Claude Rains is a scientist who has made a great discovery. Unfortunately, as is so often happens to many scientists who decide to use themselves as guinea pigs, he runs into a major problem.
After perfecting an invisibility potion Dr. Jack Griffin (Rains) is now as transparent as a clear window. It’s a brilliant breakthrough! Now if only he can figure out the formula to get back to visibility again. Darn it! Oh, and this invisibility potion also has the pesky side effect of insanity that goes along with it.
Griffin gradually becomes more and more unhinged. He won’t listen to reason from his mentor Henry Travers, his fiancée Gloria Stuart, he won’t even surrender to the cops who order him to raise his invisible hands!
He runs around transparent committing mayhem and murder. While wrapped in bandages he gives outrageous speeches of ruling the world! How can the spooked townsfolk ever stop this invisible madman?!?! It’s director James Whale 1933 film adaptation of H.G. Wells story – The Invisible Man!
Some jaw-dropping special effects, fantastical sci-fi, some horror and a sprinkling of humor – mainly contributed by the over-the-top performance of Una O’Connor as a hysterical pub owner – sealed the deal to make The Invisible Man a huge hit, a timeless classic and the see-through madman a member of the Universal Monster elite.
Other films have tackled the story of an invisiblity. Hollow Man (2000), Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), The Invisible Kid (1988), The Invisible Agent (1942), The Amazing Transparent Man (1960) Invisible Mom (1996), The Invisible Dad (1988), The Invisible Woman (1940), Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951), The Man Who Wasn’t There (1983), The Invisible Maniac (1990), The Invisible Man (2020), along with a 1940 sequel to the original film, The Invisible Man Returns.
There’s quite a decent list of movies about invisibility, but none have touched the iconic status of James Whale’s 1933 film. It set such a high benchmark for invisible tales, that ever since every similarly themed story about some amazing transparent character ends up being compared to it and most of them result in being categorized as a minor footnote in the ‘invisibility genre’.
It’s Whale’s The Invisible Man that remains on top of them all. Even approaching a century old, the film hits all the marks and continues to be the invisible cinematic tale to top. It remains very entertaining.
Some films have attempted to take a different track with the story, maybe going for laughs with the concept, use disturbing horror or showcase incredibly gripping state-of-the-art special effects at their center. Despite all the differing executions, no films have managed to eclipse Whale’s original film. At least that’s what I think.
The film is a brisk 71 minutes and doesn’t waste a moment. We’re immediately introduced to a cloaked stranger looking for a room at the Lions Head Inn. The locals art struck by this odd man and theorize about who he is. the film gradually builds up our anticipation of seeing who under that hat and coat. From there on out it’s a murder, mayhem and a manhunt for this invisible man.
It turns out scientist Jack Griffin found the secret to invisibility. The only rub is that the chemical monocaine that helped turned him invisible is also driving him mad. He becomes so unhinged that he is remorseless with killing. He doesn’t need a reason for it, doesn’t have any guilt about it and actually starts to enjoy it.
He seeks out fellow colleague Dr. Arthur Kemp (William Harrigan) to be his partner in a ‘reign of terror’ thanks to his invisibility. When Kemp tries to alert the police to Griffin, he ends up on his bad side. With this betrayal Kemp receives a promised time of death by the invisible hands of Griffin.
The only connective bit of sanity that is able to reach Griffin is Flora (Gloria Stuart). But even the love he has for her and any reasonable thinking she can convey is being pushed out of him. He’s soon out on a killing spree, murders Kemp, until finally the police manage to trap him and end this invisible terror for good.
The special effects remain pretty darn impressive! Ok, they might not be as polished or shiny as audiences are used to seeing today, but considering they were accomplished nearly ninety years ago, all the limitations they had with filmmaking, the ancient equipment and hands on work that went into creating them….they are pretty amazing!
And they all work just fine! They help the story along and convincingly sells the idea of an invisible mad scientist running around creating mayhem and murder.
Deranged madman who kills without any remorse. According to IMDB the body count in The Invisible Man is about 120! That’s quite a number of victims by Dr. Griffin.
There are some wonderful moments. Rains’ unmistakable voice describing commencing ‘a few murders here and there’, being filmed in creepy low-angle shots, the police trying to figure out a plan to catch this invisible man, Harrigan panicked his time is ticking down and Griffin will make good on his promise of killing him. Whale’s theater background coming through with his penchant of moving the camera through walls, filming as if it were a stage play.
I often have to remind myself that Stuart is the same actress as the one in Titanic sixty-four years later. Henry Travers who is more familiar playing lovable supporting parts, such as Clarence the Angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, plays it very straight as Griffin’s mentor and Stuart’s father.
There are some surprising light moments and bizarre humorous moments. Una O’Connor plays things…well saying ‘a little over the top’ would be gracious. She acts as hysterical as Rains at points.
She is certainly a memorable addition to the cast, but watching her in the film I can’t imagine how you couldn’t feel a bit drained if you had to be around this woman all the time. I suspect her hotel didn’t get many repeat visitors. How could you deal with her screeching voice! Whale must of really been entertained by her performance.
It’s always stuck me ironic that the invisible hero has become such an iconic image. He’s invisible afterall so we don’t see him, but the costuming of him with his robe, pajamas, bandaged head, dark glasses, gloves is such an indelible, creepy image. It’s right up there with all the classic movie monsters. We know instantly who he is. It’s a great Halloween costume too!
I showed the film to my nephew years ago. Being around nine it was somewhat stunning to see how impressed he was with some of the special effects. At every new bit that came up he gazed in wonderment and would ask, “How did they do that???”
That really reinforced to me how The Invisible Man continues to hold up. I’m always curious to see the latest incarnation of an ‘invisible story’. I’ve seen many, but the original The Invisible Man still remains my favorite.
A clip featuring some of the spectacular special effects