The Monsters of Propaganda: How Hollywood Mobilized Horror During World War 2

Hello and welcome back to picsandportraits.
In keeping with both the theme of the month, spooky, and the current
theme of the channel, propaganda, I wanted to take a look at one of the more bizarre
entries in the Universal Monsters series, Invisible Agent. Now for those unfamiliar with the Universal
Monsters, they were adaptions of classic horror stories by Universal Studios, produced between
the 1920s and the 1950s. The most popular of which are probably Dracula and Frankenstein,
portrayed by Bela Legosi and Boris Karloff respectively. Both of these came out in 1931 and while the
first Universal Monster is technically Quasimodo from 1923’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, these
two are generally credited with kicking off the franchise. Legosi and Karloff, along with Claude Rains
and the Lon Chaneys, Jr. and Sr., appeared in many movies in the series, portraying their
iconic characters or swapping roles and crossing over, forming film’s first shared universe. The Universal Monsters came to include, amongst
others, The Mummy, Wolf-Man and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. In 1933, Universal adapted the H.G Wells novel
The Invisible Man, starring Claude Rains as the titular man. This follows the exploits
of a chemist, Dr. Jack Griffin, who discovers a way to become invisible and uses it for
nefarious means. The film is notable for its special effects,
its wire work and puppetry, and launched The Invisible Man into the upper echelons of the
Universal Monsters. The box office success of the monsters and
these films spawned many sequels, some good, even great, like the Bride of Frankenstein,
and some not so great. The Invisible Man begat The Invisible Man
Returns, which featured Vincent Price assuming the lead; spoiler. This was in turn followed
by a comedic spin-off, The Invisible Woman, in 1940. American industry was mobilized following
the attack on Pearl Harbour and America’s entry into World War 2 and this included entertainment. While radio was by far the most accessible
form of wartime entertainment, film was the most desirable. I’ve talked about how effective
film is as propaganda, and doing its part in the war effort, Hollywood set out to boost
morale at home. Movie stars would appear in public service announcements, pushing war
bonds usually, and the films produced celebrated patriotism, often with the promise of victory. In 1942, Universal would send one of its monsters
to the frontline with Invisible Agent. In it, Jon Hall plays Frank Raymond, an alias.
He is actually the grandson of the original Invisible Man and is in possession of the
invisibility formula. Throughout the film he is pursued by Nazi and Japanese agents
and works as a spy for the US government. It features the usual blatant xenophobia and
racism, most notably Peter Lorre’s yellowface portrayal of Baron Ikito, and presents Nazi’s
as incompetent, which I’m sure was reassuring to audiences viewing in a post-Pearl Habor
world. The film was written by Curt Siodmak, a Jewish,
German refugee that had seen the rise of Nazism first hand. It’s worth mentioning, that
despite its campiness and heavy-handed message, there are some great special effects, like
a scene where the Invisible Man vanishes as he parachutes into Berlin. Excellent. There
is also some awesome matte work that is very impressive for the time. Would I describe
it as good, no, but I did really enjoy watching it. Invisible Agent would be followed by The Invisible
Man’s Revenge, which once again cast Jon Hall as a “new “ Invisible Man, an escaped
mental patient, not that the Universal Monsters are known for their continuity. So that’s how a monster was mobilized during
World War 2. If this seemed a little short or rushed, it was. I was doing research for
an upcoming video and stumbled upon this and it fit in way too well not to get its own.
It serves as a precursor to both the finale of Animation/Propaganda and said upcoming
video. So stay tuned for those. If you enjoyed it, please give us a thumbs
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