H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Pilot

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Although H.G. Wells’ name was prominent in the titles, apart from the presence of an invisible man, this 1958/59 series bore little resemblance to Wells’ original novel. Wells’ scientist was a man tipped over into madness after his experiments with invisibility proved to be unreversable – with the result that he ended up as a danger both to himself and those around him.

The television Invisible Man, Peter Brady (normally voiced by Tim Tuner, here it’s Robert Beatty), had a much more even temperament. He adjusts to his new life remarkably well, with no mental anguish at all and (unlike in the story which eventually aired first) seems to be unconcerned that he’s now permanently invisible.

With only twenty five minutes to play with, this pilot doesn’t have time to hang about – within the opening few minutes we witness Brady’s experiment going somewhat awry and he quickly heads home to speak to his sister Jane Wilson (Lisa Daniely) and her daughter Sally (Deborah Watling).

They both take the news of Brady’s invisibility very calmly, even young Sally – after he unwraps his bandages to reveal there’s nothing there, it only elicits mild curiosity. One of the joys of the series is the various different ways in which Brady’s invisible state was realised. There’s something rather appealing about the sight of him sitting at the typewriter (apart from his clothes there’s nothing there, meaning that it appears to be a headless body!)

You’d have assumed that Brady’s invisibility would have been kept secret, but no – it’s all over the papers and a pack of hungry reporters (along with an ATV television van) pull up outside the house, anxious for a scoop.

Sally has been abducted by Crowther (Willoughby Goddard). Goddard oozes villainy as he persaudes the reluctant Brady that he should put his invisible skills to good use – robbing banks, say. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense for Brady to be wearing clothes when he robs the bank – surely being invisible would have been more sensible? But the camera has to follow something, and a bobbing suit of clothes is certainly an arresting image.

This is moderately diverting stuff, although the bank-raid subplot never really clicks, possibly because the crooks aren’t depicted as being very formidable. It was obviously felt that they could do better, so another origin story was crafted …..

H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Secret Experiment

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Although Secret Experiment retains some story elements from the pilot, it’s still a significant retooling which results in a much stronger episode.

Here, both Brady’s employers and the government show immediate interest in the possibilities and dangers of an invisible man (the pilot never touched upon this). In the aftermath of the experiment, Brady finds himself held prisoner as both parties debate the implications. The government are keen to keep the news under wraps, so no newspaper headlines or television vans are seen.

There’s no suggestion that they want to use Brady’s invisibility as a weapon, it’s simply that they don’t want others to do so. Brady manages to escape quite easily (he is invisible after all) but he’s now a hunted man. Later he sums his situation up. “I’ve become an official secret. I’m to be filed away, locked and guarded.”

As in the pilot, Brady calls his sister (renamed Diane) to warn her that he’s not the man he was, although this story element now makes more sense (here the phone box is some distance from their home, in the pilot it was just a few paces away. Why bother to phone when you’ve virtually arrived home?)

Brady doesn’t want to remain invisible and with his employers appearing to be somewhat unfriendly there’s only one man he can turn to – Dr John Crompton (Michael Goodliffe). Crompton, like Brady, has been working in the field of invisibility, but he turns out to be a treacherous ally. Our initial sighting of Crompton provides us with several signifiers which appear to suggest that he’s a decent type – he lives in a comfortable cottage, smokes a pipe, etc – but for him invisibility is simply a tool for personal gain (no door, not even the Bank of England would be closed). Brady isn’t interested in exploiting his new-found skills, he would trade them in a heartbeat for a normal life again. The two scientists are therefore diametrically opposed – Brady is altruistic, Crompton avaristic.

Goodliffe always had a considerable screen presence and he’s his usual reliable self here, even managing the tricky feat of convincing us he’s being attacked by an invisible man! As we’ll see again and again, the twenty-five minute format is a restrictive one – most especially it limits character development. So the series needed strong actors, like Goodliffe, who could make an immediate impression.

By focusing on Brady’s plight, with no bank robbery diversions, Secret Experiment turns out to be a much more satisfying introduction to the series than the unaired pilot was. It’s just a pity that the subplot of Brady being an outsider, on the run from the authorities, was dispensed with so quickly.

