Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Invisible Woman (1940)

Back in October, I reviewed three of Universal's "invisible" series, The Invisible Man, The Invisible Man Returns, and The Invisible Man's Revenge, as part of my horror film review marathon but I left out a couple of other films that are considered part of that series, mainly because they don't fit into the horror genre at all. Case in point, our subject here is an out-and-out screwball/slapstick comedy, with the only fantastical elements being the invisibility part. Hardly appropriate for a marathon reviews, I decided to put it and the next film, Invisible Agent, aside for another time and, now I've decided that that time has come. Like the other follow-ups to The Invisible Man, I knew that this film existed for a while due to a filmography in the back of a book called Monster Madness that I bought around 1998 or 1999, when I was twelve years old. It wasn't mentioned at all in the actual entry on the Invisible Man in the body of book, so I had no idea what kind of movie it was until I bought John Stanley's Creature Features review book around 2000 and I used it to look up all of the films that I knew very little about save for their titles. There, he gave The Invisible Woman a pretty fair rating of three stars, saying that it's pretty standard stuff but worth watching for the cast, which includes Shemp Howard (I had no idea he was in the film until I read that review and that piqued my interest, as I'm a big Three Stooges fan), and that's pretty close to how I feel about it. As a comedy, it's not laugh-out-loud funny by any means, save for a couple of moments here and there, and there are instances of slapstick that are pretty pedestrian, as well as not as much use of the invisibility gimmick for comedic effect as there could be, but I wouldn't go as far as James Rolfe in his CineMassacre's Monster Madness review and advise someone to skip it altogether. If you like classic Hollywood, the movie has that feeling of charm and sophistication that comes with it, many of the characters are likable in how quirky they are, and, like the films that came before and after it, the invisibility effects are still quite impressive, for the most part.

Dick Russell is a wealthy young playboy whose latest adventure with the opposite sex has cost him $100,000 in a court settlement with the young woman in question and now, he's flat broke. What's more, Prof. Gibbs, an eccentric old scientist who used to work for his late father and whose experiments Dick continues to fund, needs $3,000 to go on. When Dick is unable to pay him, Gibbs, undeterred, goes to the offices of the city's newspaper and changes his advertisement for a human test subject for his experiment, saying that there will now be no remuneration for participating in it. The goal of the experiment? To make a person invisible with a special machine Gibbs has built, an endeavor that he insists will make millions for Dick. And sure enough, he soon gets an answer to his ad from a K. Carroll, who happens to be Kitty Carroll, a lovely but much put upon fashion model who's far behind on her rent and has had it with her cruel, mean-spirited boss, Mr. Growley. After a particularly bad day on the job, Kitty quits her job and shows up at Gibbs' house for her appointment. The experiment is a complete success, as Kitty is made completely invisible, but before Gibbs can present his success to Dick, Kitty leaves the house to get even with Growley, frightening him into being more kind and understanding with his employees. When Gibbs is unable to come up with any evidence that has made a person invisible, Dick loses all faith in the professor and prepares to have everything taken away from him. When the invisible Kitty returns to Gibbs and manages to scare off a man who claims to be a fellow scientist but is actually one of several gangster who are interested in the machine, she agrees to help the professor prove himself to Dick, but they're forced to follow him to his country lodge. Although Dick is eventually convinced, he and Kitty don't exactly hit it off with each other, which is complicated when she drinks a lot of brandy and the alcohol causes her to remain invisible longer than she should. Even worse, the leader of the gangsters, Mexican crime boss Blackie Cole, is determined to use the machine so he can return to the home he's been banished from and will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

The Invisible Woman was directed by A. Edward Sutherland, a London-born filmmaker who came from a show business family and who started out as an actor in the silent era, appearing in a Keystone Cop film (as one of the original cops, no less), a 1918 film called Which Woman?, directed by Tod Browning, and was directed by Charlie Chaplin, whom he'd co-starred with before, in A Woman of Paris. Chaplin later helped Sutherland begin his directing career, with his first major film being a 1926 comedy with Wallace Beery and Raymond Hatton, and he went on to direct more than fifty movies in his career, working steadily well into the late 40's. One of his notable movies aside from this is The Flying Deuces, a 1939 Laurel and Hardy film, although Sutherland did not get along with Stan Laurel at all, to the point where he said something to effect of he'd rather eat lunch with a tarantula than work with Laurel again. After a 1946 film called Abie's Irish Rose, Sutherland's directing career slowly began to wind down, and he wouldn't direct another movie until a decade later, with Bermuda Affair, which proved to be the last movie he ever did direct. He directed episodes for television series like Martin Kane, Overseas Press Club: Exclusive!, and International Detective but after the latter, which lasted from 1959 to 1961 and which he directed 22 episodes of, he pretty much retired and died on New Year's Eve in 1973 at the age of 78.


