Directed By: James Whale
Starring: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan
Tag line: "H.G. Well's Fantastic Sensation"
Trivia: In order to achieve the effect that Claude Rains wasn't there when his character took off the bandages, the director had Rains dressed completely in black velvet and filmed him in front of a black velvet background
The original choice to play the title character in The Invisible Man was Boris Karloff, who was ultimately dropped from the project when he and Universal couldn't agree on a new contract. This cleared the way for director James Whale to hire Claude Rains for the part, and as it turned out, the pairing of the two was a match made in heaven.
Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) has developed a formula, which he calls Monocaine, that has made him completely invisible. In order to work on an antidote in secrecy, Griffin, disguised in bandages and a false nose, leaves his fiance, Flora (Gloria Stuart), behind and quietly sneaks off to a small village in the English Countryside. But after a few weeks, an unexpected side effect of the monocaine kicks in, one that directly affects Griffin's brain, filling him with psychotic delusions of grandeur. Now viewing his 'condition' in an entirely different light, Griffin abandons all hope of returning to normal, and instead tracks down his old colleague, Dr. Arthur Kemp (William Harrigan), whom he plans to make his partner in an attempt to take over the world.
From a technical standpoint, The Invisible Man is a skillfully shot film; with director Whale employing a number of unique camera angles and tracking shots to keep things moving. There are also a good number of truly impressive special effects, like when Griffin, in a state of frenzy, peels off his bandages to reveal the nothingness underneath them. I have to say that, with such nifty special effects, I sometimes found it hard to believe I was watching a film produced in the early 1930's.
But the real spark that brings life to The Invisible Man is the performance of Claude Rains. When we first meet Griffin, he's checking into a bed and breakfast, maintaining a high degree of secrecy so as not to reveal his 'condition'. But as his mind starts to fall under the monocaine's control, his demeanor changes, and he becomes much more volatile. When the owner of the bed and breakfast (Forrester Harvey) tries to throw him out of his room, Griffin at first pleads for more time. But the pleas quickly change to insults once the owner starts packing up some of Griffin's equipment. At that point, Griffin snaps, hitting the man over the head with his leather-bound journal before tossing him down the stairs. Rains handles the transition in his character's personality brilliantly, especially when you consider that he does so without the use of his eyes or facial expressions. It was Rains first starring role, and gave the world a glimpse at the immense talent he would continue to display over his career.
There are several moments of broad comedy thrown into The Invisible Man, some of which simply don't work. Chief among them is the performance of Una O'Connor as the wife of the owner of the bed and breakfast, who spends most of her screen time hamming it up, shrieking and crying incessantly. But such moments don't detract from the film as a whole, and the combined efforts of its director and star proved enough to propel The Invisible Man into the annals of horror history.