Review: The Invisible Man / Cert: 12 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: David McCallum, Melinda Fee, Craig Stevens, Jackie Cooper, Henry Darrow / Release Date: Out Now
As if typed onto the screen by invisible typewriter keys, the famous spool of text to begin each episode of The Invisible Man would announce: “MACHINE MALFUNCTION… WESTIN PERMANENTLY INVISIBLE… KLAE CORPORATION WILL FINANCE RECOVERY EFFORT… WESTIN WILL RENDER SERVICES AS SECRET AGENT. HIS CODE NAME: KLAE RESOURCE.”
Of the many faces donned by veteran screen actor David McCallum, it is The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s Illya Kuryakin and NCIS’s Chief Medical Examiner Donald “Ducky” Maynard that bookend his expansive onscreen career. Back in the mid-seventies, and not as well known, McCallum donned the guise of Doctor Daniel Westin A.K.A “The Invisible Man”, a persona rooted in early British science-fiction literature.
Harve Bennett, creator of two staples of 1970s television: The Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, borrowed along with co-creator Steven Bochco only the title from H.G. Wells’ story, instead re-naming their invisible protagonist “The KLAE Resource.” In so doing they preserved the potency of the word “Invisible” or the name “Invisible Man” for those timely moments, and affirmed it as a re-imagining of Wells’ story as opposed to an adaptation.
The four disc set contains the feature length pilot and twelve televised episodes of this short lived series. Despite being a child of the eighties and early nineties, this release offered a welcome opportunity to reminisce on the discovery of these classic Universal television shows re-run in my youth on terrestrial television. The set showcases Henry Mancini’s catchy theme, the classic pre-credits preview, freeze frames and fade to black for dramatic effect, all an affectionate reminder of a bygone era in television.
Prior to this release The Invisible Man has been lost in the shadow of other Universal shows but now thankfully it has an opportunity to be both re-discovered and discovered a new.
Cancelled after only twelve episodes, the shows eventual trajectory remains a mystery, delivering only the exploitation of Westin as the “KLAE RESOURCE”, rather than the mix of recovery and services rendered. The point of interest remains the comedic subversion of the tragic and darker overtones of the pilot.
The Invisible Man may be most fittingly described as a journey from darkness to light, yet in hindsight the pilot teased with the potential for the show to come full circle and explore Westin’s tragedy. Whilst this would be more in keeping with Wells’ original story; Westin is the sympathetic tragic protagonist in contrast to Wells’ original “Invisible Man.”
Much of the show’s success is owed to the sum of its parts: McCallum and Melinda Fee’s on-screen chemistry, the creative and innovative set-pieces and gags that never feel tired, and the actors, in particular Fee’s versatility to mime. Heavily formulaic, yet full of charm it stands out as a gem of Universal’s Television library. If only they’d finished what they had started.
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