H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Crisis in the Desert

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Brady is approached by Colonel Warren (Douglas Wilmer) of Military Intelligence as one of their top agents, Jack Howard (Howard Pays), is being held prisoner in a Middle Eastern country.  Howard, badly injured after an abortive escape attempt, is being guarded in a high security hospital and only the Invisible Man – along with the alluring local assistance of Yolanda (Adrienne Corri) – has any chance of freeing him ….

Fictitious Middle Eastern countries, forever teetering on the edge of instability, would be a staple of ITC adventure series during the next decade or so and Crisis in the Desert is an early example of this genre.  Naturally, foreign location filming was beyond the series’ budget, so instead we have a reasonably dressed backlot (which doesn’t look too shabby, it must be said).

Ethnic actors would also tend to be in short supply whenever an ITC series headed abroad, so it’s no surprise to see British performers in all the main roles.  The eagle-eyed will spot Derren Nesbitt in the background, but the bulk of the action is divided between Corri as Yolanda, Eric Pohlmann as Yolanda’s associate Hassan and Martin Benson as the villainous Colonel Hassan.

These three, along with Wilmer, make Crisis in the Desert a very enjoyable watch.  Wilmer oozes charm as he persuades Brady (rather easily it must be said) to undertake a dangerous mission in the Middle East.  It’s interesting that Warren reacts with horror when Brady tells him he thinks he’s close to reversing his invisibility – it’s obvious that Warren needs an invisible man to rescue Howard, but it’s odd that he doesn’t seem to have considered the possibility that once Brady has perfected his formula it could be duplicated.  Creating a whole army of invisible agents would have obvious benefits.  Given this, it seems a little foolhardy to risk Brady’s life (and the knowledge that only he has) on this jaunt abroad.

Corri had already racked up an impressive list of credits before appearing here as the glamourous freedom-fighter Yolanda.  She looks very nice in a nurse’s uniform as well.  Pohlmann has less to do, only react to Yolanda, but he’s effective enough.  Benson is great fun as the sadistic Hassan – he opens the story by slapping Howard about and later suggests to an unfortunate surgeon (played by Derek Sydney) that he performs a little brain operation on Howard in order to make him more pliant.

Several actors black up – most notably Peter Sallis as Nesib, the ambulance driver.  This probably isn’t a performance that’s going to be at the top of his cv, but for a working actor of this era playing the most unlikely nationalities was an occupational hazard (Sallis would later appear as an equally unconvincing Chinaman in an episode of Sergeant Cork).

The main problem with Crisis in the Desert is that there’s no real need for Brady to be there at all, as although he sneaks around the hospital in his invisible state, Nurse Yolanda is in plain sight all the time.  As we’ll see, this proves to be something of a problem for the writers – often the gimmick of having an invisible man tends to be sidelined as Brady is shoehorned into plots that don’t require his invisibility skills to be utilised.

H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Behind the Mask

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Brady is abducted and brought before Raphael Constantine (Dennis Price).  Constantine is a millionaire who’s surrounded himself with beautiful objects, but he tells Brady that this doesn’t negate the pain he feels (Constantine is horribly disfigured and has to wear a mask at all times).  He wishes to become invisible so that he no longer has to look at his ravaged visage and since he knows that Brady needs a human guinea pig for his continuing experiments it seems like the obvious solution.  Brady is initially unsure but is won around by Constantine’s arguments, although there’s more to this man than meets the eye ….

Behind the Mask opens with the Invisible Man having a shave, being watched by Sally.  This is a nicely mounted effects scene, although since they discuss how Brady’s experiments are floundering for the lack of a human subject, it quickly becomes obvious that it was no casual chat.

Price was a heavyweight guest star.  Probably best known for the classic 1949 Ealing film Kind Hearts and Coronets, his film career was still buoyant at the time.  He’d already appeared alongside Peter Sellers in The Naked Truth (1957) and would shortly do so again in another memorable British film, I’m All Right Jack (1959).  With his face partially hidden, Price had to fall back on his voice to convey Constantine’s full character, but since he had such a deep and expressive vocal range this was no problem.

