Invisible Agent is a 1942 American science fiction film from Universal. The film was a wartime propaganda production that was part of a Hollywood effort to boost morale at the home front. It loosely echoed a series of formula war-horror films produced during this period that typically featured a mad scientist working in secret to aid the Third Reich.
This film, which is the fourth film in the Universal Studios Invisible Man series, was directed by Edwin L. Marin, and the screenplay was written by Curt Siodmak, who had co-written the earlier The Invisible Man Returns in 1940. Siodmak was a refugee from Nazi Germany, and he gave the film a strong anti-Nazi tone that treated the Nazis as incompetent buffoons. (A scene reportedly edited from the film had the hero placing a boot into Hitler's backside, following an official ban on all such images.)
The concept for the story was inspired by The Invisible Man, a science fiction novel by H. G. Wells. Wells had signed a deal with Universal to allow movies based on his work, which began with the successful 1933 film by the same name.
For the cast, the invisible agent is played by Jon Hall, with Peter Lorre and Sir Cedric Hardwicke (who played another villain in The Invisible Man Returns) performing as members of the axis, and Ilona Massey and Albert Basserman as allied spies. The special effects were produced by John P. Fulton, who had created the effects for Universal's previous Invisible Man films. The movie was filmed in black and white with mono sound and ran for 81 minutes.
The grandson of Dr. Jack Griffin, the original Invisible Man, has emigrated to the United States and now runs a print shop in Manhattan under the assumed name of Frank Raymond (Jon Hall). In his shop he is confronted by four armed men who reveal that they know his true identity. One of the men, Conrad Stauffer (Cedric Hardwicke), is a lieutenant general of the S.S., while a second, Baron Ikito (Peter Lorre), is Japanese. They offer to pay for the invisibility formula and threaten amputation if it is not revealed. Griffin manages to escape with the formula in his hands.
Griffin is reluctant to release the formula to the U.S. government officials and only agrees to limited cooperation following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. (The condition is that the formula can only be used on himself). Later, while in-flight to be parachuted behind German lines on a secret mission, he injects himself with the invisibility serum. Griffin strips out of his clothing as he parachutes down, much to the shock of German troops tracking his descent.
After landing, Griffin evades German troops and makes contact with an old coffin-maker named Arnold Schmidt (Albert Basserman), who reveals the next step of Griffin's mission. Griffin is to obtain a list of German and Japanese spies within the U.S. The list was in the possession of Stauffer. Griffin is aided in his task by Maria Sorenson (Ilona Massey), a German espionage agent and the love interest of both Stauffer and Stauffer's well-connected second-in-command, Gestapo Standartenführer Karl Heiser (J. Edward Bromberg).
According to their plan, Sorenson attempts to gain information from Heiser during a private dinner, with Griffin as witness. Inexplicably, Griffin uses his invisibility to play tricks on Heiser instead. Finally enraged when the dinner table mysteriously tips and soils his uniform, Heiser places Sorenson under house-arrest. Later, an apologetic Griffin demonstrates his existence to Sorenson by putting on a robe and smearing facial cream on his features. The two are attracted to each other.
Conrad Stauffer returns from his efforts in the United States and tries to manage his shifting alliances with Karl Heiser, Maria Sorenson, and Baron Ikito. When he learns of Heiser's disastrous romantic dinner with Sorenson, Stauffer has Karl Heiser arrested and baits a trap for Griffin, whom he comes to suspect has made contact with Maria. Despite walking into Stauffer's trap, Griffin manages to obtain the list of agents, and start a fire to cover his escape. Griffin takes the list of agents to Arnold Schmidt for transmission to England.
Conrad Stauffer tries to hide the loss of the agent list from the prying Baron Ikito. Baron Ikito has been staying at the local Japanese Embassy. When Stauffer refuses to answer Ikito's questions, the two confess to each other that German and Japanese cooperation is not one of trust. Without revealing their plans to each other, both men start separate hunts for the Invisible Agent.
The plot thickens as Griffin steals into a German prison to obtain information from Karl Heiser about a planned German attack on New York city. In exchange for additional information, Griffin helps Heiser escape his imminent execution. Griffin returns with Heiser to Schmidt, who in the meantime has been arrested and tortured by Stauffer. At the shop, Griffin confronts Maria Sorenson, whom he suspects has betrayed Schmidt, and is captured with a net trap by Ikito's men.
Heiser escapes detection and attempts to save his life and career by phoning in Ikito's activities to Stauffer. Griffin and Sorensen are taken to the Japanese embassy, but manage to escape during the mayhem that ensues when Stauffer's men arrive. For their joint failure to safeguard the list of Axis agents, Ikito kills Stauffer and then commits seppuku, ritual suicide, as Heiser watches from the shadows.
Assuming command, Heiser arrives too late to the local air base to stop Griffin and Sorenson from escaping. The couple acquires one of the bombers slated for the New York attack, and destroy other German planes on the ground as they fly to England. Stauffer's loyal men catch up with Karl Heiser and he is shot.
Griffin succumbs to his injuries before he can radio ahead. England's air defense shoots down their craft, but not before Sorenson parachutes them to safety. Later, in a hospital, Griffin has recovered and is wearing facial cream so that he can be visible again. Sorenson appears with Griffin's American handler, who vouches for Sorenson that she has been an Allied double-agent all along. Sorenson is left alone with Griffin. Griffin reveals that he is actually visible under the facial cream, and they kiss. Sorenson happily accepts the challenge of discovering how Griffin regained his visibility.Ilona Massey as Maria Sorenson
Jon Hall as Agent Frank Raymond / The Invisible Man
Peter Lorre as Baron Ikito
Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Gestapo Gruppenführer Conrad Stauffer
J. Edward Bromberg as Gestapo Standartenführer Karl Heiser
John Litel as John Gardiner
Holmes Herbert as Sir Alfred Spencer
Keye Luke as Surgeon
The film was originally called The Invisible Spy and filming started 27 April 1942.
The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Visual Effects (John P. Fulton, Bernard B. Brown) at the 15th Academy Awards.
Due to the financial and critical successes of the film a sequel in the series titled, The Invisible Man's Revenge was released in 1944. In the sequel Jon Hall again plays the main character, although portraying a different character who becomes an Invisible Man.