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The Invisible Man

****
1933

‘…sits up with the best of Whale’s 1930’s work…’

Megalomania is often referenced in cinema; from the Bond films downwards, many films feature a monologue-ing villain with a crazy scheme to destroy and/or repopulate the world. But few make such madness the central issue of their film; James Whale’s famous 1933 shocker, adapted freely from HG Wells 1897 novel, really goes to town on this single issue. Although the character of Dr Jack Griffin (Claude Raines) has featured in a number of films, he’s often a hero; this origin story makes him out to be a genuine sociopath, and the result is a surprisingly dark horror film from the Universal catalogue.

You might expect a slow start, with Griffin tinkering in his laboratory, on the track of a scientific breakthrough, but we get none of that. The film starts with Griffin already transformed, hiding out in an upstairs room of a Sussex pub. The drugs he’s taken have already taken hold of his mind, giving him a specific psychosis through which he’s keen to dominate the world. There seems to be quite a sizable gap between Griffin’s humble situation and his lofty ambitions, and his inability to close the gap causes issues as the cops close in. Griffin goes on rampages, killing innocent people while engaging in a few tricks which still look good today; riding a bike, goosing old women and generally being a low grade pest.

It seems strange that the police don’t just fling a pot of paint at him; instead, they track him down by holding hands and walking slowly towards Griffin, which doesn’t go well. His cruelty is defiantly bad-ass (this is a pre-Code film with a notably lack of moral content), and it’s genuinely astounding that he’d casually switch the tracks of a passenger train, killing hundreds just to create a diversion. Rains is only seen int he final scene, but he gives a barnstorming performance, using his voice and body to create an unforgettable character.

The Invisible Man doesn’t feature much transformation or even a character arc for Griffin, and that’s what makes it so fresh; this feels as much a film about the dangers of drug addition (fictional drug monocane is mentioned), and Griffin’s rants match up to what we might expect from someone with a serious coke habit. This is one old movie that stands up for modern audiences; the effects are ingenious, the tone is anarchic, and The Invisible Man sits up with the best of Whale’s 1930’s work. With the success of The Invisible Man movie in 2020, this original version is well worth a look for the sake of comparison.

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  1. I didn’t see the original Invisible Man in time not to see the 2020 film. The 30’s original is such a classic. Such a great Universal monster with a dark sense of humor. The 2020 film, though modern, was just as strong an interpretation as well.

  2. I love the way the film just plunges you into the action without wasting time on a lot of back story and tinkering in the lab. But that’s the way the novel runs too. Wells really constructed the story well.

    • Yup, and that’s surprising when viewing them today; we start in media res, right in the middle of the story, and the backstory is only alluded to rather than a flashback; great, vigorous storytelling!

  3. I wish more people would appreciate the classic cinema movies. Some people dismiss this stuff saying it’s too old, but if you look beyond that, you see what really makes this film work, even today. Definitely a classic movie, and another one that I think at least, was ahead of it’s time😊

    • The surprising thing here is that despite its age the effects have held up so well. It’s definitely not too old. There’s nothing in the 2020 version that’s better.

      • I haven’t yet seen the 2020 version, so can’t compare, but I don’t think a movie is ever too old to be honest 😊 I love classic films, and some, like this one are simply put: timeless😀

        • The old versions of Dracula and Frankenstein aren’t exactly sprightly to watch, even if they have great moments, but this one really has a helter-skelter energy of it’s own…

      • The effects really must have caused a sensation at the time, they’re quite amazing, even if a few of them are kind of obvious, the majority are great!

  4. Wells was obsessed with the at-the-time new science of physiological chemistry. It had been revelatory that our bodies function on a variety of chemical influences. Another of Wells’s stories had people leaping to beyond-vision speeds through the use of an elixir.

    • Interesting…Griffin is a man under the chemical cosh for sure…that beyond vision story sounds cool too…

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