The Invisible Man (1933) Starring Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Henry Travers, Una O’Connor, Forrester Harvey. Directed by James Whale. Screenplay by R.C. Sherriff. Based on the novel “The Invisible Man” by H.G. Wells. Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. Black and White. USA Runtime: 71 minutes. Science Fiction, Horror
H.G. Wells was a prolific writer on a number of subjects: history, politics, social commentary, and textbooks and rules for war games. He is best remembered as one of the great science fiction writers from the late 1800s. During that time he published such books as The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), War of the Worlds (1898) and The Invisible Man (1897), the subject of our movie. While not the first book about an invisible man, this is the one best remembered.
In the 1930s, Wells decided to make his literary works available to the movies and one of the first films made from them was The Invisible Man (1933). But Universal wasn’t the first studio to show interest in the film. MGM, however, would pass on the property based on concerns on how to make it work as a film.
Universal, however, was assured by John P. Fulton in their Trick Department that it could be done using traveling mattes, a technique that requires mattes that change to mask the shapes of moving objects, such as human beings. In other cases, wires were used to show the actions of the invisible man. Universal saw this film as another in their line of horror films which began with Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932). To that end, they originally cast Boris Karloff as The Invisible Man, but he walked after Universal refused to give him the raise he was due.
Several other actors were considered for the role, among them Chester Morris, Paul Lukas and Colin Clive, but for various reasons they turned down it down. James Whale, who had directed Frankenstein, was not the first choice for director, either. That went to Cyril Gardner; it was only after he pulled out did the studio give the film to Whale. And it was in turn Whale who brought in Claude Rains, a veteran stage actor to appear in his first talkie.
But even then the production didn’t go smoothly and almost didn’t happen. There were apparently problems with the script. Universal shut down the project in June 1932, but that was only temporary. When the film did go into production in June 1933 there were still problems. On August 15, 1933, a fire, started by a smudge pot kicked into some hay, burned an exterior set. But it was completed later that month and was released November 13, 1933.
|During a thriving snow storm, Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) seeks refuge in a pub.|
The film opens at night during a thriving snow storm. A lonely man trudges through the muck and wind, barely hanging on to the suitcase in this hands. He passes a sign, indicating the village of Iping is not far away.
In the Lion’s Head Pub, the usual gang is there, drinking, eating and playing darts when the door opens and the strange man walks in, his face covered in bandages. For a moment everything stops as the man trudges up to the bar and demands a room for the night. The proprietor, Mr. Hall (Forrester Harvey), notifies his wife (Una O’Connor) of the request. While she tries to turn him away, it’s not the season for them to have overnight guests, the man, Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), is insistent and she relents.
|Mr. (Forrester Harvey) and Mrs. Hall (Una O'Connor) are reluctant at first to rent to the stranger a room.|
Up in his room, Griffin demands privacy and food and Mrs. Hall goes to bring him dinner. But when she has to retrieve the mustard, she unknowingly catches him with the bandages partially removed. While she doesn’t see that, she does see all the bandages and runs down to the Pub, where the patrons are already gossiping about the guest.
|Up in his room, Griffin tries desperately to find a cure to his invisibility.|
Meanwhile, Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers) and his daughter, Flora (Gloria Stuart), discuss the disappearance of Griffin, her fiancée; she is distraught over his long absence. But Cranley’s other assistant, Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan), chooses the moment to tell Flora how he feels about her, only to be turned down cold.
|With Griffin missing, Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) lets Flora (Gloria Stuart) know how he feels about her.|
It doesn’t take too long for the stranger to outstay his welcome. He’s behind on the rent, noisy and makes a mess of what is probably their best guest room. After he attacks Mrs. Hall when she tries to serve him lunch, she demands her husband kick him out. Griffin pleads with Mr. Hall for leniency, but the innkeeper is adamant. But when he starts to pack up Griffin’s belongings, he gets attacked and ends up being thrown down the stairs.
Cranley and Kemp search through Griffin’s room, looking for clues as to what he was working on. His laboratory is empty with the exception of some notes, which Cranley reads. He discovers that one of the chemicals Griffin was using was monocaine, a drug made up for the film. According to Cranley, the drug is particularly dangerous as it can cause the user to go mad.
|When the police come to arrest Griffin, he escapes by stripping off his clothes.|
When the police come to arrest Griffin, he strips off his clothes and escapes, stealing a bicycle from a villager (Walter Brennan). After his success, he shows up, so to speak, at Kemp’s house. Griffin wants to dominate the world and wants Kemp to be his visible partner. Griffin wants to start his reign of terror with "a few murders here and there." Griffin forces Kemp to drive back to the inn so he can retrieve his notebooks. On his way up to his room, Griffin passes the police inquiry already underway, with an official calling the Invisible Man a hoax. After passing the books down to Kemp, Griffin attacks and kills the official.
|The Invisible Man lights a cigarette.|
Later, when Griffin is asleep, Kemp calls Cranley and then the police. Flora insists on going along. At first, her presence seems to calm Griffin down, but when he realizes that Kemp has betrayed him, he insists on getting Flora away from danger. He then promises Kemp that he will kill him the next night at ten o’clock before escaping and going on a murderous spree. He causes the derailment of a train, killing a hundred, and then throws two volunteer searchers off a cliff.
