The Invisible Man
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The signature adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man stars Claude Rains as a mysterious scientist who discovers a serum that makes him invisible. Covered by bandages and dark glasses, the scientist arrives at a small English village and attempts to hide his amazing discovery. He soon realizes, however, that the same drug which renders him invisible is slowly driving him insane and capable of committing unspeakable acts of terror. Directed by James Whale, the horror classic features groundbreaking special effects by John P. Fulton that inspired many of the techniques that are still used today.
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So the story begins there, with the drollery of a perplexed, and somewhat dimwitted, Kemp, having to deal with the intelligence, strength, and eccentricities of the Invisible Man... But, as we learn from the outstanding initial scene at the Country Inn, it is not wise to cross him. The former Dr. Griffin's only soft spot is for Flora: for whom he was engaged to, and towards which his senses seem to reappear, if only momentarily. This is a great Science Fiction-Horror film that will always remain as such, for it's taut direction and screenplay (it is only 71 minutes long), special effects and cinematography, and brilliant voice-over by Rains. [The recent remake by Paul Verhoeven was a disappointment, given his talents.] Interestingly, this is one of the very few (Sci-Fi) Horror films -- though granted somewhat tame by modern standards -- that does successfully integrate humour with horror: and I presume it does so, because it is so dry.
Pure and simple classic. The first quote above (in the review's title) is from the film. The second quote above comes from Wells' novel, not the movie. But I think the latter shows where the movie is faithful to the spirit of the novel, as well can serve to summarize, where it departs.
In the book, there is no love interest, Flora (thankfully, not 'Wall Flower' and neither book nor film has a character, called Fauna), let alone a triangle between the Invisible Man and Kemp, the fellow scientist who learns the invisible man's true identity. How far the screenplay departs can be measured by Griffin telling Flora that he did his experiments, and made himself invisible, for her. Of course, he says this when he is crazy, so maybe that is not the real reason. The film explains the anti-hero's madness simply as a side effect of the chemicals he used to make himself invisible. Earlier fables and folklore about invisibility typically saw unscrupulousness as a consequence of the unaccountability in transparency. Wells' idea invokes none of these. Griffin gradually absolves himself from personal relationships and social commitments even before he becomes invisible; his sinister invisibility is the symbol of his intensifying voluntary moral collapse. His madness is a side-effect only of his escalating isolation, spiraling out of control, beyond his anticipation and even notice. The novel is Jeremy Bentham meets Fyodor Dostoyevsky. His tragic fate is the consequence of his inability to escape being, in the end, still someone, a human being.
Neither book nor film has a happy ending. In the book, Kemp does not die, nor is he quite the sniveling coward of the film. A bridge between the book and film can be found in Flora's sensitivity, who understands and witnesses to the invisible man's humanity, however wounded and shattered. She stands in contrast to the Innkeeper, a comical and camp character who was only interested in seeing in the invisible man a ghost, depicted as responding with strained, theatrical stares and belabored screams (perhaps only to enhance a story to tell her patrons later on), which leads even her invisibly assaulted husband to tell her to shut up. The Innkeeper is hardly the only one with antics; the characters roundly have them, including the constable who lives for the opportunity to step up and say, 'now what's all this...' Yet this is not to the effect of the audience looking down on these extras, but rather to mark a negative example, that even the invisible man deserves better. Through these characters the audience laughs at itself, even if not sharing the particular foible. (I remember laughing as a kid at the faceless and nameless man shown nailing up his house--'I'll keep him out'--how will he himself get out or in?) The Innkeeper's antics, played masterfully comic by Una O'connor, do not steal the show, even though Flora is really no more than another spectator, she does little more than cry. Henry Travers (Clarence, of, 'It's a Wonderful Life') does a great supporting role as Flora's saintly scientist father, who shares her concern for Griffin, but a bit as a doting dad. In the film, it is Kemp who is the loser, who only makes a futile attempt to turn the tragic situation to score points with Flora: 'Straightforward scientists have no need for barred doors and drawn blinds. He cares nothing for you, Flora. He'll never care about anything but test-tubes and chemicals.'
The film is an iconic classic, not to be missed by Wells' fans or any science fiction enthusiast. Made during Wells' lifetime, with apparently some influence by Wells himself (if only in the form of partly effective protests), it is often camp, almost a comedy, but not quite. In its more serious moments the feel of the film is much the same as in the novel, especially the beginning, as a bandaged Invisible Man arrives seeking a room and a fire as an off-season guest, in a well frequented pub and Inn of a small English village, where everyone knows everybody, except him. So much of this film is unforgettable, particularly Claude Rains with his cultured dialect accenting mad laughter and rolling speeches portraying a half psychotic invisible megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur. The humor of the film augments, rather than taints the drama; it is immune to, or even anticipates, the satires catering to generations of audiences familiar with its well-worn and memorable images. The Son of the Invisible Man can only make you like the original more, not less. While the screenplay does make some grand departures from Wells' novel, by not taking itself too seriously, the film still succeeds to tell a morality tale in the genre of science fiction about the perils of 'invisibility.' Watch it as an episode of the Twilight Zone; you'll love it.
By 1930s standards the special effects are impressive; most, are even flawless. Unraveling the bandages to reveal empty space, smoking a cigarette and undressing before a mirror were masterstrokes. The tagline for Christopher Reeves' Superman was, 'you will believe a man can fly.' The tagline for this film could have been, 'you will believe a man can be invisible.'