Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Invisible Man (1933)

Like the Mummy, the Invisible Man was one of the classic monsters that I never had much interest in when I was a little kid. In fact, unlike the other monsters, there was only one literary source that I had at hand to learn about him: one of the Crestwood House monster books, which was one that told the film's story rather than the character's history in film (other books that did that included Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and The Deadly Mantis) and wasn't part of the usual roster of the books you'd find listed on the back, along with one on The Phantom of the Opera, which I never saw at all. I actually checked out that book a couple of times, as I was somewhat intrigued by the image on the cover of the Invisible Man in his robe and with the bandages around his head, but every time I tried to read it, I would lose interest. The story and the character didn't grab me the way other monsters like Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man did, so I stuck with those throughout my childhood. If you've read my reviews of the classic Universal horror films, you'd know that I first saw many of them, like Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and Dracula, on Turner Classic Movies one weekend in October in 1998 when I was 11, but I ended up missing The Invisible Man, which was on that evening, and even as I began collecting those films and others on video shortly afterward, I wouldn't see The Invisible Man until I was in high school. I saw it one Friday night while I was at my aunt's house (on Turner Classic Movies, yet again) during the summer of 2003; in fact, it was the day before my 16th birthday. Frankenstein was on that same evening, which first got my attention, and after that was The Invisible Man, which I missed the first little part of since I turned the channel but I turned it back once the story really got going and watched it the rest of the way through. Unlike The Mummy, which still ended up not being my cup of tea even after I saw it, I instantly became a fan of this film. There was so much more about it that I could get into, like story and setting, the special effects, the humor, and the character of the Invisible Man himself. I was so taken by it that, since I was going to Chattanooga to spend my birthday money the next day, I planned on trying to find the DVD so I could see it again, this time in full, but I wouldn't own it or see it again until a couple of years later when I bought the Universal Legacy set. To this day, it remains one of my absolute favorite Universal horror films and my second favorite of James Whale's films, with my first being Frankenstein.

On a cold, snowy night, a stranger, his head wrapped in bandages and wearing dark goggles, arrives at The Lion's Head Inn at the small village of Iping in England. He takes a room and asks for his luggage from the train station to delivered as soon as possible, as well as not to be disturbed, all in a very stern and intimidating manner. Elsewhere, young Flora Cranley, the daughter of a respected scientist, is worried about the sudden, long disappearance of Jack Griffin, her fiancĂ© and assistant to her father. Cranley isn't concerned but his other assistant, Kemp, tells Flora of strange, secretive experiments that Griffin performed in the weeks leading up to his sudden departure. After a week, the stranger, who's been using lab equipment he had delivered to conduct mysterious experiments, has overstayed his welcome, frightening and threatening people in his volatile outbursts and having now fallen behind on his rent. But, when the innkeeper, Mr. Hall, tries to evict him, the man attacks and seriously injures him, forcing those down in the pub to alert the local constable. Confronted, the man removes the bandages and goggles on his face, revealing himself to be invisible. Once he gets the rest of his clothes off, he escapes the inn and wreaks havoc in the town before escaping to the countryside, although the police officials dismiss the story as a hoax combined with too many drinks at the inn. Meanwhile, Cranley and Kemp search Dr. Griffin's laboratory for any clues to where he may have gone or what he was working on. They come across a note in a cupboard with a list of chemicals on it, the last of which is "monocane," an obscure drug that drains the color out of anything it touches and also causes madness, which Griffin was possibly unaware of since the books he referred to were written before the side-effect was discovered. Later that night, Kemp hears on his radio at home a news report about the apparent mass delusion of an invisible man at the village of Iping, when Griffin makes his presence known in the house, revealing that his secret experiments have indeed made him invisible. He tells him of his hasty departure when he realized he was fading away, his intention to have returned once he'd found the antidote, and that he now feels he has the power to rule the world, which he intends to start with a reign of murder, forcing Kemp to become his visible partner. After Griffin retrieves his notebook from the Lion's Head and kills the disbelieving official who's hold an inquiry there, the news of which plunges the countryside into panic, Kemp gets in touch with Cranley and tells him of the situation. When he and Flora arrive to help, Griffin becomes more placid in his fiancĂ©'s presence, but is still gripped by his megalomania, and manages to escape when the police, whom Kemp called, arrive to capture him, vowing to kill Kemp for his betrayal the following night. Now, they must try to stop a raving lunatic whom they can't even see.