|Flora has a calming influence on Griffin, at least at first.|
With little else to go on, the police offer a reward to anyone who can think of a way to catch the Invisible Man. The Chief of Detectives (Dudley Digges), who is in charge of the search, decides to use Kemp as bait, sure that Griffin will make good on his threat. Kemp is not happy about being used and insists the police disguise him in a police uniform and let him drive his car away from his house. But Griffin, who is hiding in the backseat, overpowers Kemp and ties him up in the front seat. He then sends the car down a steep hill and over a cliff. The car exploded on impact.
|The Invisible Man hides out in a farmer's barn.|
In the snow storm that follows, Griffin seeks shelter in a farmer's barn. The farmer hears him snore and sees the indention of his body in the hay moving as Griffin sleeps. After the farmer notifies the police, they surround the barn and set fire to it, hoping to force him outside. The plan works and the Chief of Detectives, seeing his footprints in the snow, opens fire, mortally wounding Griffin.
|After being shot and wounded, Griffin lies dying in the snow.|
At the hospital, Griffin lays dying. When Flora reaches his side, he admits to Flora that he had tampered with something that was meant to be left alone. When he dies, the drug’s effect wears off and his body gradually becomes visible and for the first time, we actually see Claude Rains.
|On his death bed the drugs wear off and Griffin becomes visible again.|
While The Invisible Man wasn’t as earth-shattering as Dracula or Frankenstein, it was Universal’s most successful horror film since Frankenstein and has earned its place in Universal’s horror repertoire. Like its predecessors, The Invisible Man would appear in several sequels: The Invisible Man Returns (1940) directed by Joe May and starring Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Vincent Price; The Invisible Woman (1940) directed by A. Edward Sutherland and starring Virginia Bruce and John Barrymore; The Invisible Agent (1942), directed by Edward L. Marin and starring Ilona Massey, Jon Hall and Peter Lorre; The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944), directed by Ford Beebe and starring John Hall and Alan Curtis; and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), directed by Charles Lamont and starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. And like the other films, Universal is planning a modern redux, this one scheduled for release in 2018 starring Johnny Depp.
While it is my understanding that Wells had the final say on the screenplay, the film and the book do differ greatly. Not only is the book set in the late 1890s and the film in 1933, but Griffin in the novel is a mysterious loner figure. In the film, he has a fiancée and friends. Also different is that in the book, Griffin is already insane before he makes himself invisible. In the film, it is the drugs he uses that drive him over the edge. Finally, Kemp survives the novel but doesn’t make it to the end of the film alive.
For a film from 1933, the special effects hold up remarkably well. I’ve seen films from the 80s whose special effects have not aged as well. While some of them seem a little stiff, the scene where an invisible Griffin lights a cigarette and blows smoke is pretty impressive, given they didn’t have blue or green screens.
The acting, on the other hand, maybe hasn’t. The most over the top is Una O’Connor, who could overact with the best of them. Her screeching wails would define her performances in the two horror films she made for James Whale; this and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). A character actor, known for her comedic portrayals of wives, housekeepers, and servants. O’Connor would appear in such films as The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934); The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938); It All Came True (1940); The Sea Hawk (1940); The Strawberry Blonde (1941); Of Human Bondage (1946) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957).
|Una O'Connor makes an impression as Mrs. Hall in The Invisible Man.|
Claude Rains, who received top billing, did not really appear in this film but was cast as much for his voice than his presence. Rains was already a successful working actor on both sides of the Atlantic when he enlisted in the storied London Scottish Regiment in February 1916. The regiment is also known for other actor members, including Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, and Herbert Marshall. During World War I, Rains’ unit was bombarded by heavy artillery and poison gas. The chemicals would destroy most of the vision in his right eye and would paralyze his vocal chords. While his sight would never fully recover, his voice would, though it sounded huskier than before.
Rains wasn’t immune to the over-acting bug in The Invisible Man, though he never reached the same level as O’Connor. While The Invisible Man was his first film, Rains would go on to have a long and illustrious career. His filmography would include such films as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938); Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939); The Wolf Man (1941); Casablanca (1942), Notorious (1946), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
Also of note is Gloria Stuart, who plays Griffin’s fiancée, Flora. Stuart might be known to modern audiences for her role as the 101-year-old Rose Dawson Calvert in Titanic (1997), but her long film career began in 1932 with Street of Women. In December of the same year, Stuart was declared to be one of fifteen new movie actresses "Most Likely to Succeed" along with Ginger Rogers, Mary Carlisle and Eleanor Holm by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers. While being declared a WAMPAS Baby Star wasn’t a guarantee of success, it didn’t hurt.
|Gloria Stuart looking glamorous.|
In The Invisible Man, Stuart isn’t called upon to do much more than look glamorous, which she easily does. She would leave Hollywood in the 1940s and become an artist for the next five decades. She would return in the 1970s for parts on Television movies. Her return to film would come in My Favorite Year (1982). Her last film was Wim Winders’ Land of Plenty (2004).
While not a perfect film, The Invisible Man is still an interesting movie to watch. While some of the acting may not be all you may want, the special effects certainly are. The film doesn’t stand up as well as some of Universal’s other horror classics, but it still worth watching.
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