The Invisible Man (1933)
03/15/2016 - The Invisible Man is James Whale's somewhat lighthearted but nonetheless intriguing 1933 adaptation the H.G. Wells novel with which it shares its title. From a screenplay adapted by R.C. Sherriff, this pre-code Hollywood film features some remarkable and often complex special effects, a fair dose of humor, and a cautionary warning to those who dream of what wonders our pursuit of knowledge might uncover. It's wasn't a new theme for Wells, and it doesn't feel fresh here, but this classic flick gets its kicks from fancy, not fright.
Claude Rains stars as the invisible man himself, Dr. Jack Griffin, who's managed to render himself completely transparent (save bits of undigested food, which take about an hour or so to disappear) and gotten himself into a rather peculiar situation. Reversing the effects of the experiment doesn't come easily and, pressured to appear (ahem) at work, he tries to shelter himself away at a local inn while searching for a remedy.
The Lion's Head Inn is owned and managed by a Mr. and Mrs. Hall, played by Forrester Harvey and Una O'Connor, respectively. These two are absolutely fantastic; I simply can't get enough of Una O'Connor, her performance steals every scene she's a part of (and not just because of that scream of hers). Watching her navigate that small labyrinth of bar-tops and half-doors had me giggling every time; her over-the-top personality and wild-eyed reactions were a perfect compliment to Mr. Hall's more reserved, almost timid tone. They're supporting cast members, and their parts are small, at best, but they absolutely do deserve a bit of attention and praise.
The film is almost a comedy for the first act or so; most of what happens at the Lion's Head Inn is buffered with little jokes from customers, and later a very serious and proper constable is lampooned by our invisible man. See, the whole problem with the drug concoction one must use to disappear is that it contains ingredients which will drive you mad. We know this because Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers, more than a decade before he appeared as Clarence in It's A Wonderful Life) tells us so. Which brings me to my next point...
There are just way too many boring, long-winded explanations in this movie. And not just scientific ones, but even conversations of strategy and backstory are over-told and under-shown. For a film that really excels with fantastic special effects and some striking visuals, I can't help but wonder why we're forced to listen to people talking so much. It's a strike against the craftsmanship of James Whale; it keeps The Invisible Man from being a true classic. It's still a good movie, a fun movie, full of sensationalism and shocks and thrills, but it is never great.
The effects are pretty spectacular. They're often surprisingly complex, especially considering the methods and techniques available in the early '30s. Several scenes employ multiple effects shots, combined in such a way as to make you start to wonder how they'd pulled it off. Moving objects go through doorways and windows, parts of Griffin's body transparent while others remained clothed as he dances around or interacts with the set. I was impressed, and I found watching it very enjoyable and not at all as dated as I'd expected.
The Invisible Man is a good movie: excellent pacing, believable effects, solid performances and some beautifully cinematography. It's an attempt to use extraordinary visuals to counterbalance meandering dialogue, and it very nearly succeeds.