An adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel of the same name, “The Invisible Man” (1933) joins the ranks of the Universal Classic Monsters series as the closest film to the actual novel it was based on. This, surprisingly for the time, is due to H.G. Wells’ ability to negotiate script approval when he sold the film rights to Universal – a previously rare, if almost unheard of, term for an author to demand, setting precedence for film adaptations thereafter.
This film in particular had several setbacks throughout development. First of all, the script went through at least 14 different complete rewrites before landing on the final script, which was the closest adaptation of the novel, at the author’s request. Another setback this film faced was that the ever-famous Boris Karloff was the first choice to portray the titular character. However, due to his “wish to be seen on screen” or his outright brawl with director James Whale, allegedly due to Karloff’s distinct lisp, Karloff rejected both the role and to ever work with Whale, and the role was given to Claude Rains.
The original “Invisible Man” film starts off remarkably slow. A man, Dr. Griffin, wrapped entirely in bandages requests a room at an inn in a small town, in the off season, but quickly runs out of funds and is discovered by the innkeepers to be conducting chemistry experiments in his room as they try to evict him. The innkeepers quickly realize that these chemistry experiments have granted Dr. Griffin the ability to become and remain invisible. As his fiancée, the daughter of Griffin’s mentor and research partner, searches for the supposedly missing doctor, he embarks on a rampage throughout the town. This rampage is one of the bloodiest of all of the classic Monster series, with a body count estimated around 122. Eventually, Dr. Griffin is killed and exposed as the invisible murderer.
This film didn’t particularly pique my interest before I actually sat down and gave it a chance. Even after a first and second watch, I wasn’t a huge fan. However, after research into the background of this film and eventually convincing myself to push the “wow, he’s just a horrible guy who wanted to kill a bunch of people” thoughts out of my brain, I gave it a fresh look. The body count alone makes this film remarkable. A high kill count in a film like this is brave, especially in black and white, where the filmmakers couldn’t really rely on gore, but had to aim for pure storytelling to portray the horror. Another facet of this film that I found impressive is the respect it shows to the original novel, something I think is still an issue in film adaptations of books.
Finally, and probably my favorite aspect of the original “Invisible Man” film, is the inability for characters who knew Dr. Griffin to recognize him after his descent into madness due to the invisibility serum. I originally disliked the film for lack of a backstory of the monster, but I realized this choice lends to his horror. Finding out, after over 100 murders, that his loved ones still worry for him and wish the best for him, sets you right back into reality after an entire film of questioning why the antagonist is so evil. Even more surprising is his loved ones’ inability to even recognize him when they realize what he’s done.
To be completely honest, I surprisingly like this film. It’s not something I’d usually give a chance, but I now think everyone should.
Filmnetic Grade: A