As two-dimensional as they are, many of the characters in the film are likable in their own ways, chief among them the Invisible Woman herself, Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce). She's a fairly intelligent, witty woman, kind of in the vein of Carole Lombard, and is also adventurous, leaping at the opportunity to become invisible in order to escape her unenviable life, where she has to endure the unimaginable cruelty of her boss, Mr. Growley, on a daily basis in her position as a fashion model, a job that doesn't pay much and has caused her to fall far behind on her rent. After a particularly insufferable day on the job, she becomes more determined than ever to have her appointment with Prof. Gibbs and, once she becomes invisible, she heads back to the company's offices and uses her newfound ability to terrify Growley. She does this not only for herself but also for all of the other women Growley cold-heartedly pushes around and steps on, and she puts the fear of God in him to the point where he becomes far more understanding and nice in his position so as not to upset "the voice of his conscience." In her haste to get back at Growley, though, Kitty unintentionally makes Gibbs look like even more of a fool to Dick Russell than he actually is, when he tries to convince the young millionaire that he's succeeded in his experiment, only to learn she's not there, and when she realizes what she's done, she apologizes and agrees to help set things right for him (she already did him a favor beforehand by getting rid of Foghorn, one of Blackie Cole's cronies who was posing as a fellow scientist to try to get at Gibbs' machine). She makes the long drive up to Dick's country lodge with Gibbs and proves to him that the professor isn't as much of a crackpot as one would think, although she and Dick initially get off on the wrong foot because of his attitude and her being well aware of his playboy reputation, as well as losing her inhibitions when she gets drunk. Speaking of which, she also unintentionally complicates matters by doing so, as the alcohol's mixing with the formula causes her to stay invisible longer than she normally should, leading to further tension between her and Dick as he makes comment about her walking around in a dress with no head. But, as things go on, their relationship becomes less antagonistic, as Dick begins to realize what a beautiful woman she truly is, especially when she regains her visibility thanks to Gibbs. However, she and Gibbs get kidnapped by Blackie's cronies and brought to his hideout in Mexico, as Blackie tries to force the professor to make the machine work. Fortunately for Gibbs, Kitty drinks some alcohol that she finds, which causes her to become invisible again and she uses it, along with her wits, to defeat the criminals, and when Dick and the others come to the "rescue," she decides to see how much he wants her by making it seem like the hideout is more heavily guarded than it is. When he proves his devotion, they officially become loves and the movie ends with a scene some time later where they've married and had a baby boy who's a lot like his parents... in more ways than one.

In most movies of this type, Dick Russell (John Howard) would be the handsome but bland leading man but, while he still can hardly be called a multi-faceted character, there is a little more to him than that. He's depicted as a young, wealthy playboy who's had many, many escapades with women, which have often landed his picture in the newspapers, and has a very carefree, nonchalant attitude about it all, regardless of the fact that the latest scandal cost him $1,000. Even when his attorney, Hudson, tells him that he's now broke, Dick doesn't seem all that concerned about it, down to his still intending to help Prof. Gibbs in his experiments, despite the fact that he's recently asked him for $3,000 to continue them. He feels obligated to Gibbs, since the professor used to work for his father and feels that his experiments have to eventually lead to something, although Dick is talked into telling him that he can't give him any more money. Even then, despite how outlandish Gibbs' claims that he can turn a person invisible are, Dick doesn't lose his faith in him and is ensured that he'll become rich again when they both see Kitty's acceptance letter for the job. His faith in him crumbles, though, when Gibbs tries to prove to him that the experiment was a success, unaware that Kitty left immediately after becoming invisible, and as the old professor tries to search around for someone who isn't there, Dick is now convinced that he is a deluded old fool and prepares to lose everything that he has. To get away from everything, especially Gibbs, he and his much-suffering butler, George, drive up to his country lodge, where the professor and the invisible Kitty follow them and manage to make him see that he was right. Like I said, Dick and Kitty themselves don't exactly become the best of friends right off the bat, due to Kitty's talking about him as little more than tabloid fodder in her drunken state and Dick, in turn, feeling that any woman who'd want to make herself invisible can't be that much to look at in the first place and continuing to make comments to that effect. They have a lot of back-and-forth banter in which they passively-aggressively rib each other, but as time goes on and Dick gets hints of what a lovely woman she really is, he softens towards her and his women-chasing nature makes him eager to see what she really looks like. He does finally get to see to her when she becomes visible again, but it's only for a few seconds, as he's knocked out by Blackie's cronies when they take her and Gibbs hostage and run off to Mexico. Thanks to Foghorn, who's out for revenge on Blackie for making him an unwitting guinea pig for the machine, Dick and George find out where they are and race to rescue them, with Dick proving his devotion to her despite the "danger" she adds to the situation. Once he gets inside the hideout, he declares his love to Kitty and they eventually marry and have a child.

Legendary actor John Barrymore plays Prof. Gibbs but, while his presence may have seemed like a big coup for the movie, by this point, his heyday was long behind him and he was a complete drunk, getting less and less film roles as a result (he only made two more films after this before he died in 1942 at the age of 60). According to future Wolf Man screenwriter Curt Siodmak, who wrote the initial story for the film with Joe May (director of The Invisible Man Returns), Barrymore was so drunk during filming that they had to keep him steady with wires to ensure he didn't sway out of focus onscreen and, according to John Howard, who'd costarred with him before, his memory was so bad that he cut up parts of the script and hid them throughout the set so he could read his lines from off-camera. It's sad, too, because Barrymore's performance, which consists of an odd way of speaking and interesting mannerisms, is one of the movie's most memorable aspects. He plays Gibbs as the typical old, eccentric inventor: unquestionably brilliant in his own way but so erratic and stuffy that, aside from Dick Russell, everyone thinks he's a complete fool who doesn't know what he's doing. He's very dismissive towards his housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, hardly ever listening to her, even when she has something important to tell him, and no matter what, he never stops trying to reassure Dick that his machine can make people invisible and that he'll be rich from it as a result. Gibbs is completely confident in his machine, as he claims he once made his cat invisible, and it's soon shown that he does know what he's talking about when he successfully makes Kitty Carroll invisible (he was initially reluctant to use her, due to the nudity involved in the process). Unfortunately for him, Kitty's single-mindedness in using her newfound invisibility to get back at Mr. Growley causes Dick to think he really is as nutty as everyone else says he is, and he's very angry at Kitty when she comes back, although he does reluctantly thank her for getting rid of Foghorn when he's posing as another scientist. When she makes it clear that she's willing to help set things right with Dick, Gibbs decides to forgive her and they follow the millionaire to his country lodge, although the professor has to deal with Kitty's constant drinking and mischievous shenanigans, much to his exasperation. The adverse reaction the invisibility chemical within her has with all the alcohol she drank forces him to search for a way counteract it and, as he does so, he seems happy to find a way to bring her and Dick together in the process, giving her a nice dress to put on for Dick when she regains visibility. As backwards as he sometimes is (like how he just goes along with Blackie's men when they arrive to kidnap them and later doesn't realize that his feet are still tied up), Gibbs proves that he isn't completely foolish when he manages to stall Blackie and the other gangsters with scientific jargon long enough for Kitty to become invisible again and dispense with them. Again, Barrymore's oddness really make this character work, especially at the end when Kitty and Dick's baby boy is shown turning invisible when George puts rubbing alcohol on him and Gibbs' simply explains, "Hereditary."

