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He may be invisible, but The Invisible Man is a must-see
on 9 May 2004
The Invisible Man is one of the most impressive Universal "monster" films of the 1930s, a motion picture masterpiece still as vibrant and engaging now as it was in 1933. It is also a representative of the rarest of movies - one which succeeds much better than the novel upon which it was based. Don't get me wrong - H.G. Wells was a brilliant writer, one of the two founding fathers of science fiction, but The Invisible Man left me as cold as the invisible man must have felt running around naked in the bitterly cold countryside. The invisible man is thoroughly unlikable in the novel, much more so than he is here. A running time of just 71 minutes and a brilliant tour de force of a film debut by Claude Raines make Jack Griffin a fascinating albeit quite mad character who never completely turns the viewer off with his misguided antics. Of course, the sword cuts both ways. In the novel, one gets a much deeper appreciation of the pain and struggle the man faces trying to restore himself to visibility. In the movie, the transition to raving megalomaniac occurs much more quickly, with several palliative dashes of humor thrown into the mix early on.
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.