The Invisible Man (1933 film)
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|The Invisible Man|
|Directed by||James Whale|
|Produced by||Carl Laemmle Jr.|
|Screenplay by||R.C. Sherriff|
|Based on||The Invisible Man|
by H. G. Wells
|Music by||Heinz Roemheld|
|Edited by||Ted Kent|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures Corp.|
The Invisible Man is a 1933 American science fiction horror film directed by James Whale. Based on H. G. Wells' 1897 The Invisible Man and produced by Universal Pictures, the film stars Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart and William Harrigan. The film involves a man named Dr. Jack Griffin who is covered in bandages with eyes obscured by dark glasses, taking lodging at a village in Ipping. Never leaving his quarters, the stranger demands that the staff leave him completely alone until he is discovered by landlady that he is Invisible. Griffin returns to the laboratory of his mentor, Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), where he reveals his secret to Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) and former fiancee Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart) who soon learn that Griffin's discover drives him insane, leading him to prove his superiority over other humanity at first performing harmless pranks and eventually turning to turns to murder.
The Invisible Man was in development for Universal as early as 1931 when Richard L. Schayer and Robert Florey suggested that Wells' novel would be make a good follow-up to the studio's horror film hit Dracula. Universal opted to make Frankenstein in 1931 instead, leading to several screenplay adaptions written by and several potential directors including Florey, E.A. Dupont, Cyril Gardner and screenwriters John L. Balderston, Preston Sturges and Garrett Fort all signing on to develop the film with the intention of having it as a film for Boris Karloff. Following Whale's work on The Old Dark House and The Kiss Before the Mirror, Whale signed on and his screenwriting colleague R.C. Sherriff develop a script in London. Production began in June 1933 and ended in August 1933 with two months of special effects work to be developed following August ending of filming.
On the film's release in 1933, it was great financial success for Universal and received strong reviews from several trade publications, including the New York Times which placed it among their Best in Film for the year 1933. The film went on to have several sequels that were relatively unrelated to the original film in the 1940s and a remake in 2020. The film continued to receive praise on revaluations from critics such as Carlos Clarens, Jack Sullivan and Kim Newman as well as being listed as favourite genre films by filmmakers John Carpenter, Joe Dante and Ray Harryhausen. In 2008, The Invisible Man was selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
On a snowy night, a stranger with his face swathed in bandages and his eyes obscured by dark goggles, takes a room at The Lion's Head Inn in the English village of Iping in Sussex. The man demands that he be left alone. Later, the innkeeper, Mr. Hall, is sent by his wife to evict the stranger after the stranger has made a huge mess in his room while doing research and has fallen behind in his rent. Angered, the stranger throws Mr. Hall down the stairs. Confronted by a policeman and some local villagers, he removes his bandages and goggles, revealing that he is invisible. Laughing maniacally, he takes off his clothes, making himself completely undetectable, and drives off his tormenters before fleeing into the countryside.
The stranger is Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist who discovered the secret of invisibility while conducting a series of tests involving an obscure drug called monocane. Flora Cranley, Griffin's fiancée and the daughter of Griffin's employer, Dr. Cranley, becomes distraught over Griffin's long absence. Cranley and his other assistant, Dr. Kemp, search Griffin's empty laboratory, finding only a single note in a cupboard. Cranley becomes concerned when he reads it. On the note is a list of chemicals, including monocane, which Cranley knows is extremely dangerous; an injection of it drove a dog mad in Germany. Griffin, it seems, is unaware of this. Cranley deduces that he may have learned about monocane in English books printed before the incident that describe only its bleaching power.
On the evening of his escape from the inn, Griffin turns up at Kemp's home. He forces Kemp to become his visible partner in a plot to dominate the world through a reign of terror, commencing with "a few murders here and there." They drive back to the inn to retrieve his notebooks on the invisibility process. Sneaking inside, Griffin finds a police inquiry underway, conducted by an official who believes that it is all a hoax. After securing his books, Griffin angrily attacks and kills the officer.
