Monday 10 November 2014

The Invisible Man (1958-59)

I don’t usually bother with the local library but browsing among the DVDs there I came across the late 1950s British Invisible Man TV series. Or to give it its full title, H. G. Wells’ Invisible Man, although the connection to Wells is pretty tenuous. 

Peter Brady is a British scientist working on the problem of invisibility. He works in a nuclear research facility. Of course the great thing about nuclear power is its potential for making stuff invisible. So far Brady has confined his experiments to rats. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, there’s a radiation leak and Brady finds himself turned totally invisible!

The first episode, Secret Experiment (originally screened in 1958), is concerned with giving us this background.

The second episode, Crisis in the Desert, shows us what the series is really about. It’s a crime/espionage/adventure series. In this episode the invisible Dr Brady is recruited by British Intelligence for a special assignment in the Middle East. He must rescue a British agent from a military hospital before the secret police can force him to reveal Britain’s espionage secrets. Dr Brady is helped in this adventure by a beautiful glamorous female spy named Yolanda.

I haven’t been able to find any other first season episodes but I have come across the second season which continues with the same format. In one episode (Point of Destruction) Brady uncovers sabotage in the aviation industry, a highlight for aviation geeks being a rare opportunity to see a Vickers Valiant V-bomber in flight. Another story has Brady helping a man accused of murder. The Vanishing Evidence and The Prize are more or less straight spy stories but they make good use of the invisibility of the hero.

It’s always fun spotting the wonderful character actors making guest appearances in series of this era. Having Charles Gray and Michel Ripper in the one episode is a bonus, and in The Prize Anton Diffring gets to play yet another sadistic totalitarian thug, and does so with his usual panache. Fans of 60s cult TV will be pleased to see Public Eye star Alfred Burke pop up in a small role in the Point of Destruction episode.

It suffers a little from the 30-minute episode format that was standard at that time so the plots are pretty thin. Still it’s entertaining enough and it’s certainly fast-paced.

The series was created by Ralph Smart who had a long and distinguished career in film and television in Britain and Australia. After The Invisible Man he went on to develop one of the most successful and iconic British TV series of the 60s, Danger Man.  

There’s quite a bit of location shooting, certainly more than you expect in this period. The series has the look of a program intended to compare favourably with American series of the time and on the whole it succeeds. Smart had worked with Michael Powell so it’s probably not surprising that he appreciated the importance of high production values.

The special effects work reasonably well although there are occasional glitches when Peter Brady is not quite as invisible as he should be!

Surprisingly (but pleasingly) the second season episodes are in very good shape, especially given the atrocious condition of so much surviving British television of this era. Even more surprising is the fact that both seasons survive in their entirety.

Dark Sky Films have done a fine job with their DVD release of season two.

No comments:

Post a Comment