Yesterday I discussed ground zero for invisibility in pop culture, HG Wells’ The Invisible Man. And if that book is ground zero, then Universal’s 1933 movie adaptation of that book would be ground one. Second only to Wells’ book in influence on popular culture. And, as a huge fan of the Universal Monsters series, it’s a little embarrassing that I’ve never watched Universal’s The Invisible Man with Claude Rains. It’s high time I rectified that.
Released in 1933, this movie has quite the pedigree. It’s directed by James Whale who also directed the first two Universal Frankenstein movies as well as Howard Hughes’ Hells Angels. It starred Claude Rains who, while making his American theatrical debut, would go on to star in classic movies like Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia and Mr Smith Goes to Washington. It was a fairly popular movie that would spawn at least 4 sequels with varying successful degrees of connection to this original movie. Rains would return for none of them.
I’m not sure why I never watched this movie before now. I’m well aware of the Wells’ novel and this movie based on that novel starring Claude Rains. I’ve even seen several more modern invisible man movies like Memoirs of an Invisible Man with Chevy Chase and Hollow Man with Kevin Bacon. I’m just not sure why I never went back to this movie like I did with Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man.
So, now that I’ve seen it, let’s take a look at the movie.
It was kind of funny to see the “We Do Our Part” NRA title card pop up after the classic Universal bi-plane logo. Different times, my friends.
The movie is pretty good. Nicely directed and looks pretty awesome but that’s not to be surprised since…well, James Whale. Claude Rains in his American feature film debut is pretty great as Griffin. It’s easy to see why he was picked to play the lead.
The movie itself begins “en media res” with Griffin already turned invisible and sequestering himself into a hotel room in a secluded town. Rains spends 99% of this movie completely covered in bandages or completely invisible.
The only thing we have to carry Rains’ performance, like I said, is his voice. And it totally works. His very deliberate way of speaking and the way his voice carries does everything to give the viewer what it needs for his performance. And it’s especially effective the further into the movie you get and the more insane Griffin becomes. His insane cackle is a thing to behold.
The movie was gorgeously dressed. The set pieces were huge and very finely detailed. From the hotel room and bar, to the cush offices of Rains’ former lab to the home of Gloria Stuart. There is so much movie set “eye candy” to look at it almost distracts from the movie. And I want Rains’ pimp smoking jacket in the above picture. I wonder if he got to take that home.
Not much of the supporting cast lit me on fire. The main female lead is Gloria Stuart who is probably best known for playing “Old Rose” in James Cameron’s Titanic. She is almost a non-entity in this movie, however. We also get Una O’Conner who is a veteran character actor from the 30s-40s who would also appear in Bride of Frankenstein and The Adventures of Robin Hood. She plays the wife of the innkeeper who shrilly shrieks her way through the first 20 minutes of the movie. We also get a small, uncredited appearance by John Carradine who would go on to appear in several Universal Monsters pictures like Bride of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. He actually portrayed Dracula in the last two as well as the non-Universal Billy the Kid versus Dracula from 1966.
As for the invisible effects, they hold up pretty well, actually. You can see some of the composite shots where they’ve placed footage of Rains disrobing in front of a black screen and superimposed it against the regular scene, but it’s honestly not that bad. Some of the other physical effects, like footprints in the snow are actually very artfully done.
So, this is clearly identified as an adaptation of HG Wells’ novel, The Invisible Man. So how does it hold up as an adaptation? There are several differences between the two. Some in character traits and motivations. I tried not to dwell on it too much and let Claude Rains just take me away. But the events of the movie closely follow the novel. Certain scenes are removed and certain characters are changed or modified. Like I said, though, I tried not to dwell on the differences and let the movie stand on its own.
I’d definitely recommend this movie. If only for Rains’ superb vocal performance and watching an invisible man slowly go insane. It was a really good watch and I’m glad I finally marked this one off my list. My only regret is that Hammer Studios never got around to making their own version of The Invisible Man.
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