One character whom you can't help but feel pity for is Dick Russell's constantly suffering butler, George (Charles Ruggles). This poor guy has to put up with so much from both his employer and Prof. Gibbs, who he sees as a complete quack Dick should've disowned years ago, and it gets to the point where he tries to quit his job several times throughout the film. The movie begins with him tripping as he walks down the stairs in Dick's mansion and getting smacked up against the wall when he answers the door for his attorney, Hudson (when he tells him to get up, George says, "I am up. I was up. And I've been up all night. I would have stayed up if you hadn't knocked me down,"), and it doesn't get much better for him afterward. For one, Dick drives him crazy when it comes to what's ultimately going to happen to the house and his fortune. At first, it looks like they're going to lose everything, so George packs everything up, covers the windows up, and such, and Dick, confident that Gibbs is going to make millions for him with his experiment, tells him to go ahead and put everything back, much to George's consternation. And later, when Dick thinks Gibbs really is a crazy old fool who doesn't know what he's doing and it's all over, he tells George to pack everything up right after he's finished putting it all back. The poor guy just can't catch a break, and later, when he attempts to follow Dick up the stairs to talk to him, he's so frazzled by everything that he unknowingly walks up a ladder beside the stairs and falls over the top. Even when he and Dick go up to the country lodge, George isn't spared any more exasperation when Gibbs shows up with the invisible Kitty and he only gradually realizes that she's there, as her making things appear to be floating in midair about cause him a nervous breakdown, as does the revelation that there is an invisible woman about. During the third act, George faints in abject fear when one of Blackie's cronies points his own shotgun at him, is forced to come along with Dick and Foghorn when they track Kitty and Gibbs down to Mexico, and nearly has a heart attack when, in her scheme to force Dick to prove how much he wants her, Kitty fires a machine gun at George's feet. Even at the end, after Dick and Kitty have married and have had a kid, George's suffering doesn't end, as the kid turns invisible after he's rubbed down with rubbing alcohol, causing the poor butler to faint. Despite his suffering, George is definitely one of the film's more memorable characters and has some memorable lines, like when he tells Dick, "Looking at a woman is only the first step to trouble. You look, she smiles. You soften, she sues." He also has a moment that did make me laugh out loud when I heard it, when Dick tells him to call the airport and he actually goes, "Oh, airport!"

George isn't the only person who has to put up with a lot from his employer. Mrs. Jackson (Margaret Hamilton, i.e. the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz) is Prof. Gibbs' housekeeper and she has to deal with his eccentricities on a daily basis, but unlike George, she's a much cooler customer, handling it mostly with a straight-man type of sarcastic humor and taking whatever's thrown at her in stride. When she's first introduced, George slips a note from Dick telling Gibbs that he can't loan him any more money under the front door, rings the doorbell, and then promptly walks away. When Mrs. Jackson answers the door and finds that there's nobody there, her confused response is, "Well, what is this?! Halloween?!" After she brings the note down to Gibbs in his laboratory, she's horrified to see him guzzle down a liquid in a beaker that had a flame on it for a second, although he explains that it was simply something to help with his indigestion, and when he reads the note and rushes off to make a change to his advertisement in the paper, he leaves her holding a long, cylindrical beaker full of liquid, telling her, "Hold it carefully. It might explode." When Kitty shows up to take part in the experiment, Mrs. Jackson is only too happy to tell Gibbs that it's a woman, and when he says, "You mean skirts and things," she matter-of-factly responds, "Mm. Skirts and things." Uncomfortable but desperate not to lose the opportunity, Gibbs talks Mrs. Jackson into telling Kitty that she'll have to take her clothes off for the experiment, as well as being present for it, and when Mrs. Jackson says, "Well, I don't know if I want to see folks get invisible. Might give me a turn," Gibbs makes her agree by saying that he'll use her instead if Kitty doesn't work out. Sure enough, when the experiment works, Mrs. Jackson is so overcome with it that she's constantly shaking. She tries to get Kitty to stay when Gibbs heads out to get Dick but to no avail, and Gibbs, of course, doesn't listen to her when she tries to tell him, only learning what's happened later when Dick has written him off. Later, when Blackie's cronies break into the laboratory to take the machine, she does her best to fight them off, breaking a chair over them, but gets locked up in the cupboard in the cellar and isn't let out until the next day when Gibbs, Kitty, and Dick arrive and find that the machine has been taken. She's not seen again afterward and it's a shame, because even though she doesn't have much to do, Hamilton is still fairly entertaining in this role.

