The Invisible Man


1h 11m 1933
The Invisible Man

Brief Synopsis

A scientist's experiments with invisibility turn him into a madman.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Horror
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Nov 13, 1933
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Universal Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells (London, 1897).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 11m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Synopsis

With his face and hands swathed in bandages, and dark glasses covering his eyes, scientist Jack Griffin lets a room in a small inn in the town of Iping, England. There he attempts to find an antidote to his invisibility, the result of a secret experiment whose success has driven him away from his employer, Doctor Cranley, and fiancée Flora. The prying innkeeper's wife is terrified by Jack's apparent irrational behavior, and when she and her husband demand he leave because his rent is overdue, Jack becomes angry because their interruptions have ruined his experiment. He attacks the innkeeper and various inhabitants as he departs, eluding the police by removing his clothes and bandages and using his invisibility. He goes to the house of his associate, Doctor Kemp, who has already determined with the help of Doctor Cranley that Jack has been experimenting with monocane, a plant extract known to cause insanity. Jack intimidates Kemp, who is also in love with Flora, and appoints him to be his partner in his plans for a "reign of terror," which will ultimately result in Jack ruling the world. Jack forces Kemp to return to the tavern with him so he can retrieve his books. Jack begins to wreak havoc in the tavern just as a policeman has declared the whole "invisible man" episode a hoax. Later in the evening, while Jack is asleep, the frightened Kemp alerts Cranley and the police Jack's whereabouts. Flora insists on seeing Jack and attempts to communicate with him, but her presence incites, rather than soothes him. Outraged that Kemp has betrayed him, Jack vows to kill Kemp at ten o'clock the next night, then slips out. He goes on a murderous rampage across the countryside and finally succeeds in killing Kemp. Public terror mounts as the police are stumped as to how to capture an invisible man. One day, a farmer realizes Jack is sleeping in his barn and alerts the police, who set the barn afire to draw Jack out. Due to a fresh snowfall, they are able to follow his tracks and shoot him. Still invisible, Jack is hospitalized, and confesses to Flora that he should never have tampered with the nature of life. As he dies, he becomes visible once more.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Horror
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Nov 13, 1933
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Universal Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells (London, 1897).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 11m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Articles

The Invisible Man (1933) - The Invisible Man


Among the many vintage horror films released by Universal Studios in the 1930's, James Whale's The Invisible Man (1933) still packs a punch today. It is a shining example of fantastic thrills filled with quotable dialogue and unexpected humor and shocks, all delivered with great mood and economy. The film is based on H.G. Wells' novel of the same name and deals with Griffin, a scientist who is ultimately driven power-hungry and mad by the side effects of the invisibility serum he both invents and ingests. Just as Whale made a star of Boris Karloff in Frankenstein (1931), Claude Rains was also abruptly put in the spotlight but, as he is only glimpsed for a few seconds over the course of the film, this fame came almost entirely from the powerful performance of his voice alone. The success of The Invisible Man would launch a sequel, a short-lived series, and culminated (like Frankenstein) in a confrontation with Abbott and Costello in the late forties. But The Invisible Man lives on in varied incarnations. It might be Chevy Chase in John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), or Kevin Bacon in Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man (2000), to name just a few ways in which the legacy continues.

