The Invisible Woman (1940 film)

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This article is about 1940 film. For other uses, see Invisible Woman (disambiguation).
The Invisible Woman
Theatrical release poster of The Invisible Woman
Theatrical release poster
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Produced by Burt Kelly
Written by
Screenplay by
Based on The Invisible Man 
by H.G. Wells
Music by Frank Skinner
Cinematography Elwood Bredell
Edited by Frank Gross
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • December 27, 1940 (1940-12-27)
Running time
72 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $269,062[1]
Box office $659,600[1]

The Invisible Woman is an American science fiction comedy film that was released near the end of 1940 by Universal. It is the third 'Invisible' film following The Invisible Man and The Invisible Man Returns, which had been released earlier in the year. It was more of a screwball comedy than other films in the series.[2]


The wealthy lawyer Dick Russell (John Howard) funds the dotty old inventor Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore) to create an invisibility device. The first test subject for this machine is Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce), a department store model who had been fired from her previous job. The machine proves quite successful, and Kitty uses her invisible state to pay back her former sadistic boss, Mr. Growley (Charles Lane).

While the Professor and the invisible Kitty are off visiting the lodge of the millionaire Russell, the gangster Blackie Cole (Oscar Homolka) sends in his gang of moronic thugs (including Shemp Howard) to steal the device. With the machine back at their hideout, however, they cannot get it to work. By now Kitty has returned to visibility, and the thugs are sent in to kidnap her and Gibbs. However, she has learned that some alcohol will restore her to invisibility, and uses this to defeat the gang (with help from Russell).

At the end of the film it is revealed she has married and become a mother. To top it off, she and the professor learn that her treatment has apparently become hereditary—as her infant son vanishes upon being rubbed with an alcohol-based lotion.


The cast included the aging John Barrymore, Virginia Bruce in the lead role, as well as John Howard, Charlie Ruggles, Margaret Hamilton, Charles Lane and Oscar Homolka.

Margaret Sullavan had originally been slated for the role of the invisible woman, but the part did not appeal to her and as a result she did not report for the filming.[3] (As she was under contract with Universal for another film, she was issued a restraining order to prevent her from appearing in other films. She later satisfied her contract with a part in the 1941 film Back Street.)

Maria Montez makes an appearance among some models and says one line.[4]


The comedic writers Robert Lees and Fred Rinaldo wrote the screenplay in slapstick style, while H. G. Wells was again credited as the original author of The Invisible Man. The film was directed by A. Edward Sutherland.

This film runs for 70 minutes and was filmed in black and white with mono sound. The special effects were produced by John P. Fulton, who earned another nomination for an Oscar following his comparable effects work in The Invisible Man Returns. John D. Hall also was nominated for the Oscar.[5]

The John Howard who appears in the film and in several Bulldog Drummond films with Barrymore, is not the John Howard who married Barrymore's daughter, Diana , in 1947.


Reviews from critics were mixed. Theodore Strauss of The New York Times called the film "silly, banal and repetitious ... The script is as creaky as a two-wheeled cart and were it not for the fact that John Barrymore is taking a ride in it we hate to think what 'The Invisible Woman' might have turned out to be."[6] Variety called it, "Good entertainment for general audiences."[7] Film Daily called it "laugh-packed," "brightly dialogued" and "a lot of fun."[8] Harrison's Reports declared it "a pretty good comedy for the masses ... but it does not offer anything new to those who saw the other pictures in which the character became invisible."[9] John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote, "The old stunt is still good, yet it's not used to much advantage here ... In fact, this is the feeblest example so far of that stunt which the camera can so easily make funny."[10]

At the time of its release, this film was considered slightly risqué because much is made of the fact that the heroine, though invisible, is naked during much of the action.[3]


The film was remade in 1982 as a television pilot starring Bob Denver as a scientist who turns his journalist niece invisible and Alexa Hamilton in the title role.


  1. ^ a b Gregory Mank, "Production Background", The Invisible Man, Bear Manor Media 2013
  2. ^ The Invisible Woman article at Turner Classic Movies accessed 10 January 2014
  3. ^ a b Hallenbeck, Bruce G. (2009), Comedy-Horror Films: A Chronological History, 1914-2008, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, pp. 31–32, ISBN 978-0-7864-3332-2 
  4. ^ The Invisible Woman at Maria Montez Fan Page
  5. ^ "The 14th Academy Awards (1942) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  6. ^ Strauss, Theodore (January 9, 1941). "Movie Review - The Invisible Woman". The New York Times. Retrieved November 26, 2015. 
  7. ^ "The Invisible Woman". Variety (New York: Variety, Inc.): p. 14. January 1, 1941. 
  8. ^ "Reviews of New Films". Film Daily (New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.): p. 7. January 7, 1941. 
  9. ^ "'The Invisible Woman' with John Barrymore, Virginia Bruce and John Howard". Harrison's Reports: p. 7. January 11, 1941. 
  10. ^ Mosher, John (January 11, 1941). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker (New York: F-R Publishing Corp.): p. 61. 


  • Michael Brunas; John Brunas; Tom Weaver, Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946, McFarland & Co., 1990, ISBN 0-89950-369-1.

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