Despite the trouble and irritation they go through, George and Mrs. Jackson should be glad that their respective employers aren't anything like Kitty's boss at the fashion company, Mr. Growley (Charles Lane). This guy is just a complete asshole, treating the models who work for him like absolute dirt and acting like a drill sergeant, baking at them, "Eyes front! Chin up! Shoulders back!" He docks Kitty an hour's pay even though she's only two minutes late, threatens to fire Jean, who has a cold, if she sniffles in front of the customers, tells Mrs. Bates, the girls' supervisor, to mind her own business when she tries to intervene, adding, "There are plenty of younger women for your job," and, in a move that proves to be the last straw for Kitty, forces her to apologize to two bitchy women who end up tearing the dress she's modeling for them, insisting that the customer is always right. Even worse, two of Kitty's fellow models stick up for her, he threatens to fire them as well unless Kitty apologizes, which she begrudgingly does. When she returns to the building invisible, she sees him cruelly making good on his threat to fire Jean for sniffling in front of the buyers and, after she struts out in a dress with her head invisible, horrifying the two women she had to deal with earlier, she confronts him in his office. Growley, needless to say, is freaked out of his mind by what's going on, as Kitty admonishes him for being such a horrible person, throws one of his designer dresses out the window, and forces him to put his head in the window sill, where she traps him before giving him three kicks in the behind. He watches this invisible force trash the outside of his office, throwing away dresses, smashing the time-clock, and such, causing him to faint. When you next see him, he's being much nicer to the women, telling them that they'll get rid of the time-clock, that Jean can have her job back when she gets better, and that they'll serve tea at 4:00 every day. Kitty calls him to ask for the rest of the day off in order to help Gibbs with Dick and he tells her to take whole weekend off, before hanging up and, meaning to talk to the voice of his conscience Kitty identified herself as, asks, "How am I doing?" The fear of retaliation from her is going to keep in line for a long time, it seems.


As you might expect, the bad guys can hardly be called menacing or threatening; in fact, they're complete bumbling idiots for the most part. Even the Mexican mob boss, Blackie Cole (Oskar Homolka), for all of his threats and yelling at his cronies, is not nearly scary as this type of character is often portrayed. In fact, he has a legitimate, personal interest in Prof. Gibbs' invisibility machine that doesn't involve crime: he wants to use it to return to his Mexican home, which he's been banished from, and he's actually very sentimental about it, prone to breaking down and crying whenever he thinks about it for too long (Gibbs is able to pick up on this trait of his personality simply by looking at him). Ultimately, Blackie is defeated, along with his other cronies, and Foghorn ends up paying him back for forcing to be a guinea pig for the machine once they bring it to Mexico. Speaking of Foghorn (Donald MacBride), his name comes from the fact that he has a nice, deep voice and he's also more intelligent and eloquently-spoken than Blackie's other cronies, able to pass himself off as another scientist to Gibbs (before Kitty exposes him as a gangster) and reassemble the machine by making a diagram when they take it apart to get across the border. Unfortunately for him, they didn't realize they needed a chemical to inject into the subject before being put through the machine's process and, when Blackie forces him to allow them to test it on him, instead of making him invisible, it gives him a falsetto, Mickey Mouse-like voice. Enraged at this, Foghorn turns on his boss and eventually manages to make his way to Dick Russell's house after Blackie's other cronies have kidnapped Kitty and Gibbs. He tells Dick and George where they've been taken, leads them to the hideout in Mexico, and manages to get back at Blackie, knocking him into the machine and causing him to become a falsetto as well. Luckily for him, Blackie giving him a punch to the head beforehand was all that it took for him to get his voice back. Among Blackie's other cronies is Shemp Howard as Frankie, also known as "Hammerhead," by the far the most bumbling member of the gang. If you've seen Shemp in the Three Stooges shorts, just imagine him as a gangster and you've pretty much got his performance here, as he has that same street-smart but clumsy persona and doesn't get to do much other than fumble around like an idiot. It's interesting to see him in something outside of those shorts (this was during the long period between his leaving the act with Ted Healy back in its vaudeville days and when he rejoined Moe and Larry onscreen after Curly had his stroke, during which he appeared in many films and shorts all his own) but there's little else to it other than that. And finally, you have Bill (Edward Brophy), and while he doesn't have much to him that makes him stand out from the other gangsters, other than being short and stocky, it's interesting to note that Brophy went on to costar with the Three Stooges in the movie, Swing Parade of 1946 (at the tail end of Curly's tenure).