Back home, Kemp calls first Cranley, asking for help, and then the police. Flora persuades her father to let her come along. In her presence, Griffin becomes more placid and calls her "darling." When he realizes that Kemp has betrayed him, his first reaction is to get Flora away from danger. After promising Kemp that at 10 o'clock the next night he will murder him, Griffin escapes and goes on a killing spree. He causes the derailment of a train, resulting in a hundred deaths, and throws two volunteer searchers off a cliff. The police offer a reward for anyone who can think of a way to catch him.
The chief detective in charge of the search uses Kemp as bait, feeling that Griffin will try to fulfill his promise, and devises various clever traps. At Kemp's insistence, the police disguise him in a police uniform and let him drive his car away from his house. Griffin, however, is hiding in the back seat of the car. He overpowers Kemp and ties him up in the front seat. Griffin then sends the car down a steep hill and over a cliff, where it explodes on impact.
A late-season snowstorm forces Griffin to seek shelter in a barn, where he soon falls asleep. Later a farmer enters; he hears snoring and sees the hay, in which Griffin is sleeping, move. The man notifies the police, who rush out to the farm and surround the barn. They set fire to the building, which forces Griffin to come out, leaving visible footprints in the snow. The chief detective opens fire, mortally wounding Griffin. He is taken to the hospital where, hours later, a surgeon informs Dr. Cranley that Griffin is dying and asking to see Flora. On his deathbed, Griffin admits to Flora, "I meddled in things that man must leave alone." As he dies, his body quickly becomes visible again.
Cast sourced from the book Universal Horrors.
Following the success of Dracula, Richard L. Schayer and Robert Florey suggested to Universal Pictures as early as 1931 that an adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man would make a suitable follow-up. Both Carl Laemmle and Carl Laemmle Jr. opted to make a film adaptation of Frankenstein instead. While Frankenstein was shooting, Universal bought the rights to the novel on September 22, 1931 for a total of $10,000. On selling the novel, Wells demanded script approval from Universal. Universal had purchased the rights to the Philip Wylie 1931 novel The Murderer Invisible, with the intention to lift some of the more gruesome elements from the novel to incorporate into Wells' story.}
The initial director set up for the project is James Whale, who Lammle Jr. has great faith in after directing R.C. Sherriff's play Journey's End in London and New York, directing the 1930 film Journey's End. Following the release of Frankenstein which would break box office records across the United States, Universal has the film's star Boris Karloff signed to a five year contract. The Los Angeles Record stated that Karloff's next film would be The Invisible Man on December 29, 1931. By January 28, 1931 Whale had left the project, wary of being tagged as a "horror" director which left the film with only Karloff cast without a script or director set.
The first director set to replace Whale was Florey, whose film Murders in the Rue Morgue was released in February. By April 9, Florey dates a draft of The Invisible Man co-written with Garrett Fort who had contributed to the scripts of both Dracula and Frankenstein. Their script is mostly based on Wylie's The Murderer Invisible. The outlines includes plot elements such as an invisible octopus, invisible rats and blowing up Grand Central Station . Universal was not willing to wait for Florey to work out the script and technical difficulties for the film, and decided to make The Old Dark House as Karloff's next feature with Whale as a director. Whale had decided to return to horror features with the film, following the financial failure of his film The Impatient Maiden. By June 1932, producer Sam Bischoff left Universal to set-up his own independent studio and invited Florey to come with him leading him to leave the studio. By June 6, John L. Balderston, whose name has appeared in the credits of Dracula and Frankenstein submits a screenplay for The Invisible Man in collaboration with the film's new director John L. Balderston. This was Balderston's third attempt at the script and is primarily based on Wylie's novel. In mid-1932, Universal writers John Huston and studio scenario editor Richard Schayer make attempts at new treatments for the film. By July 18, there is still no officially approved script and Karloff is sent on loan to MGM to shoot The Mask of Fu Manchu.
