Invisible Man

Visible Appreciation For The Invisible Man

Hollywood has taken many a swipe at retelling H.G. Wells’ tale of The Invisible Man. It’s just possible that none of them were as intentionally shagadelic as the 1975 NBC TV series of the same name.
Invisible Man

The Invisible Man starred David McCallum, who had just finished a two-season stint on the BBC World War II series Colditz, but was still best known to viewers the world over as The Man From UNCLE’s Ilya Kuryakin. McCallum was instantly recognizable, and still hot property on both sides of the Atlantic, and in this series he played scientist David Westin, who uses himself as a guinea pig in experiments to achieve invisibility. Westin’s wife, Kate, is refreshingly shown to be his partner in both lab and love, and his intellectual equal as a scientist; she’s played by Melinda Fee, who later became a household name on the soap opera scene. Craig Stevens, still best known for playing Peter Gunn, is their beleaguered boss, Walter Carlson.

But the effect is supposed to be temporary, and instead Westin is permanently invisible. And since the Cold War is still on, as soon as word leaks out from the Klae Corporation, the Westins’ employer, that invisibility has been achieved, it isn’t long before government agents want Westin and his secrets, and show few qualms about hurting anyone who stands in their way. The Invisible Man is emblematic of entertainment in the lingering shadows of both Watergate and the Cold War: even our guys can’t be trusted, never mind the Commies. To prevent the process from being repeated for the benefit of spies and assassins, Westin destroys the equipment that rendered him invisible, thereby cutting off any hope that he can just step back into the machine and become visible again.

In order to pay back for the equipment and to stay in a position where he can try to figure out how to become visible again, Dan Westin becomes “the Klae Resource”, a top secret asset for which the Klae Corporation commands top-dollar prices. From takedowns of drug rings to corrupt small-town judges, nothing is more than the Invisible Man can handle. Dan always has a handy stockpile of gloves and masks that just happen to look flawlessly like the hands and head of David McCallum.

To show Dan donning or ditching his “visible man” disguise involved a problematic process of shooting on video against a blue screen, with McCallum in at least a partial blue bodysuit that would “vanish”. In an attempt to avoid the jarring switch between film and video, that video footage would be played back on a monitor whose refresh rate matched the shutter speed of a film camera positioned directly in front of it. This effect was used sparingly, both because of the time involved and because, frankly, it didn’t look that great.

So what did The Invisible Man have going for it? The sheer chemistry going on between McCallum and Fee accounts for much of the appeal. In true 1970s style, the show plays up the one thing we’ve always suspected about the Invisible Man, in whatever setting the story is told: while Westin is invisible, he’s running around naked. Little secret is made of the fact that the Westins take every opportunity to…enjoy…Dan’s invisibility. They’re a great on-screen team – The Invisible Man has a lot of comedy moments and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The invisibility gag is put to use in situations other than earth-shaking secret agent scenarios, which also keeps things lively.

If you’re new to The Invisible Man, you’ll be happy to know that the pilot movie and all twelve episodes are available on DVD and, since the show was shot on film, Blu-Ray. Be warned that the Blu-Rays, while sharp, reframe the show in widescreen, cutting off the top and bottom of film footage that was always intended to be in a 4:3 aspect ratio. I wish the Blu-Ray producers of the world would get the hint that this is as much of a butchering of the original material as pan-and-scan VHS tapes were. (The DVD gives you the original 4:3 picture.)

So why did The Invisible Man last only 12 episodes? Invisibility gags, whether they’re of the time-consuming, video-to-film type or pulling stuff along on fishing line, aren’t cheap to do, and each episode has several of them. The show’s creators, Harve Bennett and Steven Bochco, were rising stars who had more than one iron in their respective fires – Bennett was already overseeing The Six Million Dollar Man, while Bochco was in the early stages of a career that would see him go on to be the showrunner and creator of the likes of Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and Cop Rock. After The Invisible Man’s cancellation, Bennett retooled the concept and relaunched it just a few months later as the even-shorter-lived Gemini Man, trading McCallum’s British class in for Ben Murphy’s all-American aw-shucks, which only stayed on the prime time schedule for four weeks following a pilot movie. (Gemini Man may well be remembered best for giving us the MST3K episode “Riding With Death”.)

