Tuesday, 28 July 2020

The Invisible Man Returns


The Price In Sight

The Invisible Man Returns
USA 1940 Directed by  Joe May
Universal Blu Ray Zone A


After the success of Son Of Frankenstein in 1939 (which I reviewed here), Universal’s interest in revisiting their classic horror stable was renewed and the first out of the gate was The Invisible Man Returns which is, as the credit following this one at the start of the movie proudly emblazons, ‘The Sequel To The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells’. It’s also, more to the point, a direct sequel to James Whale’s successful ‘adaptation’ of The Invisible Man (which I reviewed here).

Indeed, Claude Rains photograph is even briefly referenced in a newspaper near the start of the film as we are informed that the main villain of the last film left behind a brother, Dr. Frank Griffin, played by John Sutton. He’s not the film’s lead protagonist though... that would be the title character whose name is Geoffrey Radcliffe. Radcliffe, played here by a young Vincent Price, long before horror movies became his thing (and this isn’t really a horror movie anyway, of course), is in prison awaiting public execution the next morning for the murder of his brother... even though Dr. Griffin and Radcliffe’s fiance Helen know he is innocent.  Helen is played by Nan Grey, the same young lady who fell victim to the early vampire lesbionics in Dracula’s Daughter (reviewed here).

But wait, what’s this? Following a visit by Dr. Griffin the night before his execution, Radcliffe mysteriously vanishes from his cell. Could it be his friend has given him a dose of the old invisibility formula so he can walk out undetected, find the real culprit for his brother’s death and clear his name. You betcha! That’s one of the two things which the story works towards resolving here...

One plot is the attempt by Radcliffe to clear his name, by terrorising a confession out of both men responsible -  the boss of Radcliffe’s coal mine operation, Richard Cobb, played by Cedric Hardwicke (who would turn up a few times in these Universal monster movies) and his nefarious henchman Willie Spears, played by Alan Napier who would, of course, grow up many years later to be the elderly Alfred the butler opposite Adam West’s Batman.

The other plot thread is Frank Griffin’s race against time to try and discover the antidote to invisibility which had eluded his brother before Radcliffe suffers the same fate and is driven to insanity by the dangerous chemical used in the formula. Meanwhile, of course, both he and Helen are also trying to thwart the intelligent but kindly Chief Inspector Sampson (played by Cecil Kellaway) and his police force.

So yeah, it’s a romp and... it’s okay. It is kind of an enjoyable piece of fluff and the special effects, for their time, are very good it has to be said. I mean, yeah we get the old rocking chair with nobody in it trick and various other episodes of moving scenery and props to denote the passage of the invisible Radcliffe but we also get some quite sophisticated tomfoolery with various camera tricks. There’s even a sequence where he pulls up Willie Spear’s legs to tie him up with a piece of rope and then they cut to a close up of the ends of his legs... which are dummy legs as they don’t flex at all... and what looks like stop motion animation of the rope tying around them. Presumably there was some flexible wire inside the rope to ensure it would stay in position for every frame that was filmed.

There’s also a nice bit where Radcliffe’s almost lifeless body reverts back to visibility near the end, allowing Griffin to save his life with an operation after all! First we see his skeleton appearing, then some of the veins, then the muscles and skin etc... revealing Vincent Price in the flesh, finally. I don’t know if this was the first time that this kind of anatomical precision was attempted in film but it’s astonishing for the period, I think.

There’s the occasional bit of cute dialogue too. When the two guards who let Radcliffe escape from his cell at the start of the film are being questioned, instead of saying... “That’s the way it was, so help me God!”, one of them says “... so help me Bob.” He then follows it up with “Wasn’t it Bob?” After which, the other copper, who is presumably named Bob, puts his oar in. So, yeah, some good humour carrying on in James Whale’s tradition which certainly makes the film agreeable and watchable.

What’s perhaps also as impressive as the special effects in this, though, is the fact that, while the various ‘bobbies’ are tumbling about in their usual ham fisted shenanigans as Radcliffe escapes them time and time again, Inspector Samson is actually quite an intelligent fellow who works out the truth of certain elements of the plot way before everyone else and is often two steps ahead of most people in the film. He even, in one nicely done special effects sequence, fills his general area with cigar smoke which reveals that the invisible fugitive is standing mere inches away from him. So, yeah, an intelligent police inspector in the film is a refreshing change of pace from the way the police are treated in most set ups.

The film is elevated by the scoring of Frank Skinner and Hans Salter with, as you might suspect given Universal’s musical modus operandi in this period, some lifts from Skinner’s score for Son Of Frankenstein. It’s not the most memorable score in the series though and there are lots of silent passages throughout too but it certainly works a charm and is good as a stand alone listen too.

Things buzz along to a double ending, first at the coal mine where the main villain of the piece comes to a sticky end and then, of course, in the race to try and save Ratcliffe’s life. I seem to remember this coal mine set though and I’m pretty sure that the same place was used in one of the many Mummy sequels a few years after this film was shot. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

So there we are. Not much to add here on The Invisible Man Returns other than Vincent Price would, of course, very briefly reprise his role as the voice of The Invisible Man at the end of Abbot And Costello Meet Frankenstein. He would continue on in much more romantic, matinee idol kinds of roles such as his turn in the famous film Laura until, at some point in the 1950s, he would become indelibly linked to the horror genre which he is still mostly remembered for. The Invisible Man films would continue on without him, of course, with the next two in the series being very unusual entries in the directions they take. In fact, the next movie doesn’t feature an invisible man at all... but I’ll get to that when I rewatch it again for this blog sometime soon.

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