Cast & Crew
Violet Kemble Cooper
Dr. Janos Rukh works in his laboratory in the Carpathian mountains as Sir Francis Stevens, his wife, Lady Arabella, her nephew, Ronald Drake, and Dr. Felix Benet, who are planning an African expedition, arrive to witness an experiment. Rukh uses a telescope and other scientific devices to reproduce vibrations from the past by capturing a ray from the distant nebula of Andromeda. Rukh believes that every sound and event in the universe has been recorded somewhere in space, and his ray reveals that a huge meteor once struck primordial Africa. Impressed by the ray, Benet asks Rukh to join their expedition to Nigeria. There, Rukh separates from his colleagues and finds the remains of the meteor, a pit of subterranean activity. Rukh is lowered into the pit and brings back a flashing substance, which melts a rock with its ray when he puts it into a gun-like device. That night Rukh discovers that he glows in the dark, and when he touches his dog, the animal dies. Realizing he has been poisoned, Rukh sends his wife Diane away to save her. After putting on his special suit, Rukh runs to the Stevens' camp to consult Benet, a specialist in astrochemistry. Benet develops a counteractive that checks the poison and Rukh's luminescence, but it must be taken daily and will have an undetermined impact on his brain. Diane, neglected for months by Rukh, soon realizes that she and Ronald are in love. She tells Rukh about her romance in a note sent via Benet, who finds that Rukh is intoxicated with the power of his ray to destroy. The expedition returns to Europe, where Stevens announces the discovery of Rukh's Radium X. Rukh cures his mother's blindness with the ray. In Paris, he finds that Benet is curing legions of the sick at his clinic with the rays of Radium X. Rukh believes Stevens, Benet and Diane have stolen his glory, although all acknowledge his contribution. Rukh kills and mutilates a stranger so that he will be believed dead. Diane and Ronald marry at the Church of the Six Saints, but do not realize that Rukh has seen them. The statues of the six saints remind Rukh of the six individuals who went to Africa, and he takes lodgings across the street. Later Stevens is found dead with a horrible look in his eyes, and after making an ultra-violet photograph of them, Benet discovers the reflection of Rukh. When Arabella dies shortly afterward, Benet points out to police the phosphorescent mark of a hand on her neck. Meanwhile, Rukh marks each murder by melting one of the six statues with the ray. To capture Rukh, an invitation-only lecture by Benet on Radium X is announced. In order to gain admittance, Rukh kills a professor and obtains his pass. At midnight, the lights are turned out to expose Rukh's luminosity, which has gone unchecked since he has delayed taking the counteractive in order to make his touch deadly. Rukh kills Benet with his hands, but cannot bring himself to do the same to Diane. When his mother then arrives, she destroys the counteractive and convinces Rukh to kill himself. Rukh jumps through a window and turns to ashes.
Violet Kemble Cooper
Jean De Briac
Isabelle La Mal
Adele St. Maur
Ann Marie Conte
Fred "snowflake" Toones
Albert S. D'agostino
John P. Fulton
Fred S. Meyer
The Invisible Ray
The story opens in the Carpathian Mountains at the home of scientist Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff, billed simply as "Karloff" in the credits) who has invited some colleagues to witness an experiment. The invited guests - Dr. Felix Benet (Bela Lugosi), Sir Francis Stevens (Walter Kingsford), his wife Lady Arabella (Beulah Bondi), and her nephew Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton) - learn that Rukh has located the site of a primordial meteor crash in Africa and subterranean activity indicates the mass is still active. Rukh believes the meteor contains Radium X, a substance with miraculous curative powers, and immediately organizes an expedition to the site accompanied by his young wife Diana (Frances Drake) and his benefactors. Rukh does indeed locate the meteor and extract the Radium X but at a price. He becomes contaminated in the process with skin that glows in the dark and the ability to kill by the mere touch of his hand. Dr. Benet develops a temporary antidote for Rukh's radiation poisoning but its long term effects on the patient become clear - Rukh develops delusions of grandeur fueled by paranoia. Soon he suspects his colleagues of plotting against him and begins to murder them one by one after faking his own death. But the glowing hand prints on the murder victims are proof Rukh is still at large and his wife Diana and Ronald, her new fiancé, are clearly slated as his next target.
The Invisible Ray experienced numerous personnel changes before production actually began. Gloria Stuart was originally cast in the role of Diana but was fed up with being a Universal contractee who was cast mainly in B movies with few exceptions. Her agent got her released from her contract and she promptly signed with 20th-Century-Fox who offered her The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), directed by John Ford. Frances Drake, who made such a memorable impression as the terrorized object of Peter Lorre's obsession in Mad Love (1935), became her replacement. Director Stuart Walker (Werewolf of London, 1935) also left the picture when the studio refused him a three-day delay to work on script improvements. Instead, Lambert Hillyer, who had directed numerous William S. Hart westerns and the Lon Chaney film, The Shock (1923), was brought in to helm the project.
