Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Invisible Man (1933) - Classic Review

There are a number of "classic" films that many would consider a prerequisite watch  before ever talking about or reviewing films seriously. Well, this reviewer has seen his fair share over the years but there are still a good number that remain unseen to these eyes. So, in an effort to right this wrong this review column has been created to document the first viewing of these "Golden Oldies of the Silver Screen" by this particular reviewer. The criteria for these reviews is the same as any other review and despite the historic significance of any one particular film, they will all be treated the same. That does not mean their status as a classic will be neglected, it just won't influence the final verdict on the film. Just keep in mind that these are the opinions of a film lover seeing these classics for the very first time. So, this week we are taking a look at the 1933 Universal horror classic "The Invisible Man".

Review Vital Stats

Release Date: November 13, 1933
Starring: Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart
Directed by: James Whale
Total Lifetime Grosses: Unknown
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Most memorable quote/moment: The Invisible Man, "An invisible man can rule the world. No one will see him come, no one will see him go. He can rob, and rape, and kill!".
Fun Fact: Boris Karloff was the original pick for the role of the invisible man.

Switching gears this week we are taking a look at the 1933 Universal horror classic "The Invisible Man" which was based off a novel by legendary author H.G. Wells. Considered a technical marvel at its time of release with ground breaking effects work that convincingly hid the film's star Claude Rains from the audience, the film is widely considered to be one of the best horror films ever made. Having a spot in the AFI's top ten horror/Sci-fi films of all time and the character of the Invisible Man himself inducted into the AFI's top 100 heroes/villains list. To say it had a lot to live up to for a first viewing is quite the understatement. The surprising thing about the film isn't that it lives up to its legacy but it is still a slightly effective bit of paranoid filmmaking that manages to strike the right nerve even today.

The technical achievements alone for "The Invisible Man" are enough to solidify its place in the hallowed halls of classic filmmaking. It may seem like a simple task to create the illusion of an invisible man on screen, but it is a much more complicated process than most would think. It's much more than just a couple of parlor tricks with chairs and books moving about a room, there needs to be a real sense that there is an actual living breathing person on screen manipulating objects. That is the one area where the film truly excels, there are some truly impressive visual tricks that seem nearly impossible for a film of that era. The fact that the effects work from this 80 year old film still holds up today and even outshines most modern films in the case of its groundbreaking effects by the trio  John P. Fulton, John J. Mescall and Frank D. Williams (who were all uncredited for the work on the film) is quite astounding.

As with any film heavily reliant on its effects, regardless of when it was made, when used properly they are simply a tool to tell a greater story and that is most certainly the case here. In his first ever appearance (or is that disappearance?) in an American film, Claude Rains plays the infamous and villainous Griffin (aka The Invisible Man), a victim of his own scientific experiments . With there being no actual standout features about the character of Griffin beyond his ailment and his decent into madness, all the pressure is on Rains to develop a character we not only empathize with but also fear. Relegated to a disembodied voice for 99% of the film (only when not covered in bandages and clothing that is), Rains brings a surprising amount menace and evil glee to the table and in turn creates a rather terrifying presence that is hard to forget. He was cast in the role because of the distinct clarity of his voice and that decision paid off in spades.

The same cannot be said for the supporting cast however who are likely just victims of the stereotypical over acting of that era, but their flamboyant acting styles can get a little grating after a while. From the owners of the Inn that Griffin stays at to the daughter of Griffin's employer who loved his former self played by Gloria Stuart, they all pale in comparison to Rains' commanding vocal presence. Rains is also able to overcome another hurdle with the film's surprisingly lean running time (it comes in at just under 80 minutes). Cutting straight to the chase, the usual story devices of  an origin story or any sort of back history for the main protagonist/antagonist is literally flung out the window in favor of a greater focus on his continued decent into madness as he prepares a diabolical scheme to rule the world. By forgoing the usual character development moments we have become so accustomed to the film becomes more of a tragic tale of a man who not only cannot be seen by others but has also lost sight of himself.

As part of the prolific line of Universal horror classics, "The Invisible Man" was a genuine surprise on many fronts. Using the unique perspective of the villain as the main character, featuring some mind boggling effects for its time that still stand up to scrutiny today as well as a powerful performance from leading man Claude Rains who despite only ever being on screen for a single solitary shot owns the movie from beginning to end and a smartly paced story of said individual whose derangement leads to his own demise, "The Invisible Man" is one of those rare movies that truly stands the test of time. It is with great joy to confirm that the film remains just as effective today as it likely was back when it was originally released and it is without a doubt  a true bonafide horror classic that even a casual movie fan can enjoy. 





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