Sunday, 19 April 2020

The Invisible Man (1933)


Gauze To The Wall

The Invisible Man
USA 1933 Directed by James Whale
Universal Blu Ray Zone A


The Invisible Man
is the fourth of the big Universal monster movies of the 1930s, following on from Dracula (1931, reviewed here), Frankenstein (1931, reviewed here) and The Mummy (1932, reviewed here). Director James Whale, who had already directed Frankenstein, was offered a sequel to that film but turned it down to do The Invisible Man instead, based on the H. G. Wells novel of the same title. It would be another couple of years before he made his ‘superior to the original’ sequel to Frankenstein.

This is actually a groundbreaking film for Universal in terms of special effects and pretty much all the invisibility stuff you see in this picture was being done for the first time. So the film sparked lots of curiosity and, like the three Universal horror movies before it, was a box office smash, spawning many sequels... although it has to be said that some of the sequels in The Invisible Man series are a little more creative in terms of the direction they take.

The film is, as you would expect from the work of this director, both extremely atmospheric while at the same time having sharp stabs of humour throughout. The film starts off quite strongly with the antagonist of the title, Jack Griffin (played by Claude Rains in his first big break in Hollywood), arriving at an inn for a room, covered in bandages and the dark, wraparound glasses which are somewhat iconic in their use in Gothic style horror movies... Vincent Price, who also played The Invisible Man twice, uses very similar ones in Tomb Of Ligeia. It’s ironic that he plays the film either totally swathed in gauze bandages or stark naked (and therefore invisible)... even the shot of him at the end, when his face becomes visible, finally, due to circumstances I won’t reveal here, is a shot of a live cast of him rather than the actor himself. Boris Karloff was earmarked for the role originally but personal differences between him and Whale meant that Rains, who does have a remarkably unmistakeable voice, got his big break, despite a truly terrible screen test he had once done for Hollywood.

The atmosphere is intense as Griffin’s experiments to make himself visible again (we never get to see the experiment which causes his affliction), constantly loses his temper and causes unrest in the inn, to the point where they try and throw him out. These scenes are wonderful, especially in the histrionic, comic relief screams of one of James Whale’s favourite actresses, Una O’Connor, as she reacts to the shenanigans going on around her. By this point, though, the chemical which Griffin has taken has began to make him mad and he hatches a new plan of world domination and murder... indeed, out of all the Universal monster characters (and it’s arguable that this is a science fiction film rather than horror but, I’m not getting into that again here) he has a huge body count in this movie, even destroying a passenger filled train at one point.

Asides from O’ Connor and Rains, there are some great actors in this. For instance, Dr. Cranley, Griffins boss, is played by Henry Travers, who film enthusiasts will probably best remember for his turn as Clarance the angel in It’s A Wonderful Life. And the former Renfield and Fritz from Dracula and Frankenstein, the brilliant character actor Dwight Frye, has a tiny part in this movie too. We also have Gloria Stuart, who was nominated for an Oscar for James Cameron’s Titanic many, many decades later, as the love interest in this movie.

And it’s a good solid film, quite pacey and with, actually, a lot of moving camera work... as the cameraman seems to incessantly follow everyone around when they enter and exit a scene, before being punctuated with the occasional static shot. It’s very dynamic though and never gets dull... even though the camera goes through vacant spaces on sets to drift from one room through the next, leaving you wondering why some of the characters feel the need to go through the connecting door.

Strangely though, it doesn’t do what a lot of the ‘invisible’ movies do and have the camera looking around at empty sets so the audience can try and spot the invisible man... something which the recent reboot (reviewed here) played with to great effect.

The film opens with a bit of scoring by Heinz Roemheld and lovers of the first of the three Flash Gordon theatrical serials will immediately recognise it (and, of course, that first Flash Gordon serial also had a few episodes where the hero turns himself invisible... picking up on some of the effects developed here). Now, this film was released a fair few months after King Kong (reviewed here), the film that allegedly brought back the art of scoring motion pictures with non-source music but, after Roemheld’s opening piece, which continues just a little way into the film for a minute or two, the majority of the rest of the film is silent in terms of music and it’s like watching an experiment progress because, after an hour and four minutes of the film has played out, the music comes back... this time as proper incidental music. And doesn’t stop until the end of the film, seven minutes later. It’s like the producers still weren’t too confident of all this ‘scoring’ malarkey when it came to ‘talking pictures’ so they figured they would only run the risk of alienating their audience towards the end of the movie. It’s good stuff though and, of course, when Whale directed The Bride Of Frankenstein, Franz Waxman’s iconic score was in full effect throughout the majority of the movie.

The Blu Ray from Universal, which comes as part of the six film box set making up their Invisible Man Legacy Collection, is well made and has all the usual extras you are probably already familiar with from previous DVD releases of the movie. The film looks absolutely brilliant and this set even has the Abbot and Costello invisible man film in it, which I don’t remember if I’ve ever seen or not. Of course, The Invisible Man himself also has a cameo in Abbot And Costello Meet Frankenstein but, you know, that’s another story and, of course, another review. Whichever way you cut it, though, the Blu Ray box set, like all the classic Universal Horror Legacy sets, is an absolutely ‘must have’ purchase for cinephiles and casual viewers alike. James Whale would, of course, return to direct The Bride Of Frankenstein in 1935 and that will be the next of the Universal Horror reviews I will be putting up on this blog at some point soon.

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