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Old 04-15-2006, 03:11 AM
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Scored: 6
Views: 7,936
H.G. Wells' Invisible Man





Reviewer: Jeremy
Review Date: April 14, 2006

Released by: Dark Sky Films
Release date: 3/28/2006
MSRP: $29.98
Region 0, NTSC
Full frame 1.33:1
1958


By the late 1950’s, television had evolved considerably, and started to change into a medium where shows could be shot and edited in the style of Hollywood films. This was in contrast to the early parts of the decade when many broadcasts had gone out over the air live, which placed obvious limitations on the types of material dramatized, and the manner in which it was presented. Under those circumstances, one might think that television productions dealing with the fantastic might have been considered too ambitious to mount, but the daunting challenges involved in such productions did not serve to deter some of producers. This is particularly evident in Britain, where science fiction miniseries had been making waves as far back as 1953, when The Quatermass Experiment had been broadcast live.

In 1958, the year that H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man debuted on British television, invisibility – a subject that was no doubt too ambitious even for those miniseries producers – was no longer an unrealistic possibility for television, either. But how does the effect hold up nearly fifty years later? Let’s take a look at the first season of this early fantasy television foray and find out...

The Story

inline ImageThis edition contains all thirteen original episodes of the first season. The pilot episode, Secret Experiment (originally aired 9/14/1958), introduces us to Dr. Peter Brady (Johnny Scripps and Tim Turner), who has just accidentally turned himself invisible while working on a top secret experiment at a lab in the English countryside. Worried about the potential security implications, the lab has him put under lock and key, only to have him soon escape. Desperate to become visible again, he pays a visit to his friend and colleague Dr. Crompton (Michael Goodliffe) in the hopes that he can help him find a solution. Unfortunately, Crompton has other ideas and disables the unsuspecting invisible man with a blow to the head. It seems that, for his own selfish and greedy reasons, Crompton wants to be invisible too, and he’ll do anything to get his hands on the notes for Brady’s experiments!

The second episode, Crisis In the Desert (originally aired 9/21/1958), opens with the attempted escape of an undercover British agent in the Middle Eastern country of Bathesar. He has been captured by government troops who are most eager to learn what he knows, and while attempting to get away from them he is shot, but survives. Back in England, Dr. Brady is visited by Colonel Warren (Douglas Wilmer), a military intelligence officer who needs to enlist him for an important task. The government of Bathesar is not friendly to Britain (translation: pro-Soviet and anti-colonial) and the agent in question was helping to build a domestic movement to resist it. Right now he is in a hospital there in a coma, and as soon as he comes to he will be tortured until he spills all the secrets he knows, including the secret communications codes that will thoroughly wreck all of Britain’s clandestine operations. The agent must be rescued, and the only person capable of getting him out of a the heavily guarded hospital building is an invisible man! In service to king and country, Brady agrees to help, and is sent parachuting into the desert on the dangerous mission...

inline Image Behind the Mask (originally aired 9/28/1958) finds Brady with a dilemma: his research into how to make himself visible again has hit a dead end. He needs a human being to experiment on before he can hope to learn anything further. Of course, who would volunteer to take part in such dangerous work? It turns out that rich art collector Raphael Constantine (Dennis Price) is just the man. After tricking Brady into meeting him, Constantine reveals that his insider information has made him aware of Brady’s research problem. He volunteers himself as a test subject. His reason: because of the horrible disfigurement he has suffered (he wears a mask over part of his face) he has no further wish to ever look at his own distorted image again, nor does he want anyone else to ever have to see it. Brady agrees to experiment on him, but as it turns out Constantine’s motives are not just because of pure vanity. A beloved South American president is currently on a state visit to London, and Constantine and his associates hold a grudge against him. The revolution that brought him to power not just forced them to flee the country, but in the process a bomb attack left Constantine with his disfigurement. Due to the heavy security surrounding the visit, the only way for Constantine to get his revenge is to become an invisible assassin!

inline ImageThe Locked Room (originally aired 10/5/1958) tells of the ordeal of Dr. Tania Perferi (Zena Marshall), a scientist from an unnamed Communist country who has been working on invisibility. While attending an international conference in London she makes the mistake of slightly criticizing her government, causing goons from its embassy to whisk her back to it. They securely lock her up. Unfortunately for them, Dr. Brady was at the conference and doesn’t intend to let her be taken back behind the Iron Curtain, especially since her research could prove valuable to him in regaining his visibility. He rescues her from the embassy and the United States offers to give her asylum and provides a plane to take her across the Atlantic...but she has to get to the airport first, and the Commies have no intention of letting her get away again.

