Saturday, October 3, 2009

31 Days of Halloween: Claude Rains Disappears into a Classic Role in The Invisible Man

If most fans of director James Whale regard Bride of Frankenstein as his masterpiece, that’s only because they can’t see what's looking right at them: The Invisible Man, a clever Whale concoction sandwiched between Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). This concise, well-written adaptation of H.G. Wells’s novel introduced Claude Rains to American audiences. Rains is superb, even though his face is never glimpsed until the closing scene!

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.


  1. Rick, Thanks for the post on one of my favorite Universal horror films. It's sad to watch Griffin going mad,and Claude Rains has a ball with the voice overs in the invisible scenes .

  2. Thank you for a fun blog on a classic pic, Rick! You are absolutely correct in designating character status to the special effects designer. The idea of being invisible is quite provocative but, with the side effect of madness, ultimately undesirable. This movie always reminds me of that little children's poem, "Last night I met upon a stair A little man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. Oh how I wish he'd go away!"

  3. Great post. No one better than Claude Rains as an invisible man - with that voice of his and what he was capable of doing with it.

  4. One of your best, Rick. This movie is a favorite of mine too. Clever, creepy and sad. Whale loved to play with audiences and he was great at it. I always remember the scene where a woman comes screaming down the road, followed by just a pair of pants skipping, and we hear "Here we go gathering nuts in May" ......

  5. Becky, that scene is a perfect example of how Whale mixed in humor with horror (one of his trademarks). toto2, I hadn't thought about that poem in years, but it's certainly appropriate! I agree with all Claude Rain was the perfect choice for the lead.

  6. I can't add more to the great post and comments already on here, but I'd just like to say that Claude Rains is a tremendous actor. As Rick said, Rains is rarely shown in the film, but he still manages to provide a stellar performance. What an actor! Thanks, Rick, for another wonderful post.

  7. The opening scene of "The Invisible Man," is amazing. The coat, goggles and bandages really freaked me out when i first saw this creepy film...i mean creepy in a good way ;-D