Initial release November 13th 1933
Director James Whale
Produced by Carl Laemmie Jr
Screenplay by R C Sherriff
Cinematography by Arthur Edeson
Music by Heinz Roemheld
Released by Universal Pictures
Run Time 71 minutes
Claude Rains Dr. Jack Griffin – The Invisible Man
Gloria Stuart Flora Cranley
William Harrigan Dr. Arthur Kemp
Henry Travers Dr. Cranley
Una O’Connor Jenny Hall
Forrester Harvey Herbert Hall
Holmes Herbert Chief of Police
E. Clive Constable Jaffers
Duddley Digges Chief Detective
Harry Stubbs Inspector Bird
Donald Stuart Inspector Lane
Merle Tottenham Millie
The Invisible Man opens with a mysterious stranger, his face swathed in bandages and his eyes obscured by dark goggles trudging through the snow. The sign we see tells us he has arrived at the The Lion’s Head Inn in the English village of Iping in Sussex. Our mysterious stranger is Jack Griffen (Claude Raines)
We witness the customers laughing, joking and playing darts. All this is with the background of a piano player, who on finishing his piece receives applause from the appreciative customers. Comedy from the start. As our piano player turns to his audience we see a man put a coin into the side of the piano and it starts to play again, all by itself. Embarrassed, our pianist quickly turns and once again pretends to play.
Back to the story. We see the Inn door open and witness the foul night outside. Our mysterious man stands in the doorway, enters and then goes over to the counter. He asks for a room and a fire. Our Inn keeper calls ‘Jenny’ and we see his wife appear, Jenny Hall (Una O’Connor). After some hassle his request is granted and he is shown to his room by Jenny. He also asks for his luggage to be brought from the station and some food. The view of the Inn customers is that he is a fugitive fleeing from justice. On being taken his food he demands that he be left alone. On returning to the bar Jenny finds that she has forgotten the mustard and quickly goes back upstairs to take it. She politely knocks on the door and enters. Shock horror on her face as we turn to our visitor and see him cover his face. We hear him warn her ‘I told you not to disturb me.’ She leaves the mustard but takes his overcoat to be dried. On leaving the room we switch to see our stranger and see the lower part of his face is invisible.
We now move to the house of Dr Cranley (Henry Travers) and hear that his daughter Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart) is worried that she has not heard anything from her fiancée, Jack Griffen, a chemist who has discovered the secret of invisibility while conducting a series of tests involving an obscure drug called monocane. Her father does not appear to be unduly worried as he considers it to be normal for the chemist to seek solitude whilst completing the final stages of his experiments. He had after all left a note to that effect. Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan), Cranley’s other assistant, who we see also has feelings for Flora, tries to persuade her that Griffin does not really care, otherwise he would not have gone away. At least he should have contacted her at some stage. He tries to convince her of his feelings, but she is not interested due to her extreme worry for Jack. The plot is starting to build.
We now see Jack in his room frustrated by the fact that he cannot reverse the invisibility process. The innkeeper’s wife once again brings him food. He tells her to take it away. She does not, however, take no for an answer and enters the room. Jack becomes violent. He pushes her out and shuts the door in her face. She screams and rushes back down the stairs. He has turned his room into a laboratory and does not want anyone to see what he is doing.
Jenny tells her husband he has to go.We also learn he is a week behind with his rent. The landlord is reluctant to make an approach until Jack has cooled down, but does nonetheless, not wanting to upset his wife. We see a lighter moment when the wife helps herself to a small tipple to, I suppose, settle her nerves ?
On arrival back at the room, Jack pleads with our landlord that he is expecting some money and that he is working on a difficult experiment. The one thing he needs is time to complete his work. It is a matter of life and death that he is left alone. He has had a serious accident that has affected him badly. Our landlord is in no mind to listen as we hear that the disturbances are affecting his trade. Angered, Jack drags our landlord from the room and throws him down the stairs. His wife comes to his aid as do the customers.
Inevitably a policeman arrives and along with the customers, he goes up to the room. Confronted by this formidable gathering and seeing that they have no intention of obeying his wish to be left alone, Griffin starts to remove his bandages and goggles. We see his face disappear bit by bit until it is invisible. The policeman remarks ‘ look he’s all eaten away’ The effect of seeing the bandages being removed and Jack slowly, but surely disappearing is very dramatic. Our hero’s run downstairs, but once outside the policeman decides that if our villain succeeds in becoming completely invisible, they will never be able to catch him.
They rush back upstairs. Laughing hysterically, he has now taken off all his clothes except for his shirt. We are treated to the site of a shirt and only a shirt, being chased by our accusers around the room. On making himself completely invisible we are treated to a short speech on his invisibility and what it can achieve. He tries to strangle the policeman before fleeing down the stairs into the countryside. We see people and objects falling and crashing for no apparent reason and also the comic effect of a bicycle riding itself and a broom hitting the villagers all by itself. Our policeman calls into his station reporting the invisible man. He is asked where he is calling from and finding it is the inn, is rewarded for his efforts, by being told to take more water with it next time.
