THREE GUYS AND… UNIVERSAL CLASSIC MONSTERS
series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson
“THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)”
written by Dominick Cappello
“Even the moon’s frightened of me. Frightened to death.” – Dr. Jack Griffin
Written by H.G. Wells and published in 1897, The Invisible Man would be the source material for the next great Universal Classic Monster film, even if the definition of the word “monster” is being broadened a bit. H.G. Wells had been disappointed with a recent film adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau, entitled “The Island of Lost Souls,” so he demanded script approval. “The Invisible Man” wallowed in development hell with over a dozen treatments before H.G. Wells finally consented to a draft penned by R.C. Sherriff.
Carl Laemmle, Jr. was now running the studio and he wanted Boris Karloff to play Dr. Jack Griffin a.k.a The Invisble Man, but Karloff the Uncanny was a big superstar following the success of “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy” and suddenly too expensive. Director James Whale wanted Colin Clive, who had already played a mad doctor in “Frankenstein,” but Colin Clive left Hollywood and returned to his native England. James Whale instead cast stage actor Claude Rains, who had a distinctive and imposing voice, which was important because Dr. Jack Griffin’s face would not be visible until the closing moments of the film.
John P. Fulton was responsible for the visual effects, which were definitely innovative for the time. Nowadays, special effects are often used as a crutch for mediocre storytelling, but “The Invisible Man” used these tricks to enhance an already compelling story. Unlike “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” “The Invisible Man” was more or less faithful to the novel in which it was based. The major addition was Flora, the love interest for Dr. Griffin played by Gloria Stuart, who had co-starred with Boris Karloff in James Whale’s “The Old Dark House.” Also, the drug which transforms one into an invisible man was changed from “strychnine” to “monocane” for whatever bearing that had on the story.
The scenes at the Lion’s Head Inn, where Dr. Griffin reveals that he is invisible, are the most fondly remembered. James Whale was so enamored with Una O’Connor as the innkeeper’s wife that he would cast her in the virtually identical role in “The Bride of Frankenstein.” Una O’Connor’s performances in these films are polarizing. Some find her humorous while others consider her tedious. Maybe she’s a little bit of both? Keep an eye out for Dwight Frye making a cameo as a journalist and John Carradine, future Count Dracula, as the local snitch making phone calls during the manhunt for The Invisible Man.
“Frankenstein” was the story of a man who made a monster. In this case, it was a man who becomes a monster. Dr. Griffin’s megalomania knows no bounds. He vows to his beloved Flora that if he can reverse the effects of his invisibility, he will sell his secrets to the highest bidder, who could then conquer the world with invisible armies. Him giving this tyrannical speech is my favorite scene. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. A snow storm is Dr. Griffin’s undoing. He’s trapped in a burning barn. While making his escape, his footprints give him away, and he is gunned down by the authorities. On his death bed, he reconciles with Flora. After he dies, we finally see the face of Claude Rains.
H.G. Wells was a great innovator in the realm of literary science-fiction and James Whale was perhaps the ideal filmmaker to adapt his work for the silver-screen. “The Invisible Man” became a franchise. Vincent Price starred in the first sequel, “The Invisible Man Returns” in 1940, and also provided the voice of The Invisible Man when he made a cameo at the end of “Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein” in 1944. However, the less said about modern invisible mans films, the better. “Hollow Man” (2000) sucked. We haven’t see The Invisible Man since “The League of Extraordinary Gentleman” in 2003. I’m surprised Dr. Frisbee hasn’t decimated that film in one of his reviews.
– Dr. Rochester