Discs Are Rated
The Invisible Man
review by Anthony D.
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Starring Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart
Directed by James Whale
Retail Price: 29.99
Features: Production Notes, Commentary by Film
Historian Paul M. Jensen, Documentary, Trailer
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Frame, 2.0 Dolby Digital English
Mono, English Captions, Chapter Search
On a cold, snowy night, a mysterious man covered from
head to toe in bandages, requests a room and supper at The
Lion's Head, a quaint inn in a nameless village. After the
arrival of this man, strange things begin to happen in the
surrounding village. The innkeeper's wife attributes the
strangeness to the angry mysterious man, and when forced to
evict the man for breaking her best china, the man is
discovered to be, well, invisible. Is there really an
invisible man, or is it a case of mass hysteria that causes
the villagers to wreak havoc and engage in vigilante force?
Thus begins James Whale's classic 1933 film adaptation of
H. G. Wells science-fiction novel THE INVISIBLE MAN, the
start of yet another lucrative franchise for Universal
Pictures. Following this,there were at least six INVISIBLE
appearances on screen, seven if you count the hilarious
parody "Son of the Invisible Man" in the otherwise
forgettable AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON. The INVISIBLE trend
continues today with the success of the Kevin Bacon thriller
THE HOLLOW MAN, and has been with us from ancient times - -
think of all those "magic" helmets in Greek mythology that
allowed the wearer to become see-through.
Clocking in at a brisk 71 minutes, Whale's INVISIBLE MAN,
unforgettably portrayed by Claude Rains, is yet another mad
scientist bent on world domination. Once he discovers the
power of invisibility, he becomes a power-hungry monster,
killing at will, but for the most part, playing harmless
little tricks on people. The most shocking thing that the
invisible man does in the first half of the film is upset a
baby carriage - - complete with a baby! Sardonic humor, a
typical Whale trait, plays a vital role, more so today than
in the 1930's when the film was made. Whale's mark is all
over this film - - huge floral arrangements, the theme of
ordinary people versus out-of-control science as well as the
most interesting faces the screen would not see the likes of
again until Fellini picked up a camera!
THE INVISIBLE MAN is presented in full-frame black and
white,with a transfer that I am sorry to say is not up to
the normal standards associated with the Classic Monster
Collection. THE INVISIBLE MAN is in horrible shape. I don't
think that I was able to spot a single frame without
speckling, artifacts or scratches.Occasionally a water mark
will work its way onto the frame as well. Happily, though,
there is buried beneath the marks, a finely-tuned grayscale
picture. The blacks are as solid as can be, and every shade
of gray is discernable. Surprisingly, the dated special
effects shots are still believable. Unless you've seen the
accompanying documentary, you'll more than likely be
scratching your head, wondering how they did it. It is
truly a shame that the film itself is in as bad of shape as
it is, since Universal's other Classic Monsters show nowhere
near the wear and tear visible on THE INVISIBLE MAN.
The audio, on the other hand is perfect. Dolby Digital
2.0 mono, with no harshness, and a perfect tone to Claude
Rains' mellifluous voice. Since we never see Rains' face,
his voice must carry the film.
Although lacking a trailer, the supplemental material
(produced by David Skal) is just what I've come to expect
from Universal and their Classic Monster Collection.
Starting off the bonus material is the informative
documentary "Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed."
Though this documentary concentrates more on the career of
James Whale than I would like, at the very least it offers
an intriguing look at the still-special special effects.
Interviewees include Claude Rains' daughter, David Skal,
Sir Ian McKellan and Rudy Behlmer, but not co-star Gloria
Stuart. What's up with that? She is interviewed for
Whale's THE OLD DARK HOUSE, as well as Bill Condon's GODS
AND MONSTERS, but NOT for a film where she is given second
billing. Gloria is not given such short shrift however, in
the Feature Commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer.
Behlmer speaks without breaks throughout the film's
seventy-one minute running time, giving wonderful
biographical sketches of each actor, no matter how small
their role, as well as giving almost complete filmographies.
Rudy's commentaries are always welcome - - although I wish that
either MGM or Warner had included his terrific commentary
for SINGIN' IN THE RAIN that had been included on
Criterion's laser disc set. I don't think that there is any
other commentator who can get away with using such archaic
words as "anon." Behlmer goes into great detail, in
limited time, on every aspect of the film-making progress
granting the listener quite an education.
If given the power of invisibility, how would you use it?
The question haunted me throughout the viewing of THE
INVISIBLE MAN. It is a personal question obviously brought
into play through James Whale's own personality as an
"invisible" gay man in Hollywood, a theme explored with
greater depth in Bill Condon's GODS AND MONSTERS. I have
fond memories of seeing THE INVISIBLE MAN as a child on
late-night television's "Chiller Theater," a locally
produced program hosted by Bill Cardille - - known to horror
movie fans through his work in George Romero's NIGHT OF THE
LIVING DEAD. Seeing the movie again in the digital format,
I was pleasantly surprised at how well it holds up. THE
INVISIBLE MAN is splendid mix of low comedy and speculative
fiction, boasting a cast capable of running that gamut to
the fullest. After watching both THE INVISIBLE MAN and THE
BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (not to mention a vhs copy of ROBIN
HOOD), I'm firmly convinced that there has NEVER been a
funnier character actress than Una O'Connor. Here, as the
Innkeeper's Wife, she has the handle on the low, Cockney
comedy, not to mention an entire repertoire of screeches and
screams using each one to great and appropriate effect.
Traveling matte shots, quadruple composites, hidden tracks
and invisible wires all add up to the special effects which
are still astonishing. Scenes of THE INVISIBLE MAN dressing
and undressing are seamless blends of many film techniques .
. . and bringing up the question, Why doesn't Jack (THE
INVISIBLE MAN) wear underwear in the middle of February?
THE INVISIBLE MAN is a wonderful escapist entertainment
to be watched time and again. Claude Rains' film debut, the
loveliness of Gloria Stuart, Una O'Connor's delicious comedy
skills, a fine screenplay from a difficult H. G. Wells novel
and the oft-imitated directorial choices of James Whale have
made a classic film that stands the test of time, I only
wish that Universal's print had been as near-pristine as the
other films in their Classic Monster Collection. And as for
that opening question: What would YOU do, if given that
power of invisibility?
(4.5/5, NOT included in
(3.5/5, NOT an average)