February 8, 2013

The Invisible Man (1933)
Grade: 70/100

Director: James Whale
Stars: Claude Rains, William Harrigan, Gloria Stuart

What it's about. This thriller, horror movie, comedy, and early talkie is set in England. Ill-tempered mad scientist Claude Rains (in his first notable screen role) has created a potion to make him invisible. In Dr. Jekyll fashion, he would like to return to normal, if only to court his angst-ridden fiancée Gloria Stuart, but the Mr. Hyde half of his personality prefers to launch a wave of homicidal terror.

Stuart's father, kindly milquetoast Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), would like to help Rains, but instead Rains chooses to work with Cranley's useless and cowardly assistant, Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan). Their relationship ends badly.

Rains concentrates his adventures in the small village of Ipping, causing chaos particularly in a tavern run by the easily frightened Una O'Connor and her blockheaded husband Forrester Harvey. Hapless bobby E.E. Clive is no match for Rains, so bigwig Holmes Herbert is brought in to corner and kill Rains, despite the difficulty this will impose on Universal in making a sequel.

How others will see it. Universal during the early sound era seemed to specialize in horror movies, with Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man among their other influential efforts. The special effects are pretty good, and director James Whale and the lead Claude Rains remain highly regarded to this day.

The movie was ignored by the Academy Awards, which did not take the horror genre seriously (not even Frankenstein managed a nomination). But more importantly, it was a box office success, and launched a long and notable career for Rains, though primarily in key supporting roles.

Today at imdb.com, The Invisible Man has a respectable 13K user votes and a high user rating of 7.7. There is a substantial gender gap, particularly among women over 45, who grade it only 6.0. This is likely due to Stuart's character, which is comically impassioned and disturbed over Rains' disappearance, madness, and status as a hunted outlaw. Any respectable woman would simply move on to greener pastures.

How I felt about it. Besides Stuart's incredulous performance, we are also curious about the decisions made by Rains. I certainly can accept that he would conduct dangerous experiments in secret. But it is foolish to go to an unfamiliar village, where he will be scrutinized as an eccentric and frightening outsider, to try to return to visibility. His best bet is to 'fess up to Henry Travers, despite any loss of pride that might ensue.

More to the point, if you are to conduct a reign of terror as an invisible man, it is much more effective not to let everyone know that you are invisible. That is, snuff people out when you have them alone, instead of in a group where you are far more likely to be discovered or caught. But then again, mad scientists aren't known for shrewd judgment.