G. Ulmer has a pretty good cult reputation, though I'm not exactly
sure why. Perhaps it was because he was able to deliver an
interesting product no matter how miniscule the budget. Of his
films, I've seen the well-known Detour, The Man From Planet X, and I
think I saw The Black Cat, a long time ago in a theatre (a
particularly modern disease is how the theatre experience seems
distinctly distant to our video and DVD realms). While all were
enjoyable and made good use of atmosphere, none of them made me
think, “Wow, I have to see more of this guy's films.”
Anyway, tonight we have The Amazing Transparent Man. Perhaps this
one will do the trick, or be just another statistic. (If you use
that sentence in a rap song, I'd like credit please, thanks.
Credits are picked out by searchlights on a decaying stone wall. Nice menacing and ominous music. And we pull back from a howling klaxon, as guards from a prison tower rake the darkness with machine gun fire. Searchlights back and forth are unable to pick out a quickly-moving shadowy figure. Next, the guards go out with dogs. Our escaped prisoner quickly makes his way across some fields. In a rather nice shot, he turns his head, and up on a bridge in the background a car pulls up and stops, and the prisoner makes his way toward it. He gets into the passenger side. He starts changing his clothes while the driver, a woman, looks to the road in triumph. We see them driving along.
Of course, there's a roadblock, and the prisoner hunkers down as if asleep. She sweet-talks the cop (passes off the prisoner as her drunk husband) and they're allowd through.
In the clear, the prisoner asks the woman, “Why'd you break me out?”
“You'll find out, when we get where we're going." And back to more driving.
Finally, they turn onto a dirt farm road. Eventually, they come to a large farm house (looks like the place in Psycho, but dont't get any ideas).
They get out of the car and meet Julien (a guy) who's a kind of look-out. He and Prisoner already don't like each other. Then they go on into the house. There's a young looking guy sitting at a desk. “Well, I was beginning to worry,” he says, looking up at the escaped con. He looks kind of like a high school science teacher or something.
“Major Cretter, meet Joey Faust,” the woman says. Joey looks a little disgusted at her introduction. He also looks a lot like Fred MacMurray.
Joey and the Major talk about the army, the Major shows Joey a bit of shrapnel he has as a souvenier. Joey thinks it's “lovely." The woman says that piece of shrapnel ended the Major's military career.
“That'll be all, Laura,” says the Major, and she excuses herself. Well, now we have names for everyone.
The Major and Joey get down to business. Joey wants to know why the Major had him broken out of prison. The Major replies that Joey has a reputation as a genius when it comes to “safes and locks."
“They musta dug that shrapnel outta your head,” Joey says with disgust. He points out that every newspaper in the country has his picture, and every bank will be alert for him.
The Major indicates that won't be a problem. He also indicates he knows a lot about Joey, about his ex-wife, and the child he's never seen. Joey's pretty steamed to hear this.
He gets up and grabs Major by the lapels, and threatens him never to mention his (Joey's) daughter again. A bit ruffled, Major agrees.
He then says that “we” are conducting experiments that require “fissionable materials,” which Joey will procure. Noting Joey's reaction, the Major says that Joey'll be well paid.
“That's atom bomb stuff,” says Joey. “The government has that locked up tighter than Fort Knox."
The Major says, again, that won't be a problem. Joey says, include me out. The Major says he's not in a position to bargain, at which point Joey pulls a gun. But Julian is behind him, with his shotgun. Joey's got no real choice. “Come along to the laboratory,” the Major says.
Upstairs in the lab, there's all kinds of bubbling liquids and such, and a rather frightened looking old guy bent over a microscope. Major calls him “Doctor Uloff." Man, not even ten minutes in, and everyone has a name! I'm sure glad I don't have to refer to people as Bearded Old Man or Middle Aged Guy with Shogun or something. I should also point out that these ten minutes have been very efficiently used, and none of them have been dull. Maybe there's something to this Ulmer Cult Thing after all.
The Major introduces Joey and the Professor and asks Prof for a demonstration of the project. It's very interesting the way Joey and the Professor look at each other while the Major talks—you can almost here them speaking telepathically: “You're a prisoner, too?” “Yes, the same as you."