By November, after the release of The Old Dark House, Whale is once again set to be the director of The Invisible Man with a new script being written by Preston Sturges. Sturges' script involves a Russian chemist who makes a madman invisible to wreak vengeance on Bolsheviks who have destroyed his family. After working on the script for eight weeks, Sturges hands in his screenplay and is fired by Universal the next day. Sheriff describes Sturges draft "a sort of transparent Scarlet Pimpernel" . On November 5, it is reported that Karloff is set to star in a film titled The Wizard to be directed by E.A. Dupont while Whale will film Karloff in The Invisible Man in early 1933. Whale is also writes his own treatment for the film. Whale's treatment was described by historian Gregory Mank as inspired by both The Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and being interjected with religious touched he had in his films Frankenstein and The Old Dark House. After this draft is rejected by Wells, Whale leaves The Invisible Man again. By January 17, 1933, Universal had reported a loss of $1,250,283 in 1932 and plans to shut down for six to eight weeks after their current productions finish shooting.  While Whale is directing The Kiss Before the Mirror, while E.A. Dupont's project The Wizard is never filmed leading him to become the next person set to direct The Invisible Man. John Weld is signed on to write the film's script and browses several rejected drafts, including one by Laird Doyle. Weld asks for a copy of Wells' novel from Universal who does not have a copy, leading him to get his own for source material. Another new writer is attached to write the script by February 3, with Sherriff writing the screenplay in London and Whale once again directing. Sheriff worked on the script in his home in London and disregarded Universal's requests to draw material from Wylie's The Murderer Invisible and the previous scripts drafts that were written. Universal Studios is closed down in February 13 with only executives and skeleton crew retained on payroll. This leads to Whale being on a 12 week layoff before directing The Invisible Man. Universal has reported they plan on having Karloff return to The Invisible Man in May. After Universal reopen by May, Whale's new film for Universal The Kiss Before the Mirror is released to critical acclaim but among the studios lowest grossing films at Los Angeles and New York.
While Sherriff is completing is still working for the film at the beginning on June 1, several different trade papers announce Karloff leaving the picture. The Hollywood Reporter reported on May 16 that Karloff was "definitely out" while Variety reported that he had left the project by June 1 citing salary issues. Wells approves of Sherriff's script, including his changes such as having Griffin's drug monocaine not just making him invisible, but also drive him into insanity. Shrerriff recalled that "[Wells] agreed with me entirely that an invisible lunatic would make people sit up in the cinema more quickly than a sane man." Sherriff completed his draft and returned to Hollywood in July 1933. Some sources, such as Phil Hardy's book Science Fiction and Carlos Clarens' An Illustrated History of the Horror Film, state that Wylie revised Sherriff's final draft, with the authors of the book Universal Horrors finding no evidence that support this claim.
Colin Clive was considered for the title role of the film by Whale, but Whale thought of actor Claude Rains who he met in a London company play of The Insect PLay in 1923. Rains had a career at the time only as a stage actor in both New York and London and the choice of casting him was discouraged by Universal who did not want an unknown actor in the lead. Rains had been earning so little money from his work on stage was considering leaving theater completely as he had recently bought a farm in New Jersey Whale had tracked down a screen test Rains had done for A Bill of Divorcement which Rains later described as "terrible" and that he was "all over the place! I knew nothing about screen technique, of course, and just carried on as if I was in an enormous theatre. When I saw the test, I was shocked and frightened." After viewing these screen tests, Whale desired to have Rains as the lead and had him do a screen test with Rains reading the scene where Griffin boasts to Dr. Kemp about his plans to rule the world. Universal approved of the screen test and signed Rains for a two-picture deal, including the top billing in The Invisible Man. While filming, Rains would ask Whale to let him act more emotionally, asking Whale if he could "try to express something with [his] eyes" in which Whale would reply "But Claude, old fellow, what are you going to do it with? You haven't any face!"
