Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thinks H.G. Wells's The Shape of Things to Come could have been reworked into a standard adventure series format with a little bit of effort.
"There's no friend like an invisible one."
Frankenstein's famous monster never got his own TV series, though I remember reading about a pilot for one. But that doesn't mean than unlikely heroes can't be created out of the dusty pages of classic science fiction novels.
In 1897, Pearson Magazine published a science-fiction serial by H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man, about a village with a strange visitor wrapped in bandages who becomes the object of scrutiny—and trouble—when the villagers discover that there's nothing to see beneath the bandages. It turns out he's an albino scientist named Griffin who discovered the secret of invisibility the hard way.
In movies, Claude Rains played Griffin in a 1933 Universal horror picture based on the novel. A 1940 sequel, The Invisible Man Returns, had Vincent Price as an unjustly condemned man using the secret of invisibility to clear his name. The Invisible Man didn't make as much of an impact on the big screen as Wells's The War of the Worlds and hasn't had a modern movie remake yet, but the concept has been reworked into TV adventure series form three times—first in 1958, then in 1975 and 2000.
In H.G. Wells' Invisible Man: Season Two, we have 13 episodes of the 1958 British version (which aired on CBS). In this version, the Invisible Man of the title is Dr. Peter Brady, who uses his invisibility to rescue ladies in distress and perform the occasional spy mission for the British government.
"The scientist who made himself invisible—accidentally," is how Brady modestly describes himself.
If you've seen other classic British spy shows, you might think of this one as a rough draft for some of your favorites. Producer Ralph Smart went on to work on Danger Man, and Brian Clemens (who wrote two of these episodes under the name Tony O'Grady) helmed The Avengers through its most famous years.
Facts of the Case
Season Two's 13 episodes are as follows:
• "Death Cell"—The girlfriend of a man who is going to be wrongly hanged for murder enlists Brady's help.
• "The Vanishing Evidence"—Brady heads to Amsterdam to track down stolen documents, confounding a hotel desk clerk.
• "The Prize"—Brady makes a detour en route to an international conference to rescue an author held by her government. This one was my favorite of the set, thanks to a tense final sequence in a minefield.
• "Flight into Darkness"—Brady arrives at Castle Hill Laboratories to find a scientist and his files missing.
• "The Decoy"—A singer in London for a USO performance disappears after witnessing a murder, so her twin sister takes her place to find her captors.
• "The Gun Runners"—Brady investigates gun-running after a couple is gunned down on a busy street somewhere in the Mediterreanean.
• "Man in Disguise"—In another of my favorites, a visible man steals Brady's passport and goes through customs with his head bandaged. Tim Turner plays a dual role here.
• "Man in Power"—When one of his university students becomes heir to a throne, Brady becomes involved in thwarting a coup.
• "The Rocket"—Gambling debts prompt a man working on a rocket project to sell information that sends the rocket into enemy hands.
• "Shadow Bomb"—When the new detonator Brady's working on sees a shadow, it explodes. Thus Brady's the only one who can help when a man is trapped in a pit with the device. The everyday dangers of clouds and planes flying overhead build tension better than cardboard villains in this episode as Brady rushes to defuse the bomb.
• "The Big Plot"—An ingredient for an atom bomb is found in the wreckage of a passenger plane, sending Brady in search of a very dangerous golf bag.
Watching this one, I noticed more than a few similarities to The Dead Zone, which I was watching concurrently. Both series take a tragic character who died at the end of the novel and place him into what's essentially a familiar detective show that uses his special "gift" as a gimmick, replacing the character's melancholy with civic mindedness. In both series, the unusual lead character becomes a sort of celebrity, as he might in the real world.
Interestingly, I saw one Dead Zone plot used here first, since both Johnny Smith and Peter Brady had a scientist friend who destroyed his own work when confronted with the realization that it could be used in war. The story's the same, but has a different tone in each version, since Cold War hero Brady is much more hawkish than his current counterpart.
Unlike Dead Zone's Johnny Smith, Peter Brady doesn't have a circle of friends to help him out, but his sister Diane (Lisa Daniely, who often guest-starred in shows like The Saint and Doctor Who) serves as his partner in crimebusting. Brady also works with British intelligence from time to time, using his unique lack of visage on top-secret missions.
You've seen the intrigue-and-derring-do plots of Invisible Man on shows like Danger Man and The Saint. When a woman in distress spotted our bandaged hero on a train, I almost expected a cartoon halo to pop up over his head. Like those shows, it often sends its hero on foreign adventures pieced together through cheap sets and stock footage. If you dig process shots, you'll love Invisible Man! There's an occasional sci-fi nod, like another scientist working on the secret of invisibility, but the majority of the stories use straightforward action plots. Often, villains even come after Brady for a confrontation instead of clearing out so that things can be wrapped up neatly.
The performers who teamed up to portray the lead character went uncredited when the show aired, like then-unknown actor Orson Welles did in radio's version of The Shadow (until he became famous for his rendition of a certain other H.G. Wells classic). Today, though, we know that the man in the bandages was Johnny Scripps while Tim Turner (A Night to Remember) supplied the voice of Peter Brady. Brady is portrayed through a combination of Scripps's bandaged body, Turner's voice, simple effects that appear to have been done with wires, and P.O.V. shots (as in the movie Lady in the Lake) that show the scene through Brady's eyes. Brady has a smoking habit that's convenient for letting other characters (and the audience) know where he's standing or sitting.
Brady's not naked when he's invisible, by the way. It's oft mentioned in dialogue that he has invisible clothes, since invisible nudity might have shocked the 1950s British TV viewers.
Turner's not a bad voice actor. He's able to pull off a scene where he stages a "conversation" between an invisible couple by himself and garner a few laughs while sounding suitably square-jawed (even though we can't see his jaw) during action sequences. The rest of the performances are competent, though villains lean toward the hammy side.
There are a few problems on the video side, with the black-and-white picture appearing washed out or too dark to read properly at times, but it looks like these problems were a part of the original. You get a line or mark on the film here and there, too. Mostly, though, the image is decent. The action-show score may be too insistent for some, but it comes through okay here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Yeah, it's corny. The half-hour format doesn't allow for much in the way of character development, either. While its unusual gimmick may have been thrilling in 1958, most of the elements of this show have since been redone better.
If you've devoted quite a few hours of your life to British TV adventures, you'll likely want to check The Invisible Man: Season 2 out, even if it isn't as sharp as classics such as The Avengers or The Prisoner.
Not guilty. H.G. Wells' Invisible Man is free to go—not that we could actually tell whether he's left or not.
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