With the United States entering World War II it was up to Hollywood to do their part, which meant providing propaganda films and some serious flag waving for the people on the Homefront, but where the likes of John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart facing off against the Axis powers made sense it was a little trickier for Universal Pictures to gear their stable of monsters for the war effort. Enter the Invisible Agent, a film that would pit one of Universal’s “sort of monsters” against the Axis threat.
In this movie were are introduced to Frank Griffin Jr (Jon Hall), the grandson of the original Invisible Man, who runs a print shop in Manhattan under the assumed name of Frank Raymond – I guess the stigma of the Griffin name has reached the United States but why people assume he has the invisibility formula is never made clear – unfortunately, his assumed identity wasn’t good enough to fool foreign agents working for the Axis powers and he is confronted by four armed men in his shop, led by German intelligence officer Conrad Stauffer (Cedric Hardwicke) and his Japanese counterparts Baron Ikito (Peter Lorre), and they are both very interested in the invisibility formula to the point of offering Raymond either a handsome bribe or the loss of some fingers, whichever method will provide the best result.
Needless to say, our hero is able to escape with the formula and while he is at first reluctant to release it to the U.S. government, the Attack on Pearl Harbor spurs his patriotism into gear and he agrees to “limited cooperation” with the Allied forces, with the understanding that he is the only one to use the formula. His first secret mission has him being parachuted behind German lines where he meets up with a coffin-maker named Arnold Schmidt (Albert Basserman), whose job is to reveal the next step of Griffin’s mission, which is to obtain a list of German and Japanese spies within the United States, a list that is believed to be in the possession of Stauffer. Raymond’s contact is female Gestapo double-agent Maria Sorenson (Ilona Massey) who will attempt to seduce the information from Stauffer’s second-in-command, Gestapo Standartenführer Karl Heiser (J. Edward Bromberg), but due to some drunken invisible man antics this plan collapses and soon Maria and Raymond find themselves caught in an invisible web of treachery and deceit, one that will lead to the most unlikely of allies.
• We are told that Frank Griffin is the grandson of the original Invisible Man but the original Invisible Man was Jack Griffin, who was never married nor did he have any kids, so this means Raymond is actually the son of Jack’s brother from The Invisible Man Returns, which makes him the nephew of the original.
• Raymond waits to inject himself with the invisibility formula just as he is about to parachute into Germany, which is all kinds of stupid as this allows the Germans below a full view of his invisible striptease as he discards his clothing on the way down. That he wasn’t shot to pieces is a bloody miracle but worse is the fact that this idiocy tips Stauffer off to the fact that there is an invisible man on the loose in Germany.
• Raymond is also a really terrible invisible agent as he immediately jeopardizes Maria’s cover by pulling off stupid invisible man stunts while she is entertaining a high-ranking Nazi officer. You wouldn’t find Bogart playing practical jokes at a time like that, and once again, this reveals to Stauffer that the “Invisible Agent” was in Maria’s room.
• Because Maria wants to “see him” he puts on clothes, glasses and some cold cream makeup so that he can be visible to her, which is idiotic as this would leave him vulnerable if the Germans were to suddenly burst in again.
Universal’s Invisible Agent has more in keeping with the old Republic serials than it does with a Universal Monster Movie, the villains are as cartoonishly evil as they are stupidly inept at stopping the hero, only a brief moment where Baron Ikito’s goons drop a net lined with fishhooks on Raymond do see a glimmer of intelligence from any of the film’s adversaries and speaking of Baron Ikito, Peter Lorre portrayed the fictional Japanese secret agent Mr. Moto in several movies throughout the 1930s and here again, we find Hollywood casting a white actor to play a character of Japanese ethnicity and while Lorre is probably the best part of Invisible Agent seeing him in Asian makeup is a little disheartening. That he kills Stauffer and then himself, performing ritual seppuku, was a nice conclusion to their character arcs but the fact that Peter Lorre’s character is more compelling than the hero is one of the film’s major missteps.
As mentioned, the plot of this film is fairly basic and very predictable and it’s only the addition of invisible man gags that sets this film apart from any of the other countless other WWII espionage films of the time, worse is the fact that the script does nothing interesting with the character of Frank Raymond and actor Jon Hall provides such a bland and boring performance it’s almost sleep-inducing. The script also fails to even mention the key side effect of the invisibility formula, that the user will eventually slide into madness, as nothing of the sort befalls Raymond here. How cool would it have been if we had gotten an insane invisible man running around Germany and terrorizing the Nazis? That could have been very interesting, instead, the premise of an invisible spy is almost the background colour to this weak spy thriller and the only good thing about this entry was the casting of Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Peter Lorre as the film’s two heavies. Overall, Invisible Agent is another forgettable entry in the second half of the Universal Monster run and only completists need to go out of their way to watch this one.
You can check out my other reviews here: Universal Classic Monsters: A Cinematic World of Horror.
Invisible Agent (1942)
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
This movie does have decent invisible man effects but nothing we hadn’t seen before, with some moments dodgier than others, but with a boring hero being overshadowed by Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Peter Lorre this is a hard one to recommend.