Just as Dracula and Frankenstein were based on novels by Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, respectively, The Invisible Man (1933) was based on a novel written by H.G. Wells. James Whale is on hand to direct another Universal Horror classic that is considered not only one of the best horror movies of the period but also one of the best movies overall for 1933. The groundbreaking special effects remain largely convincing today, although high definition is exposing some of the wirework that was previously hard to spot. However, it’s a small price to pay for what is visually an amazing print. The Invisible Man has never looked as good.
Claude Rains made his first American film appearance as our lead character, Dr. Jack Griffin, and it remains one of his most famous roles. This is even more impressive when one considers he’s only on screen for the last seconds of the film. He carries the movie with his voice alone but what a voice. It’s hard to imagine another actor achieving the success Rains did with his performance. The opening moments of the film actually find our story mid-stream as Dr. Griffin has already suffered the accident that led him to be invisible. Now, he’s desperately trying to find his way back to visibility. The first segment of the movie is priceless as Dr. Griffin is making his way through a snowstorm to small village inn, where encounters the quiet and suspicious stares of everyone in the pub. However, it’s to be expected considering he’s bandaged and covered from head to toe. He demands a room from the innkeeper. Enter the hilarious Una O’Connor as the innkeeper’s wife, Jenny Hall. She is in top form with her over-the-top expressions and crazy screaming. Once the locals have enough of his demands and mad scientist ways, a confrontation leads to Dr. Griffin stripping off his clothes to reveal…he’s invisible. Henry Travers (the angel Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life) is Dr. Cranley, an associate who is in search of Dr. Griffin along with Griffin’s jealous partner Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) and girlfriend Flora (Gloria Stuart, The Old Dark House and Titanic). Along the way we see brief glimpses of other familiar faces, such as Dwight Frye as a reporter and John Carradine as a local. A countrywide pursuit leads to a final confrontation trapping Griffin in a barn, forcing him to flee straight into the police, who shoot him. As he dies in the hospital with Flora by his side, he regains visibility and Rains finally is seen on screen as our movie ends.
The movie is beautifully filmed and enhanced by a stellar cast. No surprise that it would eventually spawn a series of sequels, although none that directly picked up on the same storyline. In The Invisible Man Returns (1940), a young Vincent Price turns in an early horror appearance. The Invisible Woman, released the same year, is really more of a comedy. Invisible Agent (1942) puts a patriotic war twist with Peter Lorre playing an evil Japanese agent. The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944) wrapped up the serious movies with Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951) officially ending the series. All of these movies are entertaining, with the only exception being The Invisible Woman, which was a little hard for me to sit through. This new Blu-Ray release is amazing but a little skimpy on the extras when compared to the other films in the set. We get the original documentary released almost a decade ago, which is very entertaining, but that’s it. This one minor complaint aside, I rank this as another mandatory viewing for the season.