H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – The Decoy

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Toni and Terri Trent (both played by Betta St. John) are a successful American singing duo who have just arrived in London.  When Terri disappears, Toni and Brady join up to find her ….

The first few minutes sets up the story.  Terri, looking out of her hotel-room window, witnesses a murder.  She reports this to the hotel manager, Stavros (Philip Leaver), but since he’s an accomplice this wasn’t the wisest of moves.  When the murderer,  Andreas (Wolfe Morris), realises that she can identify him, Terri needs to disappear.  Given that Andreas has a very prominent scar, Terri is able to describe him very easily (perhaps choosing someone more nondescript would have been a better idea).

The plot of this one isn’t quite watertight.  We later learn, thanks to Brady’s invisible shadowing, that the dead man was executed by his (unnamed) government.  That’s reasonable enough, but since they balk at killing Terri exactly what are they going to do with her?  In the short term she’s kept prisoner on an island, with Andreas and others in attendance, but that clearly can’t go on forever.

When Terri is reunited with Toni, the underlings then decide it would be better if both girls were disposed of.  If only they’d killed Terri to begin with then they wouldn’t have had all this trouble ….

But the meeting of the two sisters at least allows us to enjoy a touch of split-screen photography (pretty impressive) as well as a few scenes where St. John shares the screen with a double (not so good as her double seems to be about a foot shorter!)

Brady’s pretty invisible (sorry) in this one.  His dialogue is kept to a minimum as the other characters drive the plot.  He does have a few good moments though – an invisible punch-up at the end and an amusing sequence earlier on when he fails to hail a cab (one of the drawbacks of being an invisible man).

The Decoy makes a change from the spy stories of the last few episodes, but it’s another entry which struggles to rise above average.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Flight into Darkness

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On the eve of demonstrating the results of his groundbreaking research into electromagnetism, Dr Steve Stephens (Geoffrey Keen) disappears.  Brady, a close colleague, attempts to locate him before his work is appropriated by foreign agents ….

The first scene makes it plain that all is not well with Stephens – although Brady tells him how important his work is, Stephens seems subdued and non-committal.  And after Stephens is left alone he smashes up his lab and destroys his papers.  It has to be said that Keen does this in a rather half-hearted way – rather than acting in a mad frenzy, there’s almost an apologetic air as Stephens destroys various instruments and eventually manages to set fire to his papers.  Stephen’s fake-looking beard is a touch distracting (although this is addressed in a few scenes time after we see him clean-shaven, no doubt because he’s attempting to go incognito).

When Stephens doesn’t show up the following day, Brady steps in to demonstrate his work.  It’s certainly eye-opening – you’ll believe a guinea pig could fly – and the men from the ministry can quickly see the possibilities.  Eh?  The ability to levitate guinea pigs isn’t something which has many practical advantages, unless it could also be applied to men ….

And this is the crux of the story.  Stephens is a scientist interested only in pure research – the thought of his work being used in any sort of military or offensive context disgusts him (although it’s odd that he’s never considered this before – after all he’s been working in this area for five years).

Stephens’ research would naturally be of great interest to unfriendly powers, which means that foreign agents such as Wilson (Esmond Knight) are doing their best to obtain it.  Wilson, posing as a member of a peace organisation, attempts to convince Stephens that it would be better if his invention was shared with the entire world.  This is a familiar theme – if a scientist can’t be bought with money, then appealing to his peace-loving nature might just work instead.  To his credit, Stephens sees right through Wilson and even the attentions of Sewell (Colin Douglas) who’s armed with a nasty-looking cosh doesn’t change his mind.

Flight into Darkness raises some interesting points, such as the moral dilemma faced by scientists who risk having their discoveries misused, but there’s simply not the time to develop this in any detail.  The reason for Stephens’ sudden breakdown isn’t at all clear (it’s suggested at one point that Wilson’s earlier arguments had turned his head, but since we later see him reject Wilson’s request for the formula this can’t be so).

Wilson isn’t the most nuanced of characters and by the end of the episode he’s become a frantic, gun-waving heavy.  Stephens’ daughter Pat (Joanna Dunham) adds a touch of glamour as the damsel-in-distress who inevitably falls into the clutches of the baddies, but it’s not long before Brady turns up to rescue her, so only minimal tension is created.

The cast, as so often, can’t be faulted but this is pretty thin stuff.  A trip to Covent Garden market is one highlight from a pretty average episode.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – The Prize

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Brady is concerned to hear about the fate of the Russian writer Tania Roskov (Mia Zetterling).  Due to attend a prize-ceremony in the West, at the last minute she was intercepted at the border by the cruel Commisar Gunzi (Anton Diffring).  Brady sets off to rescue her, but it won’t be easy – first he’ll need to cross a minefield, but even if he gets that far then his problems will be far from over ….