Looking back on the original The Invisible Man, it's hard not to think that casting providence blessed the entire production. In James Whale: A Biography, Mark Gatiss notes that H.G. Wells was particularly fond of Una O'Connor's portrayal of the shrieking Mrs. Hall. This certainly must have helped overcome some of Wells' original misgivings with the liberty taken by the film of drugs that make the protagonist a lunatic (to which Whale responded by saying "only a lunatic would want to make himself invisible in the first place!"). Keen eyes will also note John Carradine as the "informer" and Dwight Frye in the role of reporter - a far cry from his insect-eating Renfield in Dracula (1931) or the hunchbacked dwarf who switches the brains in Whale's previous film, Frankenstein. There's also another connection to that film: Boris Karloff had originally been slated for the role of Griffin but walked out after producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. pressed him one too many times for cuts in his contractual pay. This was just fine with Whale who was dead-set against Karloff anyway, feeling Karloff's followers would expect a ghoulish monster film rather than an extraordinary tale of a scientist trying to escape his fate. From the beginning, Whale wanted Claude Rains, whom he knew from earlier years as a respected teacher at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Art (Charles Laughton was one of his students). Laemmle, however, didn't want to risk the bank on an unknown actor, so Whale tried to placate him by suggesting Colin Clive, and they agreed. But, as author James Curtis notes in his book on James Whale, the director "prevailed upon Clive to decline the offer, as he was returning to Britain anyway. Clive would have remained to play the part had Whale actually needed him, but his plan was simply to create a demand for Rains." After The Invisible Man, Rains' career took off and he would go on to be nominated four times for Best Supporting Actor in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Casablanca (1942), Mr. Skeffington (1944), and Notorious (1946).

The technical achievements by John P. Fulton on The Invisible Man have often been credited for the film's success. Aside from elaborate stop motions, double exposures, and masked negatives there was a need to dress Rains in black velvet underneath the bandages and clothes and shoot against a black velvet background. But these shocking visual effects were also combined with simpler, more visceral shocks, such as when a woman's baby carriage (complete with baby) gets knocked over or when Griffin batters a policeman to death with a stool. This harsh tone was balanced by dark humor and great dialogue. Not surprisingly, Whale came to Hollywood from England (where he was originally a cartoonist, stage designer, and dialogue director) to work on film dialogue, and The Invisible Man provides ample proof of his good ear. Credit should also go to R.C. Sherriff and Philip Wylie's screenplay. Of interest as a footnote is that these men took over what Whale considered to be an unsatisfactory work by Preston Sturges.

One of The Invisible Man's many charms is in how much thought went into various details surrounding the act of being invisible. Griffin explains some of the problems to his condition, such as how he has to avoid exposure after meals while his body digests the food, or how he has to be clean to avoid dirt outlines, or keep out of rain and fog where his outline could be traced. Despite all this, there is one odd lapse in judgment by the filmmakers; when the invisible man walks on the snow and we should see the impressions of his bare feet, we instead see normal footprints that would require invisible shoes. This is akin to John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man when we see the invisible man smoking. This provides a dramatic illustration to quit the habit, but it's goofed when we see how the smoke stays inhaled even while the invisible man speaks. Such are the pitfalls of filming the fantastic.

Anyone who has difficulty imagining the impact of The Invisible Man on its original audience need not go too far to revisit a similar echo of its effect today. Just stroll over to your neighborhood multiplex and watch Joel Schumacher's current box office smash Phone Booth (2003). Just as Claude Rains' disembodied voice mesmerized audiences almost seventy years ago, Kiefer Sutherland's disembodied voice in Phone Booth similarly grips viewers in the power of its delivery and menacing inflection. And, in both films, the killer's face is glimpsed for only a brief moment near the end. The setting and circumstances may have changed, but there's obviously still something incredibly scary about being threatened by someone whom we cannot see, and who thrills in having the power of life and death over terrorized individuals.

Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.
Director: James Whale
Screenplay: R.C. Sherriff, based on a novel by H.G. Wells
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Film Editing: Ted J. Kent
Art Direction: Charles D. Hall
Music: Paul Dupont, W. Franke Harling, Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Claude Rains (The Invisible Man), Gloria Stuart (Flora Cranley), William Harrigan (Dr. Kemp), Henry Travers (Dr. Cranley), Una O'Connor (Jenny Hall), Forrester Harvey (Bill Hall).
BW-72m. Closed captioning.

by Pablo Kjolseth
The Invisible Man (1933) - The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man (1933) - The Invisible Man

