Claude Rains - Jack Griffin/ The Invisible Man
Gloria Stuart - Flora Cranberry
William Harrigan - Dr. Arthur Kemp
Henry Travers - Dr. Cranley
Una O'Connor - Jenny Hall
Forrester Harvey - Herbert Hall
Duddley Digges - Chief Detective
Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/Mad Scientists
Running Time - 71 Minutes
Usually I get asked the question, "If you ever were granted one superpower, what would it be?" While some say flight, or reading minds, I usually say shape shifting or invisibility. Who wouldn't want to take the identity of someone else? Hell, it's probably better not being seen, allowing you to do whatever you want and get away with it. No wonder Dr. Jack Griffin had a ball with this ability in H.G. Well's "The Invisible Man".
Wells' novel inspired a film adaptation, as Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" had prior. Universal Studios, the leader of the horror pack back in the 1930s, found success with their DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN adaptations, wanting to bring more horror/sci-fi novels straight to film. With the potential to wow audiences with great special effects that have never been seen on the big screen, Universal wanted to do an adaptation for THE INVISIBLE MAN to follow up the massive success of FRANKENSTEIN.
Many directors and actors were up to visualize and bring the adaptation to life. Even though Cyril Gardner was hired to direct the adaptation, he was later replaced by FRANKENSTEIN director James Whale. Boris Karloff was up for the Griffin role at the start, but money issues took him out of the running. Colin Clive almost had the role, but Whale loved Claude Rains voice, feeling he could carry the film just with his vocals alone. Even though pre-production took a while to get the film off the ground, THE INVISIBLE MAN was finally released in 1933 to massive success, leading to a series of sequels and other adaptations that would take elements of this film and use it in theirs. But it's easy to see that Universal's take on THE INVISIBLE MAN is still tops after 80-plus years.
A mysterious man (Claude Rains) covered in bandages and dark glasses asks for a room at an English inn. While his appearance is being talked about, it's his rude attitude to the townspeople that grabs hold of their attention. As they try and figure out what's going with this man, the stranger takes off his clothes to reveal that he's invisible. As the town is terrified, this invisible man happily causes chaos and destruction as something to remember him by.
We learn that the man is Dr. Jack Griffin, who has experimented with a drug that has rendered him invisible. But he doesn't know that the side effects will cause him to lose his sanity by making him yearn for absolute power. Wanting to display his power to everyone, Griffin decides to avoid authorities and cause nothing by disorder. But when his best friend (William Harrigan) betrays him and the cops see ways in capturing him, Griffin becomes desperate and deadly to the unseen eye.
Even though H.G. Wells himself wasn't the biggest fan of this adaptation of his novel, I still feel THE INVISIBLE MAN is a wonderful interpretation of Wells' story - making a somewhat dry, yet good book into a fun, likeable movie. Countless others have attempted to adapt the novel, including 1998's HOLLOW MAN. But the Universal version is the best on-screen take of the novel, through its wonderful acting, well paced story, and impressive visuals for its time.
THE INVISIBLE MAN is fairly faithful to the novel, although the script constantly changed to get to that point due to H.G. Wells having script approval. Some things are changed, like making Griffin a sympathetic character and giving him family and friends that tend to ground him. It's a template that worked in FRANKENSTEIN - giving the so-called villain of the piece an emotional arc that makes him human and likeable, despite his actions. Griffin clearly loves his fiancee, Flora, and wants his best friend Kemp [who wants to bone Flora - the cad] to help him, even if it is to do bad things with him. Griffin also clearly struggles with these new powers and the effects of the drugs that made him this way, almost in a DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE sort of deal. In fact, the mad scientist theme was pretty common place in the 1930s, as these characters wanted absolute power and were clearly corrupted by it. Griffin is more layered than that, as this lust for power is really against his will due to the drugs.