Unlike The Black Cat and The Raven, The Invisible Ray had a budget which was almost double that of those two films. This was no B movie and that was obvious; from the hiring of composer Franz Waxman to create the swirling, dramatic score to the casting of such distinguished character actors as Beulah Bondi in key supporting roles to the special effects magic of John P. Fulton whose work in this feature still astonishes today. Fulton insisted on working on closed sets to prevent his technical secrets from being stolen and his perfectionism actually caused the film to go over schedule. But it was worth it for the Planetarium sequence alone where Rukh demonstrates his space/time travel theory. He also created, with makeup artist Jack Pierce, a luminous makeup for Karloff which ended up being abandoned in favor of Fulton adding a pulsating glow to the film negative.
In Karloff and Lugosi: The Story of a Haunting Collaboration by Gregory William Mank (McFarland & Co.), actress Frances Drake fondly recalled working with Karloff on The Invisible Ray: "Boris was a darling man...He was so good-natured, too. Remember when he's in Africa in the film, up on that sort of "lift," the platform which lowers him into the radium pit? They played a trick on him, while we were shooting out on the back lot...after they raised him up, very high on the platform, they went off, during the lunch hour - and left Boris up there! And he was such a good sport about it! Absolutely charming!" Drake also recalled her scene with Karloff when he rages against the scientific community with the angry vow, "They'll never laugh at me again," and she ruined the first take by giggling. "It was my first day, and Karloff was in his laboratory, and I had to go in and call his name. Well, I hadn't realized that he had a slight speech impediment - a lisp. And when he launched into his speech, and I heard the lisp - I had to laugh! Well, it was the first day, so fortunately we just put it down to "first day nerves!"
When The Invisible Ray opened theatrically, theatre exhibitors were encouraged by the pressbook to pull attention-getting stunts to draw in the audiences. The most outlandish suggestion involved the hiring of an extra, dressing him in black, placing a large corrugated box over his shoulders and a large aluminum pot on his head, wrapped in mesh cloth. The "Karloff" imitation would then walk around the streets near the theatre at night holding two flashlights, one in each hand and turn them on and off, as if his hands were glowing in the dark! It's doubtful many exhibitors attempted this but we would pay to see live footage of it!
The Invisible Ray proved to be a box office winner for Universal and it's interesting to note the contrasting acting styles of Karloff and Lugosi here. Karloff, who is usually more subtly sinister in his villainous roles, is convincingly unhinged and over-the-top as Rukh, given to such wild-eyed proclamations as "I could destroy a nation! All nations!" Lugosi, on the other hand, is remarkably subdued as Dr. Benet, exuding a quiet authority and concern for his ill-fated colleague without ever lapsing into the mad scientist stereotype. It is one of his most sympathetic and rarely heralded performances.
Some trivia of note: Sets from the Universal serial Flash Gordon were said to be used for The Invisible Ray. Later excerpts from The Invisible Ray - scenes of Karloff in his odd protective gear descending into the Radium X pit - were utilized for the 1939 serial The Phantom Creeps which starred Bela Lugosi; Universal had also planned another co-venture with Karloff and Lugosi entitled The Man in the Cab but it was abandoned until 1941 when it reached the screens as Man Made Monster with Lon Chaney, Jr. in the title role.
Producer: Edmund Grainger, Fred S. Meyer
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Screenplay: Howard Higgin (story), Douglas Hodges (story), John Colton
Cinematography: George Robinson
Film Editing: Bernard W. Burton
Art Direction: Albert S. D’Agostino
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Janos Rukh), Bela Lugosi (Dr. Felix Benet), Frances Drake (Diana Rukh), Frank Lawton (Ronald Drake), Violet Kemble Cooper (Mother Rukh), Walter Kingsford (Sir Francis Stevens).
by Jeff Stafford
The Invisible Ray
After the credits the following foreword appears on screen: "Every scientific fact accepted today once burned as a fantastic fire in the mind of someone called mad. Who are we on this youngest and smallest of planets to say that the INVISIBLE RAY is impossible to science? That which you are now to see is a theory whispered in the cloisters of science. Tomorrow these theories May startle the universe as fact." The synopsis included in the copyright records gives "the time" of the story as "the present." According to modern sources, sets from Universal's serial Flash Gordon, which was being filmed at the same time, were used in this production, and stock footage of electrical machinery was taken from Frankenstein. Material from The Invisible Ray was used in Universal's 1939 Bela Lugosi serial, The Phantom Creeps, according to modern sources. In addition, modern sources state that Universal intended to make another picture, The Man in the Cab, with Boris Karloff [who was billed on The Invisible Ray simply as "Karloff"] and Bela Lugosi, based on a similar theme and featuring Karloff as an electrical monster. However, the script for The Man in the Cab was abandoned temporarily as interest in science fiction films waned, and was not filmed until 1941 as Man Made Monster.