The Invisible Man (film)

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The Invisible Man
The-Invisible-Man.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by James Whale
Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.
Screenplay by R. C. Sherriff
Uncredited:
Philip Wylie
Preston Sturges
Based on The Invisible Man 
by H.G. Wells
Starring Claude Rains
Gloria Stuart
Music by Heinz Roemheld
Cinematography Arthur Edeson
Edited by Ted J. Kent
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s)
  • November 13, 1933 (1933-11-13)
Running time 71 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $328,033[1]

The Invisible Man is a 1933 science fiction film based on H. G. Wells' science fiction novel The Invisible Man, published in 1897, as adapted by R. C. Sherriff, Philip Wylie and Preston Sturges, whose work was considered unsatisfactory and who was taken off the project.[2] The film was directed by James Whale and stars Claude Rains, in his first American screen appearance, and Gloria Stuart. It is considered one of the great Universal Horror films of the 1930s, and spawned a number of sequels, plus many spinoffs using the idea of an "invisible man" that were largely unrelated to Wells' original story.

Rains portrayed the Invisible Man (Dr. Jack Griffin) mostly only as a disembodied voice. Rains is only shown clearly for a brief time at the end of the film, spending most of his on-screen time covered by bandages. In 2008 The Invisible Man was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Plot[edit]

A mysterious stranger, his face swathed in bandages and his eyes obscured by dark goggles, takes a room at The Lion's Head Inn in the English village of Iping in Sussex. The man demands that he be left alone. Later, the innkeeper, Mr. Hall (Forrester Harvey) is sent by his wife (Una O'Connor) to evict the stranger after he makes a huge mess in his room while doing research and falls behind on his rent. Angered, the stranger throws Mr. Hall down the stairs. Confronted by a policeman and some local villagers, he removes his bandages and goggles, revealing that he is invisible. Laughing maniacally, he takes off his clothes, making himself completely undetectable, and drives off his tormenters before fleeing into the countryside.

The stranger is Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), a chemist who has discovered the secret of invisibility while conducting a series of tests involving an obscure drug called monocane. Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart), Griffin's fiancee and the daughter of Griffin's employer, Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), becomes distraught over Griffin's long absence. Cranley and his other assistant, Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan), search Griffin's empty laboratory, finding only a single note in a cupboard. Cranley becomes concerned when he reads it. On a list of chemicals is monocane, which Cranley knows is extremely dangerous; an injection of it drove a dog mad.

On the evening of his escape from the inn, Griffin turns up at Kemp's home. He forces Kemp to become his visible partner in a plot to dominate the world through a reign of terror, commencing with "a few murders here and there". They drive back to the inn to retrieve his notebooks on the invisibility process. Sneaking inside, Griffin finds a police inquiry underway, conducted by an official who believes it is all a hoax. After securing his books, he attacks and kills the officer.

Back home, Kemp calls first Cranley, asking for help, and then the police. Flora persuades her father to let her come along. In her presence, Griffin becomes more placid and calls her "darling." When he realizes Kemp has betrayed him, his first reaction is to get Flora away from danger. After promising Kemp that at 10 o'clock the next night he will murder him, Griffin escapes and goes on a killing spree. He causes the derailment of a train, resulting in a hundred deaths, and throws two volunteer searchers off a cliff. The police offer a reward for anyone who can think of a way to catch the Invisible Man.

The chief detective (Dudley Digges) in charge of the search uses Kemp as bait, feeling Griffin will try to fulfill his promise, and devises various clever traps. At Kemp's insistence, the police disguise him in a police uniform and let him drive his car away from his house. Griffin, however, is hiding in the back seat of the car. He overpowers Kemp and ties him up in the front seat. Griffin then sends the car down a steep hill and over a cliff, where it explodes on impact.