I also feel the theme of an outsider feeling invisible is pretty strong here. Besides Flora and her father, no one else really takes the time to understand the Invisible Man. Because he's different, he's automatically considered a freak and a non-member of society. It's only when he does bad things around town that he's noticed, even if it is through a negative light. It's a theme that's still relevant today, even if it's not a supernatural deal in reality. The Invisible Man is that thing inside of us whenever we feel ignored or misunderstood - it's that thing yelling "I'm here! Why can't you see me?" before we sometimes make questionable actions to get noticed. This film may have been released 81 years ago, but the topic is still a fresh one.
If I had any issues with THE INVISIBLE MAN, it's probably some of the stilted dialogue and the lack of characterization for anyone not Dr. Griffin. It's really tough to criticize the wooden delivery at times since talkies were starting to find their groove at this point, and most of the actors were from theater origins. But you can definitely notice these things and the film doesn't feel as natural as one would like it to be at times.
The real highlight of THE INVISIBLE MAN to many is probably the groundbreaking special effects for its time. I'm still amazed by how it was done back in 1933. John P. Fulton, John J. Mescall, and Frank D. Williams were in charge of the visual effects, using several techniques to display the abilities of The Invisible Man. Wires were used when Griffin wasn't wearing clothes, using the wires to move objects as if Griffin was doing it. A matte process was also used when Claude Rains was wearing clothes and taking them off, having Rains in a black velvet suit against a black velvet background while combining these shots with location shots to create the effect. Rains, being claustrophobic, had issues with the suit, so a double was sometimes used. Dummies and masks were also used as well. Just really impressive and creative stuff going on behind the scenes.
James Whale really captures the essence of THE INVISIBLE MAN, giving the film an energy to match the downward spiral Griffin is taking as he becomes more unstable due to his experiment. The film is briskly paced, and the way the special effects are used within the story is done to perfection. There's also a bit of odd humor throughout the film, which is a trademark of Whale's. Whale seems to be having a lot of fun visualizing this story, making THE INVISIBLE MAN an entertaining 75 minutes.
The acting is pretty damn good as well. Besides Gloria Stuart, who would probably be best known for her role as the older Rose [even becoming the oldest person to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar] in 1997's TITANIC, as Griffin's love interest Flora, and Una O'Connor, whose voice and screams made her more memorable in Whale's later film, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, only one real actor stands out in the cast. THE INVISIBLE MAN belongs to Claude Rains, who isn't even seen until the end of the film, but whose voice is so memorable and iconic, that his vocals truly carry the film from beginning to end. I can't imagine Colin Clive in the same role, even though Rains' terrible screen test almost led to that choice from actually happening. But Rains' voice is so unique and emotive, that you're sucked into every word he says. Rains would later have a blossoming film career due to THE INVISIBLE MAN, starring in films like CASABLANCA and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. But for me, THE INVISIBLE MAN will always be his career highlight.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE STAYING AWAY FROM THE SNOW
- A bandaged man wanted a hotel room with a fire. This would have been believable as a Michael Jackson biopic, but MJ, fire, hair, and all that plastic surgery really don't mix.
- Scientist Dr. Kemp admitted his affection for his best friend, Griffin's, girlfriend, Flora. Judging by her rejection, chemistry is not the right field for study for Kemp.
- Griffin orders Kemp around, telling him that he's strong and will strangle him if he disobeys. Well like they say - if you want things done right, you got to threaten the poor bastard.
- Griffin spilled black ink on a cop's face. Donald Sterling would have had a fit if this happened to him!
- Griffin caused a train to fall off of a cliff. You were supposed to just THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN, not everyone else!
THE FINAL HOWL
THE INVISIBLE MAN is one of the finest pieces of early horror cinema. Claude Rains' performance is immortal, with his strong unique voice carrying the film from beginning to end. James Whale's fun direction and the special effects - that were way ahead of its time - still holds up pretty well today. And while not a perfect adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel, it's probably still the best one out there. It's pretty easy to see that THE INVISIBLE MAN still happens to be a powerful, effective film after 81 years.