After the success of Frankenstein, Universal wanted to keep the momentum going and so it was that The Invisible Man was brought to life. One of the more interesting aspects of the movie’s lore is that Boris Karloff was intended to star but when it came right down to it though, Universal was always about the dollar and cents during the early days and they would rather have paid Karloff cents instead of dollars. Be that as it may, while it would have been quite the intriguing film with Karloff in the lead, Claude Rains proved to be just as good and very effective in the role as Dr. Jack Griffin.
Rains made the character of The Invisible Man his, just as much as Bela Lugosi did Dracula and Karloff Frankenstein’s Monster. And while he was a large part of this film’s success, some of it can be attributed to legendary director James Whale. Like he did with Frankenstein, Whale would create an atmosphere in the film just as eerie as its subject matter with much of the movie taking place at night, with flickering candles and frightened townspeople putting across a steady tension that would last for much of the picture. One of the only downsides to this film is that Whale was not as inventive with his shots as he was in Frankenstein, instead going for an almost more traditional approach to his direction. It was not necessarily a bad thing, but after Frankenstein, you kind of expected more from the man than what was ultimately realized.
For its time, The Invisible Man was a revolutionary film, most notably for its special effects. Turning a man invisible on the big screen had never been seen before this point and for the time period, the methods used were not only effective, but really quite extraordinary. This film also happened to be the proper big screen debut of its star in Rains though it is a little strange to even say so as he is only on screen for but a few moments at the end of the film, visible that is. Based upon the classic novel by H.G. Wells, Rains would spend almost the entirety of the movie ‘invisible.’ His voice would be present but physically, you simply could not see him unless he was wrapped up in bandages.
At the time of its release, the film must have been a very frightening affair, but as the years have passed, the impact that this film might have delivered in that department has lessened and somewhat shifted. An invisible man might have been quite the fearsome thing during the 1930s and there are still aspects of it that remain just as sharp, playing towards the whole fear of the unknown. Seeing him, or not seeing him, is not necessarily the scary thing about the film, it is the not knowing what it is that he is going to do. Aside from that is the simple fact that Dr. Griffin, the character Rains portrayed, has gone mad, insane even. Rains goes all out in his performance as the mad doctor whose experiment went awry. Listening to his cold and calculated voice is chilling at times, but even more so is his evil, cackling laughter that usually rings out from nowhere. The act of being invisible is no longer as shocking as it once might have been, but you couple that with a broken mind and the unpredictability that comes with that and you will find the film almost as disturbing as audiences did those many years ago.
As previously mentioned, The Invisible Man did really well for Universal, well enough in fact to warrant four sequels, all of course to varying degrees of quality. Such was the Universal machine at the time that if they could milk something for all it was worth, that is exactly what they did. That in turn would actually help to create the Universal monster machine which they would soon become known as so we do have to thank them for that. Having died at the end of this film, Claude Rains would not return for any of the sequels which is a bit of a shame, but taken in and of itself, The Invisible Man worked quite well. It is suspenseful, it is exciting and it keeps you glued to your seat waiting to see what the villain will do next. The Invisible Man may not be the best of the Universal Monsters, but he is worthy of the moniker.