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  Invisible Man, The Out Of Sight, Out Of His Mind
Year: 1933
Director: James Whale
Stars: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Henry Travers, E.E. Clive, Una O'Connor, Forrester Harvey, Holmes Herbert, Dudley Digges, Harry Stubbs, Donald Stuart, Merle Tottenham, John Carradine, Dwight Frye, Walter Brennan
Genre: Horror, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is a winter evening and the snow is falling heavily on the countryside around the tiny village of Iping. But who is this mysterious stranger making his way through the inclement weather? At the local inn, The Lion's Head, the townsfolk are enjoying themselves with darts, beer and music, but they are unprepared for the figure that throws open the door, a man (Claude Rains) who is wrapped up against the cold, but wearing dark glasses and apparently bandages as well. He asks for a room, although none are ready at this time of year, and is reluctantly furnished with one. All he asks is that his luggage be brought from the station as soon as possible, and that he be left alone in peace and quiet, for he needs time... time to experiment...

This, the best version of The Invisible Man was, of course, based on the classic novel by H.G. Wells, and adapted by R.C. Sherriff. Coming along amongst the popular horror hits of the early thirties, it was a big success and made Rains a star, even though we see his face for mere seconds. Such was his force of personality that his villain, a scientist named Jack Griffin, is by far the most vivid character in the film and naturally what the whole story hinges on. We learn from a scene with his former colleagues, Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) and Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), and his girlfriend, Cranley's daughter Flora (Gloria Stuart), that Griffin has disappeared after conducting experiments in secret, and we can tell what it's done to him by the title of the movie.

The man responsible for directing some of the best horror hits of the age, including this one, was James Whale, whose sense of humour shows strongly in the first act which is mainly played for laughs. All at the expense of the villagers, too, I might add, as the nosey landlady (Una O'Connor) has a habit of bursting in on Griffin when least wanted. It's she who sees him with half the bandages off his face as he eats his meal (she forgot to bring him the mustard), and deduces he has been in a terrible accident, as she's happy to tell the folks at the inn. But a week goes by and the new lodger hasn't paid his rent, meaning he and his experiments need to go, despite his pleading.

It is at this point when the atmosphere of mounting hysteria begins to make itself apparent, as Griffin attacks the landlord and the local policeman is called to arrest him. Now the scientist reveals himself as he whips off his false nose and dark glasses, and unwraps the bandages in a highly entertaining special effects showcase for technician John P. Fulton. There weren't many nineteen-thirties Hollywood films with nudity, but this is one of them as Griffin parades around in the buff, unseen by the villagers as he strangles the policeman as a diversion, then makes mischief with the rest of the bystanders. Before, he had been obsessed with finding an antidote to his condition, almost as a tragic figure, but now he's seeing the advantages.

Those advantages are displayed with a collection of still impressive tricks: we see Griffin ride a bicycle, smoke a cigarette, and even pick a policeman up by his feet and swing him around until his trousers fall off, which he then wears, skipping along the road and singing. Although the chemicals in his system have granted him invisibility, they have also cursed him with a megalomania and when he tracks down Kemp to persuade him to join him as an ally, he makes his plans clear: Griffin will take over the world with his new powers, and murder not only those who get in his way, but those who don't, just as a demonstration. In fact, he's a remarkably petty and vindictive psychopath, seeing no difference between knocking someone's hat off or crashing a train and killing all the passengers. Although the acting can be shrill, this suits the mix of panic and impishness, and The Invisible Man remains a highly enjoyable example of the heights that early sound chillers could reach.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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