The Invisible Man (1933) is another film I’ve never seen, even though I’ve had the DVD sitting on my shelf for years. This horrorthon’s been a good opportunity to sit down and watch all these neglected DVDs!
What I hadn’t realised was that this was a Universal monster film, although I don’t think the Invisible Man became involved in the glut of sequels and crossovers that went on during the ’30s and ’40s.
Bizarrely, the film has an NRA sponsor caption at the beginning! ‘We Do Our Part’.
Claude Rains (eight years before playing Sir John in The Wolf Man) is the eponymous Invisible Man, as I’m sure everyone knows, and Gloria Stuart (best known to currently living generations as the older Rose in Titanic more than sixty years later) is his love interest.
The film’s set in England again, meaning we get more not-quite-right accents from the American members of the cast.
We open with a bandaged figure struggling through the snow. He enters a pub, the Lion’s Head, which despite the English name comes across as a bit saloon-y with piano music and patrons who all fall silent when a stranger enters.
The bandaged man is very demanding of Jenny Hall, the pub landlady, and soon the patrons are gossiping away about how the man is clearly an escaped criminal. When Mrs Hall enters the man’s room with the mustard she’s forgotten for his meal, she sees him hastily cover his invisible face, and he angrily sends her away.
We cut to a father and daughter, Dr Cranley and Flora, worrying about one of Dr Cranley’s assistants, a man called Dr Jack Griffin, who has gone away to finish an experiment (and is clearly the bandaged man we’ve already seen). Dr Cranley’s other assistant, Dr Kemp, has feelings for Flora, but she only loves ‘Jack’.
Back at the pub, a few days later, Mrs Hall is fed up of the Invisible Man’s rudeness and failure to pay his bills, and sends her husband upstairs to get rid of him. Mr Hall gets thrown down the stairs for his trouble, and the pub patrons send for the police. When confronted, the Invisible Man reveals his invisibility, resulting in a daft farcical sequence with the police trying to catch him as he sheds his clothes. He then causes chaos around town, smashing glasses in the pub and stealing hats from people in the street. He’s clearly suffering from madness of some sort.
Seguing beautifully, Dr Cranley and Dr Kemp work out that Dr Griffin was experimenting with a dangerous drug, monocane, made from flowers in India. Dr Cranley explains that an experiment with the drug on a dog turned it white and raving mad.
Back at Dr Kemp’s home, he hears a story on the radio story about the Invisible Man, but before he can react, the Invisible Man reveals himself to be in the room with him. ‘Don’t be afraid, Kemp, it’s me,’ he says, but soon turns to violent threats.
Back at the pub again, the police chief shows up and doesn’t believe a word of what the villagers tell him about the Invisible Man. The latter also returns to the pub with the unwilling Dr Kemp’s help, as he needs to recover his scientific notebooks. After dropping them to Dr Kemp through the window, he causes more destruction in the pub, and kills the chief of police.
We then cut to some detectives, who are making a search plan. A country-wide radio broadcast interrupts people’s evening activities (we get a lot of scenes of dances in community halls and men sitting smoking pipes in their parlours, which is a lovely reminder of the age of this film!), and everyone in the country locks their doors.
Once he’s sure the Invisible Man is asleep, Dr Kemp makes a phone call to Dr Cranley, who says he’ll come in the morning so as not to arouse suspicion. Dr Cranley then idiotically tells Flora what’s going on, and she insists on going round to see ‘Jack’ right this minute. Meanwhile, Dr Kemp calls the police, disregarding Dr Cranley’s advice to keep the fact of Dr Griffin being the Invisible Man to themselves (which is fair enough, as it’s bad advice).
The Invisible Man consents to seeing Flora alone, and tells her that he’s doing it all for her – he wants to achieve scientific greatness. He’s obviously mad, and she does realise this, but also clearly still loves him. Dr Cranley and Flora leave, and the Invisible Man, who has spotted the police, escapes from the house, but not before vowing to Dr Kemp that he will kill kim at 10pm the following night.
Next morning, Dr Cranley is still trying to shield Dr Griffin from the police for some reason, but Dr Kemp tells them the truth. Meanwhile, the Invisible Man goes around the country on a killing spree, causing a train to crash and throwing people off cliffs.
There’s an interesting shot where the distraught Flora looks at a picture of ‘Jack’ – but even then, the viewer is not shown the picture, so we still don’t know what his face looks like.
The police detectives have a plan to use Dr Kemp as bait to catch the Invisible Man, but Dr Kemp is no Jamie Lloyd in Halloween 5, and flatly refuses, so they have to come up with another plan where Dr Kemp will escape in disguise as a policeman and drive as far away as possible. Unfortunately, the Invisible Man is one step ahead of them – he hides in Dr Kemp’s car, ties him up behind the wheel and sends the car off a cliff.
A convenient country-wide snowstorm, however, provides aid to the police. When a farmer finds the Invisible Man sleeping in his barn, they decide to set fire to it and smoke him out so that they can see him in the snowstorm. In the process of trying to escape, the Invisible Man is shot, and collapses in the snow.
Dr Cranley and Flora are told that there’s nothing that can be done, as the Invisible Man has taken a bullet to the lungs, but ‘his body will become visible as life goes’. As such, after he tells Flora that he knows his scientific meddling was wrong, the Invisible Man dies, and we finally see Claude Rains as Jack Griffin in the last shot, which is a really nice touch.
I’d quite like to investigate other versions of this story now – I’ll definitely read the book, but Geth tells me the more modern film (Hollow Man with Kevin Bacon) is terrible!
Something more mid-century tomorrow.