Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Invisible Man (1933)

In tradition to Universal Pictures’ success in the early 1930s, the studio had a steady amount of horror films hitting theaters feeding audiences with abnormal creatures, beings, or people that made the public squirm or scream. November of 1933 marked the release of yet another would be classic in the adaptation of the H.G. Wells’ novel The Invisible Man. Instead of a creepy monster with great strength or supernatural powers our protagonist is a mad man who cannot be seen, and terrorizes the multitudes. Many individuals may be afraid of the dark, but now they will be afraid in the daylight for their fears are that what can’t be seen even in the bright of day. Brilliant special effects and a gripping story created by one of the master storytellers of his time would help create one of the great films of Universal’s growing library of horror movies.

The Invisible Man is science fiction horror picture about a brilliant scientist who discovers a substance that makes himself invisible, but also mad, and the desperate attempt of his friends to save him from his madness. The picture begins with the mysterious man, who turns out to be the already invisible Dr. Griffin (Claude Rains) simply wrapped in bandages, as he desperately tries to find the cure to his ailment of being invisible. Having discovered a chemical that turns one’s body translucent, it is also made known that the chemical’s other affect is that tampers with the mind, making Griffin mad and a much more violent man. In efforts to help Griffin his friend Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan), his mentor Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), and his girlfriend Flora (Gloria Stuart) all try to find and aid him, but Griffin has nothing of it, resulting in the murder of Kemp. It isn’t long after he terrorizes many and murders a few that a large mob of policemen would come to hunt down this invisible murderer that Griffin had become, ultimately ending his own death, finally reappearing on his deathbed.

The picture is quite gripping. Unlike the previous Universal horror films, this one stays relatively close to the original story envisioned by the famed Wells. The only major change to the story would be that the chemical that deems Griffin invisible also make him mad, an aspect Wells did not like, but would seem to motivate the story for the screen. The film is well written and uses some great special effects and master camera work to bring to life the idea of a man that is not seen moving within the frame. With the lack of an absolutely fantastical monster or paranormal creature, this picture seems more grounded as, despite absolute invisibility being in reality a physical impossibility, it feels real. Claude Rains, or at least his voice, plays the part of a mad man drunk on his new knowledge very well. You feel that this is what a man with this kind of knowledge and a slight mental instability would do. It is a story of madness, mass hysteria, and love lost. It is a tragic tale of a once great man who becomes too consumed in his work that it hurts those who care the most for him.

Revolutionary special effects brought the invisble man to life.
James Whale, veteran director of Waterloo Bridge and Frankenstein, was intrigued by horror films and would be brought on to direct The Invisible Man. Once again we see is mastery of his psychological/supernatural storytelling. After Frankenstein in 1931, Whale tried and failed at a handful of other horror films until he would hit again with this picture. The special effects and camera work he would use was amazing at selling the idea of this man roaming around. With the use of Rains dressed in black filmed in front of a black screen unwrapping the bandages created an effect that allowed Rains to appear invisible when spliced in with other backgrounds, a cutting edge effect for its time, helping to create the illusion of an invisible man. This effect tied together with dummies in bandages and fishing line-style effects tied to camera moves completely created this man that was in fact never to be seen.  Whale was once again at the top of his game, unfortunately it would only be downhill from here on out for the director as his movies would start to slip in quality.
The frighteningly bandaged Invisible Man.

To star in as the main character, a man never seen until the very end of the picture, was Hollywood unknown by the name of Claude Rains. A veteran of the English stage, Rains was in his first real motion picture of his career (he did acts in one silent picture, but that was in 1920, not a good experience for him, and was not well known), and despite his wonderful voice, he was not the studio’s first choice. Boris Karloff was Universal’s intended star, but contract disputes severed that plan, and after many other considerations Whale would want the sophisticated voice of Rains to command the screen with his character. When on screen Rains was mainly wrapped in bandages or wearing the black suit that made him mostly invisible (commonly only seeing parts of his body, so two things were done to help the filmmaking: dubbed lines either prerecorded or recorded in post-production, and the use of a stand in for Rains for some scenes (he stated many times the outfits was very uncomfortable). All that aside Rains does a marvelous job creating this character that becomes consumed with himself. It is clear to see Rains’ future will be bright in Hollywood.

With stunning effects and a great story The Invisible Man would go on to do very well for itself. The New York Times would name the picture as one of the year’s best. Whale would be honored at the Venice Film Festival for his work on the picture. The film spawned yet another franchise for Universal to over use throughout many years with sequels and re-imaginings with such titles as The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman (1940), and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944). The picture proves to be one of the all time great horror movies along the ranks of Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. It sits in the Library of Congress as one of the country’s all time treasured films. The Invisible Man was yet another film that captures the imaginations of moviegoers and reminds us of why we love going to the movies.

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