According to the book, Monsters: A Celebration of the Classics from Universal Studios, to director James Whale, The Invisible Man was, among other things, a way to get out of doing a sequel to Frankenstein, which Universal was constantly at him about doing. At this point, he'd already directed The Old Dark House, as well as two non-horror films, The Impatient Maiden and The Kiss Before the Mirror, and was trying to branch out of the genre as much as he could. But, because of his immense misgivings about doing Bride of Frankenstein (which was then titled, The Return of Frankenstein), he'd hoped that taking on The Invisible Man, which Universal had been trying to develop since 1931, would force them to put someone else on that film. Once he signed on as director, Whale rejected the previous passes on the story that had been done (which included setting it in Russia and involving invisible aliens) and hired screenwriter R.C. Sheriff to write a script that was much closer to H.G. Wells' original novel. In other words, as with Frankenstein, Whale was a big reason why the movie became the wonderful film that it is, particularly when he injected it with the dark comedy that he'd first introduced in The Old Dark House and would continue to polish and perfect on into Bride of Frankenstein. Speaking of the latter, the success of The Invisible Man, combined with his previous work, was what enabled Whale to do whatever he wanted when he finally relented and agreed to direct it, which was no bad thing at all.

As smart and talented as he was, though, Whale was not immune to some of the oddities that you see in old films like these that are result of film being a burgeoning and evolving medium at that time. There are quick, static jump cuts that feel kind of random and more than a few continuity errors in-between shots, such as people who weren't present in one cut being there the next and vice-versa. The latter is very forgivable, though, because those kind of mistakes persist to this day and even master filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick have made them. However, there's one part of the movie that I find to be very glaring and distracting, which is a camera pull back through the wall of the set during the scene that introduces the characters of Dr. Cranley, Flora, and Kemp. Being from the theater, Whale had done that kind of shot that shows the artifice of cinema before, such as in Frankenstein, when the camera pans from right to left, through a wall in the set, when Henry Frankenstein sends Fritz downstairs to deal with the unwelcome visitors, and then pans back with the former when he walks back into his laboratory. The important thing, though, is it was so subtle there that you wouldn't notice unless you really thought about it; here, Whale pulls the camera back so far away and exposes so much of the set's boundaries that Kemp might as well go around the wall instead of walking through the door in order to go talk to Flora in private. It's a brief moment and doesn't hinder the film's overall quality at all but, whether Whale intended it to look like that or it was a mistake, it is distracting.

Those minor errors aside, there are many, many other reasons why this film is so great and one that can't ever be overstated is Claude Rains' awesome performance as the title character. Rains may not have ever acted on film before, save for a small part in a silent one, but he was an experienced stage actor and that, coupled with his great voice, was sufficient enough for him to have an impact in this role. He gives the Invisible Man such a presence, both physically and vocally that there's a reason why all activity at the inn stops dead when he first walks in and the people can't take their eyes off him as he walks in and lowly asks for a room with a fire. First off all, you wouldn't think a character who can't be seen would have an iconic "look" but when Rains has those bandages wrapped around his head and is wearing those dark goggles over them (at least, most of the time it's Rains, but other times it's a double, who's much taller and has a pronounced nose that you can see under the bandages), it's a very striking image. In fact, it's two iconic images, as you have the rather crudely put together disguise he has during the first part of the movie, with the fake nose and tufts of fake hair atop the head, and the second, more sophisticated one with the robe that he wears at Kemp's house, which is my favorite of the two. Either way, it's memorable as well as kind of unsettling and mysterious, as it makes you wonder what his true face, which you don't ever see until the very end, looks like. More importantly is the voice, which is what served Rains the best. That deep, raspy texture that he had makes for a very intimidating sound, one of a person that you don't want screw with and would make you wet yourself if you suddenly heard it when you thought you were alone. When he angrily threatens someone, like when he snarls at Mr. Hall, "Leave that alone and get out of here!", when he tries to pack up his laboratory equipment, or yells at Kemp to sit down, picking up a fire poker when he does so, it can make your hair stand on end because it's so loud and powerful. His less bombastic threats are no less frightening, like when Constable Jaffers hears him say, "I think I'll throttle you," before feeling his invisible hands around his throat, or when he warns Kemp, "You raise a finger against me and you're a dead man. I'm strong, and I'll strangle you." The most bone-chilling one, though, comes right after that when Kemp tries to walk out the front door, only to hear the Invisible Man say, "I said the sitting room, Kemp. And if you try and escape by the window, I shall follow you, and no one in the world can save you."

Rains' best moments come during the mad, megalomaniacal speeches that he makes throughout the film, which is his theater experience came in handy. These sections of the movie may seem over the top and perhaps even operatic by today's standards but Rains makes them work, and they're so good that I could spend this entire review just talking about them. One of his best is when he's forced to reveal his condition to Constable Jaffers and a group of the villagers: " All right, you fools. You've brought it on yourselves! Everything would have come right if you'd only left me alone. You've driven me near madness with your peering through the keyholes and gaping through the curtains, and now you'll suffer for it! You're crazy to know who I am, aren't you? All right! I'll show you!" He then takes off his fake nose and throws it on the table, growling, "There's a souvenir for you!" before taking off his goggles and doing the same with them, adding, "And one for you!" He begins taking off his bandages, exclaiming, "I'll show you who I am, and what I am!", laughing maniacally as he reveals his transparent face, proclaiming, "Huh? How do you like that, eh!" Later on in the same scene, after he's fully dispensed with his clothes, he proclaims, "An invisible man can rule the world. Nobody will see him come, nobody will see him go. He can hear every secret. He can rob, and rape, and kill!" When he meets up with Kemp at his house and tells him of his experiments and why he left, he adds, "The drugs I took seemed to light up my brain. Suddenly, I realized the power I held: the power to rule, to make the world grovel at my feet," before telling him of his horrific plans to exert his power: " We'll begin with a reign of terror: a few murders here and there. Murders of great men, murders of little men... well, just to show we make no distinction. We might even wreck a train or two: just these fingers around a signalman's throat, that's all." His absolute best one comes when he has scene with Flora in his room in Kemp's house and, after being placid for a while, begins to rave again, talking about his intention to reveal the secrets of his invisibility potion to the world, "With all of its terrible power!" and how the nations will bid for the ability to sweep the globe with invisible armies. He completely ignores Flora's pleading with him, proclaiming, "Power, I said! Power to walk into the gold vaults of the nations, into the secrets of kings, into the Holy of Holies. Power to make multitudes run squealing in terror at the touch of my little invisible finger." He then turns, looks out the window behind him, and adds, "Even the moon's frightened of me! Frightened to death! The whole world's frightened to death!" One thing that becomes apparent from all this, aside from his obvious madness, is how much enjoys the terror he inspires in what he does and screwing with people. When he's forced to reveal his secret early on, he comes across as positively vindicated, as he laughs like a loon and makes humorous comments as he wreaks havoc, like when he whacks one guy on the head with a broom, saying, "How's that for a hairbrush, George Henry?" or when he smacks a policeman in the face and can be heard off-camera yelling, "Naughty boy!" The best example is when he's strolling down the street in the trousers he took from another policeman, singing, "Here we go gathering nuts in May, nuts in May, nuts in May. Here we go gathering nuts in May, on a cold and frosty morning!"

Amazingly, despite all of the death, destruction, and terror that he causes with no shred of remorse, the Invisible Man is not an unsympathetic character, as we do get glimpses of the real Jack Griffin, the well-meaning man who doesn't realize that he's losing his sanity to the chemicals. When we see him working in his makeshift laboratory at the Lion's Head, his anger and frustration at Jane's interruption gives way to frightened desperation to regain solidity, as he says to himself, "There must be a way back. God knows, there must be a way back!" When Mr. Hall tries to evict him, Griffin pleads with him to let him stay and, again, you can hear the sincere fear in his voice, which gives way to fury when Hall begins packing up his lab equipment. His humane scene in the film is when he meets up with Flora at Kemp's house, as he becomes more placid and gentle when he learns that she's arrived at the house with her father and treats her very gently when they're in the room together. He tells that his reason for his experiments was all for her, to discover something so monumental that he'd become a well-regarded and able to provide for her, which he couldn't do before as he was apparently penniless. This makes the ranting that he then goes into all the more unsettling, as it gets across the notion that, after a momentary lapse, the monocane is regaining control over his mind. It's also sad in that you get a bit of a sense of what a decent man he was and, when you really think about, how truly insane he's become in that his various plans, first to rule the world with his reign of terror and then to offer his formula to the nations so they'll pay up for it, contradict each other. It's only when he's been mortally wounded by a gunshot and is lying in a hospital bed, dying, that he regains his humanity, telling Flora, "I knew you'd come for me, Flora. I wanted to come back to you. My darling... I failed. I meddled in things that man must leave alone," and becoming visible once again he's gone.

Besides her role in Titanic, which got her more press than she ever had before, Gloria Stuart is best remembered for this film and The Old Dark House and yet, in both, she has very little to do acting-wise, especially here. Talking about her role as Flora Cranley, Stuart herself admitted in an essay she wrote for that Universal monsters book I mentioned earlier, "I don't think a psychological thesis or anything was necessary for the part!", so at least she was self-aware. If nothing else, in The Old Dark House, she was part of an ensemble cast; in The Invisible Man, she's little more than an insignificant supporting player, whose only importance to the plot is that her presence manages to temporarily calm Griffin, showing that, even in his madness, she's the one he does genuinely care about. The same goes for Flora herself, who you can tell really loves Griffin, is worried about why he suddenly disappeared and where he went, and is distraught over what's happened to him. That's really all she does, though: look worried and cry over him, especially at the end when she's by his bedside as he dies (I don't think she smiles once in the whole movie). What I find more interesting than her part are her stories about how Claude Rains, having never worked in a movie before and being more used to the theater, kept trying to grab ahold of her elbow and push her back in a way that was an old theatrical technique, something that James Whale had to correct him about on a couple of times. Otherwise, Stuart is one of the film's least interesting aspects.

