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The Invisible Man

review by Anthony D.

 

Not Rated

Running Time: 71 Minutes

Starring Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart

Studio: Universal

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 final score)

(1/5)

(3/5)

(2.5/5)

(3.5/5, NOT an average)

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