The Amazing Transparent Man: A 50th Anniversary Celebration of 1960

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960) posterOriginally created to be a co-feature for BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER, THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN is the Rodney Dangerfield of low-budget Invisible Man movies: it gets no respect, even though it’s really not a bad little effort.
Like BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER, THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN was produced by Miller Consolidated Pictures, directed by cult director Edgar Ulmer, and shot in Texas with very limited funds. Naturally, if one has limited resources, making a special effects film usually isn’t one of the more effective options, but THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN does feature an interesting combination of gangster and science fiction plots, some decent performances, and unlike many similar productions, a decent pace that keeps things moving rather than eating up running time with endless dialogue scenes.
The movie opens on the run, in a way, with searchlights illuminating the opening credits (an interesting choice on Ulmer’s part), which quickly transition to Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy from INVADERS FROM MARS and THE LAND UNKNOWN), an imprisoned safecracker, making his escape from prison. (We see a guard firing a machine gun from one of the prison’s guard towers, but it isn’t clear just what is being shot at as Faust seems to be running along the same wall). Faust gets picked up by Laura Matson (Marguerite Chapman from FLIGHT TO MARS), who drives him to see Krenner (James Griffith from THE VAMPIRE), the man who arranged Faust’s escape.
Krenner is a mercenary who has given himself the title of major and who plans to take over the world by creating an army of invisible soldiers. He has arranged for Faust’s escape because he needs Faust to steal some fissionable materials used in the transparency experiments of Dr. Peter Olof (Ivan Triesault from THE MUMMY’S GHOST). Kremer is clearly a megalomaniac whose ambition far exceeds his ability. He offers Faust a thousand dollars to steal radioactive materials from a military nuclear weapons laboratory nearby and seems surprised that the prospect of imperiling his life and freedom for such a small amount does not appeal to the escaped convict.
The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)To secure Ulof’s cooperation, Krenner keeps Ulof’s daughter (Carmel Daniel) locked away in a small room in the attic laboratory. Ulof is depicted as a weary, resigned but brilliant scientist who admits to Faust that he killed his own wife when he was forced to conduct medical experiments while in a concentration camp and was given subjects whose faces were hidden. Krenner keeps Faust in line by threatening to kill him and collect a reward from the police (Fauts is wanted dead or alive), and Krenner’s personal thug Julian (Boyd “Red” Morgan) seems quite prepared to carry out the threat.
We first see Dr. Ulof use his transparency ray on a guinea pig, which is strapped down and has parts disappear from view, leaving only some leather straps to indicate its location. Krenner warns the doctor to keep the projector away from the safe containing the fissionable materials needed to make it work, planting a piece of information that will prove significant later. (The minimal visual effects are handled by the Howard A. Anderson Co., which have parts of the subject turn into film negative before disappearing from view. The Anderson company handled optical effects for the original STAR TREK TV series).

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960) robbery
The Amazing Transparent Man steals some fissionable material, then robs a bank.