A more memorable character is Kemp (William Harrigan), Dr. Cranley's other assistant and the Invisible Man's unwitting partner. He's interesting in that, like Jack Griffin, he's enamored with Flora and tries to show her how he feels in their first scene, telling her that Griffin doesn't care about anything other than his work. You'd think this would mean that his opinion of Griffin is not very high but it's never made clear if that is the case or if he just says what he does so he can move in on Flora now that his would-be rival is gone. Regardless, he does find Griffin's disappearance and his actions in the days before it suspicious, searching his laboratory with Cranley, trying to find clues and learning of monocane and its side-effects. Later that evening, when he hears the news report on the radio about people thinking that an invisible man is among them, the look on Kemp's face, combined with what he now knows about the chemicals Griffin may have used, makes it obvious that he's suspecting the story may be true... right before it's confirmed when Griffin makes his presence known. From them on, Kemp is absolutely frightened of Griffin, only becoming his partner out of fear of what he might do to him. "Partner" is a relative term, as he's more a prisoner in his own house, threatened to be strangled or followed to the ends of the Earth if he raises a finger against Griffin. Kemp becomes even more afraid when Griffin kills Inspector Bird during the inquiry and goes on about his plans, saying that they'll begin their reign of terror in earnest the next day and that, once he figures out the antidote, he'll make Kemp invisible sometimes. So much so that, later that night, he breaks and calls Cranley for help and then the police. That last call seals his fate, as Griffin tells him that he will kill him at 10:00 the following night, a threat that makes Kemp a paranoid wreck the next day. He's so freaked out that he raves that Griffin isn't human and can go through walls, and he refuses to go along with the police's plan to use him as bait to catch him, opting instead for an elaborate plan of police protection so he can escape into the countryside. Griffin, however, outsmarts them and hides in the back of Kemp's car until they've driven up into the mountains, where he then ties him up and pushes him over a cliff in the car.

If you've seen It's A Wonderful Life, you should recognize Henry Travers, who plays Dr. Cranley, as George Bailey's guardian angel, Clarence. Here, he plays a role that may be much less significant but is no less well-performed, portraying Cranley as a kindly chemist who isn't too worried about Griffin's disappearance, saying that it's not uncommon for scientists to do so, until he becomes more aware of the suspicious circumstances surrounding it. He really becomes worried when he finds the list of chemicals in Griffin's laboratory and sees that monocane, of which he knows the more disturbing, lesser known details, listed there. His fears are confirmed when Kemp calls him and tells him that Griffin is the Invisible Man and that he has gone insane from the drug. Being smart, Cranley tells Kemp to keep Griffin calm until morning, knowing that he'll become suspicious if he shows up that night, and when Flora finds out, he definitely doesn't want her to be near Griffin, fearing what he might do. At her insistence, though, they go to Kemp's house and despite his protests about her seeing Griffin alone, Kemp assures Cranley that Griffin became much calmer when he realized she was near. After Griffin escapes the police when they show up, Cranley tries to keep the Invisible Man's identity a secret from them (not that it would do any good) but after Kemp tells them, he and Flora are unable to do anything except hope that the police can catch him without harming him. That, of course, is not how things work out and Cranley has to comfort Flora when she cries after Griffin expires.

The most memorable people in the film, aside from the Invisible Man himself, are the character actors whom James Whale hired to play the townspeople and the police force. Una O'Connor, who would go on to appear in Bride of Frankenstein, plays Jenny Hall, the wife of the Lion's Head's innkeeper. As in that later film, she's memorable for her odd looks, spastic way of moving, Cockney accent, and her loud, shrill screaming, which she does quite a bit of when the Invisible Man is yelling at her and beating up her husband. She kind of henpecks her husband, ordering him to throw the man out after he yells at her and slams the door in her face (she says he swore at her, which he didn't), and after her husband ends up with a busted head after unsuccessfully trying to evict him, Jenny is constantly hanging on him while continuing to screech and cry loudly, much to his irritation. Significantly, she's the first one to get a glimpse of invisibility when she bursts in on him when his mouth is uncovered, although she doesn't appear to have seen enough to freak her out, as she only comments on the bandages she can now clearly see. Speaking of her husband (Forrester Harvey), he's a little more reasonable than his wife and wants to wait for their irritable tenant to cool off before evicting him, but Jenny pushes him into it. He's nice enough to the Invisible Man but is also firm, telling him he must leave, that they can't have him staying around when he acts the way he does, and then, he makes the mistake of touching his lab equipment, which results in him getting thrown down the stairs. Like I said, he finds his wife's constant screaming to be about as irritating as the viewer would, as he tells her to shut up when she's going on. He's also not too thrilled about the insinuation that he came up with the story of an invisible man to drum up business, asking Inspector Bird if he thinks he'd about break his own neck over that. Another actor who went on to appear in Bride of Frankenstein is E.E. Clive as Constable Jaffers, whom the townspeople fetch after Hall's been thrown down the stairs. Like his performance as the Burgomaster in that later film, he's a very stuffy person, asking, "What's all this?" when the people surround him, and is more interested than concerned when he's told what's happened. He tries to arrest the Invisible Man but ends up as freaked out as everybody else when he sees that he is invisible, saying that if he manages to get the rest of his clothes off, they'll never find him. He has one of my favorite lines in the film, when he and the men go back upstairs to find nothing more than a shirt floating around. When one of the men tells him to handcuff him, he goes, "How can I handcuff a bloomin' shirt?!" Jaffers is almost strangled by the Invisible Man when he tricks him into thinking he's escaping through the window and his report on the situation is written off by Inspector Bird as drunkenness on his part.