There's a safe in the lab which, it is pointed out, could vaporize a huge area if it were breached. Just so you know for later, I guess.
Anyway, the Prof begins his spiel. He says that his work is a sort of “ultra X-ray." Since the X-ray can penetrate flesh to show bone structure, etc, his ray can go much further, “neutralizing” all flesh and bone. His scientific jargon is a lot like that used on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” since it sounds both vaguely plausible and a lot like nonsense they're hoping you won't examine too closely.
At the end of the spiel, Joey nods his head and says, “...yeah." The Major says that it will seem more understandable when he sees the practical application.
There's more pointing out how the stuff in the safe is really, really dangerous, and the Professor's experiment, if it impacted the safe, would be really, really bad. There's a bit of dramatic music here, just so when the whole place blows up at the end, we'll have understood all the foreshadowing. I'm just guessing here, but really, I can take a hint. And I hope I'm not spoiling stuff for you. All these reviews contain spoilers, I made that quite clear.
The Major and Joey retreat to a small observation room in the lab with thick, reinforced walls. The Professor arranges a bit of plants on the dissecting table, then puts a guinea pig...oh wait, they're not plants, they're straps. Guinea pig is strapped in, all the while Prof tries to be comforting to this tiny mammal. The oscilloscopes are turned on. The clipboards are frowned upon. Prof starts the countdown, then retreats to the observation room.
Electrical flashes, power fluctuations, ominous music—and the guinea pig seems to shrink in upon itself, at first; then, there's a dark skeleton-like form, and finally, the guinea pig disappears completely. The straps still hold its shape, however.
The lights come back up and the power stabilizes. The three leave the observation room, and approach the table. Major reaches out and strokes the invisible guinea pig, which squeaks and squeals quite normally. Major says that the ray has been perfected so that there is no harm at all to the subject.
I want to point out, again, how odd Major's performance is. He's always calm and slightly condescending to everyone, as only someone completely in charge can be. His expression rarely wavers from a kind of smiling, calm superiority. His voice never arises above the conversational. He's kind of like an evil Mr. Rogers. (Mr. Rogers, RIP, was a good guy and I'm sure the only mad scientists he ever sponsored were those working toward a beneficial goal, or those who were pretty depressed and he just wanted to humor them and keep their spirits bright.)
Anyway, they're going to bring the guinea pig back, so we do a lot of the same previous sequence in reverse, though to give Mr. Ulmer more credit, this could have really been milked to add running time, and it takes less than half a minute. The returning guinea pig is a nice effect, as it is kind of “painted” out from a center, starting with the bones, then ending with the fur.
Major points out that the guinea pig is perfectly fine (Joey, interestingly, reaches toward but refuses to touch the animal, maybe sensing something in store for himself).
The Major says he's sure Joey can see the practical applications of such a device, then says that Joey must be tired after his long day and suggests he take a rest. Joey agrees. Before leaving, he asks what's behind a white door at the other end of the lab.
“That's no concern of yours,” Major says, looking ill at ease for the first time. “Come along, Mr. Faust."
Fade to sometime later, the Major is going out on an errand. He instructs Julian to make sure Joey doesn't escape. Julian pokes his head into Joey's room and watches him sleep. Now, in spite of being specifically told to watch Joey's door, Julian sits in a chair with his back to the hallway where Joey's room is (his back to said door, in other words). He starts reading a magazine, no doubt something like “Modern Distracted Gunman,” Special Summer Fun edition, with an article containing tips on “How to Let Prisoners Get the Drop On You: The Experts Explain."
And yeah, the previously apparently sleeping Joey rolls over in his bed, plans in his eyes. He gets out of bed and, in the dark...pours himself a drink. Well, sure, a litter bracer before tackling the guard, who can argue with that? He opens the door and sees Julian in the chair, back to him. And he downs the rest of his drink. Well, hey, one for the road, right? Even Frank Sinatra sang about that, you can't argue with the Chairman.
Joey closes the door (while still in his room), and starts rubbing the empty glass on the wall next to the doorjamb. Man, I never would have thought of that! Watching a master criminal at work is always educational.
Julian hears the noise and gets out of the chair, and faces Joey's door. “Faust!” he says.
