#160) The Invisible Man (1933)

invisible_man

#160) The Invisible Man (1933)

OR “Claude Rains’ Easiest Paycheck”

Directed by James Whale

Written by R.C. Sherriff. Based on the novel by H.G. Wells.

Class of 2008

No original trailer, but here’s a fan-made one.

The Plot: In a small pub in Iping in Sussex, a strange man (Claude Rains) arrives, covered in bandages, asking for a room and some privacy. The staff quickly discovers that the bandages are hiding the fact that the man is invisible. We learn that he is Dr. Jack Griffin, a scientist who tested his new invisibility chemical on himself, but could never change back. Griffin forces his old lab partner Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) to assist him as he goes mad and takes it out on the townsfolk. Griffin’s fiancée Flora (Gloria Stuart) may be the only person who can stop his descent into madness.

Why It Matters: The NFR praises Rains, Whale, and the special effects team, and then goes on to spoil the ending! Jeez, NFR!

But Does It Really?: It’s not one of the main Universal Monster films, but it certainly holds up better than most other monster films of the era. James Whale had a knack for turning low-budget monster movies into films of artistic merit, and “The Invisible Man” is no exception. I give it a pass for its impressive special effects, its ongoing legacy, and the fact that it’s only 70 minutes long.

Everybody Gets One: Screenwriter Robert Cedric “R.C.” Sherriff is best known today as the playwright of the WWI drama “Journey’s End”. The original stage production was directed by James Whale, who didn’t forget about his collaborator when he started directing in Hollywood. Unsatisfied with Universal’s previous attempts at an “Invisible Man” script, Sherriff found the novel in a second-hand bookstore and crafted a screenplay that is quite faithful.

Wow, That’s Dated: This film dates itself to 1933 exactly during the opening credits when Universal declares itself a member of the National Recovery Administration. We do our part…until the Supreme Court tells us we legally can’t!

Take a Shot: This is a good drinking game movie. Most references are to “an invisible man”, but about halfway through the film they start calling him “the invisible man”. Keep your pouring hand at the ready.

Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar love for “The Invisible Man”. The category for Best Visual Effects wouldn’t exist for another six years.

Other notes

  • The special effects team definitely earned all the praise this film gets. Shout-out to John P. Fulton, Bill Heckler, Roswell A. Hoffman, Frank D. Williams, and John J. Mescall, who seemed to have fun throwing models off of cliffs.
  • It’s weird to think that H.G. Wells was still alive when this film premiered. I guess I associate him more with the late 1800s. For the record, he liked the film, except for some fundamental character changes made with Griffin.
  • Quick question about the Universal logo: how big is that plane?
  • The pub in this film is called The Lion’s Head. Coincidentally, that’s also the name of a film blog by some bloke who’s watching 700 British films. (We watched “Bridge on the River Kwai” together.)
  • Wow, everyone is aggressively British in this film.
  • Very disappointed that we never got the spin-off “Dr. Clarence, AS-2”.
  • Having only been familiar with Gloria Stuart’s work in “Titanic” (when she was 86 years young), it’s astonishing to see her at 23. It needs to be said, however, that she looks nothing like Kate Winslet.
  • Speaking of, the role of Flora is not in the book. In fact, the only female character in the book is Janny Hall (“What, did you grow up in Norman Rockwell painting?”).
  • We don’t get a soundtrack until the very end, but we get to hear every second of Janny screaming her lungs out? Great. Just great.
  • Just a reminder that our main character is nude for most of the film.
  • Some of Griffin’s invisible trickery is physically impossible. One of the shots in the pub would have required him to be standing on the table and on the floor at the same time. Also, that floor is filthy, yet he tracks no footprints. He’s lucky none of this takes place on Crait.
  • So being invisible makes you more of a germophobe than Howard Hughes?
  • “He’s mad, and he’s invisible” There’s your tagline.
  • It seems the only requirements of the Iping Police Force is to have big moustaches and goofy facial expressions.
  • When Griffin starts to go mad, Claude Rains almost does the Nelson laugh.
  • Towards the end, Kemp comes down with a severe case of overacting.
  • That’s Dwight Frye from “Dracula” as one of the reporters. He’s the John Ratzenberger of the Universal monster movies!

Legacy

  • This was Claude Rains’ American film debut, and it set his career off immediately, trading invisible lead roles to visible supporting roles.
  • Like the other Universal monster movies, this one had so many sequels. The higher the sequel number, the further they strayed from the source novel.
  • After almost 20 years of films, the Invisible Man finally met the Kiss of Death…I mean, Abbott and Costello.
  • I don’t care what anybody says, the best sequel is “Son of the Invisible Man”.
  • The film version of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” features AN Invisible Man, but due to copyright issues it is definitely not THE Invisible Man.
  • A TV series adaptation in the early 2000s is notable for a guest appearance by…Gloria Stuart!
  • A loose adaptation starring Kevin Bacon, 2000’s “Hollow Man” was a disappointment for everyone involved, including director Paul Verhoeven. But film critic David Manning called it “one hell of a scary ride!”
  • “Invisible Man” was due to get the Dark Universe treatment with a remake starring Johnny Depp. Perhaps we have been spared.

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