Olive Films’ Blu-ray release of THE INVISIBLE MONSTER is cause for celebration, as it’s the first serial to be released on the format, with hopefully many more of these nostalgic afternoon matinee treasures on their way!
The Phantom Ruler (Stanley Price, SCARED TO DEATH) is a secret criminal organizer who obtains henchmen by smuggling in illegal aliens. He captures four European immigrants who left their countries to escape the spies of their dictatorial rulers (really), and he changes their names, forcing them to be under his command and aid in his cause to create an invisible army so he can take over the world. The Phantom Ruler has the ability to occasionally make himself invisible by combining chemically treated black clothing with a special light ray, and his first big job is robbing a bank vault. Enter Lane Carson (Richard Webb) an insurance investigator from the Apex Insurance Company assigned to the case. He is teamed up with feisty detective Carol Richards (Aline Towne, GOG) as they get on the path of a suspicious locksmith who happens to be one of The Phantom Ruler’s men. The locksmith is apprehended after Lane gets in a brawl with a tough henchman, but he is shot by a sniper before he can be questioned. Lane and Carol continue their investigation, getting into various situations of extreme jeopardy, as The Phantom Ruler and his gang leave behind a trail of villainy leading to his ultimate plan of dictatorship.
With American theatrical film serials going back to the silent days, by the time THE INVISIBLE MONSTER was released in 1950, the art form was slowing down and quickly coming to an end, and by 1956 they ceased production. THE INVISIBLE MONSTER is part of a long line of weekly multi-chaptered adventure yarns from Republic Pictures (noted for their DICK TRACY, CAPTAIN MARVEL and CAPTAIN AMERICA films, among many others) and although it’s not considered the best of its type, it’s jammed with all the expected ingredients and over-the-top cliffhanger endings. We’re talking about our heroes being left off in situations involving hurled grenades, crashing automobiles, exploding sheds, oncoming locomotives, falling through building windows, blazing oil barrels and more -- and you have to wait until the next chapter to find out whether or not they’ve become casualties of unethical baddies and perilous mishaps. The title of the serial is rather misleading (unlike say, THE CRIMSON GHOST) in that the titular character is nothing more than a human rat with a Napoleon complex who has to go to great lengths to make his temporary invisibility formula work. One thing for sure, THE INVISIBLE MONSTER is loaded with brawling in every chapter, and even with breakaway household furniture being broken over one another’s various body parts, these well-dressed tough guys never lose the hats from their heads, and that’s quite amusing on the camp meter.
Lead actor Richard Webb is capable as the lead (probably the most adventurous insurance man you’ll ever see!), and although the actor never become a well-known movie star, he is best known for playing “Captain Midnight” on television in the 1950s. Readers of this site will likely recognize Webb from such B pictures as Larry Buchanan’s HELL RAIDERS, Bruce Kessler’s THE GAY DECEIVERS and Larry Hagman’s BEWARE! THE BLOB. Leading lady Aline Towne was also a serial regular (also appearing in RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON and ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE) and her character is a strong-willed heroine who is introduced as one step ahead of her male counterpart, and she’s not afraid to fire a gun (there’s no damsels in distress here, which gives this an edge, especially for its time). As the central villain, Stanley Price’s face should be familiar to anyone who frequents black and white A and B pictures, and he appeared in countless serials, usually in supporting bad-guy roles. His performance as The Phantom Ruler actually comes off as non-threatening, mousy and monotone, which actually makes him awkwardly interesting to watch (Price also encountered the Shemp-era Three Stooges in their Columbia short DOPEY DICK, released the same year as this). The cast also includes the future Perry White on THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, John Hamilton, as one of the immigrants controlled by the Phantom (all of them speak perfect English, in fact, that’s why they were chosen!) and Universal Studios stuntman Eddie Parker (who doubled for the monster actors in a number of their 1940s horror classics) can be seen as a henchman.
The twelve chapters of THE INVISIBLE MONSTER are as follows, and each one also represents a chapter on the disc: 1. Slaves of the Phantom, 2. The Acid Clue, 3. The Death Car, 4. Highway Holocaust, 5. Bridge to Eternity, 6. Ordeal by Fire, 7. Murder Train, 8. Window of Peril, 9. Trail to Destruction, 10. High Voltage Danger, 11. Death's Highway and 12. The Phantom Meets Justice. Each chapter runs a little over 13 minutes, with the first one (Slaves of the Phantom) running about 20 minutes. It’s interesting to note that in 1966, THE INVISIBLE GHOST had its chapters re-edited as a TV movie entitled SLAVES OF THE INVISIBLE MONSTER, and it was cut down to 100 minutes (this Blu-ray is complete, with a running time of 167 minutes).
Olive Films have been licensing a number of titles from the Paramount for Blu-ray and DVD release, including items from Republic Pictures library such as this. The original source elements used for the transfer here are in surprisingly nice shape, with the 1080p transfer presenting the serial in its intended 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. There are a few blemishes to be found, but the image is mostly clean with crisp detail and well balanced grayscale. Blacks are consistently deep, grain structure is filmic and well-maintained and the image is mostly sharp with only a handful of softer spots. The Blu-ray contains a DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track, which has clear dialogue and sound effects, and the music by the great Stanley Wilson has the right amount of punch to it. No subtitle options are included on the disc. (George R. Reis)
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