The Invisible Woman (1940 film)

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The Invisible Woman
Directed byA. Edward Sutherland
Screenplay by
Story by
Produced byBurt Kelly
CinematographyElwood Bredell[1]
Edited byFrank Gross[1]
Distributed byUniversal Pictures Co.
Release date
  • 27 December 1940 (1940-12-27)
Running time
70 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States[2]
Box office≈$660,000

The Invisible Woman is an American science fiction comedy film directed by A. Edward Sutherland.[2] It is the third film in The Invisible Man film series following The Invisible Man and The Invisible Man Returns, which had been released earlier in the year. It was more of a screwball comedy than other films in the series.[3]

The film stars Virginia Bruce in the lead role, the aging John Barrymore, John Howard, Charlie Ruggles, and Oscar Homolka, and features Margaret Hamilton, Charles Lane, and Shemp Howard.


The wealthy lawyer Richard Russell (John Howard) funds the dotty old inventor Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore) to create an invisibility device. The first test subject for this machine is Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce), a department store model who had been fired from her previous job. The machine proves quite successful, and Kitty uses her invisible state to pay back her sadistic former boss, Mr. Growley (Charles Lane).

While the Professor and the invisible Kitty are off visiting the lodge of the millionaire Russell, the gangster Blackie Cole (Oscar Homolka) sends in his gang of moronic thugs (including strangely Shemp Howard) to steal the device. With the machine back at their hideout, however, they cannot get it to work. By now, Kitty has returned to visibility, and the thugs are sent in to kidnap her and Gibbs. However, she has learned that some alcohol will restore her to invisibility, and uses this to defeat the gang (with help from Russell).

At the end of the film, it is revealed she has married Richard and become a mother. To top it off, she and the professor learn that her treatment has apparently become hereditary, as her infant son vanishes upon being rubbed with an alcohol-based lotion.


Cast is sourced from the book Universal Horrors:[1]


After the success of The Invisible Man Returns, Universal Pictures began work on a followup and signed Curt Siodmak to develop the idea in 1940 with comedy writers Frederic I. Rinaldo and Robert Lees.[1] Universal gave the film a $300,000 budget.[1] For the role of the invisible woman, Margaret Sullivan had originally been slated for the role of the invisible woman as she owed Universal one more film in her contract.[1] Sullivan had been approached by director John Cromwell to play the lead in So Ends Our Night which led to her failing to report to Universal for The Invisible Woman.[4][5] Sullivan received a restraining order preventing her from working elsewhere.[5] These details were later worked out allowing her to finish Cromwell's film, if she would continue work on two films of Universal.[5] Virginia Bruce was cast as the role of the invisible woman and signed her contract on September 12, 1940.[5]

John Barrymore, cast as Prof. Gibbs, was beginning to have trouble memorizing his dialogue.[5] According to John Howard, Barrymore began doing lines by cutting up the script and placing it on set behind vases, behind phones, so he could look and find his lines.[5] Howard states that "Barrymore was an ordinary fellow. He wasn't stuffy and he had no pretense whatsoever. Even in pictures that you felt weren't up to snuff, I don't think he showed any disdain. We knew perfectly well The Invisible Woman wasn't going to be an award-winning picture, but it was fun to do. No one took it seriously".[5] Also among the cast was Maria Montez, in her first film role.[6]


The Invisible Woman was distributed by Universal Pictures on December 27, 1940.[1][2] The Invisible Woman was nominated for the 1942 Academy Awards for special effects for photographic effects by John Fulton and sound effects by John Hall.[7] The film lost the award to I Wanted Wings.[7] On its release, the film grossed a total of just under $660,000.[8] The film was followed by Invisible Agent on July 31, 1942.[9]


From contemporary reviews, Theodore Strauss of The New York Times called the film "silly, banal and repetitious ... The script is as creaky as a two-wheeled cart and were it not for the fact that John Barrymore is taking a ride in it we hate to think what The Invisible Woman might have turned out to be".[10] Variety called it "good entertainment for general audiences".[11] Film Daily called it "laugh-packed", "brightly dialogued" and "a lot of fun".[12] Harrison's Reports declared it "a pretty good comedy for the masses ... but it does not offer anything new to those who saw the other pictures in which the character became invisible".[13] John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote: "The old stunt is still good, yet it's not used to much advantage here ... In fact, this is the feeblest example so far of that stunt which the camera can so easily make funny".[14]

At the time of its release, this film was considered slightly risqué because much is made of the fact that the heroine, though invisible, is naked during much of the action.[4]


In November 2019, a spin-off film centered around the female counterpart to Invisible Man was in development. Elizabeth Banks will star in, direct, and produce The Invisible Woman, based on her own original pitch. Erin Cressida Wilson will write the script of the reboot of the female monster, while Max Handelman and Alison Small will serve as producer and executive producer, respectively.[15] Banks was allowed to choose a project by Universal Pictures from the roster of Universal Monsters, ultimately choosing The Invisible Woman.[16]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Weaver, Brunas & Brunas 2007, p. 237.
  2. ^ a b c d e "The Invisible Woman". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  3. ^ The Invisible Woman article at Turner Classic Movies accessed 10 January 2014
  4. ^ a b Hallenbeck 2009, p. 31-32.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Weaver, Brunas & Brunas 2007, p. 238.
  6. ^ Haugland 1941, p. L2.
  7. ^ a b "The 14th Academy Awards (1942) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-21.
  8. ^ Weaver, Brunas & Brunas 2007, p. 241.
  9. ^ Weaver, Brunas & Brunas 2007, p. 294.
  10. ^ Strauss, Theodore (January 9, 1941). "Movie Review - The Invisible Woman". The New York Times. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  11. ^ "The Invisible Woman". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. January 1, 1941. p. 14.
  12. ^ "Reviews of New Films". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 7 January 7, 1941.
  13. ^ "'The Invisible Woman' with John Barrymore, Virginia Bruce and John Howard". Harrison's Reports: 7. January 11, 1941.
  14. ^ Mosher, John (January 11, 1941). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 61.
  15. ^ Kroll, Justin (November 26, 2019). "Elizabeth Banks to Direct, Star in Invisible Woman for Universal". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  16. ^ Donnelly, Matt (February 11, 2020). "Hollywood Still Trying to Put a Ring on Universal's 'Bride of Frankenstein' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved March 14, 2021.


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