H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Shadow on the Screen

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Brady is persuaded to board a Russian trawler in order to help a sailor who wishes to defect.  But he doesn’t know that the Russians have developed an ingenious device which allows them to “see” him when he’s invisible ….

Shadow on the Screen is somewhat clunky.  This is partly due to the wide array of false Russian accents on display but some of Ian Stuart Black’s dialogue is also rather stilted, especially in the early scenes.  Brady is visited by Bratski (Raymond Phillips) a man who has dedicated his life to rescuing dissidents from behind the Iron Curtain.  Whilst Bratski is impassioned, Brady is non-committal about pausing his researches in to order to help Stephan Vasa (Edward Judd).  Phillips doesn’t really convince and things aren’t helped by the very earnest speech then delivered by Brady.

Week after week refugees escape from the tyranny of Eastern Europe.  They jump ship, smuggle onto trains, cut their way through barbed wire.  Each step calls for human courage and suffering.

This sort of polemic doesn’t feel natural – since it’s hard to believe anybody would actually speak like that.

Edward Judd doesn’t do a great deal, but it’s nice to see him nonetheless (if you haven’t caught it before, then I recommend the classic early 60’s British sci-fi film The Day The Earth Caught Fire, which features a fine performance from Judd).  Vasa’s wife Sonia (Greta Gynt) is also lightly sketched and is chiefly memorable for her expressive facial contortions in the opening scene once Vasa is dragged back onto the ship (after an unsuccessful attempt to make a break for freedom).

But if the main story is a little unengaging, there’s plenty of compensations elsewhere.  Brady goes invisible and is driven around by Dee.  The only way we know he’s there is courtesy of his cigarette, which pleasingly bobs up and down every time he talks!  Such a simple effect, but it really sells the illusion that he’s sitting in the passenger seat.

These scenes also have a pleasant travelogue air as Dee drives around the eerily deserted streets of London (which more than anything helps to date the story) and past various notable landmarks.

There’s a lovely touch of comedy as Brady encounters a woman in a lift, not once but twice, who he confounds each time with his invisible ways.  She’s played by the peerless Irene Handel which is the reason why these short scenes are such a joy.

The Invisible Man detector is a handy gadget, although unsurprisingly it’s not something that turns up again (it’s pretty obvious why – since it rather negates Brady’s USP).  There’s fun and games during the closing minutes as Brady – kept captive on the trawler – uses all the invisible tricks at his disposal to gain his freedom and that of Vasa.

It’s fairly simplistic stuff then, but if the twenty-five minute format always means that character development rarely rises above the perfunctory level, conversely it also allows the episode to rattle along at a fine pace.

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H.G. Well’s Invisible Man – The Mink Coat

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Two criminals break into an atomic plant and take photographs of a series of secret plans.  But how will they get them out of the country?  When Dee, traveling to Paris with Brady, spots a shady type – Walker (Derek Godfrey) – placing something into the lining of a mink coat owned by Penny Page (Hazel Court), she realises that something odd is happening.  And soon they put two and two together ….

It has to be said that the secret plans weren’t terribly secure.  The two crooks (immaculately attired in suits, ties and hats, as befits a well-dressed criminal from the 1950’s) only have to snip through some barbed wire and they’ve gained access to the compound.  And once in, they have no trouble in locating the plans which are inside an unlocked drawer.  Maybe putting them into a safe would have been wiser.

Top marks for the security guard, who dies an impressive death.  No sooner has he rushed into the room and blurted out “who’s there?” than he gets shot (although he’s only on screen for a few seconds, the actor certainly milks it for everything he’s got).

For once, it’s Dee who’s ahead of the game and she has to keep plugging away at Brady to make him understand that something odd’s going on.  Eventually he takes her seriously, especially after Walker attempts to ingrate himself with Penny aboard the flight.  He wants to get close so he can obtain the microfilm, but Penny – an independent woman – isn’t impressed by his smooth approach.

The Mink Coat is enhanced by the appearance of Hazel Court.  She was renowned as a Scream Queen, thanks to her appearances in a string of classic horror films (The Curse of Frankenstein, The Raven, The Masque of the Red Death).  Penny’s a quirky character, which is evident right from the start – before Penny boards the Paris flight she produces a puppet who converses with the customs officer.

She’s an ace puppeteer (the doll with the dolls, as her advert puts it) who plies her trade in Paris at the interestingly named Blue Jeans Club.  The Blue Jeans Club is especially noteworthy for one of the worst examples of miming I’ve ever seen (13:32 in, the trumpeter is ridiculously unconvincing).

Penny’s act (with a striptease doll) is mildly risqué, but since this was the late 1950’s everything’s terribly restrained.  This is also evident after Penny returns to her dressing room to get changed – the camera coyly moves away as she begins to undress and Brady – lurking around in his invisible state in order to examine her coat – also makes a break for the door (he’s too much of a gentleman to hang around and take advantage).

