Monday, September 18, 2023

H. G. Wells Week Part II: The Invisible Man

This is my second entry in a celebration of my first hero in the writing world, H. G. Wells. As I have said,. when I graduated from Dick and Jane books and the like to reading at a higher level of comprehension, the first books I got were science fiction. And H. G. wells was one of he first.





The concept of invisibility is one that has intrigued people for centuries.  No less prestigious a man than Plato, even, once described a shepherd finding a ring that granted him invisibility when he wore it. Chrisopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus had the power of invisibility given to him through his pact with the Devil. Cloaks and helmets of invisibility appear in traditions of many mythological characters (human ones), but even the gods of those myths had the power. All of those predate Wells, so he didn't actual invent invisibility, but his concept did influence a lot that came afterward.

As far as Hollywood and film, a list of all the movies and TV shows influenced by The Invisible Man could take up an entire book. As far as it goes, the first movie to be totally devoted to the classic Wells novel was the James Whale directed classic which starred Claude Rains.  Rains, by the way, although not his debut, had never had a starring role, and in fact had only one othe role to his credit before getting the star role of this film.

Following up The Invisible Man Universal green-lighted no less than four sequels (not including two appearances in the Abbott and Costello forays into their "Meets" classic Universal horror icons).  These include The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, and The Invisible Man's Revenge (none of which had Claude Rains).  The Invisible genre would continue even after Universal stopped making the movies however, to varying success.

The touchstone of the genre still remains that classic Whale/Rains movie however.  If you are ambitious enough there are some worth seeking out.  Although it did not really take off, the TV series Gemini Man was pretty good.  Typically, for me as a teen, a TV series which I enjoyed did not connect with the public at large and the series was cancelled before it even got through it's first season. And there was also one of the Disney Dexter Riley films, Now You See Him, Now You Don't

 So, anyway, would you consider invisibility a blessing or a curse.  Well, for the screen portrayals it is more often a curse, because the side effects of whatever concoction (or in the case of Gollum in The Hobbit, a ring) is it causes the benefactor(?) of the ability to move towards insanity. (So much for the teenage fantasy of being able to walk into the girl's locker room...)



The Invisible Man (1933):

It was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly a door banged open.


It was the stranger (Claude Rains) who came in out of the cold.  Wrapped from head to foot in clothes and bandages, he asks for a room at the inn owned by the Halls, (Una O'Connor and Forrester Harvey).  His main requirements are privacy, which he makes clear on several occasions, although not always with a modicum of tact.

The fact is he becomes rather violent at times when interrupted and eventually wears out his welcome.  Mrs Hall insists that Mr, Hall tell him he is no longer wanted as a resident.  But when the man tries to do his duty the stranger forces him out of the room. So Mr. Hall, being the timid sort anyway, tries to get the police involved. 

And guess what?  The stranger reveals to the public that he is "Not all there" (and not just emotionally...)

The Invisible Man (whose real name is Griffin) escapes due to the fact that no one can see him now.  He makes his way to a colleague's house, Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) where he forces Kemp to help him retrieve his notes from the rooming house, which he had to leave behind.  Griffin has been working frantically to find a way to come back from the invisible form.

But in the process of becoming invisible, Griffin had used a substance called "monocaine" which had a side effect of fostering irrationality.  So, while Griffin is struggling with the research, he also has decided that he could use the invisibility to other advantages.  Like becoming king of the world of terror or something similar.

Griffin does have an ally of sorts.  His true love, Flora (Gloria Stuart), believes he is the most lovable and nicest man on the planet, and thinks his love for her and her love for him will save him. (ah, the romantic "love will save everything" trope...)

Griffin eventually makes himself a wanted man, having killed a couple of people who are no longer useful to him (or just annoying the hell out of him, he doesn't play favorites...).  He is cornered in a barn, where he meets the untimely end that usually befalls such egomaniacal figures in these kinds of films.  And we finally get to see what the man looked like before all this.  (The entire movie, up to this point, you only saw (and or heard Claude Rains) in bandages or just his voice.

Given that there are numerous versions of Wells' classic, plus any number of variations, I won't go into any others.  But if you want to compare, here are a few other invisible movies to check out.

The Invisible Man Returns (1940): A sequel to the first one, but "returns" is a slight misnomer, because it isn't as if Claude Rains' character comes back from the dead. Instead it has Vincent Price and a heretofore unmentioned brother of the original Griffin (John Sutton).

The Hollow Man (2000):  Kevin Bacon in the title role as the invisible genius.

Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951): In the series of Abott and Costello "Meet" Universal monsters, this one pales to "Meet Frankenstein" but it is still fun. (And by the way, it was hinted at at the end of Meet Frankenstein)

And lastly, if you thought I was going to snub my director hero, John Carpenter, think again...

Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992): A comedy from the master of horror, and not his best, but I still like it.  Chevy Chase is not the best choice for the star role, but it is entertaining in its own right.

Well, that ends this venture to the drive-in.  Drive safely, folks.


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