Picnic With Death (originally aired 10/12/1958) finds Brady’s cover being blown by a minor vehicular accident. He finds himself under siege in his own house, which becomes surrounded by reporters who file stories about the invisible man. With his secret out, he is approached by Linda (Margaret McCourt), a friend of his young niece Sally (Deborah Watling). She tells him that she believes her stepfather and his evil sister are planning on killing her mother for her money, which they need in order to save their ancestral family estate. Brady scoffs at her claim – at first. However, when said stepfather and sister take Sally, Linda and her mother on a picnic on a hill overlooking some massive cliffs, the invisible man becomes suspicious enough to come running to the rescue.

inline ImagePlay to Kill (originally aired 10/26/1958) begins with famed theater actress Barbara Crane (Helen Cherry) driving down a country road at night. Blinded by the headlights of an oncoming car, she hits a hobo off to the side of the road. She stops and so does the other car. The other driver pronounces the hobo dead. Though Barbara insists that they report the accident to the police, the other driver – who recognizes her as the famous actress – tells her that he is not going to let her ruin her career by reporting it to the police. Instead, he tosses the body off a nearby cliff and they part ways. But, back in London, Barbara becomes anxious and listless with guilt, so much so that she can barely remember her lines in the production she is rehearsing for. Then she gets a mysterious phone call from a man who claims to have seen what happened at the scene of the accident – and wants £1000 from her or he will go to the police! Her only hope to stop the blackmail attempt is Peter Brady, who must use his invisibility to find out what really happened on the road that dark night.

Shadow on the Screen (originally aired 11/2/1958) begins with attempted escape from a Communist merchant ship moored at the London docks. The crew of the ship captures the fleeing man and locks him up below deck. At his laboratory, Dr. Brady is approached by a man named Bratski (Redmond Phillips), an exile from behind the Iron Curtain who chairs a refugee protection committee in London. He asks for help in breaking the crew member out of the ship, but Brady refuses initially. After talking to a government official he changes his mind and meets with the man’s wife Sonia (Greta Gynt), who managed to escape from the Communists years earlier. He agrees to help her. But it seems that not all is what it seems, and it’s actually a plot by the Communists to capture the invisible man by luring him onboard and then using a specially modified radar set-up to see where he is!

inline ImageThe second disc begins with The Mink Coat (originally aired 11/9/1958), where two dastardly spies break into a secret research facility in the English countryside and take pictures of sensitive documents. In the process, a security guard is killed. The leader of the break-in, a man named Walker (Derek Godfrey), tries to flee the country for Paris with the film but at the London airport he runs into a snag when he discovers that customs is searching the passengers of all outgoing flights. Not knowing what else to do, he spots a young woman named Penny Page (Hazel Court) who is boarding the same flight. When he sees her distracted (it turns out she is a puppeteer by trade, and amuses the customs agents with a puppet and her ventriloquism skills), he cuts a hole in the lining of her mink coat and slips the container in. The trick gets the film past customs, but he encounters difficulty in trying to get his hands back on the mink coat, leading to him to display some very suspicious behavior. But, as luck may have it, Dr. Brady and his sister Dee (Lisa Daniely) have boarded the same flight. Dee saw Walker cutting into the coat and became suspicious, and when they witness his behavior trying to get at the coat they both become suspicious. But can the invisible man protect Penny and recover the film, or will the spies win this time?

inline ImageBlind Justice (originally aired 11/16/1958) begins in Cairo with British airline captain Arthur Holt (Philip Friend) and his co-pilot Sandy (Jack Watling) stopping off at a bazaar. Sandy ducks into a store in a most suspicious manner just as someone from an upstairs window opens fire on Arthur with a machine gun. Arthur escapes and they both make it back to the airport in time for the flight they are piloting back to Britain. En route Arthur speculates that the attempt on his life was motivated by his refusal to participate in drug trafficking operations, which the narcotrafficers had tried to recruit him into. He says that he is even suspicious that the plane itself may be holding narcotics, and he asks Sandy to call ahead to the airport and request a special customs inspection. Sandy does so, and when the customs officer searches Arthur’s personal things he finds a container of heroin. Sandy suddenly turns on him and tells the customs officer that he called in the inspection request on his own accord, not because Arthur told him to. Realizing that he is very close to being arrested, Arthur calls his old friend Peter Brady to ask for his help. But before Brady can do anything, there is another attempt on Arthur’s life when a sinister man calling himself Sparrow (Leslie Phillips) shoots him down in his own house. Arthur is rushed to the hospital where he lies near death, and Brady vows to find out who did it. But his only hope is Arthur’s blind wife Katherine (Honor Blackman), who was there when Arthur was shot but was apparently left alive because she could not see to identify the assassin. Brady locates Sparrow and plots to lure him into a confession by using his invisibility to convince him that Katherine isn’t blind after all.