The Prize is another Invisible Man Iron Curtain tale.  As before, everything is seen in stark black and white – West equals good and just whilst East stands for oppression and persecution.  Quite why the state should act in such a draconian fashion towards Tania isn’t too clear – handled differently, her prize could have been a propaganda coup for them.

That Brady’s only too keen to risk his life for her is also a part of the story that’s rather undeveloped.  Had he been quaffing too much champagne prior to the awards ceremony?  If not, it’s hard to see why he’s prepared to go to such lengths (especially since they’ve never actually met).

From Ingmar Bergman’s dark 1944 film Torment to the lighter fare of 1962’s Only Two Can Play (appearing opposite Peter Sellers), Mai Zetterling had a pretty varied career.   She’s suitably winsome and determined as Tania, a woman of conviction who isn’t prepared to renounce her writings.  Unsurprisingly we never see any pressure, other than verbal, applied to her – although it’s possible to imagine that other forms of persuasion could have happened off-screen.

Gunzi is the sort of role that Anton Diffring could have played in his sleep (a single-minded instrument of state, totally without mercy or humanity).  But although Diffring’s on very familiar ground he’s still an imposing screen presence.  You know that Brady will get the better of Gunzi eventually, but he’s shown to be no pushover to begin with (he successfully manages to lock Brady up).  Round one to Gunzi then.  But Brady manages to escape and then locks Gunzi up.  Round two to Brady.

Tania isn’t the only dissident held by Gunzi, but she’s the only one that Brady’s interested in.  A pity that all the others are left to suffer their fates, but presumably they weren’t as pretty as Tania ….

The Prize is an efficient runaround with plenty of guards and guns.    It’s not a terribly deep story – the political angle is quite slight and neither of the main characters (Tania and Gunzi) ever feel like real, three-dimensional characters – but as so often with this series it’s breezy enough fare.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – The Vanishing Evidence

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When a colleague of Brady’s is murdered and the secret formula he was working on stolen, the Invisible Man is sent on a mission to Amsterdam.  The authorities are hopeful that they’ll be able to retrieve the papers from the thief, Peter Thal (Charles Gray), and they need Brady on hand in order to verify that they’re genuine.  But when the agent tasked with recovering the papers, Jenny Reyden (Sarah Lawson), is forced to kill Thal, Brady has to somehow work out a way to get the papers out of Thal’s safe as well as ensuring Jenny is released from the clutches of the authorities ….

Thal might have gained access to Professor Harper’s (James Raglan) house on the pretext that he was a fellow scientist, but it’s pretty obvious within the first few seconds that he’s a wrong-‘un.  Even with a slightly dodgy foreign accent, Gray is his usual sinister self – best seen when Thal casually confirms that nobody else worked with Harper on the project and also that all the papers are sitting on his desk (a tad convenient, it must be said).  Once he’s satisfied about these points, he shoots Harper in cold blood and coolly walks out with the formula.

It’s a pity that Thal doesn’t stick around the episode longer (he’s killed some ten minutes in) but at least he has a memorable death scene.  After realising that Jenny is a spy rather than his contact, they have a brief struggle.  Physical violence wasn’t really a feature of this era of television (at least not in drama of this type) so it’s slightly unusual to see Thal manhandle Jenny quite so roughly (grabbing her by the throat).  But she’s no shrinking violet – she’s able to reach into her bag, pull out a gun and shoot him.

Thal takes a long time to die, it must be said.   He’s able to stagger about the room, open the window, throw the safe key out of the window, leer at Jenny in a self-satisfied way and then grab the curtains before collapsing.  If you’re going to go, then go in style ….

I don’t quite understand why Jenny, if she’s a spy, also appears to be something of a celebrity.  She’s featured on the front page of a magazine, which enables the hotel porter (played by Michael Ripper) to easily identify her.

Ripper, a very familiar Hammer stalwart, is great fun.  Subtle he isn’t, but entertaining he is.  When the gunshot rings out, the porter becomes boggle-eyed, dashing about in a frenzy.  You can also guess the way he’s going to react when Brady starts doing some invisible antics in front of him (and he doesn’t disappoint).  Michael Ripper, master of the shocked and surprised expression. For some reason, Brady elects to play two invisible people (a man and a woman) whilst lifting Thal’s flat key from under the porter’s nose – all the better to bamboozle him I guess.

Sarah Lawson had plenty of credits to her name, although for me her role as Flo Mayhew in Callan was especially noteworthy.  The always dependable Ewen Solon appears as Superintendent Van Reyneveld whilst Peter Illing somewhat chews the scenery as Inspector Strang.

