Thursday, December 17, 2015

#1,949. The Invisible Menace (1938)

Directed By: John Farrow

Starring: Boris Karloff, Marie Wilson, Eddie Craven

Line from the film: "Wasn't anyone doing anything we can check up on?"

Trivia: This movie was an adaptation of a Broadway play called "Without Warning"

A year after making West of Shanghai, director John Farrow reunited with star Boris Karloff for The Invisible Menace, a comedy / mystery in which the horror icon is the main suspect in a murder case. But unlike their previous outing, not even the great Karloff can save this 1938 film from mediocrity.

So they can be together on their wedding night, army private Eddie Pratt (Eddie Craven) sneaks new bride Sally (Marie Wilson) onto his base, and while trying to find a safe place to hide her, he interrupts a murderer whose only just finished off his victim (Eddie tries to subdue the man, but gets slugged across the chin for his troubles). During their investigation into the killing, base commander Col. Hackett (Henry Kolker) and his advisor, Col. Rogers (Cy Kendall), become convinced that a civilian doctor named Jevries (Karloff) is the guilty party (years earlier, on the island of Haiti, the dead man carried on an affair with Jevries’s wife, then framed him for a crime he didn’t commit). But is Jevries truly to blame, or is the killer still at large?

From its opening scene, where Eddie loads Sally into his duffel bag and sneaks her onto the base, I knew The Invisible Menace was in trouble (despite playing newlyweds, Eddie Craven and Marie Wilson have zero chemistry, and while the intention was to make them the film’s comic relief, never once did I find them even remotely funny). Equally as bad as the comedy is the so-called mystery; at regular intervals, the filmmakers toss out clues to help identify the killer (from the lump he left on Eddie’s chin when he punched him, it’s believed the murderer was wearing a ring), only to ignore these revelations until the finale (while questioning Jevries, nobody checks to see if he has a ring on his finger).

And as military bases go, the one depicted in The Invisible Menace could be the most inept ever portrayed on the big screen. Despite being in lock-down mode ever since the victim’s body was found, the killer somehow manages to toss a live grenade through a window, fire a rifle at several people (hitting one), and even knock a crate off of a second-floor loft (nearly crushing two people below), all without being discovered!

Karloff does what he can with what’s basically a lifeless role (in a flashback scene, it’s revealed that Jevries was a cuckolded husband who did nothing to stop his wife from cheating on him), but the movie doesn’t meet the actor halfway. Failing as both a comedy and a mystery, The Invisible Menace is one to avoid.

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