Directed By: Lambert Hillyer
Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Frances Drake
Tag line: "Delving into new, strange fields of mystery!"
Trivia: Many of the sets and sound effects were later used in the Flash Gordon movie serials
Like The Black Cat and The Raven before it, The Invisible Ray stars two of horror’s most renowned performers, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, as a pair of scientists searching for the remains of an ancient meteor.
It all began when Dr. Janos Rukh (Karloff) created a telescope that could capture images from long ago, which have implanted themselves on the light of a distant galaxy. It’s through this telescope that Dr. Rukh, looking deep into the earth’s past, sees a meteor crash into the continent of Africa, an event that occurred millions of years ago. Joining an expedition led by his colleague Dr. Felix Benet (Lugosi) and financed by Sir Francis Stevens (Walter Kingsford) and his wife Lady Arabella (Beulah Bondi), Rukh heads to Africa to search for the meteor. He eventually finds what he’s looking for, but in the process is exposed to Radium X, a powerful element that poisons his body and warps his mind. Things get even more complicated when Rukh discovers that his wife, Diana (Frances Drake), has fallen in love with Lady Arabella’s nephew, Ronald (Frank Lawton), causing the nearly-insane doctor, whose entire body now emits the deadly radiation, to seek revenge against the two.
The Invisible Ray is an unusual entry in the Universal canon in that it focuses more on science fiction than horror (the opening scene, where Rukh demonstrates his telescope’s ability to see into the past by way of intergalactic light patterns, is one of the film’s highlights). As far as its two stars are concerned, both are strong in their respective parts, especially Lugosi, who, despite being relegated to a supporting role, delivers an uncharacteristically subdued performance as Dr. Benet, often the movie’s sole voice of reason. Story-wise, The Invisible Ray is all over the place, taking us from a science-heavy opening in the Carpathian mountains to a jungle adventure in Africa before finally settling into a tale of revenge in rainy Paris. Still, in spite of the film’s inconsistent tone (brought on by each change of locale), the intense climactic scene ends things on a definite high note.
Following The Invisible Ray, Lugosi and Karloff would appear together in four more films, most notably 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. And while The Invisible Ray may not be the finest of their collaborations, it’s always fun to see these two legends share the screen.