Next we see Dr Cranley and Kemp search Griffin’s empty laboratory, finding only a single note in a cupboard. Cranley becomes concerned when he reads it. On a list of chemicals is monocane, which Cranley knows is extremely dangerous. It was once thought that it could be used for bleaching cloth, but it was banned as it was too destructive. An injection of it once turned a dog dead white like a marble statue. It also sent the dog raving mad.
On the evening of his escape from the inn, Griffin turns up at Kemp’s home. Kemp has just listened to a news broadcast saying that a village is claiming that it has witnessed an invisible maniac and that it is in a state of panic. We see Griffin is threatening him and he tells Kemp to sit down and be quiet. He tells him to listen carefully. We again see the magic of the special effects as a cigarette is lighted from a box of matches, all suspended in mid-air. He demands a surgical bandage , dark glasses, a dressing gown and a pair of gloves. He warns Kemp not to try and escape and that if he attempts to do so, he will be killed.
The police inspector arrives at the inn, his first impression being to tell the villagers that he thinks the whole affair is a hoax. Despite this, he starts to interview all the customers who are claiming they know something about the events.
Completely covered up Griffin outlines how he progressed his experiment, but that he cannot find a way back. He also says that it has enhanced his brain to the extent that he can dominate the world through a reign of terror, commencing with “a few murders here and there”. He needs a visible partner to make it all happen. First though, he needs his notebooks on his experiments on invisibility, which he has left at the Inn. He needs to be driven back there.
On arrival, Griffin with his power of invisibility is to go in and pass the books out to Kemp. Sneaking inside, he finds the police inquiry underway. When he arrives back at his room, we see books moving all by themselves as he collects his records together and passes them out through the window of his room. Griffin also decides to disrupt the whole enquiry. We see ink being thrown into the inspectors face and hear Jenny screaming that the invisible man is here. We see objects being thrown as if they have minds of their own. The townsfolk all flee, except for our luckless inspector. He is strangled with Griffin crying ‘all a hoax, all a hoax’. He makes his escape being driven by Kemp. The headlines, ‘Invisible man slays policeman’.
Back home, Griffin outlines to Kemp the problems he has staying unobserved. Undigested food, rain or a foggy day are examples. The police hunt starts with thousands helping and a public warning is broadcast. We see doors being locked and chained and a manhunt being planned. A reward of £1000 is offered for his capture.
Once Griffin has gone to sleep, Kemp calls Cranley, asking for help. Cranley says that nobody knows the identity of the invisible man other than the two of them and that to avoid him getting suspicious, he must be kept quiet otherwise he will try and escape. Cranley says he will come in the morning. We see Flora come down the stairs and ask her father who was on the telephone. She is told it was Kemp and she persuades her father to let her come along, but now, not in the morning. She claims her influence is the only thing that can calm and save her loved one.
Kemp then calls the police and tells them the invisible man is at his house. The inspector promises to respond as soon as possible, but says he needs more than the five men he currently has at his disposal. He says he will send them up as soon as possible.
At Kemp’s home, Griffin has caught him downstairs and wants to know what he is doing. He accuses him of calling the police. Kemp claims it is only Flora and her father he has called and as they go back upstairs we see them arriving. Griffin wants to see her alone and goes to his room to prepare. Kemp then lets the visitors in and tells them that Griffin knows they are here. He then persuades Cranley that he should allow his daughter to see Griffin alone as it will give them time to see how they can overpower and capture him.
Griffin becomes more placid when he sees her and calls her ‘my darling’. He says how wonderful it is to see her. He uses the excuse that his experiments were for her as he wanted to become the greatest scientist of all time and gain wealth, fame and honour. The effects of the experiment are however showing through and he starts to show his aggression, claiming that Flora’s father is nothing but an incompetent compared with himself and that he, Griffin , will be able to sell his invisibility to powers who will be able to sweep the world with invisible armies. Flora tells Griffin what the monocane is doing to him and how he needs all their help to return him to his former self. He is obviously going mad. He now hears the sound of dogs and realises Kemp has betrayed him, but his first reaction is to get Flora away from any danger.
By this time the house is surrounded and the police cordon links arms to ensure Griffin cannot escape. Griffin is in the room as Kemp arrives and opens a window. Because Kemp has betrayed him and because there is no time now, Griffin make a promise to return at 10 o’clock the next night to kill him. Kemp cries from the window that ‘ he is here, he is here’. The police link arms and advance on the house, but despite this Griffin escapes.
