If you stop to think about it, the power of invisibility would be extremely useful, yet highly overrated. With enough tact, you could easily eavesdrop on any conversation, give the slip to anyone, take what you want or pull some great scares with little chance of being caught. What a dream for a sneak! Yet there are so many technical hangups that can ruin even the simplest plans. Rain and fog give you a faint outline, mud and snow leave tracks. Not only do you have to be completely naked to be invisible, but you better be squeaky clean as well. And if you do want to be seen, it requires quite a bit of clothing, but perhaps one of those spandex whole-body suits would be helpful this day and age.
When a man wrapped from head to toe walks out of the harsh snow into an inn, it causes a stir. He doesn’t remove any of the wrappings from his face and is very mysterious about his whereabouts. Before he is even given a key, people are making accusations: a thief on the run, escaped convict. It is none other than Dr. Griffin (Claude Rains), who has turned himself invisible in his experiments. At the inn, he desperately searches for a way to reverse the effect, but with all the commotion going on about him, it’s hard to concentrate. And being invisible is starting to drive him a little mad and fill him with greed. Before his collegue, Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers) and his girl, Flora (Gloria Stuart) can help him, The Invisible Man gives the people what they want, a good scare and runs amok invisible through the town.
The invisibility gags do not get old and will often leave viewers believing or wondering how such feats were filmed in the early 1930s. The most fantastic moment is when Rains is taking off the wraps from his head, revealing little by little his invisibility. As a kid, I always marveled at this moment, wondering how it was done. Apparently, director James Whale filmed Rains wearing a black velvet mask in front of a black velvet background to achieve the effect.
I would consider The Invisible Man one of the least scary or the Universal Monsters, but the film is one of the most entertaining and best written. It was closely based off of the H.G. Welles novella. While it is a bit violent (murder!) the scariest images are the fact that there is no image of our monster at all, which is more intriguing than frightful. This film could be a great introduction for children to old monster movies, as well as classic film. And with a superb cast, boasting Claude Rains in his first lead role, any film fan is in for a treat.
“The fools wouldn’t let me work in peace. I had to teach them a lesson.”