Peter DeHaven III (Jeffrey Lynn) is having a bachelor dinner with his best buds the night before his wedding. He’s had a bit too much to drink, and when he passes out his friends decide to pull a prank on him by taking him to the morgue at the local medical college and leaving him there, on a dissecting table.
Meanwhile, Professor Shotesbury (Edward Everett Horton) is in a laboratory at the same medical college, working on a potion that will bring the dead back to life. He’s successfully used the potion on a non-human primate and now he wants to take his experimentation to the next level.
Since his servant William (Willie Best) is unwilling to be killed and brought back to life, Shotesbury decides to steal a body from the morgue.
But of course, instead of getting an actual corpse, Shotesbury ends up injecting Peter with the potion.
And so, the downward spiral begins. When Peter wakes up, Shotesbury is convinced that his potion has worked — but Peter begins to disappear. Soon enough, they’ve got an invisible man on their hands. With the help of his daughter Joan (Jane Wyman) and Willie, Shotesbury attempts to fix his awful mistake.
D. Ross Lederman (who is possibly best known for directing John Wayne in 1932’s Two-Fisted Law) directs The Body Disappears. This 1941 mystery-comedy’s original screenplay was written by Scott Darling and Erna Lazarus.
Wyman, Lynn, Horton and Best are a pretty great team on screen. As much as I hate to see Willie in such a stereotypical role once again, he is terribly good at playing fearful characters. As much as I would have liked to see him be able break out of the limited range of characters he was given, he is consistently amusing to watch. He did an amazing job with the roles he was given.
Jane Wyman is also delight to watch. I’m a big fan of her and think she’s atrociously underrated/under-remembered.
She plays her character very convincingly. We get the feeling that, while she’s surprised to discover that there’s an invisible man in her house, she’s used to the odd happenings that come about due to her dad’s experiments. After a bit of the initial shock wears off, she seems completely unaffected by the whole scenario. Jane is, in fact, the only member of the cast who didn’t get stuck playing a “type” too forcefully – her performance seems more natural than the others.
Jeffrey Lynn must also be given credit for his performance, which is largely voice-based due to the invisibility of his character throughout most of the film. I’m always impressed by actors who can pull of performances that are limited in some way. (This is actually part of the reason I became a fan of Jane Wyman as well. Her near-silent role in the 1948 film Johnny Belinda completely blew me away.) Lynn must rely only on his voice’s inflection throughout most of the film and he does that very well. His few minutes of in-the-flesh screen time are overshadowed by his “invisible” performance.
The film has a fast pace from the beginning and is quite funny throughout most of its fairly short run time. The pace never lets up, which is definitely a positive.
The premise is silly, but it works. Having only read a brief synopsis before watching, I went in with the impression that this film would mix the charming-but-dark humor of The Invisible Man, the death experimentation of The Face of Marble and the terrible special effects that make the sci-fi/horror cheese genre so much fun to watch.
For the most part, the film did deliver in these respects. The humor falls much more along the lines of straight comedy rather than the sinister comedy of The Invisible Man, but overall it’s a pretty fun little film to spend time on. The score: 3.5/5