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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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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