Inspector Bird (Harry Stubbs) is the one voice of skepticism about the whole thing early on, writing it all off as the eye witnesses having too much to drink. When Constable Jaffers reports it to him, Bird's suggestion to him is, "You put more water in it next time!" He even goes as far as to suggest that it might have been partly invented as a way to get tourists to visit Iping, an accusation that offends Hall, and holds an inquiry at the Lion's Head. Predictably, after dismissing all the reports as nonsense (he tells one guy whose hat the Invisible Man stole, and who admits he had a couple of drinks beforehand, "A couple of drinks and a gust of wind. So much for you!"), he learns the hard way that it is real, as the Invisible Man chokes him and then smashes his head in with a chair. After his death and the resulting confirmation of the Invisible Man's existence, an unnamed detective (Dudley Digges) takes over the investigation and proves to be a really smart guy who knows that he's dealing with a man who's not only invisible but is also intelligent. Even though his plans fail, they are well thought-out ones, like when he coats the top of the wall with dirt to give the Invisible Man away if he tries to climb over it (he doesn't use paint because he'd be able to smell it) and tries to use the death threat against Kemp as a means to catch him, although he has to reconfigure it when Kemp refuses to be used as bait so he can escape into the mountains. One thing I really like is when he has his men walk from one side of a room to another to make sure the Invisible Man isn't there before telling them of his plan and how he refuses to say much to a reporter for the exact same reason. He's also the one who kills the Invisible Man at the end when they drive him out of the barn he's hiding in. A couple of other policemen who I always remember are this chubby, mustached one with a Cockney accent who accidentally sprays a cat with black paint when he thinks it's the Invisible Man (the way he yells, "Aah!" while doing so always makes me smirk) and this one guy who looks and sounds like he's completely stoned when he mentions that the Invisible Man has to sleep, which might provide an opportunity to get him. Notably, Dwight Frye appears briefly as the reporter who asks the chief detective of his plans for catching the Invisible Man and is told that he can't say much because he could be standing right beside him and John Carradine who suggests to the police that they use black ink to make him visible.

One of my favorite types of settings for any kind of horror movie or thriller is in the cold and snow, as I feel it adds a lot of atmosphere and mood to the story, as well as a sense of isolation in some instances. That's not really the case here, as the villagers aren't exactly stuck in their small town with the Invisible Man, but it most certainly delivers in the mood, especially in the opening, when you see the Invisible Man trudging through the snow on the road to Iping and when he arrives at the Lion's Head. The image of him standing in the doorway, looking the way he does, with the blizzard raging behind him and the sound of the howling wind is a memorable and striking one, made all the more impactful by how the pub grows eerily quiet as he walks in, up to the bar, and tells Mr. Hall in his raspy voice, "I want a room and a fire." You also get a sense of just how bad it is when Jenny Hall mentions that it's the coldest winter they've had for years and that all livestock has to be kept inside. The setting, however, is never used quite as effectively as in that opening, as it's not snowy for most of the movie afterward, but you can still tell that it's cold with how people dress and the Invisible Man's comments about how it feels when you have to run around naked. The snow does come back for the climax at the barn that the Invisible Man takes shelter in and it's another image that I like, of the barn in the middle of that snow-covered field, surrounded by police, especially after they set it on fire in order to drive him out. It also makes for some more unforgettable invisibility effects, as you can see the Invisible Man's footprints appearing in the snow as he walks away and the imprint of his body when he falls after being fatally shot. And I always remembered the picture of the Chief Detective feeling around for the body from that Crestwood House book when I looked through it as a kid.