Jailbreak (originally aired 11/23/1958) tells the story of Joe Green (Dermot Walsh), an ex-con who has gone straight. Problem is, knowing his jail record, several of his co-workers frame him for a robbery at their office and he is sent away to jail. Desperate to prove his innocence, Green begins making constant escape attempts. The media coverage of his attempts sparks the interest of Peter Brady, who uses his invisibility to enter the jail and break him out in order to give him an opportunity to prove his alibi – by finding the young woman who pick-pocketed him the night of the robbery, and can thus prove his innocence.

inline ImageIn Bank Raid (originally aired 11/30/1958), a gang of dastardly bandits comes up with an incredibly dastardly scheme – they will kidnap the invisible man’s niece and force him to rob a bank for them, or she will be killed!

Next up is Odds Against Death (originally aired 12/7/1958), which finds Professor Owens (Walter Fitzgerald) and his daughter Suzy (Julia Lockwood) on vacation in the Italian Alps. Just as they are preparing to leave their mountaintop hotel they are taken hostage by the sinister American gangster Caletta (Alan Tilvern). Back in England, Peter Brady becomes frustrated with Owens’ apparent refusal to come back to vacation. Since Owens is an essential part of Brady’s latest research project, having him absent basically puts the effort on hold. What’s even more aggravating to Brady is that Owens has been reportedly spending all his time at the local casino. Brady and Dee fly to Italy to bring him back, and in the process discover that Caletta has actually been holding Owens hostage in order to use his mathematical skills to develop a system that will allow them to beat the odds at roulette (apparently nobody plays blackjack in Italy). Now, if Brady wants to get his man back to the laboratory, he’s going to have to use his invisibility to either defeat the gangsters or help Owens perfect that system.

The final (and in my opinion, the best) episode on this set is Strange Partners (originally aired 12/14/1958). Brady’s research notes – vital to his continued experiments – are stolen from his house in the middle of the night. The next night, however, he receives a call from a man named Lucian Currie (Griffith Jones), who says that he has found them on his property. Brady rushes to his house only to get a big surprise when Currie reveals that his butler is the one who stole the notes because he needed a way to lure Brady to him. It seems that Currie’s business partner – whom he’s had a contentious relationship with for years – is stopping by that night. Their agreement was that whoever survived the other would receive the other half of their gold mine. The trouble is, even though Currie’s partner is in poor health, Currie is not content to let nature take its course – he wants Brady to kill him. And, if Brady refuses, Currie threatens to unleash his attack dog on him that will find his scent, whether it can see him or not!

inline ImageH.G. Wells’ Invisible Man ran on British television from 1958 until 1960 (it also had American airings on CBS around this same time). Lasting only two seasons, it appears that the show isn’t even well remembered in its own country. Watching it today, many viewers will probably think it dated – because it is. The series is firmly locked into the paranoia of the Cold War, which results in all the clichés associated with anti-Communist jingoism. But, more so than that, the episodes get tiresomely repetitious after awhile. While preparing for this review I watched many of them in blocks of two or three episodes in a sitting, and I now realize that approach was a mistake. With each episode running approximately twenty-six minutes, the stories don’t usually wear out their welcome on an individual basis (thankfully the producers chose not to go the hour-long route). But watch too many and it’s another story. Once we get to episode five – where Brady’s invisibility becomes public knowledge – the plotlines of the stories fall into a predictable formula. Someone either comes to him for help with a problem, or he finds someone with a problem and tries to help on his own accord. When that doesn’t happen, someone tries to manipulate him into committing whatever crime they want committed. The badguys are not always spies or Marxist villains, but they all tend to seem the same after awhile.

inline ImageThe special effects involved are primitive by today’s standards, but decent when the series’ vintage is taken into account. Some of the effects are still impressive, such as cars with no visible driver careening through the streets of London and some surprisingly good optical effects. Most of the time though, you’ll see effects that, while good for their day, are hardly convincing now. Every time Brady picks up a telephone the wires holding it up are usually visible. In episode four we see an invisible Brady wearing a pair of heavy glasses, and the wires holding those up are some of the most visible I’ve seen anywhere. At other times the optical effects don’t work well (some of the more elaborate ones get recycled in other episodes, such as a shot of Brady taking the bandages off his face).

