The Invisible Man (1933)

MARCH 8, 2010


It seems I am reaching the home stretch when it comes to seeing all of the traditional Universal Classic Monster movies. I’ve seen all of the Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy, and Frankenstein ones (except for the Abbott and Costello versions - I’ll get to those eventually), and there are only three Creature From The Black Lagoon films, ever. And that just leaves The Invisible Man, which has 5 films on the set, but one is a comedy and another is a spy movie. Even the original is probably the lightest on horror of the entire stable, but it’s also one of the better ones, so it evens out.

Now, when I say lightest on horror, I mean in the traditional sense. He’s not really a monster like the others, and several of his antics are played for laughs instead of scares. But on the other hand, he’s probably the most villainous of the whole Universal lineup - dude kills quite a few people directly over the course of the movie, and at one point sends an entire train full of people to their deaths. He even kills the guy that in any other Uni movie would be the hero/love interest for the obligatory girl (played here by Titanic’s Gloria Stuart), harshly trapping him in a car and then pushing said car down a cliff. He’s also the only one of the era to threaten rape. In other words - how the hell did all of this stuff make it past the censors and producers? Hollow Man didn’t even rack up this high of a body count.

This of course is part of what also sets the film apart from many of the others - he’s not really that sympathetic. I understand he’s even MORE of a scoundrel in the H.G. Wells source novel, but he’s still the Antichrist compared to Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy (first one anyway), or Larry Talbot. Hell even Dracula had that romantic thing going for him, but Griffin barely seems interested in his love interest (she’s only in a few scenes, and not involved with the climax at all). If not for his occasional practical gags, like when he runs around in circles, chased by FOUR policemen (none of whom seem to consider merely running in the other direction and trapping him) laughing in a comical (as opposed to maniacal) manner. He’s a delightful murderer.

Speaking of the climax, it’s kind of half-assed. Like some other Uni movies, it sort of peters out instead of building toward a great finale. He’s done in by people we barely know/care about, and he doesn’t fight anyone either. And I know that the assumed reason for this would be that they didn’t have the effects ability to pull off such a thing, but the effects in the movie are still quite astonishing. You can see the strings on a few of the object motion shots, but any scene where he still has clothes on looks just as good as the stuff in Memoirs of an Invisible Man (if not as ambitious, obviously). But they don’t do any big effect for the end, just a few footsteps in the snow (actually shoeprints, which is an error, but OK) and then he is shot dead by the posse.

It’s also a weak finale when you consider that that is literally all they do - they shoot him. For the entire 70 previous minutes (another cool thing - he’s already invisible when the movie starts), they never thought to just shoot at the guy? There are times when he is clearly more or less confined in a room, throwing glasses at the crowd or whatever, but they always run away instead of rushing him. He’s not a ghost, go get him! Also, he’s not really doing much when they kill him, just sleeping in a barn. I was hoping for a traditional science lab ending, possibly even a (somewhat) tragic one where he was about to cure himself only to be taken down by the mob. They try to go for the tragedy by working in some nonsense that once he dies he will become visible again, so once he’s dead we see his face for the first time and see that he’s just a normal guy, but it doesn’t quite have the impact due to the fact that his death scene was so lax.

But otherwise, again, it’s one of the better ones in the “franchise” for sure. The aforementioned lack of censorship gives it an edge that the others never had, allowing it to play out more like a Hammer film than anything else. And by not having the traditional love triangle stuff, we stay with the characters we care about (i.e. the monster) more often than usual. You may never see his face, but Claude Rains has more screentime in this film than Lugosi or Karloff ever had in their respective films, I think.

I just wish the transfer was as above average. It’s actually pretty spotty, and the color temperature keeps changing from blue to green (though this may be a defect on my DVD, as I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere). King Kong and other 1933 films seem to have been better preserved and/or remastered; maybe if they mount a reboot (David Goyer has been attached to do one for quite some time) they will give it another release. Otherwise, it has the traditional treatment, a retrospective and a film historian commentary. I wish Tom Weaver (who did The Wolf Man’s track) did this one instead of Rudy Behlmer though. Behlmer certainly knows his stuff, but he just rattles off facts the entire time. Weaver did that but also would comment on the actual scene every now and then, and didn’t seem to be reading everything he said off of a teleprompter the way Behlmer does. The documentary (35 min) is also chock full of info, but it also seems to be trying to provide a bio of James Whale as much (if not more) than a look at the film itself. The effects, for example, aren’t given as much screentime as Ian McKellen talking about Whale in relation to his performance in the Whale biopic Gods and Monsters. The context is fine and even necessary, but I wanted more about the film and its legacy. Either way, it’s well put together and informative, and unlike the commentary, it didn’t put me to sleep three times.

If anyone has seen them, do you think I can count The Invisible Woman or Invisible Agent as horror movies? Keep in mind my review for Memoirs Of An Invisible Man was for my non-horror October Extras series; otherwise I’d never even consider it for HMAD purposes despite the Carpenter connection.

What say you?

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  1. You should definitely check out The Old Dark House, James Whale's best in my opinion and my favorite of the universal horror movies.


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