This is another story where Brady’s invisible abilities are somewhat underused (yes, he breaks into Thal’s flat to get the papers, but since he took the porter along it was hardly clandestine).  It’s also a pity that the oddities of Jenny’s character are never addressed.  Not the best story then, but a substantial comic role for Michael Ripper helps to soften the blow a little.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Death Cell

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Ellen Summers (Lana Morris) approaches Brady on his train journey home with a very strange story.  She’s just escaped from a sanatorium, where she claims that she’s been kept prisoner for months.  Ellen insists she’s not mad and tells Brady that she’s the only one who can prove that her boyfriend George Wilson (William Lucas) is innocent of murder ….

Brady’s a touch tardy when he gets off the train.  He heads off to speak to Dee, not noticing that Ellen isn’t by his side.  Still if Ellen had stayed with him then I guess the story would have been much more straightforward!

Death Cell is another episode which doesn’t have a great deal of mystery.  If George is innocent then Dr Trevor (Ian Wallace), the sanatorium’s director (as well as the chief prosecution witness during George’s trial) is clearly guilty.  When Brady meets him, Dr Trevor claims that Ellen is suffering from persecution mania, but it’s not a terribly convincing performance.  Dr Trevor I mean, not Ian Wallace, who’s perfectly fine.

The later sight of a recaptured Ellen, bound in a straightjacket, gagged and about to receive a hefty injection of something which will no doubt quieten her down is a somewhat disturbing one (and serves as a very effective cliffhanger into the episode break).  Luckily Brady’s lurking about and dishes out some invisible justice (striking Dr Trevor with a chair!)

William Lucas (probably best known for The Adventures of Black Beauty amongst many other credits) nicely underplays as the innocent George.  The news that he’s due to be hanged the following day serves as a reminder that this was a very different time as well as providing the story with considerable dramatic impetus – a race against the clock to save a man’s life.

Lana Morris started her career as a supporting actress in a number of British films during the 1940’s and 1950’s.  However she never seemed to find the major role that would have catapulted her to stardom and so like many others later pursued a successful television career.  She appeared as Helene in the classic 1967 adaptation of The Forsythe Saga whilst her last role was as Vanessa in Howards’ Way.  Since that’s a series that’s on my rewatch pile, I look forward to making her acquaintance again shortly.

Ellen has proof of George’s innocence – a photograph hidden behind the wallpaper in her old flat.  Luckily it’s still there, even though a new tenant has moved in, and Brady is the one who scrapes the wallpaper away to find it (a blatant excuse for a touch of invisible shenanigans, but why not).

To misplace Ellen once is unfortunate, but to lose her a second time smacks of carelessness.  Brady sends Ellen out of the flat whilst he tidies up, but wouldn’t you guess it – Dr Trevor and his devoted assistant Nurse Beck (Bettina Dickson) are waiting outside, complete with a fast car and knock out drops.

The action comes thick and fast as Ellen escapes from Dr Trevor yet again, only to be knocked down by another car.  Luckily there’s a policeman close at hand, who isn’t happy for her to be whisked off yet again by Dr Trevor (the officer is concerned that she was running away from him).  Dr Trevor’s reply is succinct.  “She’s a mental case”.

If some of the plotting is rather convenient – Dr Trevor is a murderer who just happens to own a sanatorium (all the better for confining the likes of Ellen) – then there’s a good level of suspense which is maintained until the closing minutes.  With Ellen injured in hospital and Dr Trevor now in possession of the photograph, all seems lost for George.

True, it’s a tad convenient that Brady turns up just in the nick of time.  Dr Trevor’s about to burn the negative, but Brady pulls it out of his hand (“oh no you don’t!”)  The following scene, with George about to set off for the scaffold, is chilling in it’s own curtailed way, but once again Brady pops up at just the right moment.  A few quibbles about the story apart, Death Cell packs a lot into its twenty five minutes.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Point of Destruction

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Scott (Duncan Lamont) has seen four pilots killed during tests for his new fuel diffuser.  Accidents or sabotage? Brady, a friend of Scott’s, steps in to find out ….

The cast of Point of Destruction oozes with class.  An early example is Alfred Burke, playing the test-pilot Bob (and he doesn’t even appear in the credits).  This is a little odd as although his role is qute short, it’s still a speaking part.  Always a pleasure to see Burke though, even in a small role like this.

The moment when the control tower loses contact with Bob is an effective one – rather than the crackle of a dead radio there’s simply silence – although the sting of the incidental music shortly afterwards does underscore this moment rather too obviously and melodramatically.

