review for The Invisible Boy on AllMovie

The Invisible Boy (1957)
by Bruce Eder review

It's very difficult to say whether The Invisible Boy is a good movie or not -- mostly because it's such a strange picture, weirdly (and, at times, self-consciously) campy, and yet amazingly knowing, sophisticated, and even compelling in some of its scientific conceits, especially for a 1957 movie. What can one say, in any reasonably coherent review, about a movie that is a space fiction and time-travel story, but also a kids' adventure story; a yarn about a mischief-making boy, and a meditation on the dangers of science (and, especially, artificial intellegence) outstripping man's ability to control or understand it? The Invisible Boy is, first and foremost, a direct sequel to Forbidden Planet (1956) -- not just a follow-up, but an actual sequel, even though it takes place in or around 1957, while Forbidden Planet was set sometime in the twenty-third century. Robby The Robot is the direct link between the two, his presence here (circa 1957) explained in the plot as the result of a now-deceased scientist's claim (disbelieved by his colleagues) of having traveled into the distant future, and having brought the robot back with him, in disassembled form; and the scene containing that explanation, and the accompanying sketch left by the scientist, are two of the most compelling moments in the movie. And the sinister link-up between Robby and the super-computer put together by the government -- which, at one point, has Robby walking through a hail of bullets, bazooka shells, and flame throwers -- is a direct antecedent to the plot of Terminator and its sequels; there are also moments in the dialogue between the chief scientist and the computer that anticipate parts of Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), and elements of the D. F. Jones book upon which the latter was based. All of that is much food for thought, as well as a vehicle for some horrific (for the time) notions, putting several characters and Timmie Merrinoe (Richard Eyer), the boy of the title, in considerable jeopardy, with a grisly fate seemingly moments away.

But then there are the truly odd, strange moments: The scientists, including Timmie's father, Dr. Tom Merrinoe (played by a stalwart Philip Abbott), and even his mother (Diane Brewster), observing the robot that Timmie has assembled, scarcely give the mechanical man a second glance -- the metal marvel walks through laboratories, offices, and even Timmie's home, and no one is the least bit startled. And the scenes in which Robby tries to apply his robotic logic to the boy's perception of the world -- their discussion about the meaning of the word "fun" is . . . downright fun. The resulting split, between the science fiction and the campy domesticity (think Father Knows Best meets Forbidden Planet), make this into a very strange, oddly alluring movie. On the one hand, it's about a super-computer planning to take over the world -- on the other, it's about a 10-year-old who keeps getting spanked for misbehaving and wants to make himself invisible so he can have more unsupervised fun; sort of Booth Tarkington meets Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke (with a little bit of Robert A. Heinlein thrown in). In all, it's not a great, or even a very good movie -- the black-and-white production often looks cheap, and this was very obviously filmed in a hurry, as it looks like a lot of first takes were used. But in its own low-budget way, it is a fascinating pop-culture artifact of its time. And it is a lot of fun, just as a notion for a science fiction/adventure film, with a very dark side to the serious component of the plot.