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960) bank robberyRunning less than an hour in length, THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN wastes no time in rendering Faust invisible so that he can steal the special “fissionable material” (called X-13) from what looks like a bank vault. The reckless Krenner has Dr. Ulof use the new material immediately on Faust before ascertaining whether it will work as well as the prior radioactive material. The next time Faust becomes invisible, he chooses to rob a bank rather than follow Krenner’s orders to steal more X-13. However, in the midst of the robbery, Faust’s hands and head make an unexpected appearance, causing him to be recognized and take off with Laura on the run.
Returning to the farmhouse, Faust demands Dr. Ulof inform him what’s going wrong. Dr. Ulof urges him to put a stop to Krenner’s plans and gives him the bad news: given his exposure thus far, Faust only has a month left to live. (Naturally if recruits are informed about this minor drawback, it won’t be easy for Krenner to assemble his invisible army).
Laura, who is attracted to Faust, also turns against Krenner, who has done little more than exploit her or slap her around. She reveals to Julian that his son is dead, so Krenner will never be able to keep his promise to rescue the boy. Krenner kills Laura, and upstairs in the laboratory, he and Faust get into a major tussle after Faust releases Ulof’s daughter, during which the transparency projection ray hits the fissionable material and fission occurs, setting off an explosion that wipes out half the county.
THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN ends on what it hopes will be a thoughtful note. A police officer asks Dr. Ulof what should be done about his invention of the invisibility ray. Ulof muses that perhaps it would be best if the secret of transparency were lost, and then turns to the camera to ask the audience “What would you do?”
The performances by Griffith as the unrealistic criminal mastermind and Triesault as the coerced, largely uncaring scientist are both interesting. Except for Morgan, the cast acquits itself professionally. Ulmer’s direction is not particularly inspired, but he got the job done effectively in a short amount of time. This was his last American-made movie. Jack Lewis’ dialogue can be a little strained at times, but it never makes you wince. The film never really amazes, but it is a lively, fast-paced, B-movie thriller.
The Amazing Transparent Man (1960) horizontal posterTHE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN (1960). Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Written by Jack Lewis. Cast: Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith, Ivan Triesault, Boyd “Red” Morgan, Cornel Daniel, Edward Erwin, Jonathan Ledford, Norman Smith, Patrick Cranshaw, Kevin Kelly, Dennis Adams, Stacy Morgan.
The Amazing Transparent Man (1960) Faust

