Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Invisible Man (1933)

I'm severely deficient in my classic horror experience (no Frankenstein or Dracula or The Mummy or anything!), and the inclusion of the original The Invisible Man on the sci-fi list encouraged me to at least hop on this one for now. Based on the book by HG Wells, the film stars Claude Rains as Dr Jack Griffin, a scientist whose experiments with the drug "monocane" has rendered his body completely invisible. Wrapped in bandages, he escapes to a small, rural town hoping to find the antidote in peace, but the townspeople's curiosity uncovers his secret and he attacks in a transparent rage.

Meanwhile, his boss Dr Cranley (Henry Travers), co-worker Dr Kemp (William Harrigan), and girlfriend Flora (Gloria Stuart) worry that Jack's gone missing. When Cranley discovers he's been working with monocane in his lab, he fears for his psychological stability as the drug is known for causing terrible violence and anger in animal subjects. Turns out, Jack's become rather unhinged, and will manipulate with his newfound powers anyone he finds useful in his drive to find a cure.

I haven't read the book, or seen any other of the many versions/sequels, so most of my knowledge came from a few iconic scenes and images of the Invisible Man taking off his bandages. The effects are really quite impressive, and I was almost completely sold on the concept despite a few clumsy prop movements. Rains is so dignified and emotive in his performance, he really creates a believable, memorable character out of a man whose face is completely covered in bandages and sunglasses for most of the film. I liked Harrigan as the cowardly Kemp, too, but most of the other characters are forgettable. The only two women are completely useless, with inn mistress Una O'Connor belting out one of the most annoyingly piercing, prolonged screams I've ever heard, and love interest Gloria Stuart just floating about in shapeless dresses looking vaguely concerned. Eh, it was the 30's, I guess.

The story is interesting, bemoaning the dangers of too much science and the overconfidence of man against nature, et cetera, but it's pegged as a horror story when it isn't scary at all. Jack's alleged murderous madness and terrible powers aren't felt acutely, just mentioned in dire tones and inferred by the secondary characters. Had the script focused more on the science-fiction elements, it would be more successful as a story instead of struggling as a horror movie. I will say, though, that the score by Heinz Roemheld is decidedly eerie and tinged the proceedings with a creepy atmosphere. The Invisible Man primarily rides on the strengths of its talented lead actor and impressive special effects, with a mediocre narrative and under-used supporting cast. But at 71 minutes, it's so short that it's worth it for anyone to see at least once.

3.5/5

2 comments:

  1. I've seen five minutes of this in film class, and now I can't find it. Granted, I've yet to check Netflix, but still.

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  2. When I read people claiming someone is the 'original scream queen' (Fay Wray is often cited), I know those folks haven't completed enough film-archeology because Una O'Connor has been screeching since 1930's MURDER! entry. Una will also share that "annoying piercing scream" in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, too, and almost anywhere else she can use it.

    Most local libraries also have DVDs to check out, and this film was part of the Universal Legacy Collection in 2004. The book is a quick read, too, and is an interesting study of Book to Film adaption.

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