The Invisible Man (1933)

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  • directed by James Whale
  • starring Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Henry Travers, Una O’Connor
  • A scientist finds a way of becoming invisible, but in doing so he becomes murderously insane.

“An invisible man can rule the world. Nobody will see him come, nobody will see him go. He can hear every secret. He can rob, and rape, and kill.”

After finishing my third James Whale film in a few short weeks, it’s become quite clear that he was a master of balancing many different tones throughout his films. In The Invisible Man, a concept itself that is by nature kind of silly, Whale heightens the humor with the help of Una O’Connor’s hilarious and loud performance in the first half and with plenty of effects-laden visual gags all throughout. The levity is seamlessly tempered with just enough romance, just enough action, nearly flawless effects work, moments of pathos, and a shocking rampage in the conclusion that results in a body count of more than 150. It all amounts to a movie, like Whale’s The Old Dark House and Frankenstein, which is always interesting, completely confident, and endlessly entertaining. As good as Whale was, a lot of the credit for the effectiveness of this film goes to a very real and carefully crafted performance from Claude Rains. To be so commanding while being heard but not seen, the opposite of a silent film actor at a time when studios were still finding their footing in a sound universe, is an impressive feat.

If I had one tiny gripe (it would be a larger gripe in a film that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy on the whole but I cut this one slack), it would be the too-sudden swings in Griffin’s intentions and attitude. One minute his priority is achieving peace and quiet to reverse his invisibility, something that should be fairly easy in his hidden state, and the next minute he’s welcoming a manhunt by needlessly killing a police officer. One minute he’s showing a soft side and promising Flora that he will soon return to her a normal man, and the next he is toying around with train tracks to send a hundred people careening off a cliff (great scene nonetheless). I never got a handle on what he was aiming to accomplish at any given point, but now that I think about it, maybe that is the nature of insanity as laid out by Whale and writer H.G. Wells.

Another great scene featured Griffin first explaining his condition to his would-be partner Kemp and it was a speech that in any movie like this I will always expect to be a bare-minimum, plot-driven explanation to keep the audience up to speed. Instead, probably thanks to Wells’ words, there was great poetry in Rains’ delivery as he said, “the food is visible in me until it is digested. I can only work on fine, clear days. If I work in the rain, the water can be seen on my head and shoulders. In a fog you can see me like a bubble. In smoky cities the soot settles on me until you can see a dark outline. You must always be near at hand to wipe off my feet. It is difficult at first to walk down stairs. We are so accustomed to watching our feet.” Great symmetry, too, that it was the watching of his feet that ultimately led to his capture and death.

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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