Whale did not fully divulge the details of the role to Rains, but had him sent to studio labs to prepare for special effects, where molds and casts of his head were made. Gloria Stuart, who had worked with Whale in The Old Dark House and The Kiss Before the Mirror acted in the film as Flora Cranley. Stuart reflected on working with Rains and found working with him to be difficult, stating that "He was molto difficile, he was an "actor's actor" and he didn't really give." The role of Dr. Arthur Kemp was set for Chester Morris who on finding out the unflattering role, left the project. William Harrigan was set as his replacement, who had worked with Rains in a 1932 play version of The Moon in the Yellow River. Other actors cast in the film were on the verge of their Hollywood success, including Walter Brennan playing a man whose bicycle is stolen and John Carradine as an informer.
Among the crew is cinematographer Arthur Edeson, who had worked with Whale's Waterloo Bridge, Frankenstein, The Impatient Maiden and The Old Dark House. The score for The Invisible Man was done by Heinz Roemheld, who would later score Dracula's Daughter, The Black Cat and later win an Academy Award for Yankee Doodle Dandy. Roemheld was a former concert pianist, and conductor who had impressed Carl Laemmle with his accompaniment to screenings of the 1925 film The Phantom of the Opera. Roemheld left Universal in 1931 but returned in 1933 to score The Invisible Man. The film's score is only heard in the opening and closing credits, and the last seven minutes of the film. The film's score was recycled in later Universal productions, a common practice during the 1930s. The music is heard again in Werewolf of London, The Black Cat (1934), and the two film serials Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.
Initial shooting of The Invisible Man began at the end of June 1933. Filming concluded in late August. All the special effects were shots were done in what Gloria Stuart recalled as "in utmost secrecy" during production. The special effects work took another two months to work on. Universal press clips falsely promoted that the invisibility effects were only done with optical effects performed with mirrors. Whale worked closely with John P. Fulton on the film's special effects. He exposed how the effects were done in a September 1934 issue of American Cinematographer, stating that they shot against a completely back set with walls and floors covered in black velvet to make it non-reflective. The actor was then covered head to foot with black velvet tights, and wore whatever clothes he required for the scene. With this negative, a print was made, and a duplicate negative was made to server as mattes for printing, then with their ordinary printer, they made a composite first printing the positive of the background and normal action, using the negative matte to mask off the area where the invisible man was to move. Fulton stated the principal difficulty of this was matching the lighting on the visible clothes shot with the general lighting used in the scenes and fixing small imperfections such as the scenes with eye-holes which were touched up in the film frame by frame with a brush and opaque dye.
For other scenes, where Rains is unwrapping the bandage from his head to villagers, Rain's own head is hidden below his collar, and the bandages are being taken off a thin wire frame. Other effects involving props moving "by themselves" are done with wires being pulled by booms or dollys. The final budget after Fulton finishes the special effects is $328,033.
Following the October 26 press screening, a reviewer in The Hollywood Reporter praised the film declaring it "a legitimate offspring of the family that produced Frankenstein and Dracula" and predicted that the film would "fare better in the neighborhoods that either of its predecessors." The review went on to specifically praise the work of Whale, Rains, and Sherriff. The Invisible Man was screened at October 31, 1933 at a theatre called Kiva in Greeley, Colorado. Other screenings took place in Chicago where it premiered at the Palace Theatre on November 10, 1933, in New York where it premiered at the Roxy Theater on November 17, 1933, and Los Angeles where it premiered at the RKO-Hill Street Theatre on November 17, 1933. The film was distributed theatrically by Universal Pictures. When the film played at Los Angeles RKO-Hillstreet, it played to nearly empty houses. However, it performed far better at New York's Roxy where it earned $26,000 in its first three days. It broke records at the New York theatre for their 1932-1933 season. 80,000 patrons saw the film in four days with $42,000 being collecting there during the week, leading to the film to be held over for a second week. The film moves to two theatres in New York: The Radio City Roxy and the RKO Palace, where it continues to perform well. The Invisble Man never performed well in Los Angeles on its initial release, where it grossed $4,300 within a week. Overall, the film was described by the authors of Universal Horrors as a "big success" at the box office. The film opened in London on January 28, 1934 at the Tivoli Theatre where it was also an enormous hit. The total gross of The Invisible Man is unknown.
