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Monday, December 5, 2011



"The fools wouldn't let me work in peace. I had to teach them a lesson."
-- The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man is a 1933 dramatic horror film directed by James Whale that's based off the 1897 H.G. Wells novel of the same name. It tells the story of Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) who, through an experiment gone wrong, has found himself completely invisible to the world around him. Wrapped in a slew of bandages, he stumbles upon an old inn one night and barters for a room to stay so that he can work on an experiment to alter the effects and return him to his normal state. After a few weeks, however, the inn's owners decide to throw Griffin out for not paying the money he owes. Enraged, Griffin hurts the inn's owner and unveils himself to the townspeople, running away as quickly as he can, leaving his things behind. He turns to his old friend Dr. Arthur Kemp (William Harrigan), with whom he worked under Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), for help and partnership. Griffin tells Kemp of his plans to use his invisibility to create a new world order in which he will lead the people through fear. Terrified for his life and for those around him, Kemp notifies Cranley as well as the authorities of Griffin's proximity before he can start his reign of terror.

I've always been quite a fan of the classic films, and although I haven't seen as many of them as I'd like, I think I have a pretty decent grasp on what makes a good classic film in comparison to what makes a bad one. When it comes to the old-time horror flicks, however, I have yet to come across a truly bad one (well, except maybe for 1943's Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man). The fact that I had yet to see The Invisible Man was a bit of a bother for me, considering I've tried to see most of all the old Universal monster movies. I think I still have a couple left, but that list is definitely dwindling down towards its end.

Let's start with the screenplay for this film. While we're not getting anything terribly impressive, there's enough here to like considering the film's relatively short run-time (it goes on for just over an hour). There's a lot of classic horror cliché playing here: a leading character who isn't truly defined as neither protagonist nor antagonist suffers some sort of medical debacle or mystical enchantment that turns him into a beast that the countryside quickly learns to fear. We have our seeming damsel-in-distress who thinks that love will be enough to cure the beast. We have a strong supporting male who plays foil to our undefined lead, and we have an older man who plays a scientist-type who seems to have all the answers. So in that, our characters are created. However, I especially thought that our Invisible Man was rather well-written, with his maniacal ideas about world domination penetrating quite clearly. The storyline itself is basic: man is changed by failed experiment; man wreaks havoc; man is chased by authorities. You can imagine how it's going to end.

I do want to touch on the acting a little bit because I found it to be a level above what we normally see out of classic horror films like this. Rains is spectacular despite the fact that you only see his face for a few seconds towards the end of the film. Most of his time on-screen is spent covered in bandages, and the rest of his performance is purely vocal, but he still manages to bring a strong presence to the screen even when he isn't physically visible. Had the filmmakers chosen to make the character of the Invisible Man completely invisible, rather than have him put on clothes to make a physical appearance, Rains's voice alone would have been able to make the character believable and still rather terrifying. We also get some good performances from Harrigan and Gloria Stuart, who plans Griffin's love interest in the film.

The real icing on the cake, however, is the special effects used to make the Invisible Man come to life, so to speak. After doing some research, I learned that the special effects wizards who created the effect for the film used a primitive version of "green-screen" technology. Rains would wear an all-black, form-fitting suit then be filmed in front of a completely black screen. When the filmmakers went back to substitute the background, they used matte paintings of the sets behind Rains to fill in the spaces. It's so well-done that you'll almost forget that this movie is now seventy-eight years old. It's hard to believe that special effects this fantastic were made all the way back in 1933, but even today, they should be applauded.

Overall, The Invisible Man is a stunning movie that left me wanting more. While I know that a slew of sequels were made, I'm sure none of them could possibly come close to the greatness that this film exhibited. Is it the greatest classic horror film I've yet to see? Not quite - it'd be rather tough to beat out 1935's Bride of Frankenstein. However, it's still one of the better ones you're likely to come across, so if you're into the classic movie fare, definitely give this one a go.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
2 Thumbs Up


  1. Splendid review! I loved this film! I lso reviewed it an

  2. I just rewatched this the other day on TCM. It is one of my favorite Claude Rains films (and he is one of my favorite actors) He had a magnificent voice, which is all the more noticable when you can't see his face. I always felt this was one of James Whale's best films, partly becausee Mr Whale's somewhat quirky (kinky? bizzare?) was better suited to the material than in the Frankenstein films. You are right about the sequels, non of them compare to the original, though the first one featured John Carradine and was ok. And I can proudly say I knew who Gloria Stuart was long before Titanic, mainly because of this film.