Hazel Court gets to scream a couple of times (most impressively) whilst there’s a late, dialogue-free appearance from Joan Hickson as Madame Dupont.  Hickson’s expression as she spies Penny’s husband – the juggler Marcel le Magnifique (Murray Kash) – rushing to her rescue is memorable (possibly it was his tights which caught her attention).

Thanks to Hazel Court (and Penny’s puppets) this one is highly enjoyable.  I especially like the tag scene, which sees Penny introduce a puppet Invisible Man into her act!

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Blind Justice

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A friend of Brady’s, airline pilot Arthur Holt (Philip Friend), is convinced that his plane is being used for drug smuggling.  His co-pilot Sandy Mason (Jack Watling) is implicated in the smuggling ring and frames Arthur.  Before Arthur can tell the authorities all he knows about the smugglers, he’s shot – with the only witness to his attempted murder being his blind wife, Katherine (Honor Blackman).

A generous amount of the story – the first five minutes – is used to set everything up.  It’s pretty evident right from the start that Arthur is honest whilst Sandy has something to hide (Watling ensures that Sandy looks more than a little shifty).

Jack Watling, father of Invisible Man co-star Deborah, had form for appearing in series which featured his daughter (Doctor Who being the other notable example).  He’s just one member of a very strong cast who help to enliven this story.  Honor Blackman, a few years away from finding fame as Cathy Gale in The Avengers, is another but it’s Leslie Phillips as the cold-hearted Sparrow who makes the most vivid impression.

More used to playing comedy, Phillips plays it dead straight as the well-spoken “Cock” Sparrow, who calls at Arthur’s house, claiming to be a friend of his.  But when Arthur turns up, he shoots him and makes a swift exit.  Did Sparrow know that Katherine was blind and would therefore struggle to describe him?  Even if he did, it seems a little foolhardy to have struck up a conversation with her, as proves to be key in bringing him to justice.

Robert Raglan plays Detective Inspector Heath, yet another police officer completely unfazed at the prospect of receiving assistance from an invisible man, whilst the very recognisable Desmond Llewelyn hovers in the background as his sergeant.

Blind Justice (ah, do you see what they did there?) makes few calls on Brady’s special power until the last few minutes – as Brady convinces Katherine to pretend she can see (and helps her along the way)  so that she can walk up to Sparrow and convince him that she saw him shoot her husband.  Brady hopes that this will break his nerve and make him confess all.

A fairly routine crime story then, but the London location filming and the incredibly impressive guest cast (especially Honor Blackman and Leslie Phillips) are more than adequate compensation.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Jailbreak

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When Joe Green (Dermot Walsh) is jailed for a crime he didn’t commit, he vows to clear his name.  This he attempts to do by escaping multiple times, although on each occasion he’s caught and returned to prison.  His story reaches Brady who decides that anyone who goes to such lengths might just be innocent.  So Brady breaks into prison to find out more ….

The first thing to note is that security at the prison must be terribly lax if Joe’s been able to make a break for it on five separate occasions.  Good grief, presumably there’s a constant stream of criminals making bids for freedom!

Dermot Walsh impresses as Joe.  Walsh had a pretty lengthy career with a starring role in the 1962/63 series Richard the Lionheart.  Clearly “inspired” by a string of similar 1950’s series (most notably The Adventures of Robin Hood) it’s good clean fun and comes complete with a theme-song that’s even more jaunty than the Robin Hood effort.

Joe might have been a bad ‘un in the past but he’s attempting to go straight now.  Unfortunately for him, his reputation makes him the ideal choice to take the fall for other people’s crimes.  Joe’s dogged determination (most notable during the scenes when he’s making his escape attempts – pursued by warders and dogs) makes you root for him.  You know that everything’s going to come right in the end, but Walsh is skilled enough to take the material he’s given and play it for all it’s worth.

Lurking in the prison is Sharp (Ronald Fraser), a vicious inmate who is paid to dispose of Joe (although you get the feeling he would have been equally happy to do it for free).  Fraser’s always an actor worth watching and whilst Sharp is only a small role he makes the most of it.  The violence is kept to a minimum, but it’s plain that given the opportunity Sharp could be very unfriendly indeed.

Denny Dayviss also makes a brief, but memorable appearance.  She plays Doris, a pickpocket who pinched Joe’s wallet on the night of the crime and therefore could prove his innocence.  Dayviss only had three credits to her name, with one of the others being the wonderfully named Cynthia Smallpiece in the Hancock’s Half Hour episode Sid in Love.