Joey keeps rubbing the glass. (No, that's not a euphemism! Good grief, you people!)
“You in there—Faust!” Joey says again, just to clarify who he wanted to speak to.
Well, Julian just can't reign in his curiousity, so he opens the door and gets knocked out (by Joey, and not by anyone else in the room). The odd thing is, it's hard to see in the print, but it looks like Joey already had a shotgun! Perhaps there was originally a much longer fight which got edited down to the essentials. Good for Mr. Ulmer again, though he shoulda thought about that there shotgun thing, had he foreseen DVD and all that.... .
Joey tears up the bedsheets and ties up Julian. As he's finished with the sheet, he throws it at the camera and we cut to a bound Julian on the floor. Very nice touch, Mr. Ulmer. Joey leaves the room, listens at one of the other doors, then goes upstairs to the laboratory. “Uloff!” he says. Again, it's obvious that he took some measure of kinship with his fellow prisoner, as he was right next to the front door and chose to go upstairs instead of simply saving his own skin. It's really nice to see this stuff handled naturally and subtly, instead of blaring and obvious (VO: “Freedom was mine! But...I could not leave the Professor behind!” you know the drill). Even though Joey's a heel, he's a sympathetic one and it's obvious he recognizes the far greater danger of the Major (though he doesn't know the details of the Major's plans yet, other than a raging horde of invisible guinea pigs—but, isn't that enough? Good Lord, man, imagine the horror!).
Well, back to the movie, Joey pokes throughout the empty lab and finds no one (not really surprizing as, well-equipped as the lab is, it's still pretty small). He goes to the Forbidden Door, and just then, Prof pops up in his dressing gown. “What do you want?”
Joey asks what's behind the Forbidden Door, and the Prof says, “Only what's left of my soul."
Joey tells the Prof to relax, and says he just wants some answers, saying that Professor “seems like the only one around here isn't a member of Cretter's fan club."
Boy does Prof look bitterly rueful at that. But he doesn't take the opportunity. “I have nothing to say,” he says. “I am a servant. Major Cretter does my thinking for me."
“What's he got on you, Doc?”
Prof looks up at Joey. “Why do you ask me these things?”
Joey says he wants some answers. “How'd you get mixed up in these things?”
“My daughter,” the Prof says, and points at the Forbidden Door. “He's holding her."
“In that cheese-box?” Joey says, incredulously. Me too. Never heard of such a term, but you can be darn sure I'll be using it a lot now in my daily life.
Joey asks for the Prof's story, and he provides it. He fled Europe at the end of World War II, with his baby daughter. He had been forced to experiment on his own wife, which killed her. Man—ick! Joey's pretty shocked too.
“All my patients wore hoods,” the Prof says. “I couldn't see their faces. I didn't know my wife was one of them until it was...too late!”
Joey has an expression like, whoah...and I thought my life sucked. But he goes on. “That still doesn't explain how you got here."
Prof says he was a refugee, he wanted nothing to do with science ever again...but Cretter, a spy, knew of his background and used his daughter to force him to work for him. Prof says that he (Prof) only has a few months to live, but Cretter has promised that his daughter will be provided for. Joey points out the obvious flaw here, but Prof rejoins, “What choice have I?”
He then moves to the Forbidden Door. Apparently, he knows something of Joey's abilities with locks and safes and such-like. “Please, Mr. Faust, open this door and take my daughter to a safe place!”
“Knock it off, Doc, I got my own troubles,” Joey says.
“Then...you can't open it,” says Prof.
Joey feels the sting of pride. “I could open that thing blind-folded." He then does so, easily...suddenly realizing what it is he's doing. “Hmm...quite the little psychologist, aren't you, Doc?” he says, but not without a touch of admiration.
But then Laura (remember her?) appears in her dressing gown, and with a gun. Apparently, she stopped him from unlocking the door the whole way (she makes sure, then grabs the shotgun that was just sitting there. Man, that shotgun gets around! “And the winner for Best Supporting Actor...the Shotgun!” and hugs and flowers and “I want to thank the metal forge...")
“Downstairs, Mr. Faust,” orders Laura, “and please don't try to be amusing." Before we cut, Prof goes over to the Forbidden Door and leans helplessly against it.
