Tômei ningen

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(4/10) Tômei ningen or The Invisible Man, released just prior to New Year’s Eve 1954, was Toho’s second science fiction film and Japan’s second invisible man film. Filmed in a rush to capitalise on Gojira’s success, the movie has its moments, and Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects are fairly solid. A complete departure from H.G. Wells, Tomei ningen serves up touching some touching drama and a generic film noir mob plot, and mixes in some song and dance numbers. This was a time when clowns were still good people.

Tômei ningen (1954, Japan). Directed by Motoyoshi Oda Written by Shigeaki Hidaka and Kei Beppu. Starring: Seizaburô Kawazu, Miki Sanjô, Minoru Takada, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kenjirô Uemura, Keiko Kondo, Haruo Nakajima. Produced by Takeo Kita for Toho Company.
IMDb rating: 5.3/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

The invisible man helps Noriko Shigeyama, a damsel in distress.

The invisible man helps Noriko Shigeyama, a damsel in distress.

With some few exceptions, science fiction movies were an all-American affair in the early fifties. However, in 1954 something came along and changed that, and that something was Gojira (review), that with a single stroke made Japan a contender in the genre. However, the big rubber monster didn’t represent the first sci-fi film in Japan. That honour goes to Tômei ningen arawaru (1949, review), or The Invisible Man Appears. Made for movie studio Daiei, the invisibility effects of that film were made by Eiji Tsuburaya, who five years later had moved to Toho, and helped bring Godzilla to life. In 1954 Toho apparently wanted to do their own version of that film, simply titled Tômei ningen (透明人間), or The Invisible Man, and who else would create the special effects than the father of tokusatsu, Tsuburaya?
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Phantom from Space

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(1/10) In a nutshell: For a no-budget effort, this 1951 invisible alien film by Billy Wilder’s elder brother Willie has impressive visual effects. But that’s also pretty much all that is good about this talky, illogical and slow-moving exploitation flick. Noreen Nash as the female heroine stands out, and there’s Harry Landers of Ben Casey fame.

Phantom from Space (1953). Directed by W. Lee Wilder. Written by William Raynor & Myles Wilder. Starring: Ted Cooper, Tom Daly, Noreen Nash, Dick Sands, Harry Landers, James Seay, Rudolph Anders, Steven Clark, Jim Bannon. Produced by W. Lee Wilder for Planet Filmways. IMDb score: 4.0

A colourised image of Dick Sands in the spacesuit of the alien in Phantom from Space.

A colourised image of Dick Sands in the spacesuit of the alien in Phantom from Space.

The problem with a genre that gets big is that apart from the great films, there’s always a trail of bad exploitation films that follow in their wake. Some of them can rise up to become classics in their own right, like Invaders from Mars (1953, review), released just a month before this movie. Others defy their minuscule budgets with staggeringly weird solutions, relentless visions and more heart than a hundred Hollywood blockbusters put together, like Robot Monster (1953, review) and the works of Ed Wood, Jr. Then there’s the ilk of Phantom from Space, that just don’t cut the mustard, in any way or fashion, except for being a so-bad-it’s-good film. Continue reading

Where Did You Get This?

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(5/10) In a nutshell: This 1952 movie, Min aina laka haza? in Arabic, has the distinction of being the first science fiction movie of Egypt. Starring four of the biggest movie stars of the country and directed by the B movie specialist and effects innovator Naizi Mostafa, this film is inspired by Universal’s Invisible Man films, but plays out as a romantic musical comedy. A fun, light-hearted and well-made popcorn movie that is enjoyable even without understanding the dialogue.

Where Did You Get This? (1952). Directed by Niazi Mostafa. Written by Ali El Zorkani and Muhammad Fawzi. Starring: Muhammad Fawzi, Madiha Yousri, Farid Shawqi, Ismail Yasseen, Hassan el Baroudi, Zeenat Sidqi. Produced by Muhammad Fawzi for Film Company Muhammad Fawzi. IMDb score: 5.0

Muhammed Fawzi becomes invisible in Niazi Momammad's Where Did You Get This?

Muhammed Fawzi becomes invisible in Niazi Momammad’s Where Did You Get This?