Griffin seeks shelter from a snowstorm in a barn. A farmer hears snoring and sees the hay, in which Griffin is sleeping, moving. The man notifies the police. The police surround the building and set fire to the barn. When Griffin comes out, the chief detective sees his footprints in the snow and opens fire, mortally wounding him. Griffin is taken to the hospital where, on his deathbed, he admits to Flora that he had tampered with something that was meant to be left alone. After he dies, his body gradually becomes visible again.

Cast[edit]

Several notable character actors appear in minor roles, including Dwight Frye as a reporter, Walter Brennan as a man whose bicycle is stolen, and John Carradine, acting at that time under the name Peter Richmond, as a Cockney informer.

Production[edit]

Claude Rains was not the studio's first choice to play the lead role in The Invisible Man. Boris Karloff was originally supposed to play the part but withdrew after producer Carl Laemmle Jr. tried too many times to cut Karloff's contractual salary.[2] To replace Karloff, Chester Morris, Paul Lukas and Colin Clive were considered for the part.[2][3] It was James Whale, who was assigned to direct the film to replace Cyril Gardner,[3] who wanted the "intellectual voice" of Claude Rains to play "Griffin" – Rains was his first and only choice, although he did temporarily agree to Clive as a tactic in creating a demand for Rains.[2][4] Problems in developing the script held up the project for some time; in June 1932 the film was called off temporarily.[3]

The Invisible Man was in production from June to August 1933[5] at Universal studios in Los Angeles.[6] Filming was interrupted near the end by a fire, started by a smudge pot kicked into some hay, which damaged an exterior set.[3]

The film was released on 13 November 1933[7][8] and was marketed with the taglines "Catch me if you can!" and "H.G. Wells' Fantastic Sensation."[9]

Differences from novel[edit]

Although the basic framework of the story and the characters' names are largely the same as in the novel, there are several great differences. The novel takes place in the 1890s, when it was first published, thus making its scientific aspects even more remarkable. The film takes place in 1933, the year of its release. In the novel, Griffin (the Invisible Man) remains almost a totally mysterious person, with no fiancee or friends; in the film he is engaged to a beautiful woman and has the support of her father and his associate. In the novel, Griffin is already mad before he makes himself invisible, with his insanity being completely unmotivated other than being a lust for power. In the film, Griffin is driven mad by the drug that makes him invisible. Dr. Kemp survives in the novel; his life is saved by those who ultimately kill Griffin. In the film, Dr. Kemp is terrified throughout, and pays for betraying Griffin with his life.

Special effects[edit]

The film is known for its clever and groundbreaking visual effects by John P. Fulton, John J. Mescall and Frank D. Williams, whose work is often credited for the success of the film.[2] When the Invisible Man had no clothes on, the effect was achieved through the use of wires, but when he had some of his clothes on or was taking his clothes off, the effect was achieved by shooting Claude Rains in a completely black velvet suit against a black velvet background and then combining this shot with another shot of the location the scene took place in using a matte process. Claude Rains was claustrophobic and it was hard to breathe through the suit. Consequently, the work was especially difficult for him, and a double, who was somewhat shorter than Rains, was sometimes used.[4][10]

The effect of Rains seeming to disappear was created by making a head and body cast of the actor, from which a mask was made. The mask was then photographed against a specially prepared background, and the film was treated in the laboratory to complete the effect.[3]

Reaction, awards and honors[edit]

The movie was popular at the box office, Universal's most successful horror film since Frankenstein.[1]

The Invisible Man was named by the New York Times as one of the Ten Best Films of 1933,[11] but H. G. Wells, the author of the book the film was based on, said at a dinner in its honor, that "while he liked the picture he had one grave fault to find with it. It had taken his brilliant scientist and changed him into a lunatic, a liberty he could not condone." James Whale replied that the film was addressed to the "rationally minded motion picture audience," because "in the minds of rational people only a lunatic would want to make himself invisible anyway."[3] (In the original novel, the scientist was amoral from the start and did not hesitate to rob his own father [who consequently commits suicide] to get the money to buy certain drugs, etc., for the invisibility process. In the movie, an essential color-removing drug in the process had the unavoidable side-effect of unbalancing his mind.) Despite his misgivings, Wells did praise the performance of Una O'Connor as the shrieking Mrs. Hall.[12]

Whale, who had previously directed Frankenstein as well as the first version of Waterloo Bridge, received a Special Recommendation from the 1934 Venice Film Festival in recognition of his work on The Invisible Man.[13]

Claude Rains' film career took off after The Invisible Man, which was his first American film appearance.