Downstairs, Joey and Laura banter a bit, the gun never wavering from her hand. Joey laughingly asks if she's going to shoot him. “The Major might,” she says, equally amused. “He doesn't appreciate disloyalty."
“Julian was loyal, all it got him was a bump on the head."
“He's still out,” Laura says. “I couldn't bring him around."
Joey grabs a cigarette pack and chuckles some more.
“What's so funny?” Laura asks.
“For a dame that's supposed to be so greedy,” he says, lighting up, “you don't know a thing about playing a hole card."
“Think how much that ray would be worth to a guy who wanted to rob a bank. With that thing, I could get into every vault in the country in broad daylight."
“Dream on, buster,” she says. “It sounds pretty."
Joey says that, should she and he instigate such a scheme, she would of course be entitled to a big cut, more than the Major could pay her in a lifetime.
Laura says that sounds pretty again (she paints it up with “full orchestra” and other such “hep” terms). “Should I gamble on having my throat cut by Cretter, or being shot by you?”
“Honey, that's a chance you'll have to take...just like the risk I run every time I get out of that ray." Hey, when's Joey been in the ray? And why has he been thinking about risks, when everyone assures him that the ray is harmless? I mean, we're watching a movie, so we can certainly guess some of these things...but Joey's jumping the gun, here, and I'm the one who's supposed to do that! And be proven wrong, yes, yes, yes, had to get that in there, didn't you?
Anyway, Laura says she'll keep Joey's offer in mind, and then Julian shows up and smashes a bottle over Joey's head, and Laura's all, “Thanks, Julian, he was trying to make a deal!”
Julian mentions that he heard a lot of it, and she didn't sound very un-persuaded, if she catches his drift. She points out that Cretter will blame Julian for the attempted escape, they need to stick together. Just then there's a knock on the door, Laura and Julian hustle Joey into his bed, and Julian unlocks the door. The Major is pretty miffed, apparently about this “locked door” technology that kept him at bay. Julian says he had just gone to get a broom to sweep up the bottle he'd “dropped." He'd gotten the bottle out of Joey's room, figured the Major didn't want him (Joey) “nipping in the morning." Mollified, the Major wishes Julian a good night.
In Joey's room, he and Laura have been listening. Joey's curious about Laura's machinations, she says that his idea (bank robbery, remember) appeals to her...and she points out that he needs her more than she needs him.
Fade to he next day. Laura's already hitting the sauce. I'm guessing. Maybe it's a fancy ice tea flask. The Major shows up and slaps her. Turns out Julian spilled the beans after all, about all Joey's fancy talk. The Major thinks Laura feels cheated by the terms of their various deals. Laura protests again, and Major says he doesn't care what she does with her life, as long as it doesn't interfere with his own plans. Then he draws the line. He takes away her “iced tea."
I'll just point out that he's wearing this ridiculous looking stripped suit, that makes him look like a high class chain-gang member, or maybe Mr. Candy Cane.
After he puts her glass down, he smacks her again. “Now, that's a dot on the i,” he says. “Now lay off the vodka, I want you ready when I need you." All right, okay, I was wrong, it wasn't iced tea. Just seemed awfully early in the day, but I do understand some people have problems with these things and me, I was trying to be sympathetic.
Anyway, as he walks away, she shoots him a definite Dirty Look. Ooo, you think you're all Majory and stuff, and ooh, you're not so much!--
Cut to the lab, where Joey is strapped down and the Prof is assuring him that if he remains still, there will be no pain. He may lose consciousness after he becomes invisible, but there should be no other ill effect.
“How do you know it will work on a human?” Joey asks. “Do you know what'll happen?”
“We've made hundreds of such experiments,” the Prof doesn't-really-answer. “There can be no slip up."
Major and Laura show up, say that “We don't have all night,” retire to the safe part of the lab (with the thick walls), and the procedure...proceeds. Same as before with all the electronics and things.
And Joey...fades away! First his face and hands, then his clothes collapse into nothingness.
Everyone jumps out of their respective radiation-safe hiding places, and wonders if Joey's OK. They're worried about his rapid breathing, then he (invisibly) leaves the table (alarming the machines) and gives ole Laura a kiss. Wow, that irrepressable joey! Or, if you wish, that fiend!