Among the many vintage horror films released by Universal Studios in the 1930's, James Whale's The Invisible Man (1933) still packs a punch today. It is a shining example of fantastic thrills filled with quotable dialogue and unexpected humor and shocks, all delivered with great mood and economy. The film is based on H.G. Wells' novel of the same name and deals with Griffin, a scientist who is ultimately driven power-hungry and mad by the side effects of the invisibility serum he both invents and ingests. Just as Whale made a star of Boris Karloff in Frankenstein (1931), Claude Rains was also abruptly put in the spotlight but, as he is only glimpsed for a few seconds over the course of the film, this fame came almost entirely from the powerful performance of his voice alone. The success of The Invisible Man would launch a sequel, a short-lived series, and culminated (like Frankenstein) in a confrontation with Abbott and Costello in the late forties. But The Invisible Man lives on in varied incarnations. It might be Chevy Chase in John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), or Kevin Bacon in Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man (2000), to name just a few ways in which the legacy continues. Looking back on the original The Invisible Man, it's hard not to think that casting providence blessed the entire production. In James Whale: A Biography, Mark Gatiss notes that H.G. Wells was particularly fond of Una O'Connor's portrayal of the shrieking Mrs. Hall. This certainly must have helped overcome some of Wells' original misgivings with the liberty taken by the film of drugs that make the protagonist a lunatic (to which Whale responded by saying "only a lunatic would want to make himself invisible in the first place!"). Keen eyes will also note John Carradine as the "informer" and Dwight Frye in the role of reporter - a far cry from his insect-eating Renfield in Dracula (1931) or the hunchbacked dwarf who switches the brains in Whale's previous film, Frankenstein. There's also another connection to that film: Boris Karloff had originally been slated for the role of Griffin but walked out after producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. pressed him one too many times for cuts in his contractual pay. This was just fine with Whale who was dead-set against Karloff anyway, feeling Karloff's followers would expect a ghoulish monster film rather than an extraordinary tale of a scientist trying to escape his fate. From the beginning, Whale wanted Claude Rains, whom he knew from earlier years as a respected teacher at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Art (Charles Laughton was one of his students). Laemmle, however, didn't want to risk the bank on an unknown actor, so Whale tried to placate him by suggesting Colin Clive, and they agreed. But, as author James Curtis notes in his book on James Whale, the director "prevailed upon Clive to decline the offer, as he was returning to Britain anyway. Clive would have remained to play the part had Whale actually needed him, but his plan was simply to create a demand for Rains." After The Invisible Man, Rains' career took off and he would go on to be nominated four times for Best Supporting Actor in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Casablanca (1942), Mr. Skeffington (1944), and Notorious (1946). The technical achievements by John P. Fulton on The Invisible Man have often been credited for the film's success. Aside from elaborate stop motions, double exposures, and masked negatives there was a need to dress Rains in black velvet underneath the bandages and clothes and shoot against a black velvet background. But these shocking visual effects were also combined with simpler, more visceral shocks, such as when a woman's baby carriage (complete with baby) gets knocked over or when Griffin batters a policeman to death with a stool. This harsh tone was balanced by dark humor and great dialogue. Not surprisingly, Whale came to Hollywood from England (where he was originally a cartoonist, stage designer, and dialogue director) to work on film dialogue, and The Invisible Man provides ample proof of his good ear. Credit should also go to R.C. Sherriff and Philip Wylie's screenplay. Of interest as a footnote is that these men took over what Whale considered to be an unsatisfactory work by Preston Sturges. One of The Invisible Man's many charms is in how much thought went into various details surrounding the act of being invisible. Griffin explains some of the problems to his condition, such as how he has to avoid exposure after meals while his body digests the food, or how he has to be clean to avoid dirt outlines, or keep out of rain and fog where his outline could be traced. Despite all this, there is one odd lapse in judgment by the filmmakers; when the invisible man walks on the snow and we should see the impressions of his bare feet, we instead see normal footprints that would require invisible shoes. This is akin to John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man when we see the invisible man smoking. This provides a dramatic illustration to quit the habit, but it's goofed when we see how the smoke stays inhaled even while the invisible man speaks. Such are the pitfalls of filming the fantastic. Anyone who has difficulty imagining the impact of The Invisible Man on its original audience need not go too far to revisit a similar echo of its effect today. Just stroll over to your neighborhood multiplex and watch Joel Schumacher's current box office smash Phone Booth (2003). Just as Claude Rains' disembodied voice mesmerized audiences almost seventy years ago, Kiefer Sutherland's disembodied voice in Phone Booth similarly grips viewers in the power of its delivery and menacing inflection. And, in both films, the killer's face is glimpsed for only a brief moment near the end. The setting and circumstances may have changed, but there's obviously still something incredibly scary about being threatened by someone whom we cannot see, and who thrills in having the power of life and death over terrorized individuals. Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr. Director: James Whale Screenplay: R.C. Sherriff, based on a novel by H.G. Wells Cinematography: Arthur Edeson Film Editing: Ted J. Kent Art Direction: Charles D. Hall Music: Paul Dupont, W. Franke Harling, Heinz Roemheld Cast: Claude Rains (The Invisible Man), Gloria Stuart (Flora Cranley), William Harrigan (Dr. Kemp), Henry Travers (Dr. Cranley), Una O'Connor (Jenny Hall), Forrester Harvey (Bill Hall). BW-72m. Closed captioning. by Pablo Kjolseth