Another thing I like about the movie is how well it gets across what a frightening situation this is and what a difficult task it is for the police. Just think about the idea of a madman whom you can't see roaming the countryside where you live and hearing this news when you're at home, by yourself? That's the scenario when Kemp first hears the news of an invisible man over the radio, right after he was momentarily distracted from his reading by a small gust of wind from behind him but then figured it was nothing. Just think about the terror that must have come over him when he hears that report and remembers what he and Dr. Cranley discovered in Jack Griffin's abandoned laboratory earlier that day and how freaked out he is when Griffin makes his presence known. Even more bone-chilling than that is a moment I mentioned earlier, when Griffin tells Kemp to wait for him in the sitting room and then threatens him if he dares move against him. Kemp tries to walk out the front door but stops dead in his tracks when he hears the Invisible Man "redirect" him to the sitting room and then tell him that he'll follow him if he tries to escape through the window and no one will be able to save him. Again, think about that notion of being held captive by an insane person whom you can't see but is watching your every move. This fear of Kemp's extends to the populace in and around the village of Iping when, after the Invisible Man's existence is confirmed, they bolt their doors and windows, frightened to death at the idea that he might already be in their houses but unable to take any chances (their panic isn't helped by the news announcer speaking in an overly dramatic, unnerving voice; he sounds a lot like Criswell, that supposed psychic who often worked for Ed Wood). You also get a sense of the problem that the police face in trying to catch something that they can't see. They do everything they can, from combing the countryside, in a vain attempt to find him, to coming up with various methods to make him visible, like using spray paint, coating the top of a wall with dirt to try to make him give himself away without him suspecting, linking hands and forming a circle around a house they know he's in, and trying to protect Kemp so he can safely make his way into the mountains. They also have to be careful when they discuss their plans, forced to make sure that the Invisible Man isn't in the room with them by dragging a long net from one end of it to the other before they can do so. Of course, now matter how careful they are, they're unable to outwit him and it's only through a stroke of sheer luck that he's finally defeated.

The Invisible Man is one of those rare movies that manages to successfully blend what is a very frightening premise with genuinely funny aspects as well. The film is chock full of James Whale's trademark witty and quirky sense of humor, which comes from the characters and the sheer absurdity of the situations they find themselves in when dealing with the Invisible Man. I've already mentioned some of the hilarious lines of dialogue and the one-liners the Invisible Man himself makes when he's causing trouble but there's also the images of Constable Jaffers chasing a floating shirt around a room, trying to handcuff it, the pranks that the Invisible Man pulls when he escapes from the Lion's Head, like stealing a man's bicycle, whacking him on the head with a broom, and grabbing a guy's hat and throwing it into a puddle, and that unforgettable sight of a pair of trousers dancing down a road while the Invisible Man sings, "Here we go gathering nuts in May." There are many other instances of humor in the film but I think I've spoiled them enough, so I'll stop now.

1933 was a watershed year for special effects, as you had Willis O'Brien's groundbreaking stop-motion in King Kong and this film, which featured the impressive work of John P. Fulton, assisted by the cinematography talents of John J. Mescall and Frank D. Williams. It was quite gutsy for Universal to decide to make The Invisible Man to begin with because of the effects involved and the limitations of the time but they pulled it off with flying colors and, like King Kong, the stuff in this movie is still mind-blowing today because of what they had to work with. I'd read in the book, Monster Madness, which I bought when I was 11, a little bit of the technique they used to pull off the more complicated shots of the Invisible Man with only some clothes on or in the process of taking them off, which was having Claude Rains wear a black bodysuit under his clothes and then photographed in a set that was cloaked in the same black velvet as the suit. They then used a matting process to replace all of the black sections of the shot, including the exposed parts of Rains' body, with footage of the background and location where the scene in question took place. While not 100% perfect, as you can sometimes see the outline of Rains' matted out body parts if you look very carefully (the shot of his missing lower jaw after Jenny Hall bursts in on him is a prime example) and the archaic nature of the process at the time is very obvious in the edges and filtering of the effects, they're still very impressive for the time, especially the wide-shot of him removing his bandages in front of Constable Jaffers and the villagers and when he removes them while looking at his reflection in the mirror in Kemp's house, which I've heard was the hardest one to do by far as they had to deal with four different elements in the matting process. They also used a head and body cast of Rains, combined with a special background, for certain shots, one of which I'm sure is the close-up of the Invisible Man removing his fake nose and goggles in the scene with Jaffers and the villagers (you can tell from the way it moves that it is a prop) and for his return to visibility when he dies at the end. The moments where he's completely invisible and is picking stuff up, carrying them, and throwing them around, they used the old-fashioned technique of wires (which are visible in HD transfers of the film) and props that were rigged to fall and sway at given times, save for when he picks up a fire poker and lights a cigarette when he first makes his presence known in Kemp's house, as they appear to have used the matting process there. And for the shots of his footprints appearing in the snow when he escapes from the burning barn, they set up some apparatus with fake snow on it that they could collapse in the shape of footprints on cue in various spots. It's really quite ingenious what they were able to pull off with the limitations that they had.

