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The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man


Claude Rains - Jack Griffin
Gloria Stuart - Flora Cranley
William Harrigan - Dr. Kemp
Henry Travers - Dr. Cranley
Una O'Connor - Jenny Hall
E.E. Clive - Const. Jaffers
James Whale - Director
Carl Laemmle Jr. - Producer
R.C. Sheriff - Screenwriter
Art Edeson - Cinematographer
John P. Fulton - Special Effects
Heinz Roemheld - Film Score

Rains as The Invisible Man The Invisible Man was co-scripted by R.C. Sheriff, the author of Journey's End which James Whale directed with great success on the London stage. He was then called to Hollywood (along with the play's star, Colin Clive who played the Baron in the director's classic version of Frankenstein, 1931) to bring his stage success to the screen in 1930. In the course of his short career--he retired in his early forties, frustrated with lack of artistic control he retained after the sale of Universal Studios--Whale was often associated with "literary" films, but his reputation rests on his three forways into the field of Science Fiction and horror, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and the witty black comedy, The Invisible Man (1933).

Based on H.G. Wells' novel The Invisible Man, the film features the expressive voice of Claude Rains as the scientist driven mad by the side-effects of the invisibility serum he invents and imbibes. He becomes a scourge of the countryside, a malevolent Raffles figure, playing games with the police as he indulges in bank robbery for the sheer fun of it. John Fulton's invisibility effects (which were utilized by Universal in various sequels and other films throughout the thirties and forties) have, deservedly, been widely praised. The scenes where Rains removes his glasses and bandages to reveal nothing at all (accomplished by dressing a stuntman in black velvet underneath the bandages and shooting the disrobing against a black velvet background) and Rains' final loss of invisibility as he dies (accomplished through elaborate stop motion) still create a primitive sense of amazement and wonder that take the audience back to the origins of the cinema.

Rains & Stuart Jack Griffin (Rains) is a dedicated research scientist. He had been experimenting with monocaine, a drug from India. Tried on the dog it bleached the beast white and sent it raving mad. Griffin injects himself and becomes invisible. He goes into hiding to work on an antidote, but "the drug seemed to light up my brain. Suddenly I realized the power I held, the power to rule, to make the world grovel at my feet." He embarks on his reign of terror: murdering, robbing, derailing trains. But invisibility has its problems, as he explains to his unwilling associate, Kemp (Harrigan). Food is visible until digested, rain can be seen on his head and shoulders, in fog he appears as a bubble, and dirt on any part of his body will give him away. In the end, snow shows his naked footfalls. A police inspector shoots--and suddenly there is a long dent in the smooth snow.

If the film is lightweight and Sheriff and Philip Wylie's screemplay slow-moving, Whale's impish sense of black comedy remains a delight. The film made a star of Rains, just as Frankenstein had made one of Boris Karloff who turned down the role Rains subsequently took over. A routine sequel followed in 1940, The Invisible Man Returns which in turn spawned a short-lived Invisible series that climaxed, like Universal's Frankenstein and Dracula series, in a confrontation between the Invisible Man and Abbott and Costello, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951).

--PHIL HARDY, ed. from The Film Encyclopedia:
Science Fiction
, 1984.

O'Conner & Rains One of the best and most prolific writers in the field of science fiction, H.G. Wells penned such classics of the genre as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. But no Wells character has proven as enduring as Griffin, the English science student whose miracle drugs transformed him into The Invisible Man. Universal announced in 1931 that it would bring Wells' pseudo-scientific novel to the screen, with Boris Karloff in the unseen title role. English author R.C. Sherriff was recruited to write the screen adaptation of Well's fantastic tale. "If I'd been given a free choice, I couldn't have chosen a more tempting story," the screenwriter later recalled.

Boris Karloff was hurried back from England to (dis)appear in the movie--then got into a contract dispute with Universal and bowed out. Director James Whale offered the part to Colin Clive, Henry Frankenstein in Whale's Frankenstein, but Clive--planning to return to his native England to see his wife--opted to stick to his vacation plans. Next up was Claude Rains. Universal executives watched one of Rains' old screen tests and were unimpressed by the look of the diminutive actor, but Whale declared, "I don't give a hang what he looks like. That's how I want [the Invisible Man] to sound--and I want him!"

the film's follow-ups included The Invisible Man Returns (Joe May, 1940) with Vincent Price, The Invisible Agent (1942), and The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944). Oddly, the latter is not a sequel--the characters in the film mention that there has never before been an Invisible Man. In the series-ending Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), a framed portrait of Claude Rains is displayed in a lab scene.

--from The Invisible Man, DVD
supplementary material, Universal, 1999

A selection of Invisible Man related films.

Find The Invisible Man on

A selection of The Invisible Man in books.

A History of Horror

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