Invisible Monster, The (Blu-ray Review)12 Oct, 2015 By: Mike Clark
$29.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Stars Richard Webb, Aline Towne.
The same year that director Fred C. Brannon patched together The Invisible Monster (1950), he also did seven other pictures, including two more Republic serials: Desperadoes of the West and Flying Disc Man From Mars. He was nearly as prolific in 1951 and was still good for four releases in ’52, which may help explain why he died in 1953 at age 51. He brings to mind another Fred (Sears) — who, when he died at 44 in 1957, left The World Was His Jury, Going Steady, Crash Landing, Bad Man’s Country and Ghost of the China Sea in the can for the ’58 Columbia Pictures’ roster. By this time, serials were dead and not factors in his or anyone’s filmography, but you get the workhorse idea: These low-end projects were really ground out in tote-that-barge/lift-that-bale fashion.
It’s fun to see Monster getting a decent Blu-ray treatment, just as it was seeing several Republic serials come to laserdisc a quarter-century ago, including Desperadoes. (As for Brannon’s other serial from 1950, Olive will have Disc Man on Blu-ray later this month). Having said this, let’s throw in the public service announcement that Monster isn’t anything to show someone on a first date — unless, of course, the object of interest has enough sense of the outrageous to come over and listen to a little, say, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards on CD. Given that both the adjective and noun in the title conjure up images of some intimidating creature, the central creep in this 12-parter is a pretty ordinary-looking guy in his apparent 50s (Stanley Price) who wants to build an army of invisible subordinates to take over the world. This said, you have to figure that technological limitations are going to whip him before he can get too far out of the gate, even if hero Richard Webb can’t.
For our “monster” to be rendered invisible, there has to be a guy in a nearby truck shining a klieg light (whose beam suggests a giant white Necco wafer) on him — or, for that matter, anyone else who so desires. One gets the sense that this wouldn’t be practical in any situation that demanded an army; the trucks carrying the lights would get in the way, assuming the drivers could even find parking places.
Webb plays an insurance investigator working out of something called the Apex Building, though the “x” on the lettering looks as much like an “h,” so maybe it’s the Apeh Building, though I doubt it. Hopefully, Webb’s employer is paying him enough to foot what looks to be a humungous apparel and dry cleaning tabs due to all the suits he ruins or at least scuff up from getting chairs broken over in his body or being trapped in all kinds of places (mineshafts and a burning house’s basement pit, just to name two). What Webb has to go through in merely one typical day would keep a normal person in therapy for years, but you have to understand: This guy is stalwart in that Dick Tracy kind of way. Nor is there any hanky-panky going on with his assistant (Aline Towne) — who, for her part, can’t even put out a single visible ray of heat in any of the 12 serial chapters at her disposal. In one of those early ’50s roadsters that looked like tanks, the two simply travel the same suburban streets and highways over and over trying to track down Price’s flunkies. Like Webb, most of the baddies wears suits and hats, and many have mustaches (which my mother used to say she always associated with World War II draft dodgers).
Actor Webb, of course, is immediately recognizable to anyone of a certain boomer age for his subsequent lead role in TV’s “Captain Midnight” — sponsored by Ovaltine, which was (according to IMDb.com) a drink he hated and wouldn’t drink in public (funniest thing I’ve heard all day). And Great Caesar’s Ghost ! — there’s John Hamilton (editor Perry White in TV’s “The Adventures of Superman”) in a small role, though nothing much comes from his appearance here. Mostly, this is 167 minutes of chases, car crashes, explosions and recycling of footage from past episodes. Chapter 10, in fact, doesn’t do a whole lot more than bring audiences up to date on what has happened in previous outings (“Do your remember that time when … ?”).
The serial industry was in twilight by the time Monster was made, though somewhere in my house is the old VHS of Republic’s final foray King of the Carnival, which managed to stretch into 1955 (you don’t get many serials featuring Stuart Whitman). Even in the small town where I lived until age 8, they were rarely shown at my local theater even during the ubiquitous kiddie matinees that were a fixture — and, if one ever was, it was only as a single episode to supplement a cartoon and/or “Three Stooges” short that played before the main event (usually a Roy Rogers or Bowery Boys feature).
Not counting the home viewing domain, where I developed a special liking for 1941’s “Shazam”-filled The Adventures of Captain Marvel, my only other serial experience came when I ran all 12 episodes in a single AFI showing of 1952’s Zombies of the Stratosphere (early Leonard Nimoy and — look out — more of colorless Aline Towne). Twelve chapters meant 12 sets of the same opening credits run almost as if they were on a loop — and on the 12th time, a full house rose to its feet and offered a standing ovation. The only other movies I can recall getting a standing were F.W. Murnau’s Faust (with live organ accompaniment) and Shack Out on 101, where Lee Marvin tires to get sand down Terry Moore’s bathing suit. Frankly, I’m not sure where those lines intersect.