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The Invisible Man

theatrical poster
Directed by James Whale
Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.
Written by Novel:
H.G. Wells
R. C. Sherriff
Philip Wylie
Preston Sturges
Starring Claude Rains
Gloria Stuart
Music by Heinz Roemheld
Cinematography Arthur Edeson
Editing by Ted J. Kent
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) 13 November 1933 (US)
Running time 71 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Followed by The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

The Invisible Man (1933) horror film based on H. G. Wells' science fiction novel The Invisible Man, published in 1897, as adapted by R. C. Sherriff, Philip Wylie and Preston Sturges, whose work was considered unsatisfactory and who was taken off the project.[1] The film was directed by James Whale and stars Claude Rains, in his first American screen appearance, and Gloria Stuart. It is considered one of the great Universal Horror films of the 1930s, and spawned a number of sequels, plus many spinoffs using the idea of an "invisible man" that were largely unrelated to Wells' original story.

In his first American screen appearance, Rains portrayed the Invisible Man (Dr. Jack Griffin) mostly only as a disembodied voice. Rains is only shown clearly for a brief time at the end of the film, spending most of his on-screen time covered by bandages.

In 2008, The Invisible Man was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".



The film opens with a mysterious stranger, his face swathed in bandages and his eyes obscured by dark spectacles, taking a room at an inn at the English village of Iping (in Sussex). Never leaving his quarters, the stranger demands that the staff leave him completely alone. However, his dark secret is slowly revealed to his suspicious landlady and the villagers: he is an invisible man. When the innkeeper (Forrester Harvey) and his semi-hysterical wife (Una O'Connor) tell him to leave after he makes a huge mess in the parlor and drives away the other patrons, he tears off the bandages, laughing maniacally, and throws the innkeeper down the stairs. He takes off the rest of his clothes, rendering himself completely invisible, and tries to strangle a police officer.

The invisible stranger is revealed as Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), a scientist who has discovered the secret of invisibility while conducting a series of tests with a strange new drug called "monocane". He returns to the laboratory of his mentor, Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), where he reveals his secret to his fiancee Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart), Dr. Cranley's daughter, and to his one-time partner Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan). Monocane has rendered Griffin's entire body undetectable to the human eye; alas, it also has the side-effect of driving Griffin insane. Cranley has investigated and discovered a single note about monocane (Griffin has burnt all his other papers to cover his tracks) in a now empty cupboard in Griffin's empty laboratory, and realizes that Griffin has recently used it. On the evening of his escape from the inn, Griffin turns up in Kemp's living room and imprisons him in his own house. He forces Kemp to be his partner again, and together they go back to the inn where Griffin stayed and retrieve his notebooks on the invisibility process. While there, he picks up a wooden stool and cracks the police officer over the head, killing him.

Kemp calls Cranley, asking for help, and then secretly calls the police. Flora comes to him and they talk for only a minute, until the police show up. Their conversation reveals that the two are completely devoted to each other, and she is as infatuated with him as he her. In Flora's presence, Griffin becomes more placid, and calls her "darling". He rants about power, but when he realises Kemp betrayed him to the police through the window, his first reaction is getting Flora to flee, and out of danger. She begs to let her stay, but he insists she has nothing to do but leave. After promising Kemp that at 10:00 PM the next night he will murder him, Griffin escapes again and goes on a spree of terror, running down the streets killing, robbing, and reciting nursery rhymes in a malicious voice. The police offer a monetary award for anyone who can think of a way to catch the Invisible Man.

They disguise Kemp as a police officer and lead him away from his house to protect him, but Griffin has been following them all along. He forces Kemp into the front seat of his car with his hands tied and releases the emergency brake. The car rolls down a steep hill, over a cliff, and explodes.

Finally, after derailing a train and throwing off a cliff two men who are searching for him with the police as volunteers, Griffin rests in a barn. The owner of the barn hears the sleeping Griffin stirring and sees the hay in which Griffin is sleeping inexplicably moving. The farmer goes to the police and tells them that "there's breathing" his barn. The police surround and set fire to the barn. When Griffin comes out, the police sight his footprints in the snow and open fire, mortally wounding him. Griffin is taken to hospital where, on his deathbed, he admits to Flora that he has tampered with a type of science that was meant to be left alone. The effects of the monocane wear off the moment he dies, and he becomes visible once again.


Differences between novel and film

Although the film is sometimes hailed for its fidelity to H.G. Wells' novel, it changes many aspects. The story is updated to 1933, rather than taking place in the 1890s. Griffin does not have a fiancee in the novel, there is no Dr. Cranley, and Griffin does not kill Kemp. (In fact, in the book, it is Kemp who pronounces Griffin dead at the end.) Kemp is neither an old friend nor an old partner of Griffin's in the novel, just an acquaintance. Most important, Griffin does not use monocane to make himself invisible in the book, but instead another unnamed formula, and it is strongly hinted in the novel that Griffin was already mad long before he ever made himself invisible. The film portrays Griffin much more sympathetically than the novel, in which Kemp describes Griffin as "inhuman" to the police. In the film, he is shown regretting what he has done to Flora; Griffin shows no such regrets in the novel.


Cast notes:

  • Several notable character actors appear in minor roles, including Dwight Frye as a reporter, Walter Brennan as a man whose bicycle is stolen, and John Carradine, acting at that time under the name Peter Richmond, as a Cockney informer.