There are some other small but notable characters in the film, including Hudson (Thurston Hall), Dick's exasperated family attorney who tires of all the trouble the young playboy gets himself into, informs Dick at the beginning that he's broke thanks to the lawsuit he just caught up in, and tries to get him to cut ties with Prof. Gibbs and stop giving him money, only to be told later on that the professor's latest invention is going to make him rich again. You don't see Hudson again after that, making me wonder if, unlike George, he was able to quit. Jean (Ann Nagel) is the poor woman who's forced to work as a model, even when she has a cold, Mrs. Patten (Kitty O'Neil) is Kitty's sympathetic but still business-minded landlady, and Mrs. Bates (Mary Gordon) is the models' supervisor who is treated no better by Mr. Growley and is so freaked out when Kitty returns to the building while invisible that she runs off in fear. And finally, Maria Montez, who would go on to have a glamorous career in a number of big budget, Technicolor movies throughout the next couple of decades, makes her screen debut here as one of the other models, although she only has one line.




At first glance, The Invisible Woman may seem like a pretty standard, B-level movie of the time. There are no big stars in the cast (save for John Barrymore but, like I said, he was basically a has-been at this point), there's nothing particularly glamorous about it, in spite of the inherent charm and sophisticated nature of studio movies of this era, the film's look and camerawork is nothing special, and the same goes for the production values. Indeed, the sets and location work, which consist of Dick Russell's fancy mansion, the more average house on the property where Prof. Gibbs lives and his laboratory in the basement (which is just a bunch of scientific equipment in an otherwise ordinary-looking room), the country lodge Dick and George retreat to, the offices of the modeling company where Kitty works and the apartment building she lives in, and Blackie Cole's hideout in Mexico, which is another big, luxurious place with scientific equipment inside and armed guards outside, are very average-looking and give no hint of a lot of money backing the movie they're in. For that matter, when Gibbs first makes Kitty invisible, there are shots of the equipment working that I'm sure at bits of stock footage from past mad doctor movies Universal had produced, including some of the Frankenstein films. But, in actuality, this was one of the studio's most expensive films of that year, with a budget of close to $300,000, which was far more than they usually spent on their B-pictures. Its high level of prestige might have been more noticeable at the time had the studio's first choice for the lead, Margaret Sullivan, had done it to finish off her contract, but as her career was really taking off at that point and she was getting offers for more glamorous movies, she felt this film was beneath her and passed. (In fact, they didn't know she'd rejected the role until she failed to show up for rehearsals, prompting Universal to file a restraining order to keep other studios from hiring her!)




So, where did all that money go, you may be wondering. Why, the special effects, of course. As it was with The Invisible Man and The Invisible Man Returns, John P. Fulton headed the special effects, creating them by shooting Virginia Bruce in a black velvet bodysuit up against a black velvet background and compositing her into the scenes, as well as wires and similar techniques to manipulate the environment to make it seem as if Kitty is carrying things, opening doors and windows, etc. Also like The Invisible Man Returns, Fulton's efforts would win an Oscar nomination and, while I don't know if the effects work here is that good (the follow-up, Invisible Agent, has instances of invisibility and partial invisibility that are far more impressive), it's still pretty impressive for the time, especially when other people are interacting with Kitty. Some of the best occur at the country lodge, where Kitty is picking up glasses, pouring herself drinks, and picking up and swaying a cat in the air to mess with George. The effects are practically flawless in those scenes, as they are when Kitty is putting stockings on her invisible legs, wearing a bedspread around herself and later a veil around her face that she pulls up from time to time to reveal her invisible head, and when her face disappears in Blackie's hideout, as well as when her baby boy disappears during the final scene. Mind you, I said they're "practically" flawless. Like before, there are hiccups in the effects, as you can often see soft edges around the clothes and other objects that Kitty comes into contact with while she's invisible, some instances of them being see-through, as well as a very vague outline of Bruce's head and other appendages in some shots (not nearly noticeable as it was before, mind you), and wires that you can pick out when things are being moved around. The most glaring mistake occurs when Kitty confronts Mr. Growley in his office and begins disrobing in front of him. At one point, she puts her arms in front of her white skirt and you can very plainly see the black velvet Bruce was wearing for the compositing process (it's only onscreen for a couple of seconds and I never knew it was there until I read up on it on IMDB). But, despite those flubs (which have their own archaic charm to them), these effects are still fun to watch and you can see how far Fulton and his team had come from the already very impressive work in The Invisible Man.




