Saturday 15 September 2012

Universal Blacklot Blogathon: 'The Invisible Man' (1933)

Here's my entry into the:

Instead of discussing more mainstream Universal Horror classics - Dracula, Frankenstein - I could not wait to delve into the world of the lessor known Precode villain/ scientist, Dr Jack Griffin aka 'The Invisible Man'.  I wasn't disappointed, the picture was as emotionally moving as it was visually appealing. To read more entries from the Blogathon click here. Other than that, read on!!!


On a windy and snowy night in a bar in a small English village, a man (Claude Rains) arrives cloaked in a heavy coat, large hat, dark glasses and mysteriously wrapped in layers of bandages. While he is in his room, locals speculate as to who the elusive stranger is – is he a convicted felon escaping the law or a loner with a troubled past.  The oddness continues when the housekeeper walks in on the man eating his supper without, what it appears, a mouth or a chin.

The stranger arrives

He is the ‘Invisible Man’ or Dr. Jack Griffin, a scientist experimenting with the affects of the drug monocane. His trials, having turned tragic and rendering him invisible, provokes him to  leave the house of his employer Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers) and his daughter, Griffin’s love interest, Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart) to deal with his new condition. But both, Dr Cranley and his other assistant Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan), don’t know of the doctor’s experiments nor the disastrous consequences. Meanwhile, Griffin is searching desperately for a cure to his ‘invisible’ illness. But he is unsuccessful and, because of his uncleanness, bad temper and not paying rent, is evicted from the inn. In a rage, he attacks the landlord and throws him down the stairs. The police and concerned townspeople arrive, intent on arresting the ‘stranger with the dark goggles’. Frustrated, Griffin removes his bandages, one by one, revealing his dark secret. Completely invisible, he evades capture and terrorises the village.
Griffin disrobing
With still no news from Dr Griffin, his colleagues go searching for answers. They find that he has been working with the mysterious drug and know that it can cause madness and other shocking side effects. That night, Griffin visits Dr Kemp and he tells him his story. He divulges his plans for the future – acts of terror, murder and mayhem. It is clear he is becoming more and more insane.

After killing a policeman, the country begins a mad witch-hunt in search of the ‘Invisible Man’.  In a panic, Flora arranges to meet Griffin alone. She swears her love and allegiance to him as the police surround the house. Griffin, under the impression that Kemp has betrayed him, vows that he will kill him at 10 o’clock and follows this by murdering hundreds of villagers. As the time slowly approaches 10, the police concoct a plan to capture Griffin. True to his word he kills Kemp by crashing his car down a cliff. Cold and vulnerable, Griffin is tracked to an isolated barn. The police set fire to it and, seeing the doctor’s footsteps in the snow, shoot him. On his deathbed in hospital, like all failed Universal scientists, admits to Flora the folly of his actions and dies.   
“My darling, I failed, I meddled in things that man must leave alone.”

In death, Griffin returns to his visible state: 


‘The Invisible Man’ has always been put in the same category as the other Universal Monsters – ‘Dracula’, ‘Frankenstein’. Granted, all the monsters have both complicated and tormented elements as well as roots that are based in medicine and science-fiction. However, where this film differs is the special effects. When viewing ‘The Invisible Man’ in today’s terms the directions and appearance of the film seem quaint and old-fashioned. However, creators John Fulton, John Mescall and Frank Williams worked tireless on visual effects that, in its time, were pioneering and groundbreaking. They had to manufacture ways to render Claude or parts of him invisible to the camera. They did this in several ways, firstly by making a mask for his face and body which would appear invisible in front of some backgrounds. When Griffin was unclothed the directors used wires to given the effect that the items were floating and when he was partly clothed they had to shoot Claude, covered in a black suit, against a black background and combine this shot with another to show the proper background. 

Examples of the great camera work:
Claude laughing

Claude eating
Claude undressing
 If you look both at the history of universal’s horror films and the direction that Precode films were taking in general, it is unclear why the director choose Claude Rains for the part of ‘The Invisible Man’. Personally I think he did a great job but as a well presented, well spoken gentleman actor he hardly instils fear or disgust in the eyes of the viewer like a Boris Karloff. On a side note, interestingly, it was Karloff who was originally cast in the role but turned it down because of the relatively little ‘screen time’ the role allowed. Several others were also reported as candidates for the role, including Chester Morris, Paul Lukas and Colin Clive. It was not until the original director, Cyril Gardner was replaced by James Whale that Claude was given the part.  

Universal Backlot

Little Europe today

Like other Universal horror films, ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’, the ‘Invisible Man’ production was centred around the Little Europe sets. Although, there was a small fire in the Little Europe area which disrupted the production in August 1933, it was the fire in May 1967 that completely destroyed the historical set. Today, replicas of the buildings have been erected that are used both as tourist attractions and for modern film productions. Some shots of the external sets that can be seen in ‘The Invisible Man’ show stark similarities with the replicas on the Universal Backlot.
Little Europe in 'The Invisible Man':     

And Little Europe today:

 That's it from me. A special thanks for Kristen at 'Journies in Classic Film' for organising this blogathon, it was a fantastic idea and I learnt alot from researching 'The Invisible Man'.


  1. Great! I'm a huge Claude Rains fan, and I'm rally interested in watching this film! I saw in a documentary that some of the techniques consisted in dressing Claude with black velvet and film him against a black background. For sure a very clever idea!
    I loved how you put the photos of Little Europe then and now.
    I'm also in the blogathon!

  2. Thanks for your comment!! It is a really interesting film and they were soo clever with the special effects. I am sure to look at your item for the blogathon.