The Invisible Man (1933)
Overview: A scientist turns himself invisible with the unfortunate side effect of murderous insanity.
In Media Res: I went into this movie expecting one thing and getting another. Perhaps experiences with other movies like this, in which a scientist experiments on themselves with hideous results, had created a template in my mind that I expected this movie to follow. I was expecting to meet a young scientist, possibly a little foolhardy or arrogant, definitely obsessed with his work, who is trying to make a breakthrough with invisibility. Eventually, he does and gradually goes mad as the chemicals used in the experiment warp his brain. How refreshing then that the movie opens with Dr. Griffin already vanished and feeling the effects of experience on his psyche as he arrives at a pub in the middle of the night, wrapped head to toe in bandages and wearing big black goggles.
Pace and Tone: Removing the origin story for Griffin means that the movie can hit the ground running. In much the same way that a good sequel is free from exposition so can dive into a plot headfirst, so can this movie. It is not until 30 minutes in that we actually have someone talk about the invisibility experiment but through context and other dialogue we’re able to infer what has happened to Griffin. Freed from having to have a first act in which Griffin is visible before the experiment the story begins with Griffin already mostly mad and already completely invisible.
The tone of this movie is all over the place. Sometimes it seems like a slapstick comedy with dumb policemen, comically screaming women, and invisible antics like hats floating from people’s heads into the river and bikes riding themselves. Other times it is a horror movie with grisly murders and the creeping terror of hearing Claude Rains’ rich, enunciated tones without being able to see him as he throttles people.
Special Effects: Whenever I watch one of these Universal Horrors I find myself thinking about the audience of the time and how they would have reacted to what they were seeing. With The Invisible Man, I can only imagine they would have shit their pants when Rains undoes his bandages and reveal nothing beneath. Even I, a witty, urbane, 21st Century man, thought it was incredible to see this manically giggling villain vanish more and more with each unfurled bandage, and at one point yelled at my TV, “Run! Get out of the room and lock him in!”
Overall: A fantastic movie. Opening the movie, like the book, with Griffin already invisible/mad and going from there is a masterstroke and from there the movie’s pace doesn’t let up. Claude Rains is a fantastically effective villain who only lacks a worthy hero to face. The imagery of the bandaged man with the big glasses is iconic enough to have basically shaped every portrayal of invisible people since, and is still chilling 80 years later.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures