Franchise Chronicles: THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)

 By Edward O'Hare

Welcome to the Franchise Chronicles, a movie-by-movie look at the development and evolution of cinema’s most enduring sagas. I am currently exploring the classic Universal Monsters and this week’s movie is The Invisible Man (1933) directed by James Whale.

I am not sure the invisible Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) can be considered a Monster in the technical sense. He is a man born in the modern era and inflicts his condition upon himself. However the themes explored in this classic paired with the visual style of James Whale’s follow-up to Frankenstein definitely make this film a cornerstone of the Universal Monsters canon.
Last week, I pointed out that The Mummy used the same narrative structure as Dracula. Well, the first half of The Invisible Man feels very much like Frankenstein. Try this one on for size: A scientist becomes obsessed with a controversial discovery and abandons his colleagues and a beautiful fiancé that deserves better than him to conduct his research in secret. The scientist eventually loses control and his creation terrorizes a village before being hunted down and destroyed. The most crucial difference between the two films is that in this case the doctor and the monster are the same person.

Dr. Griffin’s intelligence and mad lust for power potentially make him the most dangerous villain we have encountered yet. We do not see Rains in the flesh until the final seconds of the film. So he has to build his entire performance out of his voice and gestures. Yet Rains has no difficulty making this character complex, layered and scary. The simple fact that I could not see Griffin made him much more frightening to me and his taunts really built up the tension.

"Guys, I need an opinion on my make over..."
Another unique aspect of the story is the additional time spent with the villagers. Instead of fleeing to an empty castle like Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Griffin buys a room at a crowded country inn. Since Rains doesn’t have the benefit of facial expressions, the best way the audience can understand him is by the way the other characters react to him. So we get to bond with a bar full of lovable drunks and the anxious hostess Jenny Hall (in a remarkable performance from Una O’Connor). This makes us feel more invested in these characters when Griffin attacks them. I also have a particular fondness for the London police, who do the best they can under the circumstances but end up looking like Keystone Cops through most of the film.

"You can't see my face, but trust me, it's smug."
Visually The Invisible Man definitely feels like a Universal Monster movie. Plenty of scenes take place at night. Plus, we get the harsh wilderness of the mountains in winter and ornate Victorian interior design. The nature of the special effects also help this film stand out from the pack. Keep in mind that this was made about 50 years before computer generation was used in movies, so the only possible conclusion we can come to is that THESE EFFECTS ARE PURE MAGIC! YOU WANNA FIGHT ABOUT IT, BRO!! This technology did not exist in 1933. They had to invent it as they went along. Modern green screen technology basically operates on the same principle used in the shots where Griffin strips his clothes or when we see a pair of pajamas pace around on its own. I am fairly confident that the shots of objects flying around and people being choked by nothing would be executed in the same fashion today. It is the shocked reactions of the actors that really sell those effects. The makeup design for our first three villains was revolutionary but this was the first time I found myself rewinding and pausing the movie to figure out how they did that.

"It's called a Podcast, it's internet radio basically..."
Next week we will explore our first direct sequel in the Monsters films: The Bride of Frankenstein.

Edward O’Hare, nickname TBD, has been poking around the deep caverns of pop culture for some years now. His hobbies include making Starfleet org charts and badgering people who haven’t seen the Adventures of Captain Marvel movie serial from 1941. He one day dreams of teaching Bill Simmons that superheroes and pro athletes are not all that different.

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