Directed by James Whale
A man discovers a formula to turn himself invisible. In doing so he goes insane and now must be stopped.
Claude Rains turned in an iconic performance as Dr. Jack Griffin/The Invisible Man despite spending a good portion of the movie either wrapped in bandages or standing off-camera spouting his lines. The only time you actually see his face is in the closing moments of the film. What he does here is so good it never occurs to you though. That is great acting.
Henry Travers, the actor that played Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life, has a role in this film as the fatherly scientist Dr. Cranley who allowed Dr. Griffin to pursue his own experiments on the side while in his employ and is the father of Jack’s fiancé Flora (Gloria Stuart).
One thing that always gets me about these older movies involving scientists screwed by science is that the assorted scientists never seem to have a specific field. It is just scientists doing science stuff and they come up with something while sciencing. I guess one day Griffin decided to become invisible and figured out a potion. And they always deeply regret what they did at the end. It is not a knock against the movies. It was just a cliché of the time.
This film is not as scary for modern audiences as it probably was for audiences when it was originally released. Movies often get copied and the shocking things they did get copied and thus audiences get desensitized. This is what happened here.
The Invisible Man was done at the height of Universal and its forays into horror cinema. They took an existing work and much like today, used elements of it to create a film that had only passing similarities to the source. I cannot fault them to much as they still appeared to be following the mentality of converting things to a stage play and could not quite understand that a feature film allowed for more freedom. Some studios did it better than others and when it came to anything that delved into the more fanciful, nobody did it better back then than Universal Pictures.
The movie is a massive special-effects achievement for the time. There were no computers and special effects of any type were still in their infancy. Some of what you see here was done for the first time. Much of what they did here required perfect timing. It occurred right there on that stage as the cameras were rolling and if they screwed up then they had to start all over again from scratch.
It is well acted with fine performances not only by Rains, Travers and Stuart but by William Harrigan as Dr. Arthur Kemp. In an era when over the top was the norm in horror, he was rather normal in his performance. Kemp was frightened by events but Harrigan’s performance was never cartoonish. He kept it grounded.
I give Stuart credit for her performance but in connection to the story she was an extremely disposable love interest. But we also have the befuddled police department along with a handful of humorous side characters populating the story. These are your basic horror film elements of the time. Those elements though give these older horror films a certain charm that I cannot quite put my finger on. With them I know I am going to get some comfort food that I will enjoy, and this is a very enjoyable film. They make them atmospheric and charming comfort food.
The Invisible Man is a wonderful old school horror film that while you will not get any scares you will get plenty of thrills from. It is an enjoyable romp and a throwback to the days of yore that you should see.