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The Invisible Boy

The Invisible Boy(1957)

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teaser The Invisible Boy (1957)

An amusing artifact from a more innocent age in sci-fi cinema, The Invisible Boy (1957) proudly reflects all of that naive innocence that prevailed in those days just before manned space flight became a reality. The family-oriented fantasy remains memorable for its status as a sequel-of-sorts to the undisputed genre classic Forbidden Planet (1956) and its improbable crazy quilt of plot elements, from hostile artificial intelligence to mind-controlled drones to invasions from space to, lest we forget, invisibility.

The film was the creation of Nicholas Nayfack, the MGM line producer who had found his greatest success as a result of being assigned Forbidden Planet. Having formed his own production company, Nayfack wanted to create another project utilizing "Robby," the humanoid robot from Forbidden Planet that had so endeared itself to audiences. He commissioned Forbidden Planet screenwriter Cyril Hume to adapt an Edmund Cooper short story that had appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, and to integrate Robby into the proceedings. (Sadly, it wasn't long after The Invisible Boy opened theatrically that Nayfack died of a heart attack at age 49).

The convoluted plot begins at the facilities of a Dr. Merrinoe (Philip Abbott), who is treating U.S. military personnel to a demonstration of the capacities of the room-sized computer that he has designed. Merrinoe, a rather stuffy and egotistical man, assures his Pentagon visitors that the artificial brain is incapable of independent action. Even at home the scientist maintains his superior attitude; he can barely conceal his exasperation with his 10-year-old son Timmie (Richard Eyer), an ordinary kid who can barely stay awake through his dad's long-winded explanations to the simplest of questions.

In a perverse bit of inspiration, Merrinoe takes Timmie along to the office the following day, in search of a potentially more effective tutor. Left alone with the artificial brain, Timmie is subjected to post-hypnotic instruction by the machine. As a result, the kid is now handily defeating his father at chess, and has taken the robot components that a stumped Merrinoe left in the garage and assembled them into a functioning unit. The new electronic playmate is now at Timmie's beck and call to aid in all kinds of high-tech hi-jinks, from building a radio-controlled kite large enough to ride to brewing a potion that renders the kid and his clothes invisible.

It's all unpretentious fun, targeted at kids and sci-fi fans of the period. At the core of the picture is the very naturalistic performance of Eyer, who never comes across as cloying, even where the script could have easily led him down such a path. The wholesome-looking Eyer, who also provided memorable efforts as Little Jess in Friendly Persuasion (1956) and the boy genie in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), left acting behind in the late '60s to pursue a career as a schoolteacher.

Producer: Nicholas Nayfack
Director: Herman Hoffman
Screenplay: Cyril Hume, Edmund Cooper (story)
Cinematography: Harold E. Wellman
Film Editing: John D. Faure
Art Direction: Merrill Pye
Music: Les Baxter
Cast: Richard Eyer (Timmie Merrinoe), Philip Abbott (Dr. Merrinoe), Diane Brewster (Mary Merrinoe), Harold J. Stone (Gen. Swayne), Robert H. Harris (Prof. Allerton), Dennis McCarthy (Col. Macklin).
BW-90m. Closed captioning.

by Jay S. Steinberg

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