Constantine’s monologue, where he pleads for Brady’s help, is one of the highlights of the episode, thanks to Price’s performance.  “To think that no-one, not even I, would ever again have to look on his mangled nightmare of a face. There’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t give for such a favour.”

If the script by Leslie Arliss and Stanley Mann has a flaw then it’s the early reveal that Constantine hasn’t been exactly honest with Brady.  He wants to become invisible so that he can kill Domecq – a visiting foreign dignitary whom he blames for his disfigurement.  A pity this revelation wasn’t held back until later in the story.

Constantine has surrounded himself with fellow dissidents, such as Max (Edwin Richfield), all of whom share the same hatred for Domecq – although Max is wise enough to see that Constantine’s burning hatred might endanger them all.  Oddly, Max sports a heavy foreign accent whilst Constantine’s tones are cut-glass English.  If they both come from the same country then how is this so?

The question of Brady’s public profile also seems a little inconsistent.  In the previous story Colonel Warren referred to him as a government secret, but here it appears that his story is in the public domain – Brady himself admits to Constantine that his bandages are a bit of a giveaway.

With a lovely guest turn by Price and the always dependable Richfield offering decent support, Behind the Mask is an above average effort.  And for once, Brady’s invisibility doesn’t help him when he tackles the baddies as he’s knocked out and Max takes his clothes and bandages to masquerade as him.  A wonder nobody thought to do this before, as it allows Max entry into the research base without the guards batting an eyelid!

H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – The Locked Room

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Brady finds himself drawn to the case of Professor Tanya Brofuri (Zena Marshall), a dissident scientist from a foreign, unfriendly power. Partly this is because he’s angry about the way her freedom has been curtailed, but also because he believes she might be able to help him become visible again …..

The opening of The Locked Room is interesting.  For the first time there’s a voice-over as Brady sets the scene about Tanya (after speaking out at a public meeting she’s been frog-marched back to her embassy).  It’s an obvious way to save time which, given the twenty-five minute format, is quite important and it also helps to thrust us straight into the story with very little preamble.

It’s never explicitly stated, but there’s a strong streak of self-interest in Brady’s actions.  Yes, he’s displeased that a fellow scientist should be treated so badly by her country, but he also wants her help with his continuing experiments to reverse his invisible state.  Had the story been longer then possibly this is a theme that could have been developed, unfortunately the brief duration of the story didn’t really make it possible.

Another undeveloped angle concerns Porter (Noel Coleman), the man from the ministry.  He expressly forbade Brady from rescuing Tanya, but he did so anyway and afterwards there was no comeback at all from Porter.  Instead, he was happy to arrange American citizenship for her.

Rupert Davies casts an imposing shadow as Dushkin.  It’s never explicitly stated that Dushkin and Tanya are Russian but the implication is obvious enough.  He’s another lightly sketched character, but his threats (first to dispatch Tanya to a sanatorium for an extended stay and then later to send her home in a coffin) are chilling enough.

With Brady being invisible for most of the episode, Zena Marshall has to work hard to convince us that there’s a growing attachment between Tanya and Brady.  But this she does very well and Marshall (probably best known as the treacherous Miss Taro from the first James Bond film, Doctor No) is a pleasing presence throughout the story.

The “twist” is one that the audience should have seen a mile off – everything seems settled, Tanya is due to head off to the airport and Brady, Diane and Sally wave her goodbye as a car comes to pick her up (the invisible Brady is represented by a floating hanky!).  But wait!  The car wasn’t sent by the Americans, it came from those pesky Russians (or whoever) and they aren’t kindly disposed towards Tanya.

Brady saves the day of course – the sight of an apparently riderless motorcycle and sidecar is an arresting image – and whilst The Locked Room lacks a great deal of depth, Davies and Marshall help to make it an aimiable watch.

H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Picnic with Death

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Following a car accident, Brady’s invisible state becomes public knowledge.  Whilst he struggles to adjust to his new-found fame, one of Sally’s friends, Linda Norton (Margaret Court) approaches him with a strange story.  She claims that her stepfather and his sister are planning to kill her mother ….

Picnic with Death rehashes some material from the unaired pilot concerning Brady’s emergence as a public figure.  The reason for not keeping his invisible identity secret any longer is obvious in one way, since it widens the range of stories he can become involved in (as here, with Linda turning to him for help).

