Countdown to Halloween – The Invisible Man (1933)

To countdown to this year’s Halloween, Luke Owen reviews a different horror film every day of October. Next up, The Invisible Man…

Adapted from the classic H.G. Wells novel of the same name, The Invisible Man and is considered to be one of the best of the classic Universal Monster Movies, and it spawned several sequels/spin-offs – though none ever touched the brilliance of James Whale’s original. The story of a man who goes insane from his own brilliance is beautifully told with sublime direction and a captivating performance.

One of the reasons why The Invisible Man is beloved by many are the ground-breaking practical effects to show off the mistake of Jack Griffin’s science. For 1933, the sight of a man taking off bandages around his head to reveal nothing underneath must have been incredible, but even here in 2013 these clever effects still hold up. The invisibility effects do not look like cheap and careful planning and execution was put in place to ensure that they stood the test of time better than some CGI Invisible Man attempts like Hollow Man (which we’ll cover tomorrow). In an age where you can do practically anything with a computer and a few mouse clicks, this is the kind of movie magic that can still take your breath away and make your jaw drop.

However the effects are not the only thing that make The Invisible Man such a remarkable movie. Part of an actor’s repertoire is the use of facial expressions to show emotion and this can often help move a good performance into a great one. Due to the nature of the character, Claude Rains doesn’t have this to rely upon as he has only his voice to carry across every emotion and emotive action the character has – and he does this to an incredible degree. Much like Bela Lugosi as Dracula or Boris Karloff as Imhotep, Rains’ tone, pitch and line delivery makes the character of Griffin larger than life. Whether he is lashing out at the people around him or singing maniacally while skipping down a country lane, Rains epitomises The Invisible Man and he steals every scene that he is in. Director James Whale initially planned to cast Boris Karloff in the role of Jack Griffin, having worked with him on Frankenstein and his brilliant performance in The Mummy, but he rejected the role for the sole purpose that his face would not be on screen until the very last shot of the movie. While there is little doubt that Karloff would have been great as Griffin, there isn’t chance he could have topped the brilliance of Rains.

Unlike Rains though, there is a performance that will either make you laugh or turn you off from the movie completely – the role of Jenny Hall, portrayed by Una O’Conner. A firm favourite of director James Whale (he would cast her again in The Bride of Frankenstein), O’Conner’s spends the majority of her screentime either complaining obnoxiously to her husband Herbert or shrieking at the top of her lungs. The whole thing is played for laughs which means it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the movie’s tone, but moreover it’s just gets plain annoying after a while. Having said that, H.G.Wells, who didn’t really like the movie, thought she was great.

From a technical standpoint, The Invisible Man is hands down best of the classic Universal Monster Movies, but from it could also challenge the legends of Dracula and Frankenstein in terms of performances and quality. Claude Rains is outstanding, it features wonderful costume designs, great direction with a fantastic script and rarely does the movie put a foot wrong. O’Conner’s performance aside, this is near flawless and the practical effects are impressive even by today’s standards. It’s sequels regressed in terms of quality as well as visual effects and attempts to bring the character back to the big screen have mostly failed, but James Whale’s The Invisible Man is a masterpiece in filmmaking and will be hard to better.

Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.

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