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Terror, Humor, & Thrills: “The Invisible Man” Pt. 1

The Invisible Man

“The Invisible Man”, starring Claude Rains and directed by James Whale, was the fourth Universal Monsters film to be released.  83 years later, the classic picture is still just as much the “fantastic sensation” it was promoted to be back when it originally released.

The Invisible ManThe Invisible Man was released November 13, 1933 and was the fourth Universal Monsters film to be made.  The last production to be rooted in a literary source, like Dracula and Frankenstein, this movie was directed by the talented and unequaled James Whale.  Whale, who previously directed Frankenstein and The Old Dark House, returned to Universal and created a magnificent science-fiction/horror movie for the ages; a film about love and terror, megalomania and power; a film about The Invisible Man.

I always liked The Invisible Man, if more so for the iconography of “the monster.”  It was his bandaged face with sunglasses that fascinated me as a young child and led to my enjoyment of the works of H.G. Wells and various stories, shows, and films that presented invisibility.  The idea of it was so engaging and to be invisible?  I believe everyone dreams of that at some point in their life, if not sometimes feeling the alienation of being socially invisible.  The concept spoke to me, but it was always more the imagery of Claude Rains as Dr. Jack Griffin that stood out more so than the Frank Whale directed picture.  This past week, I decided to give it a watch as its been some time.  After a steady dose of Universal Monsters, especially having re-watched all of The Mummy movies, The Invisible Man was a fresh reminder of just why these films are so enduring and of why this particular film was selected for preservation back in 2008.

James Whale is a director unlike any other, and despite the talent of the likes of Tod Browning and even Karl Freund, his work is a true mastery over the art form of cinema.  Whale’s The Invisible Man, much like Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein, are almost bizarre in the larger concept of Universal’s monster universe as they work as true films.  Not to say that films like The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb don’t, but they just aren’t the classy affairs like the films Whale made.  The Invisible Man is a shocking movie in the way it combines thrills, terror, and humor together in an effortless blend.

The Invisible ManThere was a real English sensibility when it came to The Invisible Man and that was clearly James Whale’s touch.  Between the bumbling police force with their often whimsical approach to capturing Griffin, to even the interplay between William Harrigan’s Dr. Kemp and Rains’ Griffin, this is actually a very comical movie.  For someone viewing this for the first time, the comedy of many scenes may actually be quite surprising considering how serious Dracula and The Mummy were.  But it all works and Whale never sacrifices story and performance just to achieve a laugh or deliver a dazzling special effect.

There are differences between the H.G. Wells novel and the James Whale film.  The Invisible Man had a troubled road to production and it would have been considered “development hell” if it was looked at by today’s standards.  After several re-writes and versions that merely took the idea of Wells’ story, it was the R.C. Sherriff script that was used.  Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), in the film, is presented as a scientist who has slowly gone mad whereas in the original novel is already insane.  Despite Griffin’s megalomania in the 1933 picture, we do understand his plight and while he is a villain, there’s more of a man to the monster angle that humanizes him.

Claude Rains delivered an unforgettable performance as Dr. Jack Griffin and it’s easy to see why people see this particular character right up there with Lugosi‘s Dracula and Karloff‘s Imhotep.  This was Claude Rains’ American debut and it was director James Whale’s insistence on hiring him.  The studio didn’t believe in Rains and lacked the ability to see in him what Whale did.  As we all know, The Invisible Man would make Claude Rains a star.  It’s rather an amazing role as he’s primarily heard but never seen in the film; that is right up until the end when he finally becomes visible in *SPOILER ALERT* death.

After re-watching The Invisible Man, the casting of Johnny Depp as Dr. Jack Griffin feels like it was spot on, more so than any other casting for Universal’s upcoming “Monsters Universe” of films.  The Invisible Man should definitely be an upcoming movie to look out for in the next three years.

Please stay tuned for UMU’s Part 2 on James Whale’s The Invisible Man coming this week.

(Steven Biscotti – @reggiemantleIII)

About the author

Steven Biscotti

Mild mannered reporter, Steven Biscotti, has an avid interest in all things comic books, movies, and music (especially pertaining to Coldplay.) He stands 5'7" tall and prides himself on being the same height as Tom Cruise. Steven's favorite monster movie? "The Mummy (1999)."

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