In 2000, Universal released The Invisible Man on VHS and DVD as part of the "Classic Monster Collection", a series of releases of Universal Classic Monsters films. In 2004, Universal released The Invisible Man: The Legacy Collection on DVD as part of the "Universal Legacy Collection". This two-disc release includes The Invisible Man, along with The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, and The Invisible Man's Revenge, as well as a short documentary—Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed—hosted by film historian Rudy Behlmer. In 2012, Universal Studios celebrating its 100th anniversary, released a restored version of The Invisble Man as it had done for Dracula, Frankenstein, and Bride of Frankenstein. Universal egnaged Technicolor Creative Service to prepare a new print, combined with Universal's preservation acetate dupe negative and a nitrate dupe found at the British Film Institute. This new print featured long-missing frames, and digital repair of scratches and stains and improved sound. In the same year, The Invisible Man was released on Blu-ray as part of the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection box set, which includes a total of nine films from the Universal Classic Monsters series. The film received a standalone Blu-ray release in 2013, followed by six-film release of the films in the Invisible Man series in a Complete Legacy Collection on Blu-ray.
From contemporary reviews, Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times wrote, "The story makes such superb cinematic material that one wonders that Hollywood did not film it sooner. Now that it has been done, it is a remarkable achievement." A critic credited as "Char." in Variety called the film "something new and refreshing in film frighteners" that "will more than satisfy audiences," but suggested that some of the laughs in the picture might not have been intentional. Thornton Delehanty of The New York Post praised the film, stating that "[T]he success of the picture is due as much to [the] intelligence with which R.C. Sherriff has adapted the story of the screen and the quality of awesomeness and suspense which James Whale, in his direction has managed to inject it. The intelligence of the authors has been matched by the director, and the picture stands as a testament to intelligent collaboration [...] The Invisible Man is one of the best thrillers of the year." Kate Cameron of The New York Daily News gave the film a three and a half star rating, praising Rains' performance stating "his voice carrying a sinsiter note that is very effective in this kind of horror role" and declared the film to be one that "should not be missed." Film Daily wrote, "It will satisfy all those who like the bizarre and the outlandish in their film entertainment." John Mosher of The New Yorker called the film a "bright little oddity" The New York Times placed the film at number nine on its 1933 "Ten Best" list.
From retrospective reviews, critics commented on the film's humor, special effects and Rains performance. In his 1967 book The Illustrated History of Horror and Science-Fiction Films, Carlos Clarens praised the film, stating that "The scene where Griffin first flaunts his invisibility is the kind of cinema magic that paralyzes disbelief and sets the most skeptical audience wondering.". Clarens went on to note that "Not only is the show a technical tour de force, The Invisible Man also contains some of the best dialogue every written for a fantastic film." Jack Sullivan wrote in The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986) that the gags in The Invisible Man were "the opposite of strained", noting that Griffin singing in only his pyjama pants was "a piece of unabashed prankishness, but it's also something beyond that: the sudden eye-opening enchantment of the scene is worthy of Grimms or L. Frank Baum" concluding that the scene was "the perfect image to define Whale's lightly horrific fairy-tale magic." In Phil Hardy's 1984 book Science Fiction , the reviewer praised Fulton's special effects as "deservedly, [been] widely praised" and "still create a primitive sense of amazement and wonder" while the screenplay was described as "slow-moving" but that "Whale's impish sense of black comedy remains a delight." In Kim Newman and James Marriott's book The Definitive Guide to Horror Movies (2006), Marriott praised the film as a perfectly judged marriage of menace and comedy, anchored by superlative special special effects and a bravura performance from Rains." Newman praised the special effects in the film, declaring that "special effects genius John P. Fulton accomplished with 1930s technology was certainly on a par with anything in 1992's Chevy Chase vehicle Memoirs of an Invisible Man." Newman also praised Rains role as Griffin,noting the "expressive gestures" as "vital to his performance" and "had a terrific voice: velvety with a sly twist, perfect for those wonderful mad scientist speeches." Newman concluded in his five star review of the film in Empire that "If you set aside Frankenstein as more of a horror film and King Kong as a fantasy, The Invisible Man is the first truly great American science fiction film."
