Schöner). She’s also in the sights of slimy corporate yes-man Harold (Gastone Moschin), so Jones needs to get a move on, or the rich oaf will beat him to the punch.
Things get even worse for our clumsy but loveable hero when Virus D is found to have been stolen during a live television broadcast. This new strain is a combination of all the cold germs known to mankind, and there’s bound to be tears before bedtime if it ‘falls into the wrong hands.’ Jones is blamed for the lax security in his lab and is facing the old heave-ho when his helpful lab monkey adds a little pep to his afternoon coffee.
The concoction turns out to be an invisibility potion sent from a colleague in Nepal. Hilarious hi-jinks follow, including a scene where Jones sabotages a restaurant date between Schöner and Moschin. Later on, he tracks down the missing virus to the Museum of Magic run by Mamma Spot (Amalia de Isaura). She happens to be Moschin’s mother, and he was the thief all the time! Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather!
It’s quite obvious what the production was going for here: a family-friendly Disneyesque comedy. They even imported Dean Jones to star; as he’d done similar duty for the House of Mouse in ‘That Darn Cat!’ (1965), ‘The Ugly Dachshund’ (1966) and ‘Monkeys, Go Home!’ (1967). Most famously, he’d co-starred with Herbie the Volkswagen Beetle in ‘The Love Bug’ (1968). To drive the point home, they even partner him with scene-stealing shaggy dog sidekick Dylan. And, to be fair, Jones’ likability is the film’s main asset, although there’s no denying that Schöner makes for an appealing heroine. Veteran character player Luciano Pigozzi also delivers his best silly Peter Lorre impression as one of the villains, and that’s mildly amusing. Once or twice.
The real problem here is the script: a lazy, lifeless tramp through all the usual ‘invisible man’ comedy beats. Margheriti tries hard to inject some energy into some of the later scenes, but it amounts to little more than the cast turning up the volume on their line delivery and running about frantically.
The restaurant scene has some possibilities at tickling the funny bone but goes on way too long, and the SFX when Jones is partly visible are atrocious. Of course, the implications of Jones’ work being utilised as a superweapon aren’t addressed in any serious way, and neither is the animal experimentation going on in the labs. Just where is Leone getting hundreds and hundreds of eggs? A battery farm? I think we need to know.
Margheriti didn’t have much experience with comedy (at least not intentionally!), being more at home with serious, if sometimes outlandish, material. 1960s science-fiction epics like batshit crazy ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966) and more conventional ‘War Between The Planets’ (1966) were followed by Giallo thrillers and ‘Killer Fish’ (1978) with Lee Majors, before he peaked with ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983). Pigozzi appeared in many of his films, and together the two carved out long careers in the twilit world of cult cinema.
All told, not a very entertaining experience. Jones and the cast do their best with what they have, but it’s precious little.