John Norton (Derek Bond) and his sister Carol (Faith Brook) are deeply attached to their family home, Foxgrange.  John’s wife, Janet (Maureen Prior), is a woman of independent means and John is hopeful that she’ll continue to pour more money into Foxgrange’s upkeep.  She refuses, as she can see there would never be enough money available to maintain it for any length of time.  Her refusal – and by this time we’re about half-way through the story – does seem to bear out Linda’s story, as John exits in a threatening manner.  But with Brady dismissing the tale as little more than adolescent jealousy, it falls to Sally to turn detective.

Margaret Court is remarkably squeaky and rather highly-strung as Linda, so it’s possibly not surprising that Brady dismisses her out of hand.  Sally’s decision to lurk around the bushes – where she overhears John and Carol plotting to murder Janet – is an unexpected turn of events but it’s nice that Deborah Watling is a little more involved in the story for once.

Derek Bond, the second Hunter (from Callan) to appear in the series, following Michael Goodliffe in Secret Experiment, glowers in a menacing fashion and helps to raise the story a little.  Part of the problem is that it’s hard not to believe that Brady will save the day once he’s been convinced that Linda and Sally know what they’re talking about.  Still, there’s an amusing cameo from Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper (“Eh Harry, that invisible man. He’s here!”) to sweeten the pill a little.

Of course, Brady turns up in the nick of time to prevent Janet from plummeting to her death over a cliff in a runaway car whilst Diane finds a gun from somewhere to keep John and Carol covered (this is odd, since Diane has never seemed the gun-toting type before).  A slightly messy tale then, but as with all the stories it clips along at a decent pace.

H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Play to Kill

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A successful actress called Barbara Crane (Helen Cherry) accidentally knocks down and kills a tramp.  Another car, driven by a man known only as the Colonel (Colin Gordon), was passing at the time and he suggests that in order to prevent a scandal, they get rid him – after all, there’s a cliff nearby and it’s easy enough for him to tip the body over.  But if Barbara thinks the nightmare is over then she has to think again as shortly afterwards she starts to receive threatening blackmail calls ….

Play to Kill is quite a neat story, although it’s one where Brady is very much surplus to requirements.  When Barbara receives the blackmail messages we don’t see the face of the man making the call, so it’s easy to incorrectly assume that it’s the Colonel.  As so often throughout the series, the quality of the guest cast is a source of joy and the very recognisable Colin Gordon is no exception to this rule. That ITC were targeting American sales seems obvious when the Colonel refers to the dead man as a hobo. It’s such an odd word for an Englishman to use (although possibly it was intended as a signifier that the urbane Colonel wasn’t all he appeared to be).

And in a story with a strong theatrical atmosphere it shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that not everything we’ve seen so far should be taken at face value. When the Colonel – who admits to Barbara that he is involved in the blackmail plot – is killed, it spins the story off in another direction. If the Colonel wasn’t the blackmailer (he was just a hired hand) who is?

Suspicion falls on the theatre where Barbara is rehearsing her new play. There’s quite a few possibilities such as the harassed director Simon Wallace (Garry Thorne) as well as Barbara’s disgruntled co-star Tom (Hugh Latimer), infuriated that she keeps fluffing her lines. Then there’s the photographer to the stars, Arthur Arthurson (Vincent Holman) or maybe it could be the charming Walter Manton (Ballard Berkeley).

Berkeley, forever to be known as the befuddled Major in Fawlty Towers, was an actor with a considerable pedigree before his late brush with fame at a Torquay hotel occurred. Here, he’s charm personified whilst Holman, another actor who appeared in many major British films (albeit in small roles), has a nice cameo as the eccentric photographer.

And what, you may ask, has Peter Brady been doing all this time? Not a great deal, it has to be said. He does get involved with the original blackmail payoff and is on hand to deal with the blackmailer at the end, but it’s Barbara who unmasks him – so with a little spot of rewriting this story could have dispensed with the Invisible Man altogether.

But it’s still entertaining and even if the plot twists shouldn’t take you by surprise, Play to Kill is another solid episode which coasts along thanks to the experienced hands in front of the camera.