While we're on the subject of the invisibility effects, it's worthwhile to mention that the rules of invisibility and how it's administered here is played with a little bit. Instead of a simple injection with a special serum like before, here it's created via the combination of a serum and being exposed to the power of a special machine that Prof. Gibbs has built, and if you don't have the serum, the machine, for whatever reason, will mess with your vocal cords and cause your voice to go a few octaves. Plus, alcohol causes the invisibility to be prolonged longer normal, forcing Gibbs to find a way to counteract it when Kitty drinks way too much brandy for her own good. And somehow, this effect is passed on to her and Dick's baby boy, as he instantly turns invisible when George rubs him down with rubbing alcohol. It's nothing brilliant, mind you, and the effect alcohol has on the invisibility is little more than a convenient way for Kitty to easily be able to thwart Blackie Cole and his men, but it is nice that they decided to do something a bit different with the gimmick rather than it simply being an invisibility serum (I think it would've heightened the comedy a little bit, though, if they kept the madness side-effect in the previous films, albeit in a more lighthearted and comical fashion). It's also noteworthy that they take into account the fairly risque notion that, even though she's invisible, the lead character is a woman who's naked for a good portion of the movie and make it part of the comedy, with Gibbs being initially reluctant to use her as a test subject since she'll have to be nude, instances where Kitty isn't sure if she is invisible and is, understandably, reluctant for the men to get near her, a moment where she passes out drunk and Dick feels around for her before stopping, saying, "Oh, I forgot. She's..." and Gibbs says, "Yes, she certainly is," Dick failing to hide his growing interest in what she looks like, Kitty putting a pair of stockings on her invisible legs so he can get an idea as to where she is, and so on. Nowadays, you wouldn't bat an eyebrow at this stuff but it was considered pretty daring for the time and it's also why they couldn't go further than they did, causing the comedy to suffer.




That really is the biggest failing of The Invisible Woman, at least for me: the comedy is very standard and will hardly make you bust a gut. I love slapstick (like I said, big Three Stooges fan) but the antics of George and Frankie and the other baddies here are little more than very typical instances of falling, tripping, getting whacked over the head, and such. As he later would in the Three Stooges shorts, Shemp has a moment where a big, glass bowl gets stuck on his head and yells for help while trying to get it off, but it's not as funny as you would think, and the same goes for when you see that the gangsters stole a car that has a JUST MARRIED sign on the back. The same goes for the comedic bits where people interact with Kitty while she's invisible, as it's exactly what you'd expect: they're freaked out, often because they think that what they're encountering is some kind of ghost, and those who know what's going on simply try to grasp the concept of there being an invisible person around them. That said, it is kind of funny when Kitty gets absolutely hammered while at the country lodge and falls over faint while invisible, slurring her words and laughing, mumbling, "I can't stand up on my good-lookin' legs." The reason why she gets so drunk is to try to warm herself because of it being really cold and her nudity, which is mentioned not only for the fact that she's a naked woman but also that she's nude in general, as she says while she's taking her clothes off outside the lodge, "Kinda chilly. I wonder how the nudists stand it," and is later sniffling and sneezing while trying to keep her presence secret from George. She does acknowledge some of the other cons of invisibility, like trying to find your feet to put socks on, saying, "This is worse than dressing in the dark." There are also some chuckles to be had in the sexual tension between her and Dick, as they bicker constantly from the moment they meet, although Kitty can sense that Dick has an interest in her and constantly jabs at him about it, especially when she's drunk. One of her best lines comes when she's putting those stockings and tells Dick she's a model by profession. When he asks, "What for? Piano legs?", she responds, "Any time you hear of a piano with legs like mine, sonny, run, do not walk, to your nearest music store." There are some funny bits of dialogue here, like when Gibbs first arrives at the lodge and when he asks George if he shot the elk whose head is mounted on the wall, he says, "No, I think it was born there." Another one is when Foghorn tries to hold up the want-ad clerk at the post office and he completely ignores him, saying, "Aw, go on home to your mother!", forcing Frankie and Bill to prove that they're not joking around.