Aside from the fact that someone who's invisible would be blind since no light could reach their eyes, this film treats the issue of invisibility in a surprisingly plausible way. After they've retrieved his notebooks from the Lion's Head, the Invisible Man explains that after he's eaten, he must remain hidden afterward for at least an hour, as the food is visible inside his stomach until it's digested (try to imagine what that would look like) and that he must keep himself well-groomed, wiping off any dirt on his feet or in-between his fingernails. Plus, his silhouette becomes visible when he's out in the rain, in the fog, or in smoke. He also says that walking down stairs can be dicey, since people are so used to looking down at your feet when doing so. Even the way he came up with the invisibility formula is made plausible enough to where you can believe it, given that you're told that he used, among other chemicals to complete the effect, a drug that drains away color, as well as that it didn't happen right away, as the Invisible Man himself mentions that he injected himself with it every day for a month. I also like the idea that he states that he came to the point where he was slowly but surely fading away into nothingness and had to get away before he was completely invisible in order to find the antidote. Kemp tells Dr. Cranley that the night before Griffin left, he heard him upstairs in his laboratory, hurriedly packing stuff up. Try to imagine a slowly-fading Griffin doing that in the very same building with his unsuspecting colleagues. And finally, the insanity effect of the monocane takes effect gradually, as he starts off simply as a reclusive grouch before he becomes violent and eventually becomes megalomaniacal, which appears to have happened between his escape from the inn and his appearance at Kemp's house, possibly when he first saw the terrifying effect he had on the townspeople while he was escaping (his angry frustration at them probably accelerated it). Whenever it took hold of him, the monocane made him the classic Universal monster with the highest body count: counting up the four people we see him kill on camera, two of which are part twenty search party members we're told he killed in total, and the hundred he kills when he derails a train, his complete kill count in this one film comes out at 122!

The Invisible Man's antics start out as little more than mere pranks, for the most part. After he reveals his secret to Constable Jaffers and the villagers, they confront him in his makeshift laboratory again when he's now wearing only a shirt (and when he pulls his pants off, it becomes apparent that he's been going commando this whole time!) Jaffers and the three men with him chase the shirt around the room, with the constable accidentally whacking one of them on the head with his baton as the shirt falls to the floor. Now completely unseen, the Invisible Man alludes to how he became what he is and the possibilities that come from it, throwing the bottle of chemicals he was using against a picture of Jenny Hall on the wall while laughing crazily. Jaffers has one of the men close the door and tries to convince him to come along peacefully, only to see the window open by itself. He tries to stop the Invisible Man from escaping, only to fall into his trap, get grabbed by the throat, and forced down to the floor. He then punches one of the men guarding the door in the gut and tosses another one aside, making his way through the door and down the stairs, knocking down a grandfather clock in the corner behind Hall as he goes. After causing some havoc down in the pub, sliding glasses and pitchers across the bar and knocking one guy's drink out of his hand, he escapes outside and pushes his way through the crowd of people gathered there. He steals one man's bicycle and rides a short distance, with people chasing after him, until he skids it to the ground around a corner, picking it up and flinging it at his pursuers, knocking two of them down before picking up a broom and smacking one of them in the head with it. A woman's baby carriage is tipped over, one guy's hat is grabbed off his head and flung into a nearby puddle, and a rock is thrown through a window, with the Invisible Man commenting on a sign below advertising the Navy, saying, "We must do our part."

Things turn deadly when the Invisible Man goes back to the Lion's Head with Kemp to retrieve the books he needs to continue his research. Having Kemp wait around the side of the building underneath his room's window, he sneaks in through the front door into the pub, where Inspector Bird is holding his inquiry. Thinking some nosy boys outside opened the door, Jenny drives them away, and the Invisible Man uses the distraction to head upstairs to his room, where he gathers up his books and drops them down to Kemp out the window. Back down in the pub, Inspector Bird declares the whole thing a hoax and tells everyone that he plans to report it as such, until his ink well for his pen slides across the table by itself and is the ink is then flung right at his face. As he sits there, shocked, Jenny realizes that the Invisible Man has come back. She screams and climbs up onto the table, when he begins flinging things like mugs and glasses at her and everyone else, driving them out of the pub in a panic. Everyone, that is, except for Bird, who he chokes down to the ground and kills by smashing him in the head with a stool. He and Kemp drive back to the latter's house, the Invisible Man telling his unwitting accomplice that they'll start in earnest the next day.