On a lighter note Griffin steals a pair of policeman’s trousers and we see these trousers chasing a screaming women down a road, whilst they sing ‘here we go gathering nuts in May’
The policeman in charge of the search now quizzes Cranley and challenges him to admit that he knows who the invisible man is, stating he knows there was another assistant other than Kemp. Kemp is not surprisingly paranoid that he is a doomed man and needs police protection. He tells the police it is Griffin.
Griffin now goes on the rampage and attacks the searchers at will. By changing the settings in a signal box, he causes a train to plunge down an embankment. He robs a bank and throws all the cash into the street for all to grab. We here that the invisible man is unstoppable and will kill anybody who challenges him.
The chief detective (Dudley Digges) in charge of the search has a plan. He will use Kemp as bait, feeling Griffin will try to fulfil his promise to kill him. The plan is for Kemp with a police escort to be taken to the police station at 9.30pm and wait. Kemp is not happy with this, so at Kemp’s insistence, the police will disguise him in a police uniform when he gets there. There is a secret way out through the inspector’s private house which Kemp can use. He is then to be brought back to the house where he can drive as far away as he can in his own car.
As an interlude we see a cat disturbing the dirt left on top of the police station wall. The dirt is intended as an alarm to trap our villain. Paint spay guns are then used to spray our white cat black. Panic ensues.
The plan unfolds and Kemp is duly disguised and returned to his house. Griffin, however, has got wise to the plan and is hiding in the back seat of Kemp’s car. He overpowers Kemp and ties him up in the front seat. Kemp pleads for his life, but they fall on deaf ears. Griffin sends the car down a steep hill and over a cliff, where it explodes on impact. Not just a threat to kill but a promise fulfilled.
We now see the brains of the police assemble and witness a whole host of new idea’s as to how he can be captured. We also hear of the string of crimes committed by Griffin.
Again on the run he seeks shelter from a snowstorm in a barn. The farmer hears snoring and sees the hay, in which Griffin is sleeping, moving. He tip toes out of his barn and goes to the police station to report. The snow is the answer, as it will prevent invisibility. We see the police setting off for the barn in force. They surround it, but decide there is no time to wait and the decision is made to set fire to it.
Griffin has no choice but to leave his hiding place in the barn. As he comes out, the chief detective sees his footprints in the snow and opens fire, mortally wounding him. We see an impression of a body in the snow as he falls.
Griffin is taken to the hospital where, on his deathbed, he appears to be his old self. He says he has failed and admits to Flora that he had tampered with something that was meant to be left alone.
After he dies, his body gradually becomes visible again.
Now you see him now you don’t? The H.G. Wells classic as portrayed in James Whale’s film is the best adaptation of them all. My first interest in the invisible man was the 30min TV episode version which had our character as a crime solver, supported by his daughter. He was a good guy in all respects.
The Claude Raines character is anything but. Claude’s character is pure evil, a man consumed by the desire to have the world grovelling at his feet. An evil being who is eaten up with hate and the desire to use his invisibility to encourage mass destruction and anarchy. We do however see a glimmer of humanity emerge in the form of his love for Flora (Gloria Stuart). This does not, however, prevent his inevitable self-destruction. He’s mad, he’s bad and he’s invisible! Again all the ingredients for a great movie.
I have always been a fan of the film that takes a modern setting, blends in science fiction, the supernatural and groundbreaking special effects. Add to this some sly black comedy and suspense and the result is this classic. Many years on my favourite Doctor Who was always Jon Pertwee, as his portrayal of the doctor had the same ingredients.
Back to the film. For the majority of the film Griffin is entirely invisible and we see various articles of empty clothing, shirts, trousers, dressing gowns, moving by themselves. On making his escape in one scene we see people falling down after being hit by no one and a bicycle rolling down the road all by itself. John P. Fulton, in charge of the effects department at Universal for many years, made use of an improved traveling mat system based on one originally devised by effects innovator Frank Williams, whose assistant he had once been. It brings the element of humour to this film to great effect.
In the early scenes his face is covered in bandages and even these look menacing. Not your neat and tidy version. It’s not until he dies in the hospital that the audience catches a glimpse of our star. Claude went on to become a great dramatic actor and in the process entertained us with many great starring roles
In my school days it was drummed into me that I was to be seen, but not heard! Did I miss my vocation as an actor because as the mad scientist Griffin, Claude Rains gives a memorable performance by being heard but not seen. In the subject matter of invisibility with see a fascination that must have intrigued us all at one time or another. This is one better than the fly on the wall or CCTV.
On balance the subject matter should have been enough to give a silver screen experience, but the way it was all brought together has resulted in a classic.
I need a room with a fire
Flora’s worried about Griffin
I told you I was not to be disturbed
There must be a way back
The townsfolk confront our doctor
I’ll show you
You know the identity of the invisible man ?
Escape invisible man style
The manhunt is planned
What made you do it ?
Calling the police
Betrayal and a last ride
At last. Surrounded and trapped