This is a rare entry on this blog of Arabic science fiction cinema, which is certainly not a huge subgenre, but nevertheless not to be completely overlooked. As a prosperous, stable and fairly secular country, Egypt was long the dominant film producer of the Arab countries and the golden age of Egyptian cinema lasted from the forties to the sixties. To a modern viewer, the liberal take on violence and sex in of some of the genre films of the golden age is surprising. Where Did You Get This? is in comparison a rather timid little film, and like much of the genre cinema of Egypt in the day, it was a blatant ripoff Hollywood’s genre films, in this case the Invisible Man franchise by Universal. Continue reading

Tômei ningen arawaru

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(5/10) Tômei ningen arawaru or The Invisible Man Appears has the distinction of being Japan’s earliest preserved science fiction film. More inspired by Universal’s Invisible Man films than H.G. Wells’ novel, the film concerns a mysterious invisible man out to steal a diamond necklace. This crime mystery drama meets tokusatsu film boasts the special effects of the great Eiji Tsuburaya and a superb performance from one of Japan’s biggest cinema legends, Takiko Mizunoe; a singer, dancer actress, gender bender and union activist who would go on to become Japan’s first female movie producer at a major studio.

Tômei ningen arawaru (1949, Japan). Directed by Nobuo Adachi. Written by Akimitsu Takagi & Nobuo Adachi. Starring: Chizuguru Kitagawa, Takiko Mizunoe, Daijirô Natsukawa, Mitsusaburô Ramon, Ryûnosuke Tsukigata, Shôsaku Sugiyama, Kanji Koshiba. Produced by Hisahi Okuda for Daiei. IMDb rating: 6.2/10. Rotten Tomatoes N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

The invisible man appears!

The invisible man appears!

Here’s one that got away! I finally managed to find an online copy of the Japanese film Tômei ningen arawaru (透明人間現わる or The Invisible Man Appears), made in 1949. And lo and behold! It even had English subtitles – unusually good subtitles, in fact. Now, I won’t be able to give you as detailed information on this film as I normally do, since there is not a lot of information about it online in English. What I know about it I’ve picked up from Japanese sources. I don’t read Japanese, and Google translates the language into almost unintelligible English. Please let me know in the comments below if I’ve misunderstood something or if you have any additional information on the film! Continue reading

Lights Out

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(5/10) In a nutshell: Arguably the first anthology TV show to feature science fiction, Lights Out was adapted from a popular horror radio show in the US in 1949. Broadcast live with a varying degree of quality, very light on sci-fi and quite heavy on traditional ghost stories. Lights Out sported an impressive roster of actors, but the direction and originality never quite reached the same quality as rivalling shows that popped up in the early fifties, like Out There or Tales of Tomorrow.

Lights Out (1949-1952). Directed by William Corrigan, Laurence Schwab Jr, Kingman T. Moore, Grey Lockwood, Fred Coe, et. al. Written by: A.J. Russell, George Lefferts, Fred Coe, Ernest Kinoy, Douglas Parkhurst, Wyllis Cooper, Arch Oboler, et. al. Starring: Frank Gallop, Jack La Rue, Mercer McLeod, Leslie Nielsen, Gregory Morton, John Newland, Peter Capell, Alfreda Wallace, Richard Derr, Ross Martin, John Forsythe, Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, Vaughn Taylor, Grace Kelly, George Reeves, Veronica Lake, Basil Rathbone, Anne Bancroft, Anne Francis, Boris Karloff, Anthony Quinn, Melvyn Douglas, Vincent Price, Produced by Herbert B. Swope, Fred Coe for NBC. IMDb rating: 7.3

Frank Gallop as the eerie presenter of Lights Out.

Frank Gallop as the eerie presenter of Lights Out.

Not really a science fiction show per se, Lights Out can still be credited as the first anthology show to bring sci-fi to the small screen. You could debate whether it was in fact the first science fiction show or not, but I’m going with the latter, and I’ll explain why below. Continue reading

Invisible Agent

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(5/10) In a nutshell: The fourth of Universal’s invisible man films, made in 1942, has a Griffin descendant fight Nazis in Germany. The special effects are impressive, as is much of the cast, incliding Cedric Hardwicke and Peter Lorre. But the comedy is lame and the script by Curt Siodmak falls far from his best efforts. Still, it is fairly entertaining as bit of a jumbled spy thriller.

