The Invisible Man is a 1933 Universal Science Fiction/Horror Film widely praised as a classic. Starring Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart, the film follows Dr. Jack Griffin (Rains) through his maniacal quest to cure himself of invisibility he caused on himself. The film is another Universal collaboration with director James Whale, but lacks the collaboration that made Whale’s interpretation of Frankenstein particularly memorable.
Claude Rains hams it up as Griffin, dominating every scene in which the character appears. This is even more incredible given the fact that the only time we actually see Rains (obviously not counting him in costume) is in the last scene of the film. Rains manages to project a persona on screen, even as a voiceover, enough to certainly dominate the film. His theatrical performance and speech allow what could have been a stiff performance to come off as both believable and malicious. This is to the detriment of literally every other character in the film, as the vast majority of other performances (except for Una O’Connor’s memorable performance early in the film) come off as flat and one-note. Despite Rains’ talent as an actor, the obvious lack of chemistry between him and co-star Gloria Stuart makes the low amount of screen time they share together to be a blessing. The film could have been called Claude Rains Outperforms Everyone Else and it would have been an apt title.
Once again the Universal backlot and Southern California make an appearance in a film that is trying very hard to convince you that it is taking place somewhere in England. While it is understandable that Universal was attempting to cut costs due to the Great Depression while this film was being shot, the film itself could have benefitted from a change of scenery to Los Angeles with little to no changes in the script. The set design, in contrast to the sets in Dracula and Frankenstein, leave much to be desired. While it seems like the film is intended to be set in 1933 England, the vaulted ceilings and generic “spooky” matte paintings definitely scream “soundstage.” This film, however, is more about the spectacle than the set design.
This film set the standard for special effects at the time in which it was made. Watching a remastered Blu-ray of this film does a bit of a disservice to the effects that would have thrilled and shocked audiences in 1933. In modern HD the odd fishing-line can be caught in a glimpse, but for audiences viewing a character’s head literally disappear while interacting with other members of the cast must have been mind-blowing. The creativity displayed in how the special effects were incorporated into the finished product should make even more modern films, like The Phantom Menace and Jupiter Ascending, feel ashamed at their overreliance on CGI that definitely looks like it came from a computer.
The Invisible Man is a classic that overcomes its shortcomings to provide an enjoyable appearance. Claude Rains is enjoyable as the titular character, and the special effects provide a
valuable counterbalance to the CGI heavy modern films that can’t quite fool the human eye. Pair this film with crumpets, salmon croquettes, a cup of tea, and invisible ink.
I have to start by saying that The Invisible Man isn’t one of my favorite Universal Monster films. This isn’t to say the film lacks anything; I just prefer something more frightening than an invisible man. One thing I do have to give the film is its ability to stay closer to the book than most of the literature-based movies we continue to see released
I do feel Claude Rains gives a great performance, especially being most of his work is completed off-screen; however, like Dominic said, his presence tends to dominate, and everyone else gets swallowed alive. I absolutely adore Gloria Stuart, but I also agree her chemistry with Rains is non-existent. In her defense, I think I too would experience difficulty in trying to create chemistry with some wires and a disembodied voice.
While the other Universal Monsters tend to inspire sympathy within me (yes, Including Dracula), I just can’t feel any for Griffin and his murder spree. It’s too dark, and at times a bit of a stretch. His reason for murder is lousy (basically, the drugs that turned him invisible made him rabid), and one can’t help but cheer when he receives a fatal gunshot wound. I’m probably viewing the film through a 2020 perspective, but the “drugs made me do it” defense just doesn’t sit well for me.
The special effects are top notch for 1933, especially when you consider how the film was made in roughly two months. Wires were used for some of the invisibility scenes, while others were created by Rains wearing a black velvet suit against a black velvet background that was then superimposed into a scene. Yes, the occasional wire is noticeable, but one can also see wires in The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Overall I think the film is good, but not great. I would pair it with a prime rib, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed corn, and a couple Yorkshire puddings; akin to something you can get at Tam O’Shanters, the popular Los Feliz eatery that had been in business for roughly 11 years when the film was released.