Seeing The Invisible Man chapter 4: Invisible Agent (1942)


In Invisible Agent, the invisible man returns, only definitely not as a horror villain. He’s now a patriotic, all-American spy pranking the Nazis hardcore!

The original Invisible Man was undeniably villainous, at least in many respects. In the followup, The Invisible Man Returns, he was a lot tamer,  barely menacing to the public. In The Invisible Woman, not only was the invisible character not a man, but the overall tone was way more of a romantic comedy. With Invisible Agent, Universal tried the new (albeit predictable) route of tying the invisible man to the war effort. Yes, the Invisible Man was kicking Nazi butt!

This time he’s played by neither Claude Rains nor Vincent Price, but by Jon Hall. Also, his character is not Dr. Frank Griffin, but his grandson, concealing his identity as “Frank Raymond.” When agents of Axis powers discover Frank’s true identity, it becomes obvious that they want to steal his invisibility formula. This begins Frank Raymond’s pre-planned, patriotic rampage. Their interrogation methods could easily turn anyone against them.

The Axis Menace

Invisible Agent — Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Honestly, it’s a bit awkward that Peter Lorre’s twisted Axis character, Baron Ikito, is supposed to be Japanese. There is even a little bit of racist humor applied, which might offend some modern viewers. Lorre, nonetheless, does a decent job in the role.

While interrogating Frank Raymond, Ikito seems to enjoy the sadistic possibilities of a paper cutter’s blades upon Raymond’s hand. It’s the closest the film gets to a real horror sequence. In fact, I wouldn’t doubt that Lorre’s performance could have partially inspired the character Gestapo agent Toht (Ronald Lacey) in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Most of Invisible Agent centers around Mr. Raymond’s burgeoning relationship with Maria Sorenson (Ilona Massey), a German spy working for the Americans. As part of her spy work, she’s close to Nazi General Conrad Stauffer (Cedric Hardwicke) and the Gestapo’s Karl Heiser (J. Edward Bromberg). As the film progresses, Raymond performs pranks on the Nazis while invisible, making him the “Invisible Agent.”

Plus or Minus?

When it comes to a war propaganda movie, one will probably ask whether that aspect is a plus or a minus. For me personally, it was a bit of a minus. While one understands the premise of boosting morale, it always seems to get in the way of critical thinking, and seems to prevent a film from asking challenging questions. In that regard, I think the original Invisible Man had more to say. This film is more about entertainment, and it becomes more of a novelty and quaint historical artifact as a result.

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To support my point, consider that the original Invisible Man dealt with a character struggling to retain his sanity, and eventually giving in to his delusions of personal power and greatness. In contrast, Invisible Agent is basically just about a spy who’s invisible. It would have been interesting to see Frank Raymond (or whatever his real name is) deal with mental health issues while simultaneously being a spy for the U.S. government. This threat never occurs, which seems like some real wasted potential. There aren’t that many interesting questions involved, really, and the humorous pranks on the Nazis are merely cute, Three Stooges-tier fare.

Also, Invisible Agent sort of shies away from highlighting German atrocities, which is a bit strange. It hints at them a little bit, but at least some of their crimes were probably better known by this point in the war. One suspects that they wanted to keep Invisible Agent on the light side — again, to boost morale. That loses an opportunity to also look at the horrors of war, even apart from an the horrors of some invisible madman.

Maybe it’s a bit naïve to expect a 1940’s Universal-Monster related war-propaganda film to be deep. Still, I can’t help but consider what could have been. If it sounds a bit pretentious, so be it.  This film could have maybe used a bit more of that. You know, maybe a film about war doesn’t need much comedy anyway.


While Invisible Agent is an okay (that is, watchable) movie, it seems like it sidestepped a lot of potentially interesting elements in order to play it safe. With all the remakes coming out nowadays, it might be interesting for someone to revisit this story of an invisible spy, only with him on the brink of madness and losing allegiance to anyone but his own twisted desires. Now that could be a hell of a story!

In any case, Jon Hall returned as the Invisible Man character not long after this film, although it was a new character with a new predicament. After all, there are only so many situations allowable in a war propaganda film.

Next. Hitchock’s Legacy #1: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. dark

What are your thoughts on Invisible Agent? Think the 1942 film is as good as we do? Let us know in the comments!