Quotes

There is no need to be afraid, Kemp. We are partners.
- Jack Griffin
There is no need to be afraid, Kemp. We are partners.
- Jack Griffin
The whole world's my hiding place!
- Jack Griffin
The whole world's my hiding place!
- Jack Griffin
If you try and escape by the window, I shall follow you, and no one in the world can save you.
- Jack Griffin

Trivia

Boris Karloff had been the studio's original choice for the role of the Invisible Man, but James Whale wanted someone with more of an "intellectual" voice. Claude Rains was Whale's first and only choice.

In order to achieve the effect that Claude Raines wasn't there when his character took off the bandages, the director had Raines dressed completely in black velvet and filmed him in front of a black velvet background.

Notes

According an early pre-production news item in Film Daily, Boris Karloff was first considered for the lead, and Cyril Gardner was first considered as director. A news item in Hollywood Reporter reported that Chester Morris was also considered for the lead, but declined after deciding the role was unsuitable for him. A Los Angeles Examiner news item noted that Paul Lukas was also considered for a role in the film. According to a June 1932 news item in Variety, "after several months on the script, Universal called off The Invisible Man," but offered no further explanation. An article in New York Times revealed that in order for Claude Rains to "disappear" on the screen, a head and body cast were made, from which a mask was constructed. "When photographed in the mask against a specially prepared background, he became invisible." Further treatment of the film by John Fulton at a laboratory completed the effect. Scenes in which objects appear to fly through the air were achieved by using wires. Hollywood Reporter also notes that production was interrupted on August 15, 1933 when a fire, started by a smudge pot kicked into some hay, burned an exterior set. A New York Times article noted that at a dinner held in honor of the film, author H. G. Wells "remarked that while he liked the picture he had one grave fault to find with it. It had taken his brilliant scientist and changed him into a lunatic, a liberty he could not condone." According to the article, director James Whale responded that the filmmakers felt that they had to appeal to the "rationally minded motion picture audience," because "in the minds of rational people only a lunatic would want to make himself invisible anyway."
       A modern source includes Dwight Frye (Reporter), John Carradine (Informer), John Merivale (Boy), Walter Brennan (Man with bicycle) and Jameson Thomas (Doctor) in the cast. Other Universal films about invisibility are the 1940 sequel The Invisible Man Returns (see below); the 1940 The Invisible Woman (see below); the 1942 The Invisible Agent, directed by Edward L. Marin and starring Ilona Massey, Jon Hall and Peter Lorre; The Invisible Man's Revenge, a 1944 film directed by Ford Beebe and starring John Hall and Alan Curtis; and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, a 1951 production directed by Charles Lamont and starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1933

Released in United States 1998

Released in United States March 1975

Shown at Film Forum Universal Horror Festival in New York City October 30 - November 12, 1998.

Formerly distributed by MCA Home Video.

Released in United States 1933

Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Film Forum Universal Horror Festival in New York City October 30 - November 12, 1998.)

Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (3-day James Whale Retrospective) March 13-26, 1975.)