He then attacks the Major, who, in the midst of said attack, reminds Joey that he (Joey) needs him (the Major) to bring him back. Joey's not stupid, though, and he uses his invisibility to bargain for more money for the jobs he's expected to pull. Major agrees with reluctance. (Joey seems to have adjusted way easier than Claude Rains did in the other Invisib—Um, Transparent Man movie.) And Joey agrees to start tonight, at some atomic reactor site. Cut to the site, where this Gomer Pyle-ish guard doesn't think much is out of the ordinary when dials spin on their own, etc. However, he at least goes to see a supervisor about his Seein' Spooks and all. That's a notch above most movies, where the guy seeing dials a-spinnin' and a-spinnin' out, would be required to take a bottle of cheap whiskey from a desk drawer, stare at it, and say, “Never again!” to comical drunk music. Man, I hope our atomic things aren't guarded by comical drunks. In fact, I hope they're not guarded by drunks at all!
Back to the movie, this fat guard sees a vault door open and he goes to see whazzup, and he gets beat up unconscious by Invis—er, Transparent Joey.
We see a cannister of well, I'm supposin' it's full of atomic crap, waltzing along in the corridor all by itself, as if...well, as if being carried by, I know this sounds crazy, but by some kind of Amazing Transparent Man! Shortly thereafter, we see a brief shot of a car racing away, and then we cut to the two guards telling their side of the story, to a pretty disbelieving bunch of chaps.
These kind of scenes are a pretty major problem for these kinds of movies. On the one hand, we've seen what the invisi—I mean, transparent guy can do. But we have to spend all this time with these guard guys, just to demonstrate how impossible it all is. But you know something, movie? We either rented this, or walked into a theatre, or tuned to a channel, to see a movie called “The Amazing Transparent Man." So why are we watching this scene where guys are going on about, Oh, I wasn't asleep, and No Sir, I wasn't either? Come on. We know it's an amazing transparent man. We never, never watch movies about guys easily stealing atomic material because the night watch are a bunch of lushes. Does that sound remotely entertaining to you? “The Amazingly Lucky Robber Who Only Encountered Drunks." Didn't think so. Still, we (apparently) have to have the Disbelieving Explanation Scene. Well, at least it was kind of short.
Back to the lab, Prof tells Major that the guinea pig died anyway, and he pulls a sheet from a section of the lab table. Those of you who are Guinea Pig fans will be glad to know that nothing cruelsome is shown, except for said sheet. But, I should point out (but really feel I don't need to), this spells some difficulties for Joey ahead in his amazing transparent career.
Major wonders whazzup, Prof says it will be awhile before it affects him (Joey), but he also says that the new material that Joey stole will be harder to control...Prof doesn't even like “keeping it here."
“You're afraid of an explosion?”
After a pause, to let that sink into our movie-going consciousness, Major says they'll use the “X-13” on Joey, though Prof reveals it “could mean his death” to which Major says he doesn't care.
More talk between the two, Prof doesn't want to kill Joey, Major says, in effect, Okay, we'll use your daughter.... Prof capitulates. Major, you bastard, etc.
Major goes downstairs to retrieve Joey for the next job. And this job goes just like the one before. Prof's pretty reluctant about it all (X-13! It's deadly like crazy!), but Major throws the switch.
Cut to a car driving along, Laura at the wheel, though it's pretty obvious from the framing that she's not alone here.
And yeah, Laura and Invisible Joey are talking about the caper. She's concerned, he's not, but he gets a camera shot of the empty side of the car when he talks, anyway.
He walks into the bank. An old guard looks like, Whoa, when this happens. (He acts better than Keanu, take note.) We see some more sacks and things move on their own, but the music is kind of comedic. Ha ha, who doesn't laugh when the flying sacks appear! But then, Joey appears, like, visible! In the bank. The music turns from comedic to hey-this-is-worrisome. But then...um, evrything except Joey's head and hands goes back to being invisible, and his confidence returns. Uh, well, speaking for me, that wouldn't allay my worries, but then I've never been a movie star. Or a bank robber. Honest.
