A man covered in bandages walks into a hotel bar… but he isn’t a man at all. Not in the flesh-and-bones sense, that is.
So begins The Invisible Man. Scientist Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) has had a bit too much of a drug that causes invisibility. Wrapped in bandages and with eyes of dark goggles to make himself look somewhat human again, Jack heads to an English countryside inn where he hopes to conduct research and bring back his visibility.
The innkeeper and his wife (Forrester Harvey and Una O’Connor) find the man strange, but they give him a place to stay. But soon, Jack gets behind on his rent and makes a big mess during one of his experiments, leading the couple to evict him.
Angry (and still wrapped in bandages), Jack becomes violent toward the innkeeper. He is then confronted by locals, but removes his bandages and goggles in front of them (while letting out a maniacal laugh), revealing that he’s invisible. Now able to evade capture since nobody can see him, Jack sets off to create havoc in the town and, along with the help of visible friend Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan), plans to take over the world in a reign of terror.
And while all of this is going on, Jack’s boss Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers) and finace Flora (Gloria Stuart) worry about where Jack has gone – and what he might be doing under the influence of such a powerful substance.
Universal Pictures released the science fiction/thriller The Invisible Man in 1933. James Whale directs the film, which was adapted from the H.G. Wells novel of the same name by R.C. Sherriff and Preston Sturges.
The Invisible Man isn’t as creepy now as it may have been to audiences in 1933. Some of the scenes absolutely hilarious. With Preston Sturges working on the script, it’s no surprise that some of the film’s moments come off as black comedy rather than true horror, so it is possible that many of the funny moments are intentional.
One scene that stands out shows a War of the Worlds-esque, hysteria-inducing radio broadcast. Couples, families, large crowds of shoppers and kids at camp are shown listening to a warning that the invisible man and his reign of terror are coming to get them. Another is a scene where, clad only in pants, Jack skips through town – but he’s invisible, so it just looks like a pair of pants are skipping along on their own, with his maniacal cackle filling the air all the while.
Regardless of the script’s intentions, it’s a very, very fun watch. There are a few sinister moments (such as the subplot of potentially using the mysterious substance as a biological weapon), but many of the title character’s antagonistic actions are carried out in such a way that they leave the viewer with tears of laughter rather than frozen in terror.
Though the script itself is so ridiculous that it almost makes the film come off as a comedy more than any other genre, the special effects here are actually very good, especially considering the time in which the film was made. One of the most enjoyable aspects of some early to mid-20th century horror can be the corny special effects, but The Invisible Man has no corn at all. Everything is very well-executed.
Claude Rains is absolutely perfect in the film’s title role. Just as it takes great effort for silent actors to rely on only facial expression to portray all of their character’s emotions, it is equally difficult to rely on only your voice – which Claude, playing an invisible character, must do here. Being the fantastic actor that he is, Rains pulls the role off without a single hitch. He also has just about the best man-gone-crazy cackle that I’ve ever heard in a film.
The Invisible Man is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes thrilling but always very entertaining film. The score: 4.5/5