The Invisible Man, to be pedantically precise, is not a monster movie but a science fiction story. H.G. Wells’ tale of a scientist who develops a technique to render the human body (his own) invisible is not really monstrous in a physical sense but because the technique drives the inventor insane we are back in the neighborhood of the Mad Scientist. And since Dr. Frankenstein is then brought to mind we can shoehorn this science fiction story into the genre. Claude Rains (the Wolfman’s father from an earlier chapter of this review) is the Invisible Man. Or rather Claude Rains voice is the star of the movie, since until the very last scene we can’t see his face. But it’s a very good voice. And since often we can’t exactly tell what he’s doing he spends a fair amount of time telegraphing his actions to help us guess what his actions are that the other characters are pantomiming around. And he’s an active fellow. He kills a few people with his bare (invisible) hands. He bludgeons some others and he goes in for some mass murder via railway sabotage. He ends up a rather unsavory fellow. But somehow there remains a somewhat sympathetic core to the character. Based on the people who still try to help him he must have been a good man before his descent into madness. Therefore, we can look at him as a victim of his own scientific curiosity.
All that aside, it’s a fun movie. The scientific intelligence, megalomania and irritable persona of the Invisible Man is juxtaposed against the plodding mediocrity, skeptical common sense and parochial outlook of the English villagers and local constables who are dumbfounded and unbelieving as to the true cause of the strange goings on. Whenever they declare the inexplicable events a hoax the Invisible Man steps in and gives them a painful (and sometimes fatal) object lesson in his reality.
In the thick of these goings on is my favorite supporting character Una O’Connor as the Innkeeper’s wife. She is a wonderfully shrewish landlady whose suspicious and unkind treatment of the Invisible Man throws him off the deep end. She possesses the most remarkable shrieking scream ever recorded on film. She is a national treasure of sorts. And as a tie-in she plays Dr. Frankenstein’s housekeeper in “The Bride of Frankenstein,” another movie where she chews up the scenery and shrieks a blue streak.
Of course, by the end of the movie and after murdering so many innocent people, the Invisible Man has lost almost all of the audience’s sympathy so that it seems just that he should pay the price for his crimes. But he is allowed the touching death scene where he regains his humanity and seemingly his sanity.
So, to reiterate, this is not a monster movie but there is a Mad Scientist and several of our old friends from earlier Universal Monster Movies do show up. It’s basically a tour de force for Claude Rains (or rather his voice). I give it my seal of approval. Good stuff.