Tuesday, 20 July 2021

The Invisible Man's Revenge

Clear Vengeance

The Invisible Man's Revenge
USA 1944
Directed by Ford Beebe
Universal  Blu Ray Zone A

The Invisible Man’s Revenge is what I would call the last ‘pure’ film in Universal’s original classic take on the characters and concepts from H. G. Wells much abused source novel, The Invisible Man. And it’s also a very strange one at that.

For starters, the titular character is back to being the film’s antagonist again but, considering the other characters in the film, it’s hard to pinpoint who the main protagonist is in this... even the romantic male lead, who to my mind looks almost exactly the same as the feller playing the invisible man in this, kind of gets overpowered at the end and has to be rescued by a dog.

The film headlines Jon Hall, which is a strange one in itself because, two years prior to this, he’d played the main, heroic protagonist of the previous film in the series, Invisible Agent (reviewed here). Here, though, he’s an unmistakable and unapologetic villain. It’s revealed very early on in the film that’ he’s psychotic and escaped a mental hospital after killing two people there. When he arrives in London to see his two friends, Sir Jasper and Irene Herrick, a husband and wife played by Lester Matthews and Gale Sondergaard, he proceeds to attempt to blackmail them for his half of the diamond mine he’d found with them years before. Thing is though, he appears to be absolutely right and, honestly, there are barely any actual ‘good’ characters in this movie except for, perhaps, the daughter of the Herricks, played by Universal monsters semi-regular actress Evelyn Ankers.

Anyway, a curious thing to note that, perhaps due to legal reasons (I have no idea), Hall’s character name is Robert Griffin. Griffin is, of course, the last name of the character in the Wells novel and is a surname which usually crops up in these to cement the relationship between other family members and the current ‘invisible man’. Here though, the character has no connections whatsoever to any of the former Griffins so, yeah, baffling. In fact, it’s only because he stumbles into a stray scientist, played by Universal horror regular John Carradine, that he ends up becoming invisible in the first place... and therefore better equipped to start a reign of terror on his former ‘friends’ and attempt to swindle them out of, well, what is technically rightfully his anyway. It’s all a bit of a mess, to be honest.

Adding to the confusion, at least to my mind, is the fact that we have a purely psychotic character, played to the hilt as such and liable to flip his mood on a dime at any second... but he’s befriended by a down on his luck, comedy relief local, played by the famous Leon Errol. Errol was top lining gazillions of his own comical shorts throughout the 1930s to the 1950s and was a huge comedy star. What he’s doing in this, playing exactly the same kind of bumbling comedy character, is a mystery to me. There’s even a scene where he takes on a bet in a local pub as to being an ace darts player and we get a whole comedy routine where the ‘unseen’ and invisible Griffin is grabbing the darts and guiding them into the bullseye from all kinds of silly trick shot throws. It’s a bizarre and somewhat out of place scene which, nicely done as it is, seems uneasily out of kilter with the black hearted Griffin, who very soon in the film kills Carradine’s scientist and drains him of his blood to regain his visibility, just so he can attract the attention of Anker’s character.

It has to be said, the character here is fairly monstrous... almost as much as Claude Rains portrayal of the original Griffin in The Invisible Man (reviewed here). So, yeah, perhaps the studio felt you needed some strong comic relief to go with it but, as I said, it makes for an uneasy marriage here.

The film is directed by Ford Beebe, who also directed such great Universal theatrical serials as Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars (reviewed here), Buck Rogers (reviewed here) and Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe (reviewed here). There’s nothing really flashy about his direction here, it’s merely competent and pacey, which perhaps is his strength as a director but, not so much that he is particularly noted for rising to ‘star director’ status over the years, it seems to me.

Composers Hans J. Salter, William Lava and Eric Zeisl are on scoring duties and, it’s okay. It does that very interesting thing where, when you see a packing crate arriving on the docks which says London, it lapses into a paraphrase of a patriotic tune associated with the English. I recognised the tune but can’t quite place it’s name but, yeah, this is a device which I’ve heard Elmer Bernstein point out in a documentary... that it’s a huge intellectual leap to make in musical scoring because it re-enforces the scene setting in the minds of the audience at an almost subconscious level.

And there’s really not much more I can offer on The Invisible Man's Revenge. It’s probably the least interesting one in the franchise and the Invisible Man would not return to the screen from Universal until two separate encounters with Abbot and Costello. And, yes, reviews of those two particular films will be forthcoming here at some point soon too.

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