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The Invisible Man [DVD]
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Claude Rains makes his (largely unseen) big screen debut in this adaptation of H.G. Wells' classic novel, directed by horrormeister James Whale. When a bandaged stranger arrives in the English village of Ipping, taking rooms at the inn, he soon arouses the interest of the inquisitive locals. Angered that he is not allowed to conduct his 'experiments' in peace, the stranger finally reveals his secret to the villagers, unwrapping his facial bindings to reveal... nothing. He is a scientist who has rendered himself invisible, and is now becoming a megalomaniac through the drugs he works with. Not satisfied with playing pranks on the locals, the invisible man's actions now begin to take a murderous turn.
Claude Rains practically owns his film debut in The Invisible Man, despite the fact that his face (let alone his body) is seen only for seconds in the final moments. As the brilliant scientist who discovers the secret of invisibility, Rains steps into the film wrapped up like a mummy behind a layer of bandages and blanketed in heavy clothes. When he removes his garments, there's nothing underneath, a simple but effective bit of 1930s movie magic that, apart from a few glitches, works as well today as it did in 1933. Like Frankenstein, another cautionary tale of science gone horribly wrong, the consequences of the doctor's experiments are dire: the chemicals drive him insane. Director James Whale infuses the film with plenty of humour, much of it arising from the quaint quirks of the local villagers, but it turns to black comedy as the doctor transforms from an impish prankster upsetting bicycles and taunting tavern patrons to a megalomaniac bent on world domination. It's slow going even at 71 minutes, but full of delightful touches and boasts a terrific performance by the all but unseen Rains, whose rich, cultured voice envelopes the picture in a kind of omnipresent fog. Vincent Price took up the role in the sequel, The Invisible Man Returns. --Sean Axmaker
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There isn't that much to the story, really. A man wrapped in bandages and clothed in a long overcoat, glasses, and hat suddenly enters the Lion's Head pub and inn one snowy night demanding a room. He makes it very clear that he wants privacy and soon begins performing chemical experiments. The fellow is a scientist named Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), a young chap who, after five years of private work, discovered the secret of invisibility; unfortunately for him, he has yet to figure out an antidote, as becomes evident when he begins to shed his clothes and bandages - yep, the title was right, he really is the invisible man. Now most fellows, were they to become invisible, would probably run right out and try to see the girl next door in her birthday suit, but Griffin is different. That special ingredient in the potion tends to make a person just a little bit insane, and Griffin has already begun forming plans to get filthy rich and make the world grovel at his invisible feet. His surly attitude and just plain weirdness soon get him evicted, and soon his secret is out. He has a jolly good time playing pranks on local villagers, but his pranks soon turn to mass murder. The police dragnet is fun to watch (it isn't easy to catch an invisible man), but the movie takes a continually darker tone as the inevitable conclusion approaches. I am of the belief that the story of The Invisible Man really doesn't teach any sort of lesson with it, although others are certainly free to voice their own interpretations of the story. Griffin is just too disagreeable to teach me anything (apart from the ubiquitous "don't meddle in God's domain" thing).
The special effects in the film are actually quite amazing. Many of them are rather simple but well-done, and the central bits featuring clothes walking around on their own serve the story very well indeed. There is one scene featuring a pair of pants skipping down the road accompanied by Griffin singing the kind of ditty a madman might be prone to sing that is absolutely priceless. Alongside Dracula and Frankenstein, The Invisible Man completes the threesome of truly must-see 1930s Universal "monster" films, even though we all know it's really pure science fiction and not horror.
Unlike a film like Frankenstein any sympathy you may have had with the character is quickly lost following his murderous rampages. His behaviour is explained as a result of the drugs he's taken which have driven him insane. The special effects are excellent and as well as any CGI remake I can envisage. The themes of the film deal with madness, megalomania, loneliness and fear. The film is fairly low budget by today's standards, the sets are quite small in scale and there aren't that many locations. The film has a nice sense of realism to it in some respects and the attempts to trap the invisible man are conducted firmly in real world logic.
On the negative side, the female characters are rather shrieky and hysterical which I found off-putting. The film doesn't really have many likeable characters, the main character is disturbed and psychotic and we don't really get to know any other characters very well so that there's not really anyone we can identify that strongly with.
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