Jailbreak is another routine crime story in which Brady’s invisible skills are pretty much surplus to requirements.  But as so often, the guest cast makes it a joy to watch (also of interest are Ralph Michael as the prison governor and Michael Brennan as Brenner, a somewhat unfriendly warder.  At one point Brenner moves to strike Joe, so Brady – in his invisible state – picks up an iron and knocks him unconscious!).

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Bank Raid

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Crowther (Willoughby Goddard) and his henchman Williams (Brian Rawlinson) kidnap Sally and issue Brady with an ultimatum.  If he wants her returned, then he’ll have to steal £50,000 from the bank ….

Bank Raid was a pretty cost-effective tale, since it used material shot for the unaired pilot.  The first half is new, with a different take on Sally’s kidnap, whilst part two is lifted direct from the pilot (the bank raid and aftermath).

The episode opens at the riverbank.  Sally appears to be fishing by herself and Williams makes a move to snatch her.  Rawlinson is decidedly creepy (Williams tells Crowther not to worry, he has a way with children).  The tension ramps up a little more as Williams advances on Sally, preparing to use his scarf as a gag.

This tension is quickly dissipated once it’s revealed that Brady (in his invisible state) is fishing alongside her.  The sight of his fishing rod bobbing up and down is a nice image as is the later scene of Brady lifting weights at home (once again invisible, of course) with Sally by his side, joining in.  It’s odd though that Brady didn’t seem to notice Williams by the riverbank, chatting to Sally.  Presumably he must have been engrossed in the fish he was attempting to land …..

In the pilot, Sally was kidnapped off-screen, here we see the girl abducted from her school.  Crowther, posing as a doctor, manages to convince Sally’s headmistress that the child’s mother is lying desperately ill in hospital.  When Dee later turns up to collect Sally she’s understandably shocked that her daughter was allowed to go off with a stranger.  Clearly it was a more trusting time.

Deborah Watling is the recipient of a few nice new scenes, most notably when Crowther is driving her away.  She idly decides that he would look much better if he was invisible!

But as with the original, once Sally’s in the clutches of Crowther and Williams she pretty much disappears, only popping up again right at the end.  My comments on the bank raid part of the plot from the pilot still stands – it’s fairly diverting stuff but the tension level is pretty low.

Willoughby Goddard is good fun as the corpulent Crowther whilst Brian Rawlinson’s Williams starts off in sinister mode (both during the fishing scene and later, when he confronts Dee in a scene from the pilot).  By the end though, both of them have been made to look faintly comic after Brady effortlessly outfoxes them.

A story of two halves then.  The new material beefs up the episode somewhat, but it’s still not the best that the series has to offer.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Odds Against Death

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Brady is appalled to learn that one of his most trusted colleagues, Professor Owens (Walter Fitzgerald), is refusing to return from his holiday in Italy.  Instead he’s taken to spending all his time at the roulette table.  Brady rushes out to confront him, but everything’s not as it seems ….

It’s a little odd that the opening scene effectively blows the mystery.  We see Owens and his teenage daughter Suzy (Julia Lockwood) being menaced by Curly Caletta (Alan Tilvern) which makes it pretty obvious that Owens is being forced to use his mathematical skills in order to win huge sums of money for Caletta.

Had this scene not been included, then the reason for Owens’ sudden change of character would have been less easy to understand.  But no matter, bringing Tilvern in at the start means that he’s got a little more screentime (which is most welcome).

Alan Tilvern had the sort of face which ensured he spent a great deal of his time playing villains.  He only has to pop up here in the background, glowering gently, and you just know that his character’s a bad type.  And with a name like Curly Caletta it might not surprise you to hear that he’s an American gangster of Italian extraction.

Walter Fitzgerald, who earned a guest star credit, isn’t called on to do a great deal except look  worried and bewildered whilst Julia Lockwood, playing Owens’ daughter, has the sort of cut-class accent which wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a 1930’s film.  She’s very winsome and appealing as a damsel in distress though, even if she doesn’t have a great deal to do.

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Once Brady learns of Owens’ dilemma he pledges to help, which means using his invisible skills to rig the roulette table.  It’s rather strange that nobody questions the way that the ball seems to suddenly have developed a mind of its own – dashing from left to right until it settles precisely where Brady wants it to go!  Dee, who unexpectedly turns out to be a devotee of the roulette table, is more than delighted at the way things turn out.

Familiar faces can be spotted at the casino.  Olaf Pooley is the harassed casino manager whilst Oliver Reed is an uncredited player at the roulette table.

Like the ITC shows of the sixties, this episode mixes stock footage and studio sets to create an impression of foreign climes (pretty effectively it must be said).  The climax allows the invisible Brady to confront Caletta with a string of obvious comments. “Your luck’s run out. The odds are against you. You spun the wheel just once too often.”

Another agreeable twenty five minutes, helped along by Alan Tilvern’s polished villainy.

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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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