The film was nominated for the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills and AFI's 10 Top 10 (science fiction film), while the character was nominated as a villain for the AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains list.

Home media[edit]

The Invisible Man was released on VHS as part of the Universal Studios' Classic Monster Collection in 1992.

In 2004 Universal released six legacy collections that included some of their best horror films. The Invisible Man was uncut and longer than previously televised versions. The complete "Invisible Man" collection comprised:

as well as bonus features, including Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed, a detailed look at the making of the classic horror film and its sequels by film historian Rudy Behlmer.

Sequels and remakes[edit]

  • The Invisible Man Returns (1940) stars Vincent Price as a man accused of murder who uses the invisibility formula to clear his name. The film was well received by critics and audiences alike.
  • The Invisible Woman (1940) used the concept to create a slickly made screwball comedy with Virginia Bruce and John Barrymore.
  • Invisible Agent (1942) is a blatantly patriotic World War II adventure yarn with Jon Hall using invisibility to fight the Nazis.
  • The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944) stars Jon Hall once again, but has no relation to Invisible Agent. Hall plays an escaped fugitive who is injected with the invisibility formula.
  • In the post-War era, Universal's stable of once-frightening movie monsters appeared in comedies that parodied the horror genre. The first, and most successful, was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Vincent Price makes a voice-only cameo appearance as the Invisible Man at the very end of the film. The comedy duo went on to make the highly popular Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), which was a modified remake of The Invisible Man Returns.
  • The Invisible Man (1958) is a British television series that ran for 26 episodes.
  • The Invisible Man (1976) is a short-lived, 13-episode TV series on NBC that contemporized the story. David McCallum was the titular star.
  • Gemini Man (1976) was the second attempt by the NBC network to turn the concept into an adventure series. It lasted only 11 episodes.
  • The Invisible Man (1984) is a six-part television miniseries produced by the BBC in England that remained faithful to the original novel.
  • Son of the Invisible Man is a spoof sequence from the comedy sketch anthology Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) which parodies the James Whale movie.
  • The Invisible Kid (1988), and The Invisible Maniac (1990) are both juvenile comedies that failed to find an audience and were quickly forgotten.
  • Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), directed by John Carpenter, is a special effects-laden science-fiction film starring Chevy Chase. It was a critical and box office disappointment.
  • The Invisible Man (2000–2002) was produced in the U.S. by the Sci Fi Channel and ran for 46 episodes. Scenes from the original Invisible Man movie appear in the opening narration.
  • Hollow Man (2000) is a science fiction horror thriller film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Elisabeth Shue, Kevin Bacon, and Josh Brolin, and was inspired by Wells' story. A direct-to-video sequel, Hollow Man 2, was released in 2006.
  • The Invisible Man is a French animated series.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Gregory Mank, "Production Background", The Invisible Man, Bear Manor Media 2013
  2. ^ a b c d e Kjolseth, Pablo "The Invisible Man" (TCM article)
  3. ^ a b c d e f TCM Notes
  4. ^ a b The Invisible Man at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ IMDB Business data
  6. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  7. ^ TCM Overview
  8. ^ IMDB Release dates
  9. ^ IMDB Taglines
  10. ^ Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed! director: David J. Skal. Universal Home Entertainment, 2000.
  11. ^ Allmovie Awards
  12. ^ Gatiss, Mark. James Whale: A Biography or the Would-Be Gentlemen, Cassell (1995) ISBN 0-304-32861-8
  13. ^ IMDB Awards

External links[edit]