Laura, in the car, seems to know that somethig wrong is popping up. Joey “decides” to appear completely in the bank, but as an old pro at bank robbing, he tells everyone not to move and they won't get hurt. This works. He jumps into Laura's car and they drive off.
Back to those same police guys, who were earlier dressing down the security cops when they couldn't catch that invisible (atomic) robber. They're taking down a description from a gal who was there when Joey maerialized in the bank. (Just to flesh out the scene, when Joey appeared completely just before he ran away, she said “Oh my God." Just so's you have the complete, three-d world that The Amazing Transparent Man conjures up before our very eyes fully available to you.)
Anyway, she leaves, the cops discuss how it's obviously Faust (Joey), and complain “What can we do? The man makes himself invisible, locks mean nothing to him...he did take the X-13. What defense do we have against him?”
“Nothing...none." And...fade. Well, what about better locks, and more of them too? He's transparent, not insubstantial or vaporous. Police methods have advanced a lot since then, I guess, because none of this occurs to the cops; I suppose we should be thankful that they're not all ashen-faced and gibbering about how the robber was a “G-g-g-ghost!” Still, I'm impressed that everyone seems to know this X-13 stuff pretty well, since they're able to guess its role in this whole transparency scheme.
Back to the country road where Laura and Joey are, apparently, still making their getaway, making me wonder where the heck the bank was, or how far away Major's swank house is from everything. Joey tells Laura to stop the car, he gets out and gazes at the house. He puts his hands on his hips and strikes his palm and all but says “Nuts!” since they apparently can't go anywhere until Joey “turns invisible again." Um, okay, fine, fine, fine.
Back at the Major's Manor, he and Julian are listening to the radio identify Joey as the robber. Major's pretty darn peeved at this stuff, apparently this whole “bank robbery” thing was cooked up betwixt Joey and Laura behind the Major's back. Theorizing that the two “have to come back” to the house (uh, guy, they just robbed a bank, they have money now), they decide to make ready for them, mostly by grabbing a gun each. And then packing suitaces. Geepers. Julian brings the Major's bags to the porch, while the Major pops upstairs.
Back outside, Laura is talking about how she and Joey can start again in Mexico. But Joey says nothing, and it sure looks like he's—yes, he is—splitting the bank proceeds with her and saying he's got places to go where she can't go too. She's pretty ticked about this, especially when he grabs the keys. “You just can't go off and leave me!” but heck, lady, you're only a few hundred yards from the Major's house. Here's a hint: “He overpowered me, made me help him! You know I wouldn't betray you!”
Suddenly, though, Joey turn invisible. Again, it's no James Fulton (who did The Invisble Man Effects) but it's startling enough to work. Joey appears to be (and probably was) painted out from the center. The car keys still dangle in the air.
“Goodbye, Laura,” he says jauntily, and the keys stalk off (also jauntily) on their own. Laura settles to wait for...uh, her cue, maybe?
Back at the house, the Major is telling the Prof all the stuff they need to pack, and the Prof says he refuses to go. Major tries to tell him that together they'll fix the formula, and he reminds him that “an invisible army is worth billions!”
“An army of dead men,” Prof says dispiritedly.
Quick as a cat, Major turns and holds out the key to the White Door. “I'm taking Marie with me, I'm sure you'll understand,” and Prof is pretty upset about this. Major opens the door, and a hideous mutant bursts through the wall, slavering and ranting about revenge!
...no, actually a young girl, maybe early teens, calmly walks through the door with a wan smile.
Now, this next bit is confusing. I re-ran it just cos it was so fast. We see a close up of Prof's shocked face, there's this loud tumbling and yelling (off screen), we cut back to Marie (Prof's daughter) watching something fall (off screen), she backs into her father's arms as the door to her former prison closes, then Major starts yelling to be let out.
I guess he just happened to trip? Prof's too far away to have shoved him, Marie looks too surprised to've done anything...unless...Joey, is that you?
Yes, it is! He appears again, and asks Prof why he keeps “appearing and disappearing” and Prof says he doesn't know. He says he will treat Joey, but only if he and his daughter are taken away from this awful Major Manor. Joey, a bit flustered (he points out that everything they need is here, and Major's locked up), finally agrees.
