US (dir. James Whale)
Cast: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, Henry Travers, William Harrigan, Una O’Connor, Forrester Harvey, Holmes Herbert, E.E. Clive, Dudley Digges, Harry Stubbs, Donald Stuart, Merle Tottenham, Walter Brennan, John Carradine, Dwight Frye, John Merivale, Jameson Thomas
Synopsis: A scientist finds a way of becoming invisible, but in doing so, he becomes murderously insane.
Review: It would seem as though director James Whale had a keen interest in mad scientist films, as he not only directed the extremely enjoyable “Frankenstein” but also its sequel, “The Bride of Frankenstein”, and today’s Universal Monsters picture: “The Invisible Man”. As I was quite impressed with “Frankenstein”, I went into “The Invisible Man” with a great sense of excitement, thinking it would be at the same level as his previous film. While “The Invisible Man” is certainly better than average, it is not exactly fantastic and it is by no means better than, or at par with, “Frankenstein” . In fact, in the Universal Monsters series, “The Invisible Man” comes off as being the most comedic, yet it boasts a villain with the highest amount of on-screen kills. In the end, it’s all the killing that makes “The Invisible Man” a horror movie, and not a science fiction or a comedy.
As mentioned, the titular invisible man is truly the most despicable of all the Universal Monsters. His evil is not only evident in what he does, but also in what he suggests he will do with his new power, or what he suggests others can do with that same power if he were to reveal his invisibility secret to the world. Throughout most of the movie, his invisibility pranks are more or less of the harmless variety. He steals hats, steals pants, pinches people’s noses, pushes people down stairs etc. And in one scene, he robs a bank only to throw the money to people on the street. Almost all of his hi-jinx are played up more or less for the sake of some comedy, and he has a really jolly, albeit creepy, laughing streak while wrecking havoc. In one scene, he steals a police officer’s pants and runs around town wearing them as he chases after some unlucky (and terrified) woman, all while singing a little ditty. It was like something right out of a “Three Stooges” skit.
There’s also a hilarious gag involving an elderly female innkeeper whose reactions to the invisible man range from high pitched shrieking to high pitched screaming, and another laugh-out-loud bit where a police officer’s reaction to the invisible man is essentially: he’s invisible, that’s what’s wrong with him!” LOL!
Comedic bits aside, the invisible man can be a real asshole when he wants to be. He strangles a police officer, kicks not one, but two people off a cliff, derails a train (again, off a cliff) and sends his former friend to a fiery death by plunging his car off, you guessed it, a cliff (this guy really has a thing for cliffs). You really grow to hate this guy more and more as the film goes on, the exact opposite of “Frankenstein” where you grow to really feel sorry for the monster after awhile. Though the cause of the invisible man’s madness (a chemical in his invisibility formulation leads to insanity) isn’t really directly his own fault (i.e. it’s not a character flaw) his rationale for pursuing invisibility is (he reveals he pursued a great discovery in order to earn enough money to win the approval of his sweetheart’s father). His reasons for engaging in such risky scientific research shows an unexpected romantic side of him, one that is sadly not developed over the course of the film. Like Elizabeth in “Frankenstein”, the love interest in “The Invisible Man” (Flora) is a woman who wishes her lover would focus less of his time on science and more on their relationship. Unfortunately Flora, played wonderfully by future “Titanic” star, and absolute beauty, Gloria Stuart, doesn’t spend as much time or put in as much effort as Elizabeth to helping her mad scientist lover to get his head out of the lab.
In terms of the special effects used to make the invisible man look, well, invisible, I found them to be pretty incredible, especially when taking into account that this was filmed in 1933. I could barely see any strings used to pull props to and fro, and the invisible-ness of the invisible man was extremely convincing.
Only one scene, where he is wearing striped pajamas and sitting in an easy chair looked doctored, as the image of the invisible man onscreen began to look all wobbly and fake.
So suffice it to say, I was more than impressed with the special effects for this movie, even more so than even some 21st century films.
Unfortunately, as is the case with most of the Universal Monster movies, the film’s plot sort of peters out in the third act. The invisible man, after engaging in a wild killing spree, is himself anti-climatically killed off when he is discovered sleeping in a barn. He of course gets a slow death scene where he laments all his wrong doings before fading into his visible self, though by this point he was such an asshole of a character that I didn’t really care to see him die in such a pseudo-heroic fashion with his lover at his side. So while we finally get a glimpse of the visible man, the whole effect of this revelation is lost since 1) he was a total asshole for 99% of the movie and 2) he died an anti-climatic, painfully boring death. Since he never gets a chance to redeem himself, it’s hard to feel sorry for him at all.
While “The Invisible Man” flip flops between sci-fi horror and comedy, it’s still an entirely watchable film. It’s great to see the invisible man’s crazy shenanigans, both fun and deadly. While I wouldn’t rank this as being a particularily fantastic Universal Monsters film, it’s still enjoyable and the effects are extremely impressive. This is a definite must see, even for those not interested in the Universal Monsters series.