The series makes some attempt in depicting how being invisible would make ordinary life problematic. Even around his own house there are difficulties, including his sister Dee constantly bumping into him when he’s not wearing any visible clothes (the script solves the dirty question of how an invisible man stays completely invisible in a clean manner – the accident also made his lab clothes invisible, and he wears those whenever he wants to be completely unseen). He gets somewhat annoyed by people constantly coming to him for help, and whenever he goes out in public dressed in his bandages people always recognize who he is. But the attention that is paid to these matters is given less and less attention as the episodes go on. His invisibility is used as a vehicle for various humor, some of it rather funny, but much of it annoyingly cheap (and repetitive – we can only watch the invisible man push his way through unsuspecting people on the street before their “what the hell?” reactions cease to be amusing).

inline ImageTwo separate actors were entrusted with the role of the invisible man, one to provide his voice and another to provide his body while dressed up in his bandages and visible clothes (though it seems that the regular body actor may not have appeared in some episodes – episode six features an invisible man whose body shape and size appears different from the rest of the episodes). The voice actor lends distinct personality to the role, but Brady’s characterization doesn’t really provide much opportunity for any sort of depth or feeling. In terms of cast members, it’s really the weekly guest stars who provide the highlights of each episode. To viewers familiar with British cinema, many of them will be instantly recognizable (while perusing their credits on the IMDb I was surprised to learn that a large number of the guest stars also had roles in 1958’s A Night to Remember, a childhood favorite of mine and a film that in my opinion is still the best depiction of the Titanic tragedy). But even to viewers who are only familiar with Hammer films there will still be plenty of familiar faces. There’s Hazel Court (Curse of Frankenstein and The Man Who Could Cheat Death), Michael Goodliffe (The Gorgon and The Day the Earth Caught Fire), Douglas Wilmer (The Vampire Lovers), Dennis Price (Horror of Frankenstein, as well as a bunch of Jess Franco movies) and Michael Ripper (any Hammer film anyone anywhere has seen...ever), just to give an incomplete list. They are easily the high points of almost every episode.

H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man is the type of TV series that makes a minor impression and then disappears. It is not the type of show that develops a cult following among a niche group or a mass fan base among the general public like the most popular shows. Nor is it the type of awful show that disappears after just a few episodes. It is the same type of show that is all over the airwaves today – the type that you watch every once and a while when you stumble across it while channel surfing. But it’s not the kind that you’d ever make a weekly ritual out of watching.

Image Quality

inline ImageAll thirteen episodes are presented in their original full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratios. The black and white presentations are perfectly watchable, but not without noticeable problems. On the plus side, there’s an excellent level of contrast, with deep blacks and clean whites, and a generally good grayscale in between. The image is fairly clear and detailed, to the point where the deficiencies of many of the optical effects become very obvious.

Unfortunately, the films elements these masters were struck from are noticeably beat up, with plenty of visible specks and scratches to mar their presentation. The image also has a very noticeable video-like sheen to its appearance, and some visible artifacting at times (it’s quite possible that these could have been taken from PAL masters that were imperfectly down-converted to NTSC; all these episodes have been available on DVD in Britain since 2002).

Sound

Each episode is given two English-language soundtrack options, 2.0 Stereo tracks and 5.1 Surround tracks. I’m really not sure what was intended to be gained by giving these episodes a multi-channel remix. It just doesn’t work, and frankly it doesn’t sound right either. It just feels unnatural to be watching an old show like this and hear sounds coming out of my other speakers.

As far as the audio quality itself, the episodes all sound surprisingly decent, with only a little popping, hissing or background noise on either track (the Stereo track – which sounds a lot more like a Mono track to me - is the more subdued of the two, but it also sounds slightly less shrill to my ears).

This release also comes with French and Spanish tracks in 2.0 Stereo, and optional English subtitles.

Supplemental Material

There are no extras on this release.

Final Thoughts

Overall I wasn’t very impressed with H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man, despite some decent touches (frankly, the most surprising thing I experienced while watching it was when one of my girlfriend’s friends walked in and told me how much she loved the show!). Though the audio and visual quality of this presentation is not as good as we might have hoped, I still tip my hat to Dark Sky for making this valuable (if mediocre) relic available to home video viewers in this country. Bring on season two!

Rating

.
TV Series – C+

Image Quality – B-

Sound – C+

Supplements – N/A




Technical Info.
  • Running Time – 5 hours 9 minutes
  • B&W
  • Not rated
  • 2 Discs
  • English 2.0 Stereo
  • English 5.1 Surround
  • Spanish 2.0 Stereo
  • French 2.0 Stereo
  • English subtitles

Supplements
  • No supplements

Other Pictures

 


Last edited by Jeremy; 10-14-2010 at 10:43 PM..
 

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