Beyond the Time Barrier: A 50th Anniversary Celebration of 1960

Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) posterBEYOND THE TIME BARRIER is a low-budget, science fiction epic-adventure-wanna-be ultimately sabotaged by Arthur C. Pierce’s weak screenplay. According to To “B” Or Not to “B” by Robert Clarke & Tom Weaver, the project came about when actor-producer Robert Clarke optioned a script by Arthur C. Pierce, which Clarke planned to produce through a deal withMiller Consolidated Productions. Les Guthrie, the film’s production supervisor, suggested Edgar G. Ulmer as director, and Clarke, who had worked with Ulmer on THE MAN FROM PLANET X, agreed.
Despite having scripted several science fiction films (THE COSMIC MAN, THE HUMAN DUPLICATORS, MUTINY IN OUTER SPACE, CYBORG 2087 WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET, DESTINATION INNER SPACE, DIMENSION 5, and possibly uncredited work on NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS), Pierce talent could only charitably be described as lacking. Ulmer was never happy with Pierce’s threadbare script and demanded rewrite after rewrite, driving Pierce to such frustration that he broke a pencil in front of Ulmer’s face. According to Clarke, “The incident did seem to bother Edgar a little bit; I remember that later on, Edgar in his heavy Hungarian accent referred to Art as, ‘This writer who brrreaks his pencil in frrront of my face!’”
With a commitment to begin production in Texas, BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER was forced to get underway before the script problems were  fixed, and the film suffers for it. Guthrie arranging shooting in Carswell Field in Fort Worth, depicting an Air Force Base, and The Texas Centennial Fair Grounds in Dallas for the underground city. The entire production took place on a 9- or 10-day schedule, with a budget of $125,000.
Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) I was originally saw BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER as part of an Ulmer Retrospective at UCLA, sponsored by the Goethe Institute, with Robert Clarke and Shirley and Arianne Ulmer in attendance. Shirley Ulmer explained that, having minimal budget resources, Edgar was fascinated by how he could reuse the same triangle structures to construct the various sets needed. This became a major design motif for the film as well as a huge budget-saver.
BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER begins in 1961 with Major William Allison (Clarke) doing a high-speed test flight for the new X-80, an experimental jet craft (represented by footage of an F-102). He achieves such speed that he “breaks” the time barrier and is propelled into the year 2024. Despite finding his base deserted and the world a desolate wasteland, Allison stubbornly refuses to accept that he has traveled into the future, making him seem more an imbecile than a reasonable hero.
BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER posits that atomic testing wiped out much of the Earth’s protective ozone layer; cosmic radiation seeped in, creating a plague in 1971 that wiped out most of this future world. Some of the population has immigrated to Mars or Venus, while the “First-stage” mutants built underground cities to escape the radiation. At one point Allison sees a bad matte painting of an above-ground city, but that is never explored. (Shirley Ulmer suggested that Edgar himself had painted the drawing).
Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)Instead, Allison is captured and brought to the underground Citadel where the Supreme (genre stalwart Vladimir Sokoloff) considers him a spy and an enemy, and doesn’t even recognize the major’s Air Force insigna (another foolish conceit of Pierce’s. given that the leader is clearly more than 63 years old). However, the Supreme’s daughter Trirene (Darlene Tompkins), a mute with telepathic powers (she can read thoughts but not transmit them), convinces the leader that Allison means no harm, and she becomes attracted to this man from Earth’s past.
