Sunday, October 17, 2010

DR. SHOCK'S HALLOWEENIE MOVIE OF THE DAY: THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933). Bryan Senn makes the case that James Whale is simply the most successful director of horror's golden age and its hard to argue with the evidence. Think of any other director of the time who can match Whale's track record of four absolutely stone-cold classics: FRANKENSTEIN, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE INVISIBLE MAN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and there's no one else in the running. Of the four, INVISIBLE MAN is probably in fourth place but that just illustrates the quality of the four films -- THE INVISIBLE MAN, an absolute classic and one of the best Universal horror films of the period and it comes in last among the other four. There is just something very very "Halloweenie" about THE INVISIBLE MAN and the other early Universal horrors; an atmosphere . . . a feeling to them that later films don't have. From the incredibly atmospheric opening as the bandage-swathed Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) trudges through the snow towards the Lions' Head Inn and then enters imperiously to the stunned silence of the punters, THE INVISIBLE MAN is offering maximum style AND substance on display. Then, of course, there's the delirious Una O'Connor sniffing and wailing to beat the band. The entire opening sequence as Griffin is shown his room and barks his demands is one of my favourites in all the Universal films. Of course, there's the wonderful Gloria Stuart as Griffin's put-upon girlfriend; unfortunately Stuart is rather too hand-wringingly theatrical in this part and shows up in a much better light in Whale's THE OLD DARK HOUSE. However, one of the unsung heroes of the film is, in my mind, William Harrigan as Griffin's snivelling rival Kemp. Chester Morris was originally slated to play Kemp but when he found out newcomer Claude Rains was going to get (after insisting) top-billing Morris dropped out. Frankly, I'm glad. Nothing against Chester Morris but I really love Harrigan's depiction of extreme cowardice; I think it's one of the nicest "unnoticed" performances in Universal horrors. Of course, I have to mention the incomparable voice of Claude Rains. Rains apparently had only appeared in one little picture in England and then had a disastrous screen test in America; no matter, James Whales insisted he wanted someone with an unforgettable voice. Well, he certainly found one. Rains' commanding tones completely sell the slowly-going-mad Griffin. In fact, even Rains' mimetic movements and carriage sell his character; the imperious Griffin seems to dwarf Kemp while, in reality, Rains was much shorter than Harrigan! Now, THAT'S acting! We never see Rains' face until the final frames of the film but it doesn't matter; the role still made him a star. John Fulton's special effects are still pretty impressive to this day; even if we know how most of them were done. R. C. Sheriff's screenplay is packed with more quotable lines than almost any other contemporary horror film: a particular favourite when Griffin raves that even the moon is afraid of him tonight. Then there's the mere look of "The Invisible One"; whether its Griffin bundled in an overcoat with his hat pulled down over his bandaged head or else the "relaxed look" Invisible Man in his natty robe and snazzy shades (borrowed from Vincent Price in THE TOMB OF LIGEIA obviously) -- The Invisible Man has that unforgettable (and overly used word) iconic appearance that makes a classic Universal monster. With not a slow patch in it, the film is a treat from start to finish!

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