In the meantime, rewind to 1975 and enjoy once more the days when The Invisible Man – complete with a mention of H.G. Wells in the end credits – was keeping the prime time schedule groovy.

[Via] Visual Ent

Retro Radio Memories Ep. 83 (War of the Worlds)

The War of the Worlds was a benchmark in Old Time Radio. Remembered today thanks to the amount of panic it was said to have caused when it aired in 1938. Although this may be true – nevertheless it is widely believed now that the media exaggerated the panic. Quite a bit actually.

I would add though having said that, there are two of those with the Mercury Theater on the Air. Stefan Schnabel as well as John Houseman who went on record saying that the Police descended on the station. I’ve included quotes from both in the podcast.

Of course The War of the Worlds was directed by none other than Orson Welles.
War of the Worlds

As I do mention in this episode. It was indeed Welles who suggested that real life places and names of recognizable people be included. Something that CBS balked at – forcing some changes as the studio was worried that audiences would believe the broadcast!

What is The War of the Worlds about?


Wait. Are you serious? I mean…you aren’t pulling my leg? I hadn’t actually expected that question.

H.G. Wells wrote his famous novel back in 1898. Well – it was actually originally published in a serialized format through Pearson’s Magazine and Cosmopoltian in 1897. It was collected and published in book form in 1898.
h-g-wells

It reads as an account of an eyewitness to an invading force from the planet Mars. The unnamed author of the work gives readers an almost blow by blow account of the technological might of the Martians. As using “towering three-legged” machines of war they run rampant across the English countryside.

Naturally the writer for the radio play of The War of the Worlds set the invasion in America, in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey in fact. At least the starting point of the arrival of the Martians. Soon however through continually dire news reports – the listener is treated to an apocalyptic invasion.

If you have any comments or feedback for the show you can e-mail them to at VicSage@Retroist.com. You can also reach me on Twitter and of course on Facebook.

The music on the podcast was graciously provided by Peachy! You may contact him by e-mail at peachy@Retroist.com.

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The War of the Worlds in and near Boston

Fighters from Mars

In a world where the notion of copyright was yet to involve lawyers, it was quite easy to copy material and pass it off as your own.

And that is what the Boston Evening-Post did in 1898, taking H.G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds and giving it a few geographical tweaks to move the story from London to Boston. The story, more often referred to as Fighters from Mars doesn’t really deviate from the narrative of the original. The readers of the Boston newspaper made the story a big hit and a sequel was produced shortly afterwards which was written as original material.

Edison's Conquest of Mars

Edison’s Conquest of Mars had the people of Earth in a counter-attack against the invaders from Mars. Amazingly, the hero of the story, Thomas Edison, was THE Thomas Edison, inventor of light bulbs and all-round American icon at that time.

Whilst the original Fighters’ story is only available as scanned images of the original print, the sequel can be purchased from Apogee Books and looks to be a good read. A 2006 review from Focus magazine can be read here.

Jeff Wayne and the Funktastic Invasion of Earth

War of the Worlds - Jeff Wayne
As the world creeps ever forward into its annual Autumnal repose, my mind often turns to the iconic October 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast by Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater. The radio play caused hysteria due to the fact that it was broadcast as news bulletins without commercial interruption, as if the events were actually transpiring just outside of the safety of the audience’s living rooms.

And, while that version is an undeniable fright classic, it of course is not the only adaptation of H.G. Wells’ seminal tale of Victorian science fiction literature. Recently my ol’ pal, master illustrator and sculptor supreme Gabe Perna, reminded me of a version of the tale that some may not be as familiar with, the 1978 musical by Jeff Wayne.

Featuring Richard Burton as the narrator, with guest vocals by Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, and Chris Thompson of Manfred Mann (along with other talented singers and musicians), Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is a swirling phantasmagoria of Victorian dialog, distortion pedals, synthesized harpsichords and porn bass, and while that shouldn’t work, it absolutely does!

So why not give it a listen today…and remember, somewhere in the vastness of space, advanced alien cultures have mastered the art of using threaded screws…and they are coming for us all!