Classic Woman-centric Movie Review: The Invisible Man (1933)

Hello, Persephoneers! In conjunction with Slay Belle’s 31 Days of Halloween celebration, the Classic Woman-centric Movie Review will be Halloween-themed. This week’s film is The Invisible Man, released in 1933. It’s based on the H. G. Wells novel of the same name and stars Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart. This was also Rains’s first American film.

A mysterious man (Rains), wrapped all in bandages and wearing dark glasses, arrives at a country inn in the middle of a winter night and asks for a private room. The innkeeper kindly obliges, but when the stranger falls behind on his rent and makes a mess of the room performing scientific experiments, the innkeeper tries to ask the man to leave. It turns out that there is more to this mysterious guest than meets the eye, and he removes his clothing and bandages to reveal that he is invisible. He kicks the innkeeper down the stairs and assaults several of the inn’s guests before fleeing into the night.

Meanwhile, Flora Cranley (Stuart) and her father, Dr. Cranley are distraught over the disappearance of Jack Griffin, a young chemist who was in Cranely’s employ and with whom Flora is in love. Dr. Kemp, another assistant of Cranley’s, discovers notes in Griffin’s laboratory with a listing of chemicals on them, one of them being monocaine, an extremely dangerous drug that produces madness.

poster from film
Poster from the film. Image via Wikipedia.

The invisible man, now revealed to be Jack Griffin, breaks into Dr. Kemp’s home later that night and coerces Kemp to help him. Griffin had been experimenting with the monocaine and other drugs, which had rendered him invisible. He is determined to reverse the effects of his experiments, but along the way, he also wants to see how far he can go with his new condition. It will start with “a few murders here and there,” and would escalate into something that would produce sheer terror throughout the country. If he can reverse the effects of the formula, he believes that world powers will clamor for it and he will profit from it. Kemp drives Griffin back to the inn, where a police investigation into the incidents involving an invisible man assaulting the innkeeper and several guests is currently under way. Griffin retrieves his notebooks on his experiments and ultimately kills one of the police officers in the process.

While Griffin rests, Kemp calls Cranley to his home, revealing that Griffin is there. Cranley and Flora rush to Kemp’s house. When Griffin finds out they have arrived, he realizes that Kemp has betrayed him. Griffin converses with Flora alone, and it is revealed that he still is very much in love with her, but he must escape before the police arrive. He promises that he will kill Kemp at ten o’clock the following evening and disappears into the night.

Griffin then embarks on a rampage of murder and terror, even going so far as fulfilling his promise to kill Kemp at the appointed hour on the very next night. But the police eventually close in, and it’s clear that the only acceptable outcome will be Griffin’s death. They find Griffin in a barn and set it on fire. He flees, and the police follow his tracks in the snow and shoot him down. He is taken to the hospital, where he is dying. Flora is allowed to see him, and after a tearful good-bye, during which he voices his regrets over pushing the boundaries of science too far, he dies. After his death, he slowly becomes visible, and it is at the end of the film that we see Griffin for the very first time.

The film was groundbreaking in terms of its special effects and was very well received by both audience and critics. It was also the starting point of Rains’s career as an actor in American films. The film’s release was also timely, as Hitler had just come to power and was beginning his master plan for domination of the world. The tensions and suspicions of the unknown and the unexplored are very evident here, as is the fear that science could be used to terrorize people and other countries. It asks the question of how far a scientist can go in his or her pursuit of knowledge before it becomes something harmful and works against the greater good.

The drugs eventually drive Griffin mad; all he wanted was to develop a scientific breakthrough that would garner him success and enable him to provide a life of wealth and comfort for Flora, but instead, he ended up endangering himself. One could say that his motives were selfish to a point, and his ambition and desire for accolades outweighed the true point of his profession, which was to explore science and try to make sense of it and use what he learned for the greater good. In a way, Griffin already was the mad scientist, but it took the drugs and the power he realized he could have with his invisibility that drove him to madness in the end.

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