Surprisingly, Allison finds other time travelers trapped in the same Citadel: General Karl Kruse (Stephen Bekassy), Captain Alicia Markova (Adrienne Ulmer, acting under the name Adrienne Arden), and Dr. Bourman (John Van Dreelen). Only now, after Kruse tells him, does Allison finally believe that he is in the year 2024. Allison learns that the members of the underground city are waging a war with the more mutated mutants (represented by stock footage from Lang’s JOURNEY TO THE LOST CITY plus three men in obvious bald caps). Markova convinces Allison that the only way to prevent this future is to travel back to the past in his experimental plane and warn the world to changes its ways.
Not surprisingly, the science explaining the time barrier is bad, as Bourman uses a blackboard to suggest that the Earth is somehow spinning near the speed of light already. “You had a velocity approaching the speed of light before you even left the ground,” he seriously intones, off by a factor of over 600 million miles per hour. Even sillier, to return to his own time, all Allison need to is reverse his course.
To create a diversion, Markova releases several imprisoned mutants, who proceed to slaughter every underground inhabitant they encounter. Trirene gets Allison the plans to the tunnels that lead back to his ship; Allison wants to take her back with him, but Markova has other ideas, pulling a gun on the pair only to be shot by Kruse. Bourman then kills Kruse and demands to be returned to his time. Trirene jumps in the middle of their argument and takes a bullet meant for Bill, who in turn kills Bourman and brings the Supreme back his dead daughter. Fortunately for Major Allison, the Supreme decides it is best for Allison to return to his own time.
In the big finale, Allison lands his plane, having crossed the time barrier again; only now he is 50 years older (Clarke made-up with crinkled rice paper by former Universal makeup star Jack Pierce to give the appearance of very wrinkled skin).
Of course, being released the same year as George Pal’s wonderful THE TIME MACHINE did BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER no favors; it is much inferior on every level. The citizens of the Citadel are not the Eloi—the underground mutants don’t feast on them or exploit them as the Morlocks do in H. G. Wells’ famous tale. Instead, this conflict is more akin to Clarke’s CAPTIVE WOMEN for its central conflict, with some time traveling and a warning about a possible bleak future thrown in for good measure.
Although Clarke was usually at least likeable, here he comes off as unpleasant and stubbornly stupid refusing to believe the evidence of his own eyes. Even worse, stunt man Boyd “Red” Morgan, who has a pronounced Texas accent, was given a major role as the Supreme’s torture-advocating underling, and it quickly becomes clear that he is no actor.
Ulmer in his career made many interesting and wonderful low-budget films. Sadly, BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER is no worth companion to such classics as THE BLACK CAT, BLUEBEARD, DETOUR, or THE MAN FROM PLANET X. Additionally, the sound quality is very bad on the prints that I have seen, making this dull and clichéd film even more unintelligible.
Miller Consolidated Pictures hired exploitation expert Kroeger Babb to ballyhoo BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER, and Babb figured to attract an audience with a gigantic giveaway contest featuring major prizes. Unfortunately, thanks to particularly bad timing, the money was wasted when a gigantic snowstorm kept away potential moviegoers in the Northwest; the company lost their shirts, going into bankruptcy shortly afterwards. Consolidated Film Laboratories foreclosed on liens on BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER and its co-feature THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN, then sold  both to AIP for distribution.
The Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) horizontalBEYOND THE TIME BARRIER (1960). Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Screenplay by Arthur C. Pierce. Cast: Robert Clarke, Darlene Tompkins, Vladimir Sokoloff. Boyd “Red” Morgan, Stephen Bekassy, arianne Ulmer, John Van Dreelen, Ken Knox, Jack Herman, Don Flournoy, Tom Ravick.

