‘Invisible and deadly!’
The Amazing Transparent Man is a 1960 American science-fiction feature film about a mad scientist who plans to create an army of invisible soldiers.
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer (Daughter of Doctor Jekyll; The Man from Planet X; The Black Cat) from a screenplay written by Jack Lewis (Billy the Kid Versus Dracula – unconfirmed). The movie stars Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith and Ivan Triesault.
The soundtrack score was composed by Darrell Calker (My World Dies Screaming; From Hell It Came; Voodoo Woman; The Flying Saucer).
A notorious cracksman and bank robber named Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy) is broken out of prison with outside help, only to learn that in return he must be a guinea pig in an experiment by a rogue military officer to create the first in what promises to be an army of invisible men.
Thanks to fortuitous (or not) placement in the alphabet, most genre fans may have encountered The Amazing Transparent Man as an early entry in movie guidebooks advising viewers to, well, look elsewhere despite the film being part of the catalogue of Edgar G. Ulmer. A prolific toiler in the field of “B” features. Ulmer ultimately became something of a critical folk hero for turning out tons of celluloid in all genres, shot on the cheap, under time and budget constraints that would have daunted many another hack. Yet, now and then, real talent was discerned, and Ulmer would make genuine classics such as Detour, or at least respectable enough jobs to gain respect from international cineastes.
The Amazing Transparent Man is a short (for many, not short enough) hybrid of hardboiled crime picture from the film noir school, and Cold War sci-fi, complete with a key character looking at the camera and asking the viewer to think about it. The non-epic might get some viewer respect if one knows in advance that, as Roger Corman and Ed Wood famously did, Ulmer was making the best use he probably could out of limited resources, stock footage and a few serendipitous breaks. Here the windfall was mainly the availability to Ulmer’s film team of a temporary science display at the Texas State Fair.
In the auteur’s hands, it becomes the corrugated-metal mad-scientist atomic laboratory, at the ranch of a shady American ex-military man named Krenner (James Griffith), who, with the assistance of some blackmailed henchmen and a duplicitous moll (Marguerite Chapman), breaks an infamous bank robber and safecracker named Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy) out of prison.
In return, Faust must submit to experiments with radiation rendering him temporarily invisible (clothing and all); in that form, he is to steal valuable isotope-stuff for further experimenting. However, Faust is a cynical hardened criminal, after all, and, rebelliously, he takes up his old pastime of bank jobs in “transparent” form. The trouble (Faust-ian, one might say) is that persistent radiation exposures will ultimately kill him.
Moreover, the anti-hero’s physiology is developing an immunity to the process, cueing a scene rather cleverly envisioned by Ulmer (despite the paltry production values) in which bits of Faust phase in and out of the visible spectrum in mid-robbery. More than ten years later with much more money, Ray Harryhausen would do a similar gag using Tom Baker in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.
In the end, Ulmer is bold or full of hubris enough to actually take the plot into a nuclear-doomsday territory, with a fission apocalypse that vaporises most of the county – well, not very clearly shown, but that’s what we’re told. A surviving character asks if an army of irradiated dying, invisible soldier-commandoes, handy as they might be to the USA, are worth the cost, ethical and otherwise. The soliloquy draws a parallel that viewers of the era, would not have missed, with the American H-bomb project, whose secrets were leaked to Moscow by spies on the inside.
Viewers of our current era are likely to be unimpressed unless charmed by the fatalistic mood, the grim, no-nonsense turns by the actors, and a lambent sense that Ulmer is squeezing every last dime out of everything he can. Yet, The Amazing Transparent Man was the right length and dimension for B-feature double bills, and there you are – hardly everyone’s definition of “amazing,” but The Barely Adequate Transparent Man doesn’t have the same marketability.
Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES & MANIA
” …Jack Lewis’s rather top-heavy screenplay is never allowed to seem as ridiculous as it probably should, what with its combination of mad science, crime, and insane world-domination conspiracies. Ulmer’s long-evident flair for visual composition is also in full effect, even in spite of the poverty-row budget.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
“While The Amazing Transparent Man isn’t devoid of sci-fi, the scenes featuring it are among the weakest in the film, with special effects that are shoddy at best. But even though the movie falls well short of a science fiction masterpiece, its noirish elements are well-handled…” 2,500 Movies Challenge
“The film resembles nothing so much as those tatty little mad-scientist thrillers Bela Lugosi was making at Pathe-Monogram twenty years ago with the exception that their saving grace of unconscious humour is here totally absent.” British Film Institute Monthly Film Bulletin, 1962
“Ulmer wraps things up with an anti-nuke message! Despite all this looniness, there was a reason that Ulmer only worked in low-budget genre films: he was the best at it. Even something this ridiculous has its inventive charms, not least of which are the wonderfully chintzy invisibility effects.” Combustible Celluloid
“The script, by Jack Lewis (it was his only non-Western) attempts to explain how Ulof’s invisibility machine works but it quickly devolves into a mess of unconvincing techno babble […] Technically the film is unsurprisingly shoddy, from the flat lighting to the baggy editing, from the poorly used score to the cheesy effects.” The eofftv review
“This was one of Edgar G. Ulmer’s last directorial efforts, and there’s very little to recommend here; it’s dull and implausible, the special effects are nothing special, and it’s all rather uninspired and stodgy.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
Laura: “You’d better lay off the giggle water, he can’t use you drunk, you know.”
Cast and characters:
- Marguerite Chapman … Laura Matson
- Douglas Kennedy … Joey Faust
- James Griffith … Major Paul Krenner
- Ivan Triesault … Doctor Peter Ulof
- Boyd ‘Red’ Morgan … Julian (as Red Morgan)
- Cormel Daniel … Maria Ulof
- Ed Erwin … Drake (as Edward Erwin)
- Jonathan Ledford … Smith
- Norman Smith … Security Guard
- Patrick Cranshaw … Security Guard
- Kevin Kelly … Woman
- Denis Adams … State Policeman (as Dennis Adams)
- Stacy Morgan … State Policeman
The British release by Anglo Amalgamated was cut by censors the BBFC to obtain a ‘U’ certificate on 29th October 1962.
The original title was Search for a Shadow
The Amazing Transparent Man was shot back-to-back with and on the same sets for the same production company as Beyond the Time Barrier.