Retrospective response to the film include the film being listed within several "Best-of" genre lists. The book The Variety Book of Movie Lists, The Invisible Man was listed among the best films of certain genres by artists in their respective fields. This included directors Joe Dante (Best of Horror), John Carpenter (Best Science Fiction) where he referred the film as "brilliant", and Ray Harryhausen (Best of Fantasy) where Harryhausen stated that "Where do science fiction and so-called horror films begin and fantasy films leave off? Surely the must overlap." In Phil Hardy's Science Fiction (1984), when critics were asked to list the greatest science fiction films of all time, critic Denis Gifford included it in his top ten. In 2008, The Invisible Man was selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Universal revived an Invisible Man character for future films, but did not attempt to connect the films with any direct story line as they had done with their films with The Mummy or Frankenstein. Examples of these connections include The Invisible Man Returns where the character Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price) receives the invisibility formula from Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton), a relative of Jack Griffin from the first film and Invisible Spy where Frank Raymond is the grandson of Jack Griffin. In The Invisible Man's Revenge, the screenplay does not connect Robert Griffin with the previous Griffins who either created, understood, and or operated with the invisibility formula. Universal Pictures first announced the development of The Invisible Man Returns in March 1939, around the time Son of Frankenstein had found itself doing decently in the box office. The Invisible Man Returns was distributed theatrically on January 12, 1940. The Invisible Man character shows up in Son of the Invisible Man, one of the episodes of the film Amazon Women on the Moon. The scene is directed by Carl Gottlieb features Ed Begley, Jr. in an inn similar to the 1933 film where he only thinks he's invisible.
Rains career benefited greatly from his role in the film, allowing him to become one of Hollywood's most valuable actors, that would lead him on to roles what Newman praised as "everything from The Adventures of Robin Hood (as Bad King John) to Casablanca". In his 1934 autobiography, Wells only briefly mentioned the film version The Invisible Man, stating that it was "a tale that, thanks largely to the recent film produced by James Whale, is still read as much as ever it was. To many young people nowaways I am just the author of the Invisible Man" In another interview, Wells protested about Whale's film having Griffin insane by means of the monocaine drug, but praised the film overall. Reflecting on her work at Universal, Gloria Stuart described working at the studio as very potchpee, noting how ramshackle it was with make-up rooms and wardrobe areas being "very, very primitive" and that outside the films she made Whale, she declared all her work at Universal "were terrible. real B stuff." and the cast and crew working at Universal "considered it slumming." 
In February 2016, it was announced that Johnny Depp would star in the remake with Ed Solomon writing the film's script, while Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan would be the producers. On November 8, 2017, Kurtzman and Morgan moved on to other projects. In 2019, Universal announced and began production on the new The Invisible Man that was written and directed by Leigh Whannell and produced by Jason Blum, starring Elisabeth Moss.
When a trailer for the film was released in December 2019, Robert Moran of The Sydney Morning Herald commented that it "met with the kind of confusion that could rattle a filmmaker, not to mention a studio. It seems monster movie fans, long-attuned to the bandage-wrapped antics of The Invisible Man of yore, weren't expecting Whannell's allegory on domestic violence trauma." Whannell commented on his change from the norm on the style, stating "I knew there was going to be some whiplash with this film because I'm modernizing it and centering it not around the Invisible Man but his victim. I knew some people would butt up against that. This is a story that's been around a long time and people keep it close to their heart, and when you mess with that you have to expect some fallout. My biggest hope is that, first and foremost, people see it, and secondly they understand I'm putting this story in front of an audience who can appreciate it in a new way." and compared his The Invisible Man film to popular image of the character stating "The iconic image of the Invisible Man is one of a floating pair of sunglasses, you know? I knew I had to move it away from that."
Whannell's The Invisible Man was released on February 28, 2020.
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