A scientist is driven to insanity after he becomes invisible, and he spends his days terrorizing a town.
Even from the very first shot of this film, a haunting black and white image of a man covered head to toe in bandages, trudging through snow towards Lion’s Head Inn; I knew I was going to really enjoy this film. This is one of the Universal films where the cinematography is really something to behold. In some of the earlier monster movies, the cinematography is flat and boring (particularly “The Mummy”), but in this film, the shots were often dynamic and interesting, and the black and white really helped the images pop. Beyond that, this is a film that is filled with marvelous effects, that still hold up today (for the most part), and though the body count is relatively higher on this movie, it’s also one of the most fun Universal Monster movies. There are moments that are genuinely thrilling, and other moments that swoon with classic old Hollywood charm. Claude Rains (“Casablanca”), though we almost never see his face, is absolutely captivating as Dr. Griffin (the invisible man), and the story is from the wondrously inventive mind of H.G. Wells.
“I meddled with things that mankind should leave alone.”
The things that stand out most about this film are the effects. Not only do the effects still look pretty great only eighty years later, but also there are dozens, if not a hundred, different shot where effects are needed in the shot, and that by itself is pretty impressive. Almost all of the effects looked to have been done practically. There are moments when our invisible protagonists flings things through the air, picks up different items and moves them from one place to another, he rides a bicycle, opens doors and windows. All of this is done with effects, and it’s absolutely thrilling to see it all play out on screen. Even more impressive are the scenes when Griffin is half dressed, and we see his disembodied clothes walk around a room. While the effects by today’s standards don’t look as polished, they absolutely hold up when compared to other films of the day. I would actually go so far as to say that some of the effects in this film are the best I’ve seen in a movie from the early forties. There were even two scenes with crashes and explosions, and those scenes looked absolutely fantastic as well. The train sequence looked to have been a miniature, but the car scene I couldn’t tell for sure (that’s a sign of a great effect- if I cant tell if it was real or fake even seventy six years after its release, that’s pretty incredible). The sheer scope of this film in terms of its special effects is pretty dazzling.
Cinematography was another thing that really blew me away. I’m a sucker for falling snow shot on black and white film, and there something so magically mystical and incredibly iconic about starting this film by watching Griffin trounce through the snow wearing his bandages, dark glasses, and hat. But beyond the images of Griffin walking through the snow, there are other incredibly iconic images as well, particularly the scenes when he’s half-clothed. I imagine the cinematographer and the special effects coordinator worked very closely in this film, as there were dozens of shots that needed to be tampered with to make the effects look real. There were lots of dynamic shots too; scenes with dollies or pans that followed whole actions, while constantly changing framing. There were a couple really great shots near the end of the film, when the police force had surrounded a building, where the shot was taken from such a high extreme that you could actually see the house and all of the policemen standing around the house in formation, and I thought that was really impressive too.
In terms of story, this film moves really quickly, and it unfolds in a way that feels far more literary than some of the other Universal movies (probably because it’s based on an HG Wells novel). Not only is the premise a lot larger in terms of scope, but the characters feel a lot more believable. Even Griffin, whose character has already started to descend into madness by the time we meet him, is a relatively believable character at the beginning. He’s a man that wanted to do something to make himself stand out, and in the end, he did do something, but it drove him to insanity. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Griffin is a sympathetic villain/ protagonist- he kills too many people to be sympathetic. But he is a character that we can clearly see where he went wrong, and how he might have been a good person before the madness of monocaine sunk in. Griffin’s old friend Dr. Arthur Kemp (William Harrigan, “The Farmer’s Daughter”), who he essentially kidnaps and forces to be his accomplice, is also a rather interesting character, and his internal turmoil of whether or not to turn in his old friend gives us better insight on who Griffin might’ve been before he became invisible. As far as acting goes, everyone did a fine job except for the person who played Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart, “Titanic”), and I’m not sure that’s entirely her fault. I feel like with every Universal film I’ve seen, the woman in these films are portrayed as spineless sniveling crybabies, and Flora Cranley certainly fits that mold in this film. I’m almost certain that that is just a byproduct of the time period and way woman were portrayed when these films were made, but nevertheless, she is rather annoying.
This was another Universal Monster movie that I really loved. It’s fast paced and interesting, suspenseful and fun, and it’s got special effects and cinematography that still wowed me today. This is also a Halloween movie that is relatively harmless, and could be shown to younger audiences without any real issue. “The Invisible Man” is another great addition to the Universal Monsters universe, and I’m certainly happy I sat down to watch this one. I absolutely recommend it.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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