“I must have a partner, Kemp. A visible partner, to help me in the little things. You’re my partner, Kemp. We’ll begin with a reign of terror. A few murders here and there. Murders of great men, murders of little men, just to show we make no distinction. We might even wreck a train or two – just these fingers around the signalman’s throat, that’s all…”
I’ve been a big fan of the classic Universal Monster films ever since I was a kid. Yeah, effects, cinematography, score, writing, directing and acting are all dated by today’s ridiculously high standards, but I still appreciate, and have a strong love for these films, and look at them as products of their time.
Cinema used to be very different at the times these films were released, as a strict ratings code, known as The Hays Code, or Motion Picture Production Code, which originated in 1930, but wasn’t enforced until 1934, limited filmmakers and creatives everywhere in terms of what can be seen or not seen on the big screen, especially in terms of violence and sexuality, among a great many things. In the mid-sixties, the code became abolished as European Cinema, along with independent filmmakers and defiant creatives everywhere, pushed the envelope, without needing the approval of Joseph Breen, who enforced the Hays Code. This code was removed by freshly appointed president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Jack Valenti in 1966, and soon after the MPAA established a different ratings system based on targeted audience, and as such, films became a little less wholesome, and much more effective without extreme limitations. The horror genre was perhaps the most liberated by the removal of the code, but that’s not to say that the MPAA has exactly been horror friendly in the coming years, particularly in the 70’s an 80’s.
As the horror genre has evolved over the years, gloriously free from pesky guidelines and restrictions, the classics produced by Universal Pictures have been left in the dust of the past; tame by comparison in terms of horror, but regardless, these classic films have a lot going on for them even with the creative limitations. If you could look past the restrictions of the times, you might find that these films are actually quite good.
So here is my ranking of the Invisible Man series (sans ‘Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man’, as I’m going to do the Abbot and Costello crossover movies separately amongst a series of articles about the Universal Monster films.)
05) ‘The Invisible Agent’ (1942)
The fourth film in the franchise is a direct continuation of the first two movies as it focuses on the descendant of the character Frank Griffin from the second film (who in turn was the brother of Jack Griffin from the first) as he volunteers to take legendary family formula to infiltrate Nazi’s in World War 2. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it didn’t quite interest me like the earlier films. The new Invisible Man is played off more like a super-hero quest to prevent an attack on the United States that would change the outcome of the second world war, and thus the world, forever. It’s an intriguing and fun tale of espionage, and a unique sequel in the series, but somehow, at least to me, it’s not as captivating as the previous films.
04) ‘The Invisible Man’s Revenge’ (1944)
The fifth film is a nice return to form with the character who becomes invisible being the antagonist; this hasn’t happened since the first, as the second, third and fourth films made the invisible characters likable protagonists. This story centers on Robert Griffin, a man who becomes desperate after being screwed over, and seeks out a scientist to turn him invisible so he can get revenge on those who wronged him. I like this one, I just wish there was more of an emphasis on paranoia, and maybe go a little deeper on the Griffin’s madness. This had the potential to be a little higher on the list. Still, not much for me to complain about with this film.
03) ‘The Invisible Woman’ (1940)
By rights, this third film should be placed at the bottom of my list; it’s a far cry from the H.G. Wells novel, as it’s more of a light hearted and comedic sequel. But, it’s actually a fun movie with loads of likable characters and quick wit. The story begins with a crackpot scientist named Gibbs (John Barrymore) placing an ad in a newspaper seeking a volunteer to willingly become a guinea pig in an experiment to test his invisibility formula. Kitty Carrol (Virginia Bruce) is a professional model tired of her boss’s shit, and responds to the ad so that she can teach her boss a lesson. The ad, however, also attracts a Three Stooges group of Gangsters who seek to steal Gibb’s invention. It’s more slapstick than you’d expect, but I had a fun time watching this one, even if it lacked any sense of horror or thematic connection to the Wells story or 1933 film.
02) ‘The Invisible Man Returns’ (1940)
The second film has the legendary Vincent Price playing Geoffrey Radcliffe, a man who has been framed for the death of his brother. Luckily for him, he’s friends with Frank Griffin, the little brother to Jack, who went mad in the first film, and is injected with the invisibility serum in an effort to avoid the death penalty and uncover the truth of his brother’s death. I do like this one a lot. I like the story, the characters, and how it fits as a sequel that doesn’t just try to do the same story over again. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this sequel is that there is an effort to showcase the negative effect invisibility is having on a person who is pure and innocent, with Geoffrey experiencing bursts of insanity – this itself adds a ticking clock, with the hero being in danger of transitioning into a villain. Vincent Price does a fine job with his performance as a good man on the verge of becoming something akin to Jack Griffin from the first film.
01) ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933)
A fairly faithful adaptation of H.G. Well’s classic novel, this film is just excellent all around. It’s one of the three films I can think of at this moment that effectively establishes a sense of paranoia (the other two being Philip Kaufman’s remake of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1978) and John Carpenter’s remake of ‘The Thing’ (1982), both of which are excellent films) and Claude Rains gives one hell of a performance as Jack Griffin, a scientist driven mad and lustful of power as he fails to find an antidote to the formula that turned him invisible. The effects are impressive for the time this was released, and it’s just well crafted in all areas. The only negative of this is the old lady who screams in all of her scenes. But still, love this movie. Total classic.
How would you rank these?
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