The delightfully atmospheric opening shows a man, his face covered in a scarf and dark glasses, trudging through a heavy snowstorm toward the Lion’s Head pub. His entrance—a gust of wind seemingly blows the door open—startles the pub’s patrons. The owners are reluctant to rent a room to this mysterious stranger, but they eventually agree. Alas, he soon proves to be an unwanted guest, who’s ill-tempered, short on money, and secretive about the experiments being conducted in his room. When the owners try to evict him, he tosses one of them down the stairs. The constable and villagers decide to take matters into their own hands. But when they confront the now raving stranger, he removes all his clothes to reveal that he’s invisible!
We learn later that the invisible stranger is Jack Griffin, a young scientist who unlocked the secret to becoming invisible, but not how to “get back.” What Griffin doesn’t know is that one of the chemicals in his formula causes its subjects to slowly go mad.
It’s an ingenious premise and screenwriter R.C. Sheriff (Goodbye, Mr. Chips) embellishes it with terrific, potent dialogue. When Griffin seeks support from a colleague, he notes: “An invisible man can rule the world. Nobody can see him come. Nobody can see him go. He can hear every secret. He can rob and rape and kill!”
When Griffin talks about his future plans, he confides: “We’ll begin with a reign of terror. Murders of great men. Murders of little men…just to show we make no distinction.”
With the exception of Rains, the cast isn’t exceptionally strong—though Una O’Connor displays her patented hysterics and Henry Travers shows what actors do before they play angels in classics like It’s a Wonderful Life. No, the second best performer in The Invisible Man isn’t an actor at all, but special effects whiz John P. Fulton. He pretty much set the standard on invisibility effects and had a long productive career as a special effects expert for the next four decades.
Like 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter (also written by Sheriff), The Invisible Man has a fine reputation, but just doesn’t get the attention lavished on other Universal classics. Don’t overlook it when you’re in the mood for a good horror film.