Just then, Laura runs up to the house. Guess she figured out a good line after all, eh? Julian catches her and brings her inside, where they meet the others coming downstairs. They try to reason with him about being let go and all. Reason doesn't work with old Julian (“I take my orders from the Major."), so Laura tries something else.
“Julian, you believe what he told you about your son being alive, and in prison, and in Europe?”
“Yes, I do."
“You're a fool. Your son's dead, Julien. Crenner's been using you all along!”
And you know what, this works! Julien lowers the gun. The thing is, instead of the backwoods stooge he's been up to now, he now has the air and look of a tired old man who only had one hope to hold onto, and now that's gone. The guy sells the scene so well at this point I really hate to say there hasn't been any evidence at all of his son's now-revealed fate. I'll be kind and say I suppose the old guy really suspected the truth all along, but that the hope...that was a mighty big hope. A man could hold onto a hope like that for years and feel just fine never looking the other way.
“She's right,” Joey says, taking the gun, “come on." And all but Julien leave.
Except for some reason, Joey locks Laura in one of the other rooms and props Julien's shotgun against the door. What the hell? Now, he, the Prof and Marie leave the house. Julien comes along too.
Out on the front porch, Prof tells Joey about the whole “invisble army” thing, to invade the good old U.S. Of A! Joey says he only cares about himself. Prof worries that the Major will find him again no matter where he goes. Joey says he knows lots of places the Major won't find him.
Now, here, Prof starts really screenwriting. He tells Joey that someday, he (Joey) will be known as a martyr, who sacrificed himself to prevent this whole invisible army thing. Joey's pretty peeved at this, he wants to know about his own treatments, and says that he and Prof “had a deal” and he doesn't want to be double-crossed, see!
Prof spills the bit about how he(the Prof)'s got radiation poisoning, then says that Joey is worse off than he is. He says Joey has “weeks, perhaps days” left. Joey's peeve meter goes up a notch, accusing the Prof of lying just to save himself. Prof says he did it all for Marie, he “had no choice” then he barks it again about “don't you care what the Major is doing to your country?”
“Why should I care?” snarls Joey. “What did my country ever do for me, but try and bury me in a concrete tomb for the rest of my life!”
“I'm thinking of my child,” says the Prof. “You should think of yours." He turns to Joey. “Perhaps you deserve prison. But did Marie deserve what has happened to her? Did her mother need to die? Is this the kind of world you want for your child?! That is what the invisible army will bring, I have seen it!”
Joey's peeve meter goes down quietly. He looks around briefly. “How much longer've I got?” he asks, resignedly.
“A month. No more."
Joey hands the car keys to Prof. He wants to give him the bank robbery money, but Prof refuses. Joey looks at it a moment, then stuffs it back in his coat pocket. It's a great little moment. It looks like he's thinking about it, not as money but as a mark of the only thing he was ever good at...robbing banks. There but for the grace of God, etc.
“Don't wait for me,” he tells Prof.
Joey returns to the house, and Prof dashes off to the car. “There is a man who has unlocked every door, except the one to his own soul,” Prof tells his daughter. “Now he has the key." They're off to find a phone and call the police.
In the house, Major is shooting the door handle to his prison. Joey comes in the front door and frees Laura. He and asks her to wait outside. But Major appears on the stairs and shoots her dead. He runs away, and Joey runs upstairs to get the rotten squirrel!
Upstairs, we see Major hiding behind something, like some kind of rotten squirrel. Joey appears upstairs, and Major breaks a jar of acid on Joey's arms, then the two get into some fisticuffs. Though, not being acidized, Major has the upper hand (the rotten squirell) and knocks Joey out. He starts up the Transparency Machine, and retreats to the lead room, then...comes back out again, and removes some of that dangerous crap from the safe, just in time for Joey to rise up and start pummeling him. Major fights like a rotten squirrel, the lights flicker, a funny-shaped bucket rolls out of the safe (and starts glowing), Joey pins the rotten squ—um, Major, who starts screaming and screaming as the camera moves in close to the glowing bucket and the sounds of electronics overloading gets louder and louder--
--you know where this is leading, right?--
--sure enough, there's an atomic explosion (it's the same stock-footage one you've seen a lot of times of a house being blown away, only the film is in negative) and an oddly flattened mushroom cloud. It looks like it's trying to be accomodating to the film frame. Fade.