Later, when the Invisible Man realizes that Kemp betrayed him when he sees the police surrounding the house, he lets Kemp himself open the window for him to escape through, telling him that he'll kill him at 10:00 the next night for it. As he walks out the window, Kemp yells at the policemen, who've linked hands while surrounding the house, that he's coming their way. The Invisible Man decides to have some fun with them, smacking one across the face and pinching another's nose. He then knocks the chief officer's hat off and throws it when he bends down to try to get it. He follows that up by kicking the guy in the rear and when the policemen slowly advance towards the house, he grabs one from behind by the legs and pulls him backwards, out of his comrades' hands and across the yard. The terrified officer is then swung around in mid-air and flung out of his trousers into a group of the officers. Dragging the trousers along the ground, the Invisible Man runs for the wall and easily climbs over it as the officers try in vain to catch him. The scene ends with a woman running down the road, yelling in a panic, followed by the Invisible Man as he hops down the road in the trousers, while singing merrily.

The Invisible Man wreaks more havoc the next day and night. He grabs a member of a search party by the throat, growling, "Here I am. Aren't you pleased you found me?" and throws him over the edge of the cliff behind him. A group of onlookers runs to see what happened and the Invisible Man asks one, "Would you like to keep him company?" before kicking him over the edge as well. He later sneaks into a shack where the controls for a nearby set of train tracks are kept, smashes a lantern over the head of the man there, and derails the oncoming train, sending it tumbling over the cliff and crashing down into the river below, killing everyone onboard. After that, he breaks into a bank, takes a cash drawer out, and carries it outside, loudly proclaiming it to be a gift as he throws it everywhere, quickly attracting a crowd. He even sings a variation of Pop Goes the Weasel as he does so. That night, despite the police's best efforts to save Kemp, he makes good on his promise to kill. After their elaborate plot to escort Kemp to the police station, have him put on a policeman's uniform, sneak out the back way, and drive him back to his house, where he gets into his car and drives towards the mountains, Kemp thinks he's gotten away scot-free, when the Invisible Man speaks from the backseat. He has him pull the car over and when Kemp tries to talk his way out, saying it was all a mistake and asking him to let him be his partner, the Invisible Man tells him that he was with him every step of the way, watching him as he changed in the police station and riding on the running-board of the car that drove him back to his house. He grabs Kemp, pulling him out of the car by his scarf, ties his hands behind his back, does the same to his feet, and puts him into the passenger seat. He drives the car further up the road, telling him, "I hope your car's insured, Kemp. I'm afraid there's going to be a nasty accident in a minute. A very nasty accident." When he stops the car at the top of a slope leading down to the edge of a cliff, Kemp begs the Invisible Man to spare him, saying he'll do whatever he wants, to which he responds, "You will? That's fine. Just sit where you are. I'll get out and take the handbrake off and give you a little shove to help you on. You'll run gently down and through the railings, then you'll have a big thrill for a hundred yards or so till you hit a boulder, then you'll do a somersault and probably break your arms, then a grand finish up with a broken neck! Well, goodbye, Kemp. I always said you were a dirty little coward. You're a dirty, sneaking little rat as well. Goodbye." He then does exactly what he says, sending the car rolling over the edge of the cliff and tumbling down the side of the cliff, Kemp screaming while it bursts into flames before it hits the bottom, while the Invisible Man laughs maniacally as he watches.

Kemp's death is when something shows up in the film that, by this point, you wouldn't expect: music. For the majority of its running time, The Invisible Man is like many films made around this time in that, save for the opening credits, it lacks any music save for what you hear being played in the scene by the characters, like piano music in the pub at the beginning and the music Kemp and some people at a dance hall listen to on the radio. But, once Kemp's car explodes at the bottom of the cliff, there's a continuous music score that plays for the rest of the movie, all the way to the final repeat of the cast list. It's very odd. The music itself, composed by Heinz Roemheld, is pretty fair, particularly the music for the opening credits, which has a mysterious sound to it, accompanied by the howling wind of the blizzard the film opens on. The score for the movie's last fifth isn't very memorable and I don't find it to be all that necessary, but it's okay for what it is and isn't as cartoonish or archaic as music in these early movies tends to sound, save for maybe the piece you hear during the final image of Jack Griffin having regained his visibility and into the "THE END" card.

The Invisible Man is a true classic of 1930's horror and science fiction and one of Universal's best films of this period by far. Aside from some occasional problems on the technical side of the directing, Gloria Stuart's role of Flora Cranley not being much of anything, and some okay but unneeded music during the last stretch, it's amazing how well this movie works. The acting is superb, especially in the case of Claude Rains, who carries the difficult title role flawlessly, and the memorable character actors like Una O'Connor and E.E. Clive, the setting in the snow and cold is a nice addition, the combination of genuinely tense scenes and hilarious comedy is expertly done, the overall situation is treated very well and with a feeling of authenticity, particularly in how the police deal with it, and the special effects, despite some flaws here and there, are still impressive to this day, especially when you consider the limitations of the time. It's one of the Universal classics that I highly recommend, right up there with Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man.

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