The Raven (1935) – Retrospective Horror Film & DVD Review

The 1935 pairing of horror stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff is still enjoyably over-the-top entertainment.

The Raven (1935)With the advances in Video on Demand, including services like and Netflix that allow you to watch movies on your TV anytime you like without having to own them, my days of purchasing DVDs are rapidly dwindling. However, I still cannot resist a bargain, and I have a fondness for box sets that package together multiple titles for one low price. Purists complain that the bit-rate on these discs (which save money by squeezing in two films per side) results in reduced quality, but generally I have fond them to be worth the money. One of my favorites is “Bela Lugosi” DVD collection from 2005, which is a must-have for fans of classic horror. The package offers five films (each just a tad over 60 minutes) on two sides of a single disc, with some nice box cover art but almost no bonus features (just a trailer or two).
The highlight of the set is 1934’s THE BLACK CAT, but THE RAVEN (1935) remains a personal favorite, because it gives Lugosi an opportunity to outshine his co-star Boris Karloff (even though Karloff gets top billing). THE RAVEN is the second of three films that Universal Pictures made as a vehicle to co-star Karloff and Lugosi (the first was THE BLACK CAT; the third was THE INVISIBLE RAY). The two had more or less equal roles in BLACK CAT, but Lugosi is clearly the lead in THE RAVEN; Karloff’s character doesn’t even enter until fifteen minutes into the running time (approximately one-quarter of the short film).
THE RAVEN is not quite as good as I remembered, mostly because it is way, way over the top. Lugosi was a stage actor who never got out of the habit of projecting his performance as if he were trying to reach viewers in the back rows of the theatre; on screen, the result can seem quite hammy. Nevertheless, his out-of-control style ultimately works, especially in the latter scenes when the character is past all retrains and thoroughly enjoying the evil he is perpetrating.
The story is about a Dr. Richard Vollin, a great surgeon who has retired to do research and to work on his private obsession, which is collecting –and creating — Poe memorabilia. He brags to a museum representative early on that he has created many of the torture devices that Poe described in his stories (such as the knife-edged pendulum from “The Pit and the Pendulum”). Vollin is called out of retirement to save the life of a young woman, who has been in a car accident. He falls in love with his patient, and begins his descent into madness, calling himself “a god…with the taint of human emotion.”
As Vollin explains it, he renders a service to mankind, but in order to perform that service, his hand must be steady and his mind unclouded by emotions that torture him. When it becomes clear that his patient does not return his love, Vollin’s only solution is seek a truly bizarre form of catharsis: torturing everyone who stands in the way of his frustrated consummation.
He is abetted in this by Edward Bateman (Karloff), an escaped prisoner who once put a torch in the face of a guard during a bank heist. Bateman comes to Vollin looking for a new face so that he can hide from the police. Despite his criminal background, Bateman his a sympathetic figure. Unlike Vollin, who is upper-class, rich, and decadent, Bateman is a working class man obviously driven by circumstances, including not only his economic deprivation but his looks.
“May if a man looks ugly, he does ugly things,” he tells Vollin, who replies in rapt amazement, “You are saying something profound.”
Vollin performs surgery on Bateman, who wants to put his criminal past behind him, but only to make him even uglier (half his face is paralyzed, a blind eye staring at an awkward angle). “Your monstrous ugliness creates monstrous hate,” Vollin chuckles. “I can use your hate.”
The story comes to a climax when Vollin invites his unsuspecting guests to weekend party. After every one’s fallen asleep, he abducts his patient, her fiance, and her father and puts them into his various torture devices (which also include a room with walls that come together to crush those inside). Unfortunately for Vollin, the rebellious Bateman falls for the girl and rebels…
The film is a little bit of a B-movie, in the sense that the cast and settings are relatively small. A little bit of production value is added by reusing existing sets. (For example, Vollin’s patient is a dancer who performs a piece called “The Spirit of Poe,” which staged on the old opera set from Universal 1925 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.) Although the setting is contemporary, Vollins’ mansion has a basement that looks like a medieval torture chamber, complete with secret passageways. The supporting cast at the party suffers a bit from comic relief, but the lead players all do a very good job.
Like THE BLACK CAT, THE RAVEN is scored with existing bits of classical music (Lugosi at one point serenades his intended love with an excerpt from Back’s Toccata in D Minor). Lew Landers’ direction is somewhat perfunctory, but the studio production values help overcome the deficiencies, and in any case the real reason to see the film is watch the stars, who are aided and abetted by a script that plays to their strengths. Even if the story is not entirely sophisticated, the screenplay is filled with many memorable lines, and the characterizations, although broad, are a perfect fit for the actors, who admirably fill out the roles, their established personas and acting styles making up for the lack of (unnecessary, in this context) subtle psychological depth.
Lugosi is in his element in this one, playing a larger-than-life embodiment of evil insanity. He is nicely balanced by Karloff, who gives a much more low-key performance as a more believable character. The sparks fly quite effectively in thier uneasy partnership (Vollin blackmails Bateman into helping him by promising to restore his distorted features). Although the film is dated by today’s standards, I suspect it played quite well to its intended audience in the 1930s, the time of the great depression. It must have been fun for struggling Americans to see the wealthy Dr. Vollin portrayed as a raging maniac, while poor Bateman is reluctantly enlisted into aiding his evil plans, and there certainly was a grim satisfaction in seeing Bateman turn the tables at the end.
THE RAVEN clearly is not a faithful adaptation of its source material. But it is clearly inspired by by ideas lifted from Poe, particularly the concept of genius and madness co-existing in the same person, who insists on his sanity even while his murderous actions prove him to by quite insane. There is also the concept of a sensitive intellect being tortured by the lass of a great love — although in Poe’s eponymous poem, “the lost Lenore” is dead, not engaged to someone else.
In the end, the film version of THE RAVEN is a Hollywood concoction, pieced together to provide a vehicle for Lugosi and Karloff to duel it out on screen (an element enhanced for modern viewers by our awareness, courtesy of the film ED WOOD, of the competition between the two actors). On this level it thorougly succeeds, earning a sort of “limited” classic status. It is no masterpiece (unlike THE BLACK CAT), but it is an enduring entertainment, especially for Lugosi fans. Other viewers may find the film over-the-top, almost to the point of camp, but this is not the sort of film you need to take seriously in order to enjoy it. Just sit back and go along for the ride.
I mean, you’ve got to love a film wherein the villain chortles, “I tear torture out of myself by torturing you!” Or triumphantly proclaims at the climax, “Poe, you are avenged!”
THE RAVEN(1935). Directed by Lew Landers. Screenplay by David Boehm, inspired by the poem by Edgar Allan Poe. Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lester Matthews, Irene Ware, Samuel S. Hinds, Spencer Charters. Inez Courtney, Ian Wolfe, Maidel Turner.

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski. This version has been slightly updated.