This week I take a look at another installment in the Invisible Man saga. This film is a return to the more “violent” form that the original played with so classically. This is my Sunday with…The Invisible Man’s Revenge.
The Invisible Man’s Revenge
Release Date: June 9, 1944
Run Time: 78 minutes
Starring: Jon Hall
Director: Ford Beebe
Rob’s Score: 3/10
“In this house you’ve got to believe what you can’t see.”-Dr. Peter Drury
Robert Griffin has lived a life of confusion and violence. For the past several years he has been locked up in Cape Town Mental Institution for a couple murders and delusions of constantly being double-crossed. He manages to escape and finds himself on the door steps of his former friends, and venture partners, Sir Jasper and Lady Irene Herrick. His delusion may have begun with his last encounter with them. At first the meeting is cordial and quickly degrades into accusations and demands for money. Griffin accuses the Herricks of leaving him for dead on their last diamond mine venture. They would eventually find the mine and become very wealthy because of it. Griffin continues that without him they would not have found the mine, and has thus returned to claim his due half of the profits. They explain to him they do not have the funds left to pay him and offer several alternatives each of which are rejected by Griffin. He offers a final ultimatum and that is to be married to their daughter Julie. After hearing this they drug Griffin and steal the written agreement they had all signed those years ago and throw him out. After a short judicial battle, Griffin is ordered to leave. As he begins his travel to London he encounters Dr. Peter Drury. Dr. Drury has a solution to his problems: invisibility! Now armed with invisibility, the already mentally unhinged Griffin is back on the prowl to the Herricks to exact his ultimate revenge.
This installment in the Invisible Man series is, as the name dictates a revenge story. On the surface this was trying to bring the film back to its monster movie/horror roots instead of the comedic approach the films before it had evolved into. I’m going to be honest here and say that this movie really wasn’t up to snuff like the previous films were. As mentioned last week, The Invisible Man Returns wasn’t the original but it could absolutely stand on its own two feet as a new standalone film. That being said, The Invisible Man’s Revenge dabbled in this aspect but really couldn’t even achieve standalone quality. There were several problems with the film including controversy over the casting as Edgar Barrier who was set to play Jasper exited the movie a mere four days before filming began. The time in which the film was released also marked as the downslide for the Universal Monsters Universe. The mid- to late forties and into the fifties absolutely saw a decline not only in production and quality but also in tone. This was a far cry from the golden era of the thirties and early forties. This era in Universal Monster history is known as the silver age, and that to me is telling. It demonstrates the falling quality and, quite honestly, creativity of a majority of the pictures Universal was releasing. However, this could be attributed to the over saturation of the market. In the thirties audiences would get one maybe two monster films a year so they were huge events and required attention and dedication that made them classics. In the forties audiences got four, sometimes five monster movies a year. That’s great for monster lovers however it was quite obvious that there was a dip in the film’s execution. Tonally the universe was changing as well as more comedic takes on the beloved characters were being utilized, eventually leading to the classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which would also mark the next time the Invisible Man is on screen.
My biggest issues with this film are the inconsistencies not only with the film, but that it presents in the Invisible Man universe. My initial feeling is that this wanted to be almost a “reboot” of the Invisible Man mythos, which would be fine but leads me to my first problem and that is the Invisible Man title! This film did a disservice to the classic that preceded it. First and foremost the main character’s name is Robert Griffin. This is at least a call back to the original Griffin, but could also indicate some relation. My next issue is that the film never once mentions the events of the previous films. Going on the notion that this is the same universe, there have already been two films with two different members of the Griffin family becoming invisible. Now we have a third member named Griffin who apparently has no idea that he comes from a family of men who have achieved invisibility! Aside from that, no other person in the film mentions these events, not the doctor who performs the procedure nor the police or family members after the invisible shenanigans begin, especially if they were Griffin family members! If at least two times before men have become invisible and ran amok, even if you are in a different part of the world, that news would have spread! Those glaring issues are what makes me think this could have been a “franchise reboot,” there couldn’t have been that many plot holes.
That leads me to the actual premise of the film. It starts out as a revenge film, Robert Griffin was believed to be dead, escapes a mental institution, for killing several people may I add, and arrives on the door step of his former partners requesting his half of the money. So far so good. Then he becomes invisible to take revenge on his former partners and extort the money from them. When this doesn’t work Griffin demands he be handed the Herricks’ daughter as payment…what?! I know this is supposed to demonstrate Griffin’s mental instability, and as eluded too early in the movie his conspiracy everyone is out to get me mentality. However, during his initial confrontation with the Herricks (his former friends and partners) he mentions he thought they had a hand in his down fall and then eventually leaving him to die, and much to his credit their responses almost validate his feelings, basically agreeing that they left him to die! I’m sure that wasn’t the idea however it is just another example of the problems the script had. The Herricks then continue to drug Griffin and steal their agreement, so who exactly is the audience supposed to get behind? In the end the film was muddied and jumbled, with all those problems it was still very hard to get through, failing to hold interest.
Another issue I saw here was once a standout in the series and that was the special effects. What were once award nominated feats felt much toned down and more or less lazy in this go-round. No longer do we get the big reveal of invisible and then taking us through the blood system to the muscular system to the skeleton and then eventually person. Here we got visible to invisible with no in-between. This film did play with semi-visibility which was a positive touch; however as a whole it felt like an apathetic step back from what was once an awe-inspiring sight.
With all that negativity out of my system I have to admit that there was an aspect I enjoyed. One of which was the “cure” to invisibility. This had already been discussed in Return; however it was adapted here in a sinister way that fit the film. Again, no mention was made of blood curing invisibility, another plot point; however it is utilized and happened upon here in an organic way, and once discovered it assists Griffins psychotic disregard for life as he drains victims to help himself become visible. This was a clever way to not only accentuate Griffin’s character and psyche but also give a wink to the films that came before it notably Return, and even Dracula.
There is one scene in this film that just “got it”, and to me that is the dart scene in the bar room. That to me felt like the dark humor of the original. Here we have Griffin pranking the patrons to help his new partner win money. This could have been a scene in the original film and is really the standout to me. Everything was on display here, the humor, to a lesser extent the violence and the effects.
The cast was led by Jon Hall who did his best with the script provided. He often jumped from sinister to empathetic but that was of no fault of his own. John Carradine was a solid horror movie scientist harkening back to Ernest Thesiger’s portrayal of Dr. Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein. The Wolf Man alum Evelyn Ankers also appears in the film, but is more or less wasted in the role of Julie Herrick.
The Invisible Man’s Revenge is a confusing film. It was difficult to establish where it fit into the universe of the films around it. Suffering from casting and script problems this film was definitely a product of the time of its release. That being said I invite you all to check it out and form your own opinion, and if you disagree with me, please let me hear it!