Fade in as a car approaches a roadblock. Two guys get out of the car and identify themselves as “Drake and Smith, Security," to the police. But the cops aren't letting them in, they say there's too much fall-out for safety. Either Drake or Smith gets out a pair of binoculars, and man, they are spectacular! Spectaculars. He can see the whole blast site, he can practically read the nametags on the rescue personnel. And, cough, the house is in pretty bad shape, but it sure isn't atomized. No sirree, it's a definite fixer-upper but does not, repeat not appear to have been at the center of an atomic explosion, much less one using the dread X-13!
Man--Drake or Smith even gets a low-angle shot of one of the rescue team. These are not so much binoculars as stockfootageulars, I am guessing. Drake or Smith hands them over to Smith or Drake. He lights a cigarette, sighs, and says, “Be with you in a minute, Smitty."
He goes over to his car, where Prof is sitting in the back seat. He tells Prof that “[he] and his friends” have succeeded in blowing up “half the county."
Prof says (and I'm paraphrasing) he is way, way sorry, but he didn't do this out of choice. The Major, now, he was the crazy one, what with his invisible army and all, wow, what a nutbucket, eh? Heh-heh-heh! Good thing his craziness died with him, eh? Eh? Eh?
Drake muses a bit, then says that this idea of an “invisible army” is interesting. “Imagine what our counter-intelligence forces could learn if they could become invisible!”
Prof nods and says the CIA has already discussed this with him. He says, what if the secret were stolen? It's probably better (he points out) if the secret dies with Major Crenner and Joey Faust.
“It's a serious problem,” Prof says. He then turns and looks directly into the camera. “What would you do?”
And THE END.
Well, I have to say, first of all, that I'm not sure I have an answer to the Prof's question. And yes, I am sure he was asking me, he was looking right at me when he said it! No, he wasn't looking at you, and he definitely was not looking at you!
Secondly, considering that this film was done on the cheap, it was done with a surprising amount of care and consideration. So many fine details contributed to the overall atmosphere—I particularly like the way that Joey and Prof have a clear understanding of each other, and each other's situtation, from the moment they first meet. The characters throughout are well- and pretty-subtly drawn. Aside from that “You guys must have been drunk” scene with the guards, most of the running time has been well utilized. I wasn't bored. None of the characters, with the exception of the Major (who is too cold and controlled to “read” well) are simple stock figures, going through the motions. Even old Julien got some dimensions to him there at the end.
It's interesting how many small pleasures there are in this film, while the “big,” lurid scenes one would expect in a film called The Amazing Transparent Man are basically themselves invisible. This is not an exciting or thrilling movie, just a well-crafted “small” film about crooks of various kinds (and degrees). The closest one gets to Genuine Spooky Sci-Fi chills is all that blather about “An Invisible Army!” which is just kind of kept in the background as Major motivation. While I think the effects are clever (if very low-budget), this is more a quiet little drama about what people see when they look in the mirror, and whether they like what they see, and what they can do about it. The Professor acts as the consciense of the group, but everyone (except the evil Major, and Marie who has not enough screentime) gets a moment to redeem his or herself, to change the mirror if only a small bit. (I do wonder about Prof's prediction that Joey will go down in history as a “martyr,” since people would have to know why, and that would spill the atomic beans about invis—transparency.)
Credit has to go to Jack Lewis's screenplay for a lot of this, though there were a couple of awkward patches (Julien's son being the most notable). I wonder what else Lewis has written. Much as I like the script, for the most part, I think the film is most indicitive of Mr. Ulmer's skill with a dollar and some good actors. That this film is as entertaining as it is is more of the whole than the sum.
Now, don't get me wrong, it's not a masterpiece, it doesn't belong in the pantheon of great films (even great b-films) and it's not going to imbue you with a sense of wonder. Voyager is not going to release it under the Criterion Collection. If you never see this film, your life is going to be just as fulfilling as it would be otherwise.
But, if you do see this film, I think you'll find it a well-crafted, thoughtful and engaging little movie. Definitely worth seeing at least once. I certainly liked it.
And I'm gonna have to look into this Edgar G. Ulmer cult thing....
September 21, 2004