The Invisible Man (1933)

Director: James Whale

Apparently H.G. Wells was not exactly thrilled by Island of Lost Souls, and demanded Universal treat his book more respectfully than Paramount had done. I haven’t read the book since the late 80s, and I remember very little of it, so I don’t know how faithful an adaptation it is, but Wells had to approve the script so it can’t have been too far off, I suppose… Anyway, it was interesting to watch this after The Mummy; if the voice of Karloff (originally supposed to star) was a big part of that film, Claude Rains’ voice was, basically, the star of this one. Nothing if not an extraordinary Hollywood debut (Rains had only made one film previously, and that was in 1920), his face doesn’t become visible until the very last shot of the film and he is, technically, naked for much of the film. Of course, this was a James Whale film, his third Universal horror; The Old Dark House (his second one) had displayed an element of weird humour that Frankenstein (his first) hadn’t exactly done, and that is ramped up here. Rains’ scientist, Griffin, is quite mad as a result of his experiments with invisibility, but along with the megalomania and murderousness it also inspires him to a sort of silly prankishness, most notably the golden moment when he steals a policeman’s pair of trousers and is next “seen” chasing a screaming woman terrified of these unnaturally animated pants… Needless to say, all of this required technical marvels that are still kind of stunning, particularly when you consider how difficult some of them would’ve been to achieve in 1933 (the shot of Griffin unbandaging himself in the mirror required four separate pieces of film to be combined); they’re not as flashy as modern CGI would be but they’re still amazing. Invisible Man doesn’t seem to be as well-remembered as Whale’s other horrors, but it was very pleasing to watch again tonight; the mix of horror and humour is certainly peculiar and occasionally disconcerting, but good fun overall.

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