Sunday, September 30, 2012

See the Invisible: "The Invisible Man" (1933)

Between this film and the two "Frankenstein" entries, James Whale cemented a reputation as a great director that lasts even seventy years later.

Beware: I got spoilers ahead! The great Claude Rains is Griffin, a bandage-swathed stranger who insists on a room and privacy from innkeeper Hall (Forrest Harvey) and his wife Jenny (the always shrill Una O'Connor). Upstairs, far away from the drunk and curious crowd, Griffin tries desperately to reverse the scientific experiments that rendered him invisible.

Meanwhile, Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers) and his melodramatic daughter Flora (Gloria Stuart, now better known for her role in "Titanic") wonder just where the heck Griffin disappeared (ha!) to. Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan), Cranley's other assistant, the one you can see, promises Flora he will find Griffin and they will change him back to normal. The problem is one of the chemicals Griffin uses not only caused his invisibility, but will drive him insane.

Griffin blows up at the inn, assaulting the barflies, and bursts out into the street, causing harmless havoc there. The entire incident is blamed on mass drunkenness, and no one believes the townspeople. Griffin finds Kemp and enlists his help to get back to the little town and retrieve his notes. There, Griffin murders for the first time, beating a police inspector to death.

As the English countryside falls out to find the man, Griffin goes completely nuts. He kills twenty of his searchers, and derails a train- killing another one hundred. He also decides to kill Kemp, promising him when. Now the police have a definite time and place where Griffin will be, and make elaborate plans to capture him. Unfortunately, Griffin is pretty bright, and finds a way to get Kemp. Even the love of a good Flora does not help Griffin, who makes a simple mistake and is finally dealt with. On his death, we see Griffin's uncovered face for the first time.

Whale's direction here is not as hurried as "The Bride of Frankenstein," although the film is a very brief seventy one minutes. The cast is very capable, and Whale uses his camera on these faces well. The alcoholics in the bar are unforgettable, and Stuart and Harrigan are really the only "good looking" people here. Rains does a great job acting while off camera or wrapped in bandages. In the end, he looks like Liberace, but up until then his performance is great.

The special effects? Brilliant, whether for a 1933 film or not. Forget CGI, the effects here are very good and very funny. Imagination seems to have inspired them, not a film formula or control groups. There are a couple of gaffes here and there, but that is it. Based on H.G. Wells' novel, this was followed by a few sequels, but this is the most entertaining film of the series.

In the end, The Invisible Man" is total fun. It will not change your life, but it is more interesting and suspenseful than anything else playing out there even now. A classic film that holds up decades later. (* * * * *) out of five stars.