Is there a saboteur on Scott’s team?  With only twenty-five minutes to play with it’s not a mystery that can be maintained for any length of time, so the reveal that Dr James Court (John Rudling) has been accepting substantial sums of money from the hard-as-nails foreign agent Katrina (Patricia Jessell) occurs very early on.  Had the episode been longer then we could have been introduced to several different members of Scott’s team, leaving us to decide which one was guilty, something which could have worked well.

Court isn’t a terribly well-defined character.  Is he motivated purely by money or is it more a case of envy?  No matter, since he performs his place in the narrative perfectly effectively.  John Rudling’s television career stretched back to 1937 (a half-hour adaptation of the play-within-a-play Pyramus and Thisbe from A Midsummer’s Night Dream) but it was only towards the end of his life – when he played Brabinger in To The Manor Born – that he became something of a household name.

If you only know Rudling from To The Manor Born then you probably wouldn’t have connected Court to Brabinger (since he looked very different here).  Barry Letts, playing the control tower officer, is someone else who isn’t instantly recognisable (if he’d had a beard then I may have twigged a little earlier).

But Alfred Burke and Duncan Lamont are both very distinctive as is Derren Nesbitt.  There’s certainly no mistaking Nesbitt, one of the longest-serving of the ITC utility players (he appeared in pretty much every ITC adventure series, almost always as a villain).  In Point of Destruction he plays Stephan, Katrina’s henchman.  Even his first scene, in which he does nothing but lurk in the background – smoking a cigarette in a threatening manner – is a treat, but he soon ramps up the villainy.

He and Katrina set off to kill Brady and he almost manages it (via a well-aimed shot with a high-powered rifle).  This then leads into a nicely mounted action scene as a wounded Brady attempts to escape.  Yes, it’s something of a diversion from the main plot, but it’s exciting nonetheless.

With a cast like this, how can you not love Point of Destruction? Maybe developing Court’s character and motivation a little more would have been a good idea, but I’m happy just to sit back and enjoy the acting.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Strange Partners

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Lucian Currie (Griffith Jones) wants his business partner Vickers (Patrick Troughton) dead and attempts to force Brady to carry out the deed ….

Strange Partners is one of the more satisfying Invisible Man episodes.  It’s powered by Jones’ portrayal of Lucian Currie, a man who is clearly teetering on the edge of sanity but nonetheless is still able to generate an air of civility.

Currie’s scheme is straightforward – Vickers has a weak heart, so if Brady punches him hard then the shock should be enough to kill him.   Because Vickers always travels with a devoted bodyguard, Ryan (Robert Cawdron), Currie can’t carry out the crime himself, hence his need for an invisible man.

And how can Currie guarantee Brady’s co-operation?  Currie has a dog, Juno, trained to detect Brady, even when invisible, and he’s more than capable of stopping and killing him if he attempts to escape.

Currie makes great play of the fact that Juno’s a killer, although it’s plain that the dog chosen to play the part is rather more benign – some of the dubbed on barks are fairly obvious it has to be said.

Griffith Jones’ career started in the 1930’s and amongst his early notable appearances was the role of the Earl of Salisbury in Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film adaptation of Henry V.  He’s easily the standout performer here – next to him Brady seems somewhat pallid (although since Currie holds the upper hand in the early part of the story that’s reasonable enough).

Patrick Troughton has less to do and his heavy make-up – no doubt intended to indicate Vickers’ illness – is a tad distracting.  Jack Melford, another of those actors with an incredibly impressive list of credits, has the small, but key, role of Collins – Currie’s butler and partner in crime.

When Currie and Collins make a late break for freedom, we’re treated to another example of Currie’s instability.  He’s driving in an increasingly reckless way, which concerns Collins, but Currie is past the point of rational thought – if they crash and die, so be it.

Restricting much of the action to Currie’s house is one of the reasons why the story works as well as it does.  Some other episodes attempted to cover too much ground which could be a problem with only twenty five minutes to play with.  Strange Partners, by being more restrictive, turns out to be a more rewarding experience.

Possibly the only major weakness revolves around Vickers’ amazing powers of recovery.  Early on, Currie does admit that although Vickers is an ill man, he’s hung on for the last fifteen years (which is quite impressive).  Even more impressive is the fact that after he’s attacked by Currie (who used the confusion caused by Brady’s escape attempt) he still manages to survive.  Given all we’ve been told, Vickers should really have been dead –  but possibly there was a slight squeamishness about this occurring in a programme which was pretty family friendly.

Aside from the solid story, there’s a couple of nice invisible moments at the start.  We see Brady winding up his clock and preparing for a good night’s sleep (an indentation in the mattress).  Overall, this is a good ‘un.

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