Claude Rains was not the studio's first choice to play the lead role in The Invisible Man. Boris Karloff was originally supposed to play the part, but withdrew after producer Carl Laemmle Jr. tried too many times to cut Karloff's contractual salary.[1] To replace Karloff, Chester Morris, Paul Lukas and Colin Clive were considered for the part.[1][2] It was James Whale, who was assigned to direct the film to replace Cyril Gardner,[2] who wanted the "intellectual voice" of Claude Rains to play "Griffin" – Rains was his first and only choice, although he did temporarily agree to Clive as a tactic in creating a demand for Rains.[1][3] Problems in developing the script held up the project for some time: in June 1932 the film was called off temporarily.[2]

The Invisible Man was in production from June to August 1933[4] at Universal studios in Los Angeles.[5] Filming was interrupted near the end by a fire, started by a smudge pot kicked into some hay, which damaged an exterior set.[2]

The film was released on 13 November 1933,[6][7] and was marketed with the taglines "Catch me if you can!" and "H.G. Well's Fantastic Sensation".[8]

Special Effects

The film is known for its clever and groundbreaking visual effects by John P. Fulton, John J. Mescall and Frank D. Williams whose work is often credited for the success of the film.[1] When the Invisible Man had no clothes on, the effect was achieved through the use of wires, but when he had some of his clothes on or was taking his clothes off, the effect was achieved by shooting Claude Rains in a completely black velvet suit against a black velvet background and then combining this shot with another shot of the location the scene took place in using a matte process. Claude Rains was claustrophobic and it was hard to breathe through the suit. Consequently, the work was especially difficult for him, and a double, who was somewhat shorter than Rains, was sometimes used.[3][9]

The effect of Rains seeming to disappear was created by making a head and body cast of the actor, from which a mask was made. The mask was then photographed against a specially prepared background, and the film was treated in the laboratory to complete the effect.[2]

Reaction, awards and honors

The Invisible Man was named by the New York Times as one of the Ten Best Films of 1933,[10] but H. G. Wells, the author of the book the film was based on, said of the film, at a dinner in its honor, that "while he liked the picture he had one grave fault to find with it. It had taken his brilliant scientist and changed him into a lunatic, a liberty he could not condone." James Whale replied that the film was addressed to the "rationally minded motion picture audience," because "in the minds of rational people only a lunatic would want to make himself invisible anyway."[2] Despite his misgivings, Wells did praise the performance of Una O'Connor as the shrieking Mrs. Hall.[11]

Whale, who had previously directed Frankenstein as well as the first version of Waterloo Bridge, received a Special Recommendation from the 1934 Venice Film Festival in recognition of his work on The Invisible Man.[12]

The career of Claude Rains took off after The Invisible Man, which was his first American film appearance. He went on to be nominated for Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in 1939 (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), 1942 (Casablanca), 1944 (Mr. Skeffington) and 1946 (Notorious).[1]


Described by Dr. Cranley as "terrible", the fictional drug "monocaine" was an obscure Indian drug with powerful bleaching properties. German scientists experimenting with it tried it on a dog, turning the animal dead white and driving it mad. Monocaine was used by Dr. Jack Griffin as a key ingredient in his invisibility formula (without knowing about its side-effects). Years later, Griffin's brother Frank used the drug in his experiments as well, as portrayed in The Invisible Man Returns 1940. In that film, the drug's name is changed to duocaine.[13]


In 2004, Universal released six legacy collections that included some of their best horror films. The Invisible Man collection included:

as well as bonus features, including Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed, a detailed look at the making of the classic horror film and its sequels by film historian Rudy Behlmer.

Sequels and remakes

  • The Invisible Man Returns (1940) stars Vincent Price as a man accused of murder who uses the invisibility formula to clear his name. The film was well received by critics and audiences alike.
  • Invisible Agent (1942) is a blatantly patriotic World War II adventure yarn with Jon Hall using invisibility to fight the Nazis.
  • The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944) stars Jon Hall once again, but has no relation to Invisible Agent. Hall plays an escaped fugitive who is injected with the invisibility formula.
  • In the post-War era, Universal's stable of once-frightening movie monsters now appeared in comedies that parodied the horror genre. The first, and most successful, was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Vincent Price makes a voice-only cameo appearance as the Invisible Man at the very end of the film. The comedy duo went on to make the highly popular Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man in 1951 which was a modified remake of The Invisible Man Returns.
  • Gemini Man (1976) was the second attempt by the NBC network to turn the concept into an adventure series. It lasted only 11 episodes.
  • The Invisible Man (TV serial) (1984) is a six-part television miniseries produced by the BBC in England that remained faithful to the original novel.
  • The Invisible Kid (1988), and The Invisible Maniac (1990) are both juvenile comedies that failed to find and audience and were quickly forgotten.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kjolseth, Pablo "The Invisible Man" (TCM article)
  2. ^ a b c d e f TCM Notes
  3. ^ a b The Invisible Man at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ IMDB Business data
  5. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  6. ^ TCM Overview
  7. ^ IMDB Release dates
  8. ^ IMDB Taglines
  9. ^ Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed! director: David J. Skal. Universal Home Entertainment, 2000.
  10. ^ Allmovie Awards
  11. ^ Gatiss, Mark. James Whale: A Biography or the Would-Be Gentlemen, Cassell (1995) ISBN 0-304-32861-8
  12. ^ IMDB Awards
  13. ^ "Monocaine" has also been used as the name of a deadly poison in a number of episodes of American television series. See monocaine.

External links


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