“We’ll begin with a reign of terror. Maybe a murder here or there. Murders of great men, murders of little men, just to show we make no distinction.”
So does Claude Rains wax maniac during a pivotal scene from 1933’s The Invisible Man. Universal has chosen to re-release this classic film in a new Legacy Collection, which comes complete with the decent follow-up, The Invisible Man Returns, and goes pretty much downhill from there, ending on a bizarre morale at the conclusion of The Invisible Man’s Revenge.
But lets start with the first film, shall we?
Based on a story by master sci-fi write H.G.Wells, the story is of a man named Jack Griffin, who fooled with pieces of nature better left alone and now finds himself invisible. Rather than see it as a blessing, a way to move through life unnoticed and getting whatever he wants, he strives day and night to discover a formula that will bring him back to visibility. Some new characters were introduced in the movie that had no place in the original story, namely a scientist and his assistant for whom Griffin used to work for. They discover that one of the chemicals Griffin used in the mixture that made him invisible is monocaine, some rare herb that is said to cause insanity. But by then it’s too late, and Griffin’s already well over the proverbial edge. The movie ends with the tragic down note that characterized nearly all of Universal’s classic monster movies, the same note that suddenly disappeared from most of their sequels.
The effects in this movie are still enough to impress even some jaded fans of today, those used to CGI and digital mating. They pulled off some great stuff with the invisibility and I’m sure as an audience member it was even more amazing for it’s time. I only wish the effects had improved through the rest of the movies.
James Whale continued showing off is brilliance as director with Invisible Man, and it still stands up as a classic tale of science gone too far, and mans innate desire to control. The real center of the film is, of course, Claude Rains. Not necessarily his skill as an actor, in truth he seems a bit hammy, but his voice. It’s got just the right amount of menace mixed with desperation, and it fleshes the character out in a way no one else came anywhere near in the sequels.
This is the only movie with any extras to speak of, sadly. The documentary “Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed” is informative and interesting, if not a bit too scholarly for my tastes. It gives some good insight into the making of the film and the history of its director, James Whale and features interviews with all sorts of experts. Clocking in at just under an hour it’s a good way to get to know the man you can’t see a bit better.
Other than that there’s a set of production photos and a commentary track from film historian Rudy Behlmer, which is about as entertaining as you can expect a commentary track from a film scholar to be. Just like the commentaries on the previous Legacy Collections, you can tell it was all pre-scripted and not spontaneous in the least. For me, that equals boring, but you may find different.
Then we have 1940’s The Invisible Man Returns. In this story we find the brother of Jack Griffin working as a scientist for some type of mining operation. When the head of the operation is accused of murder and set to be hanged, the only way to get him free is by making him invisible. Unfortunately, the effects of the chemical (the secret ingredient of which is now called duocaine for some unknown reason) start to have their effect on this innocent bystander too, and he’s forced to clear his name before he losses his mind completely. Entertaining and fast paced, it’s a good follow-up to the original, though not nearly as dark and with an overall much lighter tone. Director Joe May does a competent job of pulling of the effects, which had not been done in any capacity since the making of the original. Surprisingly they look pretty damn good. Oh, and I should mention the invisible man in this one is played by a very young Vincent Price.
1940’s The Invisible Woman has no resemblance to any of the other four films in the series in that it’s a straight-up comedy. Why Universal chose to include it on this set is beyond me, because it would’ve made a lot more sense to just pretend it never happened. No, it’s not a funny comedy, either; it’s just pretty boring.
The basic premise is about a girl working in a department store modeling dresses whose boss is a sadist. He likes to yell, scream, and fire his women at the drop of a hat, so when she reads an ad offering to turn someone invisible, she jumps at the chance for revenge. A love story is involved somehow, but more or less it’s just a waste of time. Sadly, one of it’s writers was Curt Siodmak, who wrote The Wolf Man the very next year. It is interesting to note, however, that one of the “gangsters” in this movie is none other than The Three Stooges’ Shemp Howard.
1942 came, and with it Invisible Agent which, although not strictly a comedy, is in no way a horror film by any right. Jon Hall stars as one of the descendents of Jack Griffin, who is approached by the Nazi party to get the formula for invisibility. He narrowly escapes their clutches, and ends up striking up a deal with the Allied forces to become invisible himself and drop into Nazi Germany to cause some problems.
I had a really hard time staying awake during this one, mainly because the plotting was snail-paced. But nothing wakes you up quicker than bumbling Nazis trying to impress women, I’ll tell you that right now. It’s kind of disturbing given what they later became known for (at the time they were just bad guys, not evil godless bastards) to see guys giving a zieg-heil every time they see each other and goose-stepping everywhere. But it’s played more for laughs than anything else, so I guess it’s almost forgivable. It’s just too bad the effects of mono/duocaine are not brought into play anymore; what better place to go on a killing spree than Nazi Germany? This movie, it should be mentioned, is the only one on the disc with a trailer. And it’s not very good, if you can believe it.
Finally, we come to 1944’s Invisible Man’s Revenge, wherein they tried their damndest to make things just a bit more evil for the final outing. This time our character is Robert Griffin (no relation to the other Griffins, apparently, must just be a cursed name) a man who suffered from amnesia for many years after a knock on the head and, in true WB cartoon style, recovered his memory when he was hit on the head again. He immediately goes to see his “good friends” who had left him for dead in the jungle to demand his half of their riches, but they knock him out and try to dispose of him.
After he escapes he comes upon a crazy scientist (John Carradine, always a treat) who has developed an invisibility potion that he’s eager to test on humans. Realizing he has nothing to loose, Griffin allows himself to become invisible and goes on a mini-rampage. No secret chemical ingredient is needed this time; Griffin’s already well on the other side of sane when he shows up at his friend’s door.
After terrorizing his friend for while he realizes he can get more accomplished if he’s visible again (don’t ask), and discovers the only way to accomplish this is with a blood transfusion. People die, until finally he’s attacked and killed by the scientist’s dog and a tertiary character gives a quick speech on morality or something to that effect.
All in all, a pretty sad assortment of movies if I do say so myself, with the first two the only ones worth watching repeatedly. Universal did another slap-together job with the menus, but the actual packaging is just as good as the first three. But the films do look great and the sound is what you’d expect, so it’s not all bad. I would have to say, though, of the six sets released in the Legacy Collection, this one is the weakest.
The Invisible Man: The Legacy Collection
Released by Universal Home Studios
Directed by James Whale, Joe May, A. Edward Sutherland, Edwin L. Marin, Ford Beebe
Staring Claude Rains, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, John Carradine
“Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed”
Commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer
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