Skip to main content

It’s easy, really, if you’re clever. An invisible man can rule the world!

The Invisible Man
(1933)

(SPOILERS) James Whale’s most celebrated features may be his brace of Frankensteins, but this, his other contribution to the Universal horror cycle (The Old Dark House presumably doesn’t get officially included as it lacks their classic monsters), ought to be mentioned in the same breath. Superbly spoofed by Joe Dante in Son of The Invisible Man for Amazon Women on the Moon (below), it doesn’t actually need that kind of undercutting, as its hearty – and twisted – sense of humour shines through throughout. Much of which can be attributed to a magnificently full-blooded performance from Claude Rains.

RC Sherriff furnished the HG Wells adaptation, with uncredited contributions from Preston Sturges and Philip Wylie; the latter’s The Murder Invisible was responsible for much of the madness infusing the movie. One gets the impression, however, that the most mirth-inducing contributions came from Whale (of whose oeuvre Ian McKellen awarded the overview “camp”). Certainly, the antically-pitched short fuse of Rains’ Jack Griffin is consistently the highlight of The Invisible Man, usually accompanied by condescending jibes or grim intentions. And diabolical megalomania. Wells reputedly objected to the picture taking his brilliant scientist and turning him into a lunatic (although he’s arguably a psychopath anyway in the novel, and undoubtedly goes mad), but really, that’s the entire reason the picture works so well (notably, Paul Verhoeven’s more recent take, the patchy-at-best Hollow Man, picked up on the side effect of the process causing derangement).

Griffin: Your father? Clever? Huh! You think he can help me? He’s got the brain of a tapeworm, a maggot beside mine!

Griffin’s ready line in insults is hilarious, brushing off the idea that fiancée Flora’s (Gloria Stuart, later of Titanic fame) father can be any help (above). Mind you, he may be on to something, since Cranley (Henry Travers) comes out with gems like “It’s a good thing to go away when you’re finishing a difficult experiment”. He also displays instant enmity towards the innkeeper (Forrester Harvey) and his wife (an uproariously overwrought Una O’Connor), leading to his throwing the former down the stairs. Indeed, his deranged violence is almost as amusing as his verbiage, so sadistically extreme is it; he puts an end to the chief of police with a stool (“A stupid policeman. Smashed his head in”); The constable is surprisingly sensible in contrast, instantly twigging what is going on despite his superior’s denials (“He’s invisible. That’s what’s the matter with him”). Later, Griffin ambivalently causes a train crash that costs hundreds of lives and throws a couple of individuals searching for him off a cliff.

Kemp: Straightforward scientists have no need for barred doors and drawn blinds.

It’s old colleague Kemp (William Harrigan) who’s reserved the lion’s share of the enmity, however, in contrast to the novel. We know he’s trying to muscle in on Flora (she tells him where to go), so our sympathies are limited anyway. Consequently, following Griffin’s rather tactless attempt to solicit his services (“We’ll begin with a reign of terror. A few murders here or there”), we’re not overly concerned to learn of his plan to take a terrible vengeance on Kemp. And in contrast to suitors in previous Universal horrors, there’s no escape for the character, who’s seen off with a particularly pithy “I hope your car’s insured, Kemp. I’m afraid there’s going to be a nasty accident in a minute. A very nasty accident” just before he’s sent over a cliff.

Griffin: There you are! A present from the invisible man! Money! Money! Money! Ha-ha-ha!

We learn that monocane has messed with Griffin’s mind (“The drugs I took seemed to light up my brain”), and when they aren’t causing him rages, they’re leading to frivolity, with him singing “Here we go gathering nuts in May” and “Pop goes the weasel!” (the latter on robbing a bank). He also steals a policeman’s trousers and runs around in them, frightening passers-by, laughing manically. In fact, Rains’ greatest claim to fame here is his magnificently insane laugh.

Whale’s direction is superb, ably supported by cinematographer Arthur Edeson’s atmospherics. The snowy opening shot is a thing of beauty, and if the English village is definitely Hollywood transposed, it’s also clearly possessed of an authentic eye. The picture moves along at a clip, even today, fast and funny, and that’s down to a combination of Whale’s sense of pace and the urgency Rains brings to his protagonist/antagonist.

Kemp: He meddled in things men should leave alone.

Naturally, there needs to be a moral coda, in which, having been burnt out of a barn (very Frankenstein), Griffin is shot by the police. Ironically, The Invisible Man then finds Griffin echoing Kemp’s words when he confesses “I’ve meddled in things that man must leave alone”. While there’s much to be said for not allowing science to advance unchecked, Kemp’s notion of responsible progress was developing new methods of preserving food, which as we know don’t do anyone any harm at all. So maybe Griffin wasn’t so bad after all.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.