Invisible Agent. 1942, USA. Directed by Edwin L. Marin. Written by Curt Siodmak. Inspired by the novel The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Starring: Jon Hall, Ilona Massey, Cedric Hardwicke, Peter Lorre, J. Edgar Bromberg, Albert Bassermann. Produced by Frank Lloyd for Universal. IMDb score: 6.0

Maria Sorenson (Ilona Massey) and the invisible agent (Jon Hall), covered in cold cream.

Maria Sorenson (Ilona Massey) and the invisible agent (Jon Hall), covered in cold cream.

I almost feel like I’ve got to apologise for posting yet another bland five-star review. But that’s just the thing with a lot of the sci-fi in the late thirties and early forties. The momentum that drove especially the mad scientist subgenre in the first half of the thirties was gone, and many of the directors that created such visionary films had been replaced by studio hacks. But on the other hand: even when relegated to Povery Row studios and bigger studios’ B units, there was still a lot of talent surrounding the genre, who were often able to elevate the films above their slight budgets. Such was the case with Invisible Agent. Continue reading

The Invisible Woman

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(6/10) In a nutshell: The third ”invisible man” installment is a good, solid comedy with a great female heroine, but hardly brings anything new to the sci-fi table.

The Invisible Woman. 1940, USA. Directed by A. Edward Sutherland. Written by Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, Gertrude Purcell, Joe May, Kurt Siodmak. Inspired by H.G. Wells’ novel The Invisible Man. Starring: Virginia Bruce, John Barrymore, John Howard, Charles Ruggles, Oskar Homolka, Edward Brophy, Donald MacBride, Margaret Hamilton, Shemp Howard. Produced by Burt Kelly for Universal. IMDb score: 6.1

Virginia Bruce not seen in The Invisible Woman.

Virginia Bruce not seen in The Invisible Woman.

Number three in the Universal Studios Invisible Man franchise takes the humorous elements of its predecessors to a new level. While James Whale added his pitch-black witty comedy to The Invisible Man (1933, review), it always remained at heart a horror film. Joe May toned down the horror for laughs in The Invisible Man Returns (1940, review), but still kept the serious mystery thriller element dominant. With director A. Edward Sutherland, one of the original, Keystone Cops, it is slapstick comedy all the way, and now there is very little, if anything, to remind the viewer of H.G. Wells’ original novel written in 1897 – which still gets screen credit. Continue reading

The Invisible Man Returns

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(7/10) In a nutshell: The horror icon Vincent Price takes over the empty shirt and trousers of Claude Rains in The Invisble Man Returns (1940). Univeral was still making good sequels to their horror films, although this one does clearly fall into B-movie category. But this is a good B-movie, well acted, well filmed and well received, but a harmless Hollywood sequel nonetheless.

The Invisible Man Returns. 1940, USA. Directed by Joe May. Written by Kurt Siodmak, Joe May, Lester Cole. Inspired by H.G. Wells’ novel The Invisible Man. Starring: Vincent Price, Cedric Hardwicke, Nan Grey, John Sutton, Cecil Kellaway, Alan Napier, Forrester Harvey. Visual effects: John P. Fulton. Produced by Ken Goldsmith for Universal. Tomatometer: 80 %. IMDb score: 6.5

The bandaged head is back! Now in the profile of Vincent Price.

The bandaged head is back! Now in the profile of Vincent Price.

When Universal bought the rights for the novel The Invisible Man from author H.G. Wells for their first film (1933, review), they made a contract for several films. But it would pass seven years before the studio re-opened the Invisible Man files again in 1940. By now Frankenstein had had both a Bride and a Son, and Dracula had a Daughter, so it was no more than fitting that The Invisible Man should have a Return, and later the same year The Mummy also got a Hand. Of course undead beings like Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula and The Mummy were easy enough to reanimate, but things were slightly more complicated with the invisible man, Jack Griffin, who was very much an ordinary man. So despite the fact that Claude Rains had made such an impact with his role seven years earlier, it was decided that a new invisible man was needed, as Griffin had very clearly died at the end of the previous film. And rather than bring in a Lugosi or a Karloff, Universal decided to do what they did with The Invisible Man – that is to cast a relatively unknown actor with a fantastic voice, and reveal his face in the last scene. This actor turned out to be a young Vincent Price in his first major role, and once again the casting agents at Universal had scored gold. Continue reading

Flash Gordon

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(7/10) In a nutshell: This hugely influential 1936 film serial was more or less the first American outer space adventure brought to the screen. It is high camp, silly and loads of fun, and boasts high production values for a serial, as well as an unusually imaginative and original script, derived straight from the pages of Alex Raymond’s comic strips. That the spaceships are obviously held by strings and the dragons look just like men in rubber and cardboard suits just adds to the fun.