The most laughs that the film gets come from the quirkiness of some of the characters and the inherent ridiculousness of the premise. You can't help but at least smirk when you see other characters putting up with Prof. Gibbs' eccentricities (like that aforementioned moment where Mrs. Jackson sees him drink something you wouldn't expect him to and when he's trying to hide Kitty's presence from George at the lodge by making like he's the one who's sniffling and sneezing, much to George's bewilderment), George and Hudson, especially the former, dealing with Dick's flippant attitude about the trouble he gets into and his going back-and-forth on what needs to be done with the house, and Blackie Cole trying to be a threatening gangster when he's homesick to the point where he often cries about it. As for the premise, it is funny to see how Kitty uses her invisibility to get back at those who have caused her misery, with the image of a dress with no head up top strutting out and scaring the crap out of those who see it being inherently snort-inducing, and the same goes for when Foghorn's nicely deep, rich voice gets turned into an over-the-top falsetto. In fact, the funniest bits in the entire movie come during the moment when he tells Dick and George where Kitty and Gibbs have been taken. Right before the, "Oh, airport!" line I mentioned earlier, there's a bit where Dick gets so excited when Foghorn tells him that he knows where they are that, for a split-second, he voice goes high as well. The timing on both of those gags made me laugh out loud and, for my money, are the funniest parts of the movie. However, in addition to all of the run-of-the-mill comedy here, there's also some that you can see coming a mile away and falls flat, the biggest example being when Gibbs can't find Kitty after he first makes her invisible and feels around on the floor, going, "Kitty! Kitty! Kitty!", when, what happens? His cat runs up to him and he goes, "Not you!" Really predictable. Other gags just plain don't make sense, like when Blackie is talking to a guy in his hideout who keeps saying "si" again and again. He asks him, "What is all this 'sí sí'? Are you Spanish?", which is an odd thing to say, since they are in Mexico and he himself is Spanish, and then, the guy responds, "I'm a Pomeranian!" ...What? Maybe there's something I'm not getting but when I watched the movie to do this review and heard that, I was utterly baffled and still don't get what it's supposed to mean. And the climax, where Kitty becomes invisible again and uses it to dispense with Blackie and his gang, as well as try to make Dick prove how devoted he is to her, is really "meh" and not as funny or exciting as it could be.

By far the least memorable aspect of the film is the music score, which is really disappointing because it was done by Frank Skinner, who came up with a number of memorable scores for Universal's horror films during this period. Besides scoring The Invisible Man Returns the same year, he most notably did the music for Son of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, creating themes and motifs for those scores that you would hear time and time again in the sequels to those movies. Having also worked on both musicals and other comedies (he started out in the former), he was obviously just as adept at lightweight music as he was scary and dramatic work, but I guess the rather bland nature of this film was something even he couldn't overcome. The score is made up of generic-sounding comedy music of this period that leaves no impression whatsoever, other than a piece that's very bouncy, lighthearted, and goofy, which is orchestrated either to be really fast or slow, depending on the scene; the same goes for the music used for the more tender moments, and I can't even recall a single melody in those instances. Really, the only piece that sticks in my mind is this upbeat, snappy piece that closes the movie out, and I've heard that at the end of other films, so I'm not sure if it was even originally for this one. I hate being so vague about the music but it's such a major example of "in one ear and out the other."

The Invisible Woman is definitely a mixed bag of a movie. On the bad side, it's not exactly hilarious, most of the comedy is pedestrian, to say the least, and not taken to the extent that it could be, especially given the premise, the characters are two-dimensional, there's nothing that sticks out about its production values or the way it's shot, and the music score is generic and forgettable. But that said, it's not a complete waste of time, either (it's only 72 minutes, so it's not like watching it is a huge chore, in any case). The characters may not be deep but they are quirky enough to be likable, especially Prof. Gibbs, Mrs. Jackson, and George; if you're a Three Stooges fan, you'll appreciate being able to see Shemp Howard; the invisibility effects are still very well-done for the time; there are some genuinely funny moments amidst all of the other lackluster comedy; and the film goes at a good enough pace to where it's never boring. In the end, if you want a very funny screwball comedy, you'd best look elsewhere, but if you can deal with a movie that won't make you bust a gut but does have likable characters and the inherent charm of Hollywood's Golden Age, I don't think it would hurt to give it at least one watch.

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