Halloween Havoc!: THE AMAZING TRANPARENT MAN (MCP 1960)

Director Edgar G. Ulmer made some astounding contributions to the horror/sci-fi genres: THE BLACK CAT, BLUEBEARD, THE MAN FROM PLANET X . Unfortunately, THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN isn’t among them. The below-low budget movie (shot on location in Dallas simultaneously with BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER) tries to throw too many things at the wall, and nothing really sticks, thanks to a weak script and short 57 minutes running time.

Ulmer does show flourishes of his brilliance in the opening scene, where safecracker Joe Faust breaks out of prison, is chased by hounds through the woods, and is met by a woman who drives him to a deserted looking, isolated farmhouse. But by this time, he had been beaten down from years of Poverty Row work with little to no recognition, and you can tell Ulmer just took the money and ran with this one.

 

The woman is Laura Matson, one of a nest of spies led by ex-Army Major Kremmer. Faust is told “eminent nuclear scientist” Dr. Ulof is experimenting with “fissionable materials” in order to create an “invisible army” and take over the good ol’ USA! Kremmer needs Faust’s expertise to steal the volatile atomic X-13 element. Faust performs the dirty deed, then decides to go into business for himself, and with Laura as his accomplice robs a bank… then suddenly rematerializes in mid-heist!

The scenes where Faust becomes invisible are shot from his POV, and finds the other actors flailing about as if they’re being punched. It’s pretty silly looking, trust me. The transformation special effects by Roger George aren’t half bad as these sort of things go, but the grand finale, with Faust and Kremmer battling in the lab, ends with stock footage of an A-bomb explosion! So is the movie sci-fi, crime, or a thinly disguised anti-nuke screed? Like I said, nothing really sticks.

Character actor Douglas Kennedy (Faust) snarls and growls and basically chews the scenery. Marguerite Chapman (Laura) is best known for the 40’s serial SPY SMASHER. James Griffith (Kremmer) pops up frequently in movie and TV Westerns as a bad guy. Ivan Triesault (Ulof) appeared in CRY OF THE WEREWOLF and THE MUMMY’S GHOST. Pat Cranshaw, who most of you know as the sheriff in the AIR BUD movies and countless sitcom roles as an old codger, makes his debut as a security guard. Veteran Universal make-up genius Jack Pierce gets a credit, but he doesn’t create anything memorable. Like Ulmer, he probably just took the money and ran.

The dialog in Jack Lewis’s script features exchanges like this: Ulof: “Why do you ask these questions?” Faust: “Because I want answers!” Literary gold, this is not! It’s all a mishmash of ideas that never really gels. Ulmer went on to make two more films (1961’s JOURNEY BENEATH THE DESERT and 1964’s THE CAVERN) before his death in 1972. His filmography (especially his noir masterpiece DETOUR ) deserves to be reexamined, but unless you’re a completest, cross THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN off your list.

B-Girls and B-Movies: CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL (United Artists 1957)

CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL is just a routine ‘B’ crime drama, one of many churned out in the 50’s. Yet the performances of stars Brian Keith Beverly Garland , and an above-average supporting cast helped elevate the by-the-numbers material into something watchable. It’s those Familiar Faces we all know and love from countless movies that made CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL work for me.

The story revolves around racketeers muscling in on the Worker’s National Union so they can bring their “numbers rackets and ‘B’ girls” to the city. Politically ambitious State’s Attorney Jim Fremont is dead set on busting them up, and when the union’s treasurer is murdered, the finger of suspicion is pointed at honest Union President Artie Blane. Blane’s been framed by his rival, VP Ken Harrison, who takes his orders from “disbarred attorney” Alan Dixon, “one of the masterminds of the old Capone gang”. Blane is brought to trial and, thanks to some chicanery by an “old derelict” with the improbable name of Candymouth Duggan and a dummied-up tape recorder, is convicted of murder in the first degree.

Blane’s fiancée Laura Barton just won’t let the case go; she knows Blane was with her the night of the killing and is determined to prove his innocence. When the tape recording of Blane’s voice is found to be bogus, the case is reopened. Candymouth gets iced by Harrison’s “goons, and a nightclub impressionist named Kerry Jordan is also rubbed out. Fremont tracks down Laura’s former neighbor Sylvia, now living at a clip joint run by the mob called the Shanghai Low. He takes a brutal beating from the goons, and Laura and Sylvia are about to be shanghaied themselves on a plane bound for the Philippines before the cops come to rescue, getting into a car chase with the gangsters (“They’re gaining on us!”, one goon exclaims), and a shootout that leaves the three racketeers dead, but not before Harrison confesses everything and Dixon gets busted, putting an end to their reign of terror.

Brian Keith exhibits his natural ease before the cameras as Fremont. The actor had good parts in THE VIOLENT MEN, 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE, and THE PARENT TRAP, but that one role that would’ve put him on top always eluded him. Keith fared better on the small screen, starring in Sam Peckinpah’s seminal THE WESTERNER, the popular but saccharine sitcom FAMILY AFFAIR, and the comedy-actioner HARDCASTLE AND MCCORMICK. He became a respected character actor in the 70’s and 80’s with films like THE WIND AND THE LION (as Teddy Roosevelt), THE MOUNTAIN MEN, and SHARKEY’S MACHINE.

Beverly Garland (Laura) was the 1950”s Queen of the ‘B’ Girls (as in ‘B’ movies, not the other kind!), a fan favorite for her quickies with Roger Corman (SWAMP WOMEN, GUNSLINGER, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, NOT OFTHIS EARTH) and the silly horror THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE.  Bev really puts her all into the role, like she’s auditioning for juicier parts. It didn’t happen, but she certainly proves here she’s not just another pretty face, and later did get some good roles in both PRETTY POISON and AIRPORT 1975.

A slew of Familiar Faces appear in the movie, starting with former Universal leading man Dick Foran (THE MUMMY’S HAND, RIDE ‘EM COWBOY ) as the wronged Blane. Our favorite weasel Elisha Cook Jr.   does his usual fine job as the rum-soaked “old derelict” Candymouth. Character actor Douglas Kennedy is the crooked Harrison, ex-Garbo costar Gavin Gordon plays Dixon, sexy Beverly Tyler (VOODOO ISLAND, TOUGHEST MAN IN TOMBSTONE) is Sylvia, and the two goons are pretty-boy Anthony George (TV’s CHECKMATE, DARK SHADOWS) and mean-mugged noir vet Jack Lambert . Not to mention SUPERMAN’S Phyllis Coates as Keith’s wife and John Hamilton as the defense attorney.

Sidney Salkow isn’t given much to work with in either script or budget, but he guides his players along smoothly. You won’t find CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL on any “best-of” or “Top Ten” lists, but for fans of well acted ‘B’s and Familiar Face spotters it’s an enjoyable way to spend 75 minutes of your time.