The United States entered World War II in December of 1941. Not only did your average Americans show their support for the war effort, but the Hollywood machines did, too. If you would like to see an example of a film being “a product of its time”, I submit Invisible Agent as Exhibit A. Where The Invisible Woman ventured (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) into the realm of screwball comedy, Invisible Agent barrels headlong into the spy genre. It’s time to knock the blocks off the Axis powers.
Frank Raymond (Jon Hall) is the owner and operator of a little print shop in Manhattan. He seems to have a good little set up going until one night when a group of men pay him a visit. These men aren’t the local racketeering committee, these are some spy muscle working for the Nazis and the Japanese.
It seems mighty weird that foreign agents should target an American print shop. In any other circumstance, I imagine, it would be out of the ordinary, but these Axis henchmen– among them is the torturous Japanese agent Baron Ikito (Peter Lorre???)– know Frank’s true identity. Frank Raymond is really Frank Griffin, Jr., the grandson of John “Jack” Griffin, the first invisible man and creator of the invisibility serum. The Axis powers want the formula for invisibility in order to defeat the Allies and rule the world– cue evil, maniacal laughter.
Long story short, Frank escapes the attack and goes to the government (1940’s Washington, D.C. seems a lot more trustworthy than modern Washington, D.C.). Frank, after some initial indecision, offers himself and the family formula to aid the war effort. Since the invisibility serum has the nasty side effect of driving the user insane, Frank insists it is to be used solely on him. His next stop is Europe to do some Nazis smashing.
Invisible Agent has what you would expect it to have, I think: guns, dames, spies, action and, you know, an invisible spy. This is no more a sci-fi/horror hybrid than the last film, but I think this one is more entertaining as it doesn’t try to be too funny (at least not too much or too often) whereas The Invisible Woman tried (a lot) and failed.
The Agent’s jokes don’t always work either. By this third entry there’s only so many invisible pranks one can pull and, let’s face it, by the second film they felt a little long in the tooth. Much like Woman, the humor may elicit a chuckle, but only barely. The good thing about this movie was that it wasn’t intended as a screwball comedy, it was made as a two-fisted propaganda film. It more or less succeeds on that front.
Like all the Invisible films, the special effects are stellar; unlike the first film, the movie magic is the real draw to the sequels. I’m going to guess Invisible Agent played better back in ‘42, and I’m going to further speculate that those movie-goers weren’t as weirded-out by Peter Lorre portraying a Japanese spy. Times have indeed changed.