THE INVISIBLE MAN
The Invisible Man was directed by the perpetually unconventional James Whale, who had just made the classic Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein (1931) and would next go onto the fan favourite of Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Bride of Frankenstein is generally considered James Whales all-time classic, although this author has a strong preference for The Invisible Man as Whales undeclared masterpiece. Whales customarily eccentric humour is allowed loose on H.G. Wellss plot, which is the problem that Wells seemed to have with the film. Claude Rains, who in most other roles seemed stiff-necked, gets into full flight as Griffen, playing the role with an exuberant burlesque and an hilariously barbed waspishness. James Whale has gleeful fun in Griffens manic cavortings through the town, stealing bicycles, smashing windows and joyously running rings around cops while only wearing a shirt. The threat of the invisible man is constantly being wittily undercut with scenes of him going to bed in pyjamas while still invisible or bursting into William Harrigans house, with the threat immediately turning to a Brrr, its cold. In the films most eccentric scene, an invisible Claude Rains goes skipping down a country lane wearing a pair of stolen pants, singing Here we go gathering nuts in May.
The film has an initially amusing sense of British parochialism. This is something that recurs in James Whales work but in the scenes with the comic foil cops and Una OConnors Cockney barmaid here, it emerges somewhat shrill the films only real failing. However, James Whales visual style is as always superb. The opening of the film is wonderful the moment the stranger in the snow-covered coat, his face hidden behind bandages and dark glasses, appears out of the storm sets the stage for something unusual, which is quickly compounded by the strangers outright rudeness. The moment the invisibility is first introduced holds a marvellous shock the image of his face with the bandage half unwound and dark glasses still seated on his nose is a startling one.
Horror film critic Carlos Clarens states that The Invisible Man has the best dialogue to ever grace a science-fiction film and he may not be far wrong. The script was adapted by R.C. Sherriff, who had written the play that became the basis of James Whales first film Journeys End (1931). There is that wonderful scene where Griffen explains things to Kemp. Just a scientific experiment. To do something no other man in the world had done. But theres more to it than that, Kemp. I know that now. It came to me suddenly. The drugs I took seem to light up my brain. Suddenly I realized the power I held, the power to rule, to make the world grovel at my feet. He plans their rule together: Well begin with a reign of terror. A few murders here and there. Murders of great men, murders of small men, just to make sure we make no distinction. One of the finest stretches of dialogue is his explanation of the problems of being invisible. There are one or two things you must understand, Kemp. I must always remain in hiding an hour after meals the food is always visible in me until it is digested. I can only work on fine, clear days. If I work in the rain, the water can be seen on my head and shoulders. In a fog, you can see me like a bubble. In smoky cities, the soot settles on me until you can see a dark outline. You must always be at hand to wipe my feet, even dirt between my fingernails would give me away. It is difficult at first to walk down stairs, one is so accustomed to watching our feet. These are trivial difficulties, we shall find a way of working out everything. It is a grand film, although in some other ways it never leaves 1930s clichés far behind He meddled with things men were meant to leave alone, people are heard to mutter.
The effects work is very good. Bicycles ride on their own, lines of footprints appear in the snow, cigarettes are lit and smoke puffed in mid-air. A few trick have lose their lustre today no modern effects artist would be allowed to get away with not showing the back of the collar when the invisible man wears a shirt. The film is still a remarkable achievement to the technical prowess of effects artists eighty years ago.
In the 1940s, the Invisible Man appeared in a host of sequels The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman (1940), The Invisible Agent (1942) and The Invisible Mans Revenge (1944). Unlike Universals Frankenstein and Dracula sequels, The Invisible Man sequels maintain a degree of worthwhileness. Later the Invisible Man appeared in some of Universals monster team-ups he has a minor appearance at the end of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and then appears in Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), although that features an entirely new Invisible Man. The film has surprisingly never been remade however there have been three tv series, The Invisible Man (1958), The Invisible Man (1975) and The Invisible Man (2000-2), although outside of the name and theme these bear no resemblance to this film or the H.G. Wells novel. Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) contains a skit spoofing the film. A successor to the Invisible Man also appeared in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), which featured a team-up of various characters from Victorian fiction.