Universal’s The Invisible Man 1933 is still the gleeful best version of its time, writes TERRY SHERWOOD
TITLE: The Invisible Man
YEAR RELEASED: 1933
DIRECTOR: James Whale
CAST: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Henry Travers, Una O’Connor
Review of The Invisible Man 1933
In today’s world, the cry for transparency is common, but it’s not always a good thing, as seen in James Whale’s The Invisible Man 1933.
This picture is without a doubt on the list of seminal science fiction cinema. If you haven’t seen it (no pun intended) then it’s high time you did. If you have ‘seen an Invisible Man” then you perhaps know its virtues even if they are filtered through rose-coloured glasses or in this case wrap-around shades.
“A Couple Of Drinks And Gust Of Wind, So Much For You”
The tormented Colin Clive and even Boris Karloff were considered for the role of Dr Jack Griffin that went to the then-unknown Claude Rains.
Rains, who worked to eradicate an early in life stuttering in his speech, was in the theatre barely making any money.
In fact, it is said he was on the verge of quitting altogether when James Whale tracked down his unsuccessful screen test for a role in A Bill of Divorcement 1932.
Like Bela Lugosi and Karloff, Universal executives were against using an unknown like Rains, however, Whale insisted.
Apparently, Rains wasn’t told about the role even when sent to the studio to get molds made for the special effects. He was only told that he was to act with his voice and eyes.
The other roles were filled out with Whale favourite Gloria Stuart as Griffin’s suffering Love interest Flora Cranley. Stuart is known to modern audiences as Old Rose in James Cameron’s egotistical romp Titanic 1997.
“You Don’t Have A Face”
Apparently, some actors even then looked for flattering roles as Chester Morris, who was the case as Dr. Arthur Kemp.
Morris enjoyed a career as an all-purpose every-man lead playing in westerns, such as technically fun pre-code Haunted House picture The Bat Whispers 1932 to the title role in the long-running ‘B ‘film series of Boston Blackie by Columbia.
Morris walked on the role, as it wasn’t flattering for his career, paving the way for William Harrigan.
The brilliant Una O’Connor, another Whale favourite, was cast as the screaming innkeeper’s wife Jenny Hall who gives Griffin a room.
Then toss in some cameos by actors on the verge of stardom like clearly visible Walter Brennan, the tragic Dwight Frye and John Carradine.
The result of these plus the special effects, that still work today in places, you have a wonderful film!
“It’s A Conjuring Trick, That’s What It Is”
The Invisible Man 1933 has witty dialogue, strong characters, pace and gallows humour by Bushel.
The story and the script which is as convoluted as Griffin’s bandages on how it got to the screen is something itself.
A scientist (Rains) develops a serum which turns himself invisible, for good intent initially.
We first meet him as this grim figure comes out of a snowstorm, seeking shelter at an inn where he seeks to find a way back after he “Meddled with things man was meant to leave alone”.
The serum later is found to drive the person to mental distress.
In this case, the megalomaniac bent on conquering mankind and the world with an ‘Invisible Army.’ The coming of the ‘Fifth Column’ and later Cold War in the future.
Stand-out effects, mad cackling and James Whale’s trade in making authority figures like policemen seem thick plus sleeping clothes moving by themselves and singing “Here we go gathering nuts in May” are just some of the moments.
The jokes also mask a dark side to the character of Griffin, particularly when he deals with the traitorous Dr Kemp.
The glee in which he describes Kemp’s impending death by car crash while wheeling him to the cliff edge, comes close in intensity to the skinning dialogue Bela Lugosi says to a strapped-up Boris Karloff in the subversive The Black Cat 1934.
“He’s Invisible, That’s Whats The Matter With Him’
The Invisibile Man 1933 did spawn sequels, which did not follow the original story, with Vincent Price as Griffin’s relative in The Invisible Man Returns 1940 and Invisible Woman 1940 with Virgina Bruce. The story resurfacde with Chevy Chase and the comedy Memoirs of an Invisible Man in 1992 plus a short-lived TV series.
Blumhouse did a massive successful remake in 2020 simply called The Invisible Man. This story shifted the victim to Griffin’s wife, Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss), turning the film into a look at domestic violence. The picture did win awards but also had to serve backlash for that reason.
Universal Studios’ version of 1933 is still the gleeful best of its time.
Part of the three James Whale deliciously camouflaged gallery of cruelty with the others being The Bride of Frankenstein 1935 and The Old Dark House 1932.
Una O’Connor’s screams get a bit over the top at times. The effects work especially the footprints in the snow with the then revolutionary travelling matte process, the movements, the humour and the death wish in the script.
The advent of new technology means these effects now show especially in the 4K version, where some wires are visible for a moment.
Universal monsters are old friends, this one of them you should see even though he knows the importance of not being seen.
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