Monday, August 28, 2017

Microreview [film]: The Invisible Boy

Oh...boy. Just, yep. I'm gonna leave the pun right there.

Forbidden Planet is an undisputed classic of sci-fi film. At the time it was produced, it was a tremendously expensive film, and a disproportionate amount of that budget went to pay for a single prop: Robby the Robot. That sure must've seemed like a good investment when the breakout star of the film was not sexpot Anne Francis, or strapping, not-yet-gray Leslie Nielsen, or even venerable actor-with-gravitas Walter Pidgeon. Nope, the breakout star was Robby the Robot.

And with good reason. Robby is amazing. Robby is better than Gort, and I love Gort. I don't even care. We can fight. So given the success of Forbidden Planet and Robby, the studio wanted a sequel, naturally. That sequel was The Invisible Boy. Now, The Invisible Boy is bonkers, so rather than write a straight review, I wanted to try something different. Here, then, is An Imagined Conversation Between Screenwriter Cyril Hume and the Producers of Forbidden Planet and The Invisible Boy.

The scene is a small, executive office on the MGM lot. A PRODUCER sits behind a mahogany desk. It's nice. Swanky digs, sure, but it's second-class fancy, for Golden Age Hollywood. The really nice offices start a floor up. But this producer's doing ok. We'll give him a cigar. Because 1956.

In walks CYRIL HUME, screenwriter. He's in a suit, also because 1956, but you can tell. It's the 1956-everybody-wears-suits equivalent of a Foo Fighters concert-T. Still, this has been the biggest year of his professional life — three hits. Ransom!, with Glenn Ford (big star), Forbidden Planet, and Bigger Than Life directed by Nicholas Ray right after Rebel Without a Cause.

PRODUCER: Cyril, baby. Have a seat. Have a seat! You want a cigar?

CYRIL HUME: Scotch and soda? Just, Scotch with a ray of sunlight that passed through a bottle of Schweppes.

PROD: That's a writer for you! I'll have my girl mix it right up for you.

He pushes a button on the intercom.

PROD: Stella, mix up a, er? Is it "Stella"?

VOICE ON INTERCOM: Sheila, sir. But keep trying.

PROD: Great. Listen, baby. I need a Scotch and soda for our writer friend, and that's Scotch with a...what was it?

CH: It's just Scotch and soda. Just...really?

PROD: That's just Scotch and soda, Shirley. In a glass. With ice, maybe.


CH: So...?

PROD: Right. Listen, baby. This Forbidden Planet, it's a humdinger. It's doing gangbusters. We need a sequel, ready to shoot, right away.

CH: I told you a science fiction version of Shakespeare's Tempest would work.

PROD: Whatever, whatever. This Shakespeare guy, friend of yours? If he's got other ideas, great. But listen, we need another movie with Robby the Robot, right now. Like, yesterday. Something fiction-y. For the, uh, for the geeks and stuff.

CH: Yeah, that's great. Making a film on such a huge canvas was fantastic. We could explore other worlds...maybe on their way back to Earth...

PROD: You kidding me? No, they're on Earth. Jesus, that fake planet cost me a fortune. And black-and-white. Color film was a nightmare. I chewed through three pillows in my sleep just from seeing the lab bills.

CH: So...a black-and-white sequel, on Earth, to a Technicolor space tragedy that takes place 300 years in the future?

PROD: On the nose, baby! And present-day. No space cities, or future science, or none of that. Just put the robot in it.

CH: The robot won't be invented for 300 years.

PROD: Then make it come back with time travel or something. That's a thing, right? People from the future? All that?

CH: Wow, yeah. There's never really been a serious time travel film. This could be pretty amazing.

PROD: Yes! There you go! But don't spend too much time on that part. We don't want to have to build any fancy time machines, or go to other times, where the costuming...oh the costume costs, just give me an antacid. So it's now, but there's a robot from the future. Go! Oh, no wait! Listen, I got this cousin...or, second cousin? I don't know. But they got this kid, he wants to be in pictures, he's, whatever, he's kid-aged. Like, we'll say 10. Put him in it.

CH: Look, not to tell you your business, but "dogs and kids," you know? Never work with them?

PROD: He doesn't have to be in the whole thing. Just, I don't know, make him invisible halfway through and then forget about him.

Sheila enters, gives the screenwriter his Scotch and soda. It disappears in a single toss of the head.

CH: Two more, please.

Sheila cocks an eyebrow, then looks at her boss. Gets it totally. She leaves.

CH: So it's a black-and-white picture about a time-traveling robot and a little kid who turns invisible halfway through?

PROD: Solid gold. We'll call it...The See-Thru Kid! Or, something like that. As long as it's eight reels long.

CH: What if, and I'm just thinking out loud, what if the sequel to the fantastic, futuristic space picture took place in space. In the future? We could re-use the ship from the first movie, we could --

PROD: Cyril, baby. We already sold the ship to CBS, and they're going to use it in a bunch of TV shows this cat Rod Serling is making. The ship is gone. Damn, sailed. The ship has sailed. Let's pretend I didn't flub that joke, ok? Where were we?

CH: You had just put my career in a time machine and sent it backwards twenty-something years to when I was writing Tarzan movies.

PROD: Right, right. You know what else is hip these days, is computers, and aliens. I have definitely seen those words on the covers of magazines.

CH: So you want eight reels about a kid who plays with a space robot from the future, but then turns invisible halfway through, with a computer that may or may not be from another planet?

PROD: Perfect. You're a genius.

Sheila appears with two more Scotch and sodas.


Let me just say that our hero, screenwriter Cyril Hume, accomplished everything that was asked of him in this imagined meeting. If you think that sounds like it'll make a good movie, than The Invisible Boy is right up your alley. I will say, and this is no B.S., the movie has one of my most favorite lines of dialogue ever from any movie. I will sometimes put this movie on at home just to watch that moment. And if that's not a cult film punching above its weight, I don't know what is.

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012, Emmy-winning producer, and also folk singer.