Monday, June 10, 2013

Invisible Avenger

INVISIBLE AVENGER (1958) is a bit of an odd duck. Apparently intended as a TV pilot, it didn't sell, and instead got a theatrical release (or two). I've seen ads that I assume are for it being issued under this title, but the film itself runs under an hour. I guess it was used to fill out the bottom half of a double bill.

What makes this particularly unusual is that INVISIBLE AVENGER is a largely-unheralded film adapting the Shadow. It's apparently the second busted pilot for that noted crimefighter. I actually have no trouble understanding why this iteration didn't go on to become a series. It has a number of weaknesses that undermine its good qualities.

The setting is New Orleans, and it appears the film was really filmed there (especially given the appearance of TV station WDSU). It definitely has a feel for the local color, but this brings up one of the things about this project that puzzles me. The Shadow is a visitor to the city. So, would the Shadow series have relied on location filming across the country? And if not, why shoot the pilot so far off the beaten path?

More of an issue is the unusual set-up. Lamont Cranston is still the Shadow, but he forgoes any sort of recognizable outfit like the slouch hat or the cloak. His identity is ostensibly secret, but he sure goes around turning invisible willy-nilly without a care in the world. And then, there is his mentor. No Margo Lane for this Shadow; he's saddled with a sort of mystic who apparently taught him the secrets of the Shadow. I'm not one who finds subtext in each and every work of fiction, but holy moley, this pretty much screams out "gay couple" whenever they are on-screen together. It's almost like the people responsible sensed this and overcompensated by having Cranston declare his interest in every woman in the cast.

The plot confuses me. I can't say I wasn't (mildly) entertained, but there are parts that just don't make any sense. Like, televising an execution? Really? This is not anything that was going to happen. And even for something that runs under an hour, characters disappear abruptly and the plot shifts gears abruptly. It feels like either some sort of tinkering occurred, or the script just wasn't especially coherent in the first place.

I'm also a bit flabbergasted to see what amounts to product placement in the late 1950s. Besides the appearance of WDSU, both Delta Airlines and Avis are prominently featured. Actually, there's damn near an Avis commercial close to the end, considering how long the camera lingers on their logo. What's weird is that Avis is not exactly depicted in a positive light. Cannot imagine how this would have helped them.

I don't know - INVISIBLE AVENGER is sort of OK the first time, but it's not something I am eager to revisit. However, it appears that at least one other company saw potential in it. The only trailer for it that I have found is this re-release version entitled BOURBON STREET SHADOWS. It includes salacious footage that is nowhere in evidence during INVISIBLE AVENGER. Was it included only in the trailer, or is BOURBON STREET SHADOWS a spicier re-edit? We'll probably never know!

2 comments:

David McRobie said...

I couldn't get through this on VHS back in the day. you are a better man than I am!

C. Elam said...

I toughed it out! It starts out with some promise, but eventually just falls apart.