Note: this film is only available on Warner Home Video's 50th anniversary edition of Forbidden Planet.
A year after the production and release of Forbidden Planet, MGM dragged that film's screenwriter, Cyril Hume, and producer, Nicholas Nayfack, to fashion a light sci-fi suspenser for the pre-teen audience that apparently found the story that enmeshed Robby the Robot a baffling, adult-oriented adventure that even director Steven Spielberg confessed in the accompanying TCM documentary, "Watch the Skies!: Science Fiction, the 1950s and Us," to finding confusing during his first encounter.
As adults, we've come to admire the scope and artistry of what was probably the biggest sci-fi film after George Pal's When Worlds Collide (1951), and War of the Worlds (1953), but unlike the destruction of planet Earth and Martian invaders of those films, kids had to figure out for themselves what the hell was the Id in order to comprehend the film's monster was a living extrapolation of Morbius' subconscious, primal self.
Maybe inspired by the parents-are-against-us theme of William Cameron Menzies' Invaders from Mars (1953), Hume tweaked Edmund Cooper's story into a tale of a lazy child whose rendered smart after being hypnotized by the super-computer at his dad's office, and after restoring Robby the Robot into a functioning servant, he loses Robby to the computer who uses it to implant circuits into the skulls of scientists are upper-echelon generals so the computer can go into Earth's orbit and torment the human race as slaves.
Less convoluted than it reads, The Invisible Boy is surprisingly dull because the grownups spend way too much time arguing, while the invisibility sub-plot is merely a wacky adventure brought on when the boy is given an invisibility potion by Robby - thereby allowing him to play childish pranks and drive his whiny Stepford-mom crazy.
The script's illogic also has dad leaving son Timmie (why must there always be a Timmie?) wandering the super-secret hallways with his robot pal, and mom never straying far from that idyllic nuclear hausfrau which fifties TV ads managed to enshrine for a while. In many ways, The Invisible Boy is the antithesis of Forbidden Planet, but the dumbing-down is so pronounced, the film's a classic example of disposable fluff that older kids would eschew in place of teenage werewolves or alligator people (which are WAY cooler, anyways).
Former producer turned director Herman Hoffman does deliver way more shots of Robby than the studio's expensive toy received in Forbidden Planet, but it's rather shocking that copious those black & white close-ups and tight shots reveal the robot's rather surprising crude details and the gap behind the neon mouth plate.
The production was clearly designed as a quick cash-in, and the low-budget is further ridiculed by some hasty production dressing, including a "No Admittance" sign Scotch-taped to the wall in a sub-level government headquarters, visible only to the camera and not the visitors it's intended to address; and the super-computer's top, which resembles a gilded and mirrored revolving cake display stand, encased in a glass cone with a painted Egyptian-styled eye.
Les Baxter's luxurious score somewhat presages his romantic Master of the World (1961) soundtrack, and Timmie's pranks no doubt served the composer well in familiarizing himself with the Mickey Mouse-style comedy scoring that he'd be stuck writing for all those AIP Beach Party sequels & hybrids (augmented by ghostly bikinis, hillbillies, and girl bombs during his prolific sixties period for the indie exploitation studio).
It's still a curiosity work, peppered with a lot of familiar character actors & actresses, but most viewers above ten will find it all too silly for a full 90 mins.
Prior to The Invisible Boy, Cyril Hume also co-wrote, with Richard Maibaum, the first film version of Ransom (1956) for producer Nayfack before moving into TV writing. Director Hoffman never really succeed beyond the small screen although he managed to parlay his writing/directing work on Sea Hunt by writing Paul Wendkos' Attack on the Iron Coast (1968) for that show's star, Lloyd Bridges, along with the derivative Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969), also for director Wendkos.
Producer Nayfack died the year after the release of The Invisible Boy, while child actor Richard Eyer later appeared as the colloquial, gravel-voiced Genie Baronni in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), and after a long career in TV, retired in 1967.
© 2006 & 2010 Mark R. Hasan