It’s been a while since I’d seen this one, but I remembered it as being one of the better of the 1930s Universal horrors. On a whim, I watched it a few nights ago. Let’s see how it holds up!
A strange man wrapped in bandages around his face and wearing goggles checks into an inn in a small town in the English midlands. The gregarious crowd falls silent at this menacing figure, who rents a room and orders his meals to be brought to him, but otherwise demands he not be disturbed for any reason.
Meanwhile, at a laboratory twenty miles away, two scientists, Dr Cranley and Dr. Kemp, discuss the strange disappearance the month before of their colleague, Dr. Jack Griffin. Flora, the daughter of Dr. Cranley and apparently the sweetheart of Jack, overhears part of their conversation and breaks down in tears. Trying to find a clue as to where Jack might be, the two scientists search Jack’s laboratory and discover he was experimenting with monocane, some sort of ingredient from India that can turn anything white, but whose exposure is known to cause madness in animals.
Back at the inn, Jack does indeed turn out to be the mysterious man, and he has developed an invisibility potion with the monocane that he has used on himself. Unfortunately, he is unable to render himself visible again, and is urgently conducting experiments in his room at the inn to find an antidote. When the proprietor interrupts him, Jack flies into a rage and throws the man down the stairs. He then strips off his bandages and clothes, and thus can’t be seen. In this state, he attacks the gathered crowd in the inn’s common area and runs into the town, committing assaults and property damage willy-nilly, including killing a policeman.
That night, he shows up at Dr. Kemp’s home. He forces Dr. Kemp to shelter him and confides his plan to use his invisibility and great strength to acquire ultimate power for himself. Under duress, Dr. Kemp agrees to help him in his plan, while secretly trying to contact Dr. Cranley or the police. Dr. Kemp does show up, along with Flora, who believes she can bring Jack back to reason. Will she succeed, or will the Invisible Man escape and attempt to put his insane plan into action?
The Invisible Man (1933)
Story/Plot/Characters— A tight script and brisk plot with a minimum of the drawing room scenes and excessive exposition that mar so many movies of this era. Claude Rains, who is completely covered up or unseen throughout the film, must act solely with his voice, and does so wonderfully. Gloria Stuart as Flora is quite good, as are several of the other actors. The exception is Una O’Connor, the shrill and annoying wife of the inn’s proprietor who chews the scenery in an utterly unfunny comic role. She also destroyed the mood of several scenes in the otherwise sublime Bride of Frankenstein, also directed by James Whale. Did Whale like O’Connor acting for some reason, or did the studio saddle him with her? Whatever, it’s best to treat her like Jar-Jar Binks and do your best to pretend she’s not there. (3.5 points)
Special Effects— The special effects are highly effective, and not just for the time period. The scenes of Jack peeling the bandages from his face, only for nothing to be underneath, still hold power. The scenes with objects flying through the air apparently of their own accord–including at one point a bicycle–are wholly believable. (2 points)
Scariness— Not too tense by today’s standards, but reasonably frightening for its era. (1 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness— The isolation of the village and its surrounding farmhouses in a snowy English winter, a madman on the loose who can’t be seen, the quaint inns and well-appointed houses ready to be ransacked, all add up to a highly atmospheric setting. (1.5 points)
Total=8 point (Best Horror Movies Ever)
The Invisible Man holds up just fine, and its position as one of the top Universal horrors of the 1930s is sufficient to place it in the highest rating category.