The Invisible Man (1933)

The Invisible Man (1933) – I have always been a fan of horror movies. Always. I was a weird kid, you know? The grim and macabre held a great fascination for me. Now my parents recognized this but you’d be hard-pressed to find responsible parents who would let their 6-year-old see the latest Freddy Krueger bloodbath (not even in the 80s). The solution? The old Universal Monster movies. By today’s standards (and the standards of the slasher-film-heavy 80s) they were practically G-rated. Still, they had atmosphere, interesting characters, iconic creatures, and (if you are an impressionable child) a few good scares. I’ve recently been inspired to revisit these classics am starting with this one as among the main six (this film, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, and Creature from the Black Lagoon) it’s the one I haven’t seen in the longest.

In the English village of Iping a mysterious bandaged stranger checks into a room above a tavern. The whole town (populated by colorful British characters) gets to gossiping about this mysterious stranger and why he is completely bandaged up and craves solitude. If you can’t guess what or who is under the bandages you either suck at deduction or skipped the title of this film. Scientist Jack Griffin (Claude Rains in only his second film and first talkie) has turned himself invisible! Now he is hatching a mad scheme to rule by creating terror and murdering a ton of people! His colleague Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) is trying to steal Griffin’s fiancée, Flora (Gloria Stuart, best known for playing Rose in Titanic, who was something of a fox back in the 30s). Flora’s father and Griffin’s mentor Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers, best known for playing Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life) is concerned about his missing protégé. Can Griffin’s mad quest be stopped?

The Invisible Man is directed by famed director James Whale, best known for directing Frankenstein and its sequel Bride of Frankenstein. Whale infuses the story with a lot of the camp humor he was known for. Sometimes this is amusing. Others it is annoying. In the latter category is the over-the-top presence of actress Una O’Connor who plays Griffin’s screechy landlady. Whale was apparently fond of Mrs. O’Connor (though not in THAT way, as anyone who’s seen Gods and Monsters can tell you) as she also appeared in Bride of Frankenstein. As a kid, the Invisible Man was probably my favorite of the old Universal Monsters, pretty much just because he was invisible. Watching the film from a more advanced age, I’m less enthusiastic. One of the charms of the old Universal Monster flicks, and others of the period like King Kong, was that the monsters were often sympathetic. They were relatable to the outsiders of the world. The Invisible Man is insane, and kind of a dick (speaking of dicks, the fact that he has to prance around naked is referenced more than you’d expect in a film from the 30s). His odd attempts at contemptuous one-liners make him a villain you WANT to see punished. I suppose that works, but I don’t have the same sentimental attachment to this film as the other. If you’re a fan of the genre, by all means check this one out. It boats special effects that are damn impressive for the 1930s. If you just want to see the classics though, this is not essential viewing.

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