The Invisible Man
Release year: 1933
Director: James Whale
Screenwriter: R.C. Sherriff, Preston Sturges, Philip Wylie, H.G. Wells (Novel)
Starring: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Henry Travers, Una O’Connor, Forrester Harvey
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #20, week 43 2014
A mysterious man shows up at Lion’s Head Inn, covered from head to toe, asking for a room. It soon becomes clear to the people in the village that there is something very wrong about the stranger and when one day his anger is raised, they find out excactly how wrong.
Based on the book from 1897 by H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man tells the story of the scientist Griffin and his groundbreaking invention, which, unfortunately, turns out to have some side effects he wasn’t aware of. The village setting which is a big part of the movie, is one of the coziest ever seen, making it that more disturbing when something unnatural and eerie enters the frame. The natural curiousness small town people meet strangers with works well as a catalyst for the story and once it has begun it is like a snowball rolling down a snowclad hill: unstoppable and growing. The character of the invisible man is very rich, though we recieve limited information about his background we feel we know what and who he is, and it says a lot about the acting skills of Claude Rains (Lawrence of Arabia 1962) that he manages to show as many emotions as he does without his face being visible. The specail effects are magnificent considering the time in which is was made, and even though you can sometimes see the obvious fakeness, most of the effects actually holds up incredibly well and none of them ever fail in a way that disturbs the movie. In spite of it having a bleak story and being a horror movie, albeit a dramatic one and not a straight horror, it is surprisingly funny and extremely entertaining. The reactions of people who are subject to Griffin’s invisibility seems genuine and will put a smile on your face, right until the situation grows dire and freezes the smile on your face. It is not a scare-you-shitless kinda story, more a comfortable, cozy watch for a sunday evening. It does however tell a gripping story that will keep you interested as you follow Griffin in his descent into a greater and greater madness which is delivered with great acting and by a beautifully written script staying loyal to the original Words.
In order to achieve the effect that Claud Rains wasn’t there when his character took off the bandages, the director had Rains dressed completely in black velvet and filmed him in front of a black velvet background.
According to information given on TCM before the movie is shown, Claude Rains was also chosen for the role because he spoke with such clarity and could be easily understood. This was important since he was ‘invisible’ or his face was covered for almost the entire film.
When screenwriter R.C. Sherriff came to Hollywood to write the screenplay, he asked the staff at Universal for a copy of the H.G. Wells novel he was supposed to be adapting. They didn’t have one; all they had were 14 “treatments” done by previous writers on the project, including one set in Czarist Russia and one set on Mars. Sherriff eventually found a copy of the novel in a secondhand bookstore, read it, thought it would make an excellent picture as it stood, and wrote a script that (unlike the Universal versions of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931)) was a close adaptation of the book.
Picture copyright: UIP