Whilst this touts itself as “HG Wells’ The Invisible Man”, it’s fair to say that certain liberties have been taken in transferring the classic novel to the silver screen. It’s also fait to say that given the source now being 125 years old, and the basic “man goes invisible, then goes batshit” plot being intact, that the average viewer these days won’t notice. They also, with some rather impressively preserved copies being available at a crisp 2k, won’t notice any problems with the sound or images.
Because “Why not?”, and as it makes picking viewing easier, Trash Or Treasure is going through every movie in “Science Fiction – Double Feature”, the opening song for that trash culture classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Claude Rains was The Invisible Man
What they will notice is that, from the offset, this is practically three films coexisting in the same, tightly bound package. How much is because Wells himself got script approval, and how much is because Universal really wanted to throw in bits from the lurid knock-off The Murderer Invisible is up for debate. The important thing is that it comes together for a final work that’s better than many of the more recent attempts to cash in on the name.
The first, and largest, film stars the voice of Claude Rains and a bunch of special effects delivering a solid horror performance. It tells the tale of Dr Griffin being brought low by scientific hubris and then losing his touch with humanity. It starts with a series of trick shots, several of which still hold up today, of Griffin being invisible and interacting with the world, and then ends in a quite terrifying murderous rampage.
The on-screen visuals are, as you would expect, tame by today’s standards. But the combination of good direction, horrific concepts, and Rains delivering his lines with outright menace, the outright nastiness digs its claws in deep. It also leaves you with the lingering question of if the invisibility serum was to blame for Grffin’s homicidal rage, or if it just the simple disconnect from the norms of society that pushed him over the edge.
The second film is Gloria Stuart bimbling around a bunch of well-appointed sets, looking wistful, and wearing some very nice dresses. She does as good a job as anyone could of the role of Griffin’s finance, but narratively that part is there to wonder between exposition and try to convince you that Griffin wasn’t always a total bastard. Henry Travers turns up as the elderly white guy who knows everything, and William Harrigan is the young dude who will eventually bang her once she’s stopped crying over Griffin’s death. It’s mellow drama and that’s that.
Finally, there is Una O’Connor: star of “Mrs Hall, the Land Lady, Has A High-Pitched Voice”. This is a comedy number to which she, and her supporting cast of yokels; give their all by failing to grasp what the smart man with the received pronunciation is doing “with hilarious consequences”. Some of it is actually quite good, most of it is just pratfalls and telegraphed jump scares, and you could be forgiven for being annoyed by it until you realise that without this comedy relief the pure shocking nihilism of Dr Griffin’s tale would never get to be shown in most theatres. It’s possibly aged the worst of all three elements, but it’s a fascinating insight into how films used to be made (and makes you start looking for the modern equivalents).
As the running time is 70 minutes, you really don’t have time to be bored by any of it (except possibly the bit where Gloria Stuart mumbles into some flowers wearing a ballgown nighty). If you want to be picky then some of the side story shows its age, but as soon as Griffin gets his ranting and killing on you’ll snap back to being engrossed with what’s happening on screen. It’s a hard, bitter Treasure of a film, far more so than you would expect. It also makes you look at all the remakes and go “why didn’t you just do that but now?”, which is the true mark of a classic film.