58 minutes! Are you kidding me? We here at Missile Test enjoy filmmakers who show brevity in their storytelling, but a 58-minute running time is a little bit extreme. Perhaps director Edgar G. Ulmer should be praised. After all, most shitty movie directors of the era would have just thrown in stock footage or long establishing shots to pad the running time. But not Ulmer. His film is so Spartan that viewers will even notice some scenes with dialogue were trimmed. I applaud Mr. Ulmer for trying not to waste anyone’s time, but still…58 minutes!
Released in 1960, The Amazing Transparent Man is a bizarre combination of film noir and science fiction. The film follows Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy), a career bank robber who is serving a long stretch in a penitentiary. As the film opens, we see Faust escape from prison, aided in his escape by Laura Matson (Marguerite Chapman). Faust doesn’t know why the escape was arranged, only that he’s being taken to a home in the countryside.
There, Faust meets Major Krenner (James Griffith). It was Krenner who arranged the escape, because he needs Faust, a master robber, to infiltrate a military facility and steal some radioactive stuff. And how is Faust to do that? By becoming invisible, that’s how.
Besides Laura and Faust, Krenner has compelled the help of a scientist, Dr. Peter Ulof (Ivan Triesault). Ulof uses a souped-up x-ray machine of his own design to render living tissue invisible. The plan is for Faust to undergo this invisibility treatment, sneak into the facility, and walk right out with the goods. There’s not nearly enough thought put into this plan. Sure, Faust will be invisible, but the stuff he’s stealing won’t be. Also, Faust isn’t the most cooperative of cons. His default setting is mean. At no point in the film is he really onboard with Krenner’s plans. Rather, Faust wants to get back to robbing banks and building enough of a stash to flee to Mexico. He enlists Laura in his plans, in one of the lazier noir tropes that populate this flick. Viewers will know what I mean. Only in this era of cinema could the dame fall for the rascally anti-hero so readily. But, again, 58 minutes. There’s not a lot of time for character development in this one.
What little there is goes to Doc Ulof. He’s even given a backstory. He was held captive by the Germans in a concentration camp during WW2, and forced to carry out inhuman scientific experiments. After the war he was relocated to the States with his daughter. In order to get Ulof’s cooperation, Krenner is holding Ulof’s daughter hostage, pending successful completion of his plans.
And what are those plans? Krenner needs a continual supply of radioactive material so Ulof can perfect the invisibility process. Then, Krenner plans to subject a foreign army to the invisibility ray and use that army to invade and take over the United States. Sure, whatever. All that stands between Krenner and success is the gigantic prick that is Joey Faust.
Krenner really did choose the wrong dude to be the linchpin of his plan. All Faust wants to do is rob banks and foul up Krenner’s project. In fact, Faust wanted to do that before he knew what the plans were. He really is a jerk like that. It all leads to a predictable, yet satisfying, conclusion, wherein the country is rendered safe from the threat of an invisible invader.
There’s Cold War intrigue, low-rent noir silliness, and b-movie science. Most of the action takes place in a couple of bare sets. The acting from everyone is better than the worst b-movies of the era, but that’s not exactly a high bar. Kennedy couldn’t get through a scene without overacting.
It’s an implausible film, even were invisibility a real thing. Krenner’s plans are overcomplicated, and using Faust was such an obvious poor choice that his inclusion does as much to throw a viewer out of the movie as any of the shitty stuff, and Faust is the main character.
The Amazing Transparent Man does not have a good reputation in the world of shitty movies. It’s not completely deserved. Yes, this is a bad movie. There are any number of contemporary shitty movies that are worse, and even more have appeared in the decades since. I found this film to be mired in mediocrity, rather than offensive to the art of film. The short running time will help prevent boredom, but it does nothing to hide the shittiness. The Amazing Transparent Man falls into the bottom half of the Watchability Index, taking over the #179 spot from The Pyramid. I watched this movie so you don’t have to.