Invisible Agent (1942) saves the war
Invisible Agent (1942) is a Universal war propaganda film made when our troops were still overseas fighting in Europe. It has characters you want to shoot in the face, but that’s okay, because they’re Nazis. This isn’t meant to be an award winner, but it is meant to be heroic and dramatic, which it is. Sometimes. It is old-fashioned and the caricatures are a bit grating, but I get the point. Nazis are cowards. Nazis are stupid. The allies are awesome. Pretty simple really.
This movie was written by the guy who wrote “The Invisible Man Returns” in 1940. It uses the same tropes and gags the Universal monster movies use. It might as well be an Invisible Man sequel, but there’s no Claude Rains to give us some thrilling speeches and inspire evil. We have Nazi stooges played by guys from Hoboken to do that.
Jon Hall plays a double-agent trying to get some secrets to the Allies and he becomes the “Invisible Man” to hide his true identity. Some Nazi agents are tracking him and are after his “invisible formula”, which they want for nefarious reasons, of course. Much of the movie is Hall outsmarting the Nazis, running around, and playing gags on them while he’s invisible.
The gorgeous Ilona Massey plays Hall’s damsel-in-distress, but even she gets a few in on the Nazis. I thought I recognized her, and then I realized she was also in Universal’s Frankenstein and the Wolf Man a year later in 1943.
A very young Peter Lorre is in this film playing a bit part, but it’s nice to see him there. I like Peter Lorre and most of his movies. He’s supposed to be an evil Japanese agent in cahoots with the Nazi stooges, which I thought was a demeaning role for such a talented actor. However, he is sympathetic because even he doesn’t like the Nazi stooges who are running around trying to kill Hall and steal the formula. This mistrust amongst thieves is a key theme of this movie, and this is the closest the villains ever get to some depth of character. Peter Lorre’s character has some honor, which is why he kills himself in a ritualistic Japanese suicide called seppuku after Hall steals a list of secret agents and makes everybody look pretty foolish.
At one point, Hall and Massey prevent some German bombers from taking off on a run over England. They stop a planned attack on New York City. They steal a list of all the German and Japanese secret agents and feed it to the allies. They save some guys from torture and blow up some planes. Pretty heroic. No wonder Peter Lorre committed suicide.
Overall, this is a pretty good movie, but it’s a little bit dull and old-fashioned. It doesn’t have Claude Rains or a big star to spice it up, and the pace is way off. Also, the formula wears off and Hall reveals he’s no longer invisible so he can have his happy ending with his girl. It’s a quickly done ending that has no development whatsoever, but development and pace is not what this movie is about. Invisible Agent copies the monster movie formula perfectly, but misses the boat with the drama, which it tries to make up for by kicking Nazis in the pants.