Thursday, October 15, 2015

Vincent Price Disappears...in The Invisible Man Returns

While James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein is widely regarded as a masterpiece, I'm always surprised that his adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man (1933) remains largely overlooked. Personally, I may even prefer it over Bride, given its striking visuals and Claude Rains' standout performance (all the more impressive because his face is never shown until the end). Thus, it is somewhat surprising that Universal waited seven years to make a sequel. I suspect the long gap can be attributed to securing the rights to make sequels to the Wells novel.

The Invisible Man Returns opens with Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price) in prison for the murder of his brother--and just hours away from the gallows. Following a visit from his friend, Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton), Geoffrey miraculously escapes from his cell...although the guards find his clothes lying on the floor.

No, that's not Darth Vader--but Jeff
wearing a gas mask.
Frank Griffin, of course, is the brother of Jack Griffin, the scientist who invented the invisibility formula in the original film. Frank hasn't solved the serum's two biggest drawbacks: (1) there is no way to become visible again; (2) the formula eventually causes madness. So, while Geoffrey tries to uncover the real murderer of his brother, Frank tries to create an antidote.

The Invisible Man Returns is a solid sequel, but certainly not on par with its 1933 predecessor. It benefits from a first-rate supporting cast led by Sir Cedric Hardwicke as the villain, Alan Napier as a bribed accomplice, and Cecil Kellaway as a Scotland Yard inspector. (Also on hand is Mary Gordon, who would play Mrs. Hudson in the Universal Sherlock Holmes films.) The film's biggest assets, though, are its star, special effects, and trademark Universal atmosphere.

Cecil Kellaway, the Invisible Man outlined in smoke,
and Cedric Hardwicke.

Vincent Price had appeared memorably in the preceding year's The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (as Walter Raleigh) and Tower of London (as the Duke of Clarence). The Invisible Man Returns provided him with his first starring role. Just as with Claude Rains in the original, Price's face remains behind bandages for almost the entire film. However, Price's distinctive voice conveys all the requisite emotion as his character evolves from mild paranoiac to egomaniac.

John P. Fulton, who created the invisibility special effects for the 1933 film, returned for the sequel. He earned an Academy Award nomination for his amazing effects (losing to Lawrence W. Butler for The Thief of Bagdad). Fulton would also earn Oscar nominations for his optical tricks for The Invisible Woman (1941) and Invisible Agent (1942). He eventually won two Oscars, in 1945 for the Danny Kaye comedy Wonder Man and in 1956 for Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandants.

The Invisible Man stealing clothes.
Director Joe May, who worked with Fritz Lang in Germany, lacks the visual flair of James Whale. However, he has his moments, such as when Geoffrey steals clothes from a scarecrow against a desolate gray sky. Although May contributed to the script, I suspect the wittiest lines (Geoffrey's girlfriend: "Geoff, when shall I see you?") can be attributed to Curt Siodmak. While his brother Robert carved out a successful career as a director (The Spiral Staircase, The Killers), Curt penned screenplays for horror classics such as The Wolf Man (1940), I Walked With a Zombie (1943), and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).

I think The Invisible Man Returns would have worked better as a legitimate mystery with an invisible detective. As it is, there is only one likely suspect and, sure enough, he turns out to be the killer. Still, with a running time of 81 minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome and the efforts of Price and Fulton make it worthwhile.

6 comments:

  1. Ironic that VP only became a horror icon after he left Universal. He wasn't around for any parts in a Frankenstein or Dracula film. Wasn't til House of Wax that his image was , um, solidified.

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  2. I've not seen this sequel, but it sounds worth it – even if it's just to see Vincent Price (who is always worth it).

    I think the original The Invisible Man is underrated. I'm glad you pointed that out.

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  3. This is a great post for October when we think about films that are scary and unusual. Vincent Price is wonderful as the title character and it is fascinating that we rarely see him in his first starring role!

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  4. This is the Cafe's month for introducing me to films I may not have seen because I didn't even know about this sequel. I remember Vinnie doing the voice of the Invisible Man for the punchline to Bud & Lou Meet Frankenstein, but I never realized how cute that bit was.

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  5. I love this movie, Rick. But then, I also love the original. I do agree that these are two of the more underrated films from that golden era.

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  6. I enjoy this entry in the Invisible Man series mainly for its atmosphere.....although it is entertaining, it lacks the spark the original had. One of the most oft-repeated movie lines in our household comes from this film - "Ehr...what's all this? what's all this?". You gotta love all those old Universal films!

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