Originally published April 17th, 2012
I am shocked and astounded at the recent spike in readers this blog has found. For the last three days we’ve consistently cracked 100 hits which is a bit feat for me (watch the numbers plunge as soon as I hit “publish”). Today’s review is a classic Universal movie from 1933, the James Whale film The Invisible Man. Now, I haven’t read the classic book but I’ve heard the film is a close adaptation. With that, the film is fun due to the amazing voice acting by Claude Rains, and is easily just shy of Frankenstein or Dracula. It’s a bit too close to Frankenstein for my liking but it’s a fun watch. Keep reading for the review and also the update on our upcoming Best Actor Tourney!
I wanted to see this for the sheer fact that I’ve never seen Claude Rain play anything other than the Inspector from Casablanca. He does an amazing job taking a role that doesn’t require him to be on-screen, and creating a character you believe you can feel and visualize. Rains wasn’t the first choice, Frankenstein star Boris Karloff was, but I couldn’t see anyone other than Rains playing this role. He takes his extensive theater acting (this was his first sound film) and applies that here with aplomb. The role requires a clear, eloquent voice, and while he’s not always playing the man on-screen his carriage and broad theatrical gestures work so well. His mannerisms make certain scenes utterly disturbing. Case in point, the moment where he reveals himself to the inhabitants of the inn is unsettling as he rapidly rips off the bandages while maniacally laughing. Even his entering the inn for the first time conveys an air of menace as he walks in almost mechanically/unreal. For 1933 the effects work and still hold up today. The reveal happens about five minutes into this clip:
The movie does play on the typical horror tropes established by 1933 and at times feels like a continuation of Frankenstein; I’m not sure how intentional director James Whale (who also directed Frankenstein) intended that to be. The movie opens with the typical snoopy English pub owners, epitomized by the annoying hysterical innkeeper’s wife (Una O’Connor) who does nothing but scream and screech. If that was her only intention lady you win! I was just waiting for the Invisible Man to throw her down the stairs. Other similarities to Frankenstein include the elements of man messing with “things best left alone!” You also have the misunderstood/murderous loner, and the unsympathetic townspeople. It didn’t lessen my overall enjoyment of the film but I did keep saying “Wow, these movies are pretty interchangeable aside from the problems the men face.”
Where this movie diverges most is what the intent of the invisible man means to society. The man behind the bandages, scientist Jack Griffin, details his plot to take over the world and “commit a few murders here and there.” His belief is that “an invisible man can rule the world” as he can come and go as he pleases and watch over everything. The allusions to Big Brother and 1984 are easily spotted here and I have to wonder if there’s some type of insidious war message although WWII hadn’t started.
The movie does have a few flaws that are pretty funny. What all these invisible man movies do is throw in a few too many “side abilities” to create more menace. I hate to name drop Hollow Man, which is a pretty horrid but laughable attempt to remake this film, but that movie included the element that invisibility can make you want to rape people! Here we have the requisite madness but Griffin continuously mentions “I’m going to hurt you, I’m super strong!” So with invisibility comes super strength? And it also makes you able to be in about 30 places at once to throw things. You have another scene where he throws ink in a cop’s face, mind you people are huddled around this guy so how did Griffin get in front of him, and how did he climb on top of the wooden table without anyone hearing him? Not related to Griffin but the funniest line has to be said cop telling people “We found no sign of him.” Really, because I totally thought an invisible man would leave SOME trace of himself…crack detective work there!
If this was a crappy story this moments would bother me but they just make me smile. The rest of the story is so quick, the movie clocks in at an hour and 15 minutes, that you ignore the problems and just chalk it up to “English people!” The Invisible Man is a worthy watch and if you’re seeing Titanic in 3D, it’s got Gloria Stuart playing the BEAUTIFUL Flora! Literally stunning was she!
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.