Flash Gordon. 1936, USA. Serial film. Directed by Frederick Stephani, Ray Taylor. Written by Basil Dickey, Ella O’Niell, George H. Plympton, Frederick Stephani. Based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond and Don Moore. Starring: Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers, Frank Shannon, Charles Middleton, Priscilla Lawson, Richard Alexander, Jack ”Tiny” Lipson, James Pierce, Ray ”Crash” Corrigan. Produced by Henry McRae for Universal. IMDb score: 7.3

Buster Crabbe (middle) and Charles Middleton (right) as Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless on the cult classic serial Flash Gordon frpm 1936.

Buster Crabbe (middle) and Charles Middleton (right) as Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless in the cult classic serial Flash Gordon from 1936.

The story of one of the most influential science fiction adventures of all time – Flash Gordon – starts in 1928 with the pulp magazine Amazing Stories. In particular the short stories Armageddon 2419 A.D. and The Airlords of Han, which featured a central character called Anthony Rogers. In 1929 Philip Nowlan and Dick Calkins adapted the character, renamed Buck Rogers, as a comic strip, that soon featured in many of the prominent newspapers in the US, quickly becoming one of the most successful comic strips of all times. The futuristic world of the 25th century with its strange space crafts, jet packs, weapons, robots and designs, the outlandish and quite politically incorrect Mongolian villains, and of course the handsome, brave hero Buck Rogers instantly inspired a whole range of similar science fiction comics. Some failed, others, like Brick Bradford, became highly successful. But few were able to touch the popularity of Buck Rogers – save one, which came hurtling along like a runaway planet Mongo on a collision course with Earth in 1934. Flash Gordon quickly surpassed the popularity of Buck Rogers, and stands to this day as one of the most highly regarded and influential comic strips of all time. Note: I will not be reviewing the 1938 Buck Rogers serial, as it is basically just another Flash Gordon season under a different name – it even starred Buster Crabbe. Continue reading

The Vanishing Shadow

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(4/10) In a nutshell: Mature direction and script, quality effects, a good lead actor and a whole heap of Strickfadens make this early sci-fi serial a relatively entertaining outing – but it is nonetheless a pretty cheap exploitation of The Invisible Man and earlier crime dramas.

The Vanishing Shadow. USA, 1934. Serial. Directed by: Lew Landers. Written by: Basil Dickey, George Morgan, Ella O’Neill, Het Mannheim. Starring: Onslow Stevens, Ada Ince, Walter Miller, James Durkin, Richard Cramer, Lee J. Cobb. Music: Edward Ward. Cinematography: Richard Fryer. Editing: Saul A. Goodkind. Alvin Todd, Edward Todd. Special effects: Elmer A. Johnson, Raymond Lindsay, Kenneth Strickfaden. Produced by Henry McRae for Universal. IMDb score: 6.1

Original poster for the early sci-fi serial The Vanishing Shadow.

Original poster for the early sci-fi serial The Vanishing Shadow.

The Vanishing Shadow (1934) was one of the serials riding on the wave of newfound interest from studios in serial-making. After sound cinema bloated the budgets of filmmaking, most studios quickly dropped their serials, and only Mascot and Universal hung on – and this of course opened the door for many smaller studios to cut in on the action. Serials were again on the rise after western star Tim McCoy fronted the hugely successful The Indians Are Coming in late 1930, and after this stars like John Wayne, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi (The Whispering Shadow, 1933, review) and the dog Rin Tin Tin all helped to further drive the format forward. The Vanishing Shadow had no real big-name star, but in this serial it is Kenneth Strickfaden’s electrical sci-fi gadgets and the special effects created by director Lew Landers and cinematographer Richard Fryer, along with editor Saul A. Goodkind, that shine. Continue reading