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Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Invisible Man's Revenge

Released in 1944, Universal's fifth Invisible Man film was The Invisible Man's Revenge (IMR) Jon Hall starred again as the invisible man, again with the last name Griffin, but the story is not a sequel. It is more of a recast of Wells' concept. John Carradine plays the role of the mad scientist who invented the invisibility drug. Ford Beebe directed IMR. He was also the director for Univiersal's 1939 serial about invisibility: The Phantom Creeps.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A stowaway sneaks off a ship unloading in London. Robert Giffin is a high strung man with a short temper. He has escaped from a Capetown asylum where he killed three people. He makes his way to the mansion of Sir Jasper and Lady Irene. Years ago, they had equal stakes in an african diamond mine, but Robert was left for dead. He wasn't, but now wants his share, plus some. Irene drugs his drink and his him thrown out. He is taken in by a shifty drunk named Herbert (Leon Errol). The two try to extort Jasper, but it fails. Robert walks the rainy roads and comes to the house of Dr. Drury (Carradine). Doc has many invisible animals. Robert asks if he could make a man invisible. Yes, but… Robert wants invisibility to get revenge on Jasper and Irene. He does terrorize them, forcing Jasper to sign over his fortune to Robert. He goes back to Herbert's little house, but Herbert is bend in his rent. Robert has him go to the pub. In a comic scene, Herbert throws darts for wagers. Robert guides them all to be bullseyes. Robert returns to the mansion. He also wants to woo Jasper's pretty adult daughter, Julie. Jasper points out that he's invisible. What kind of husband is that? Point taken, Robert goes to Dr. Drury's house and watches through the window as doc makes his big German shepherd, Brutus, reappear. The secret is a complete blood transfusion. It kills the host, of course. Doc refuses to help Robert become visible, as this would mean murder. Robert knocks out doc and transfuses his blood. He reappears. Julie's boyfriend Mark, a journalist, calls on doc to investigate invisible man stories. Robert sets the house on fire and flees. Brutus gets loose and chases him. Later, Robert arrives at Jasper's mansion claiming to be an old friend name Field. All is fine while he ingratiates himself, with too much hubris, to Julie. But, he begins to disappear again. He runs upstairs and sets up a trap to get Mark alone and use his blood to become visible again. Mark and Robert fight in the wine cellar. Eventually, Robert knocks Mark unconscious and starts the transfusion. Herbert has Brutus, who bolts for the basement. They are followed by the rest of the cast. They break in the door in time to stop Robert halfway. Brutus jumps on Robert and kills him. Later, the characters summarize and moralize about man not messing in things he shouldn't. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The concept was not novel any longer, but this retelling of it had a very noir quality which was entertaining. While the chair-moving-by-itself, or the floating-book effects were a bit stale by the fifth film, some of the effects, like the splashed water to reveal his face, were rather good.

Cultural Connection
Noir -- The "film noir" genre became popular in the early 40s. Exact definitions remain elusive, but key features include, a crime drama, moody (or creepy) settings, "dark" characters, who are cruel or heartless, often with no apparent good guy or hero, often dark lighting too. IMR fits many of these features. Director Beebe was more at home in westerns and simple crime stories, but manages to evoke some noir, even if not as artistically as others.

Saga Connections -- IMR is not a continuation of the original saga. It is a retelling of the first story. The man who becomes invisible is still named Griffin, but is not claimed to be any relation to the first John Griffin. The scientist with the drug, Dr. Drury, is not claimed to have any connection to John Griffin -- the original inventor. Leaving no room for a sequel to the new version, both the invisible man and the inventor are killed.

Neo-Vampire -- An interesting twist to the old story, which would have made for some interesting sequels, was that the "cure" to invisibility was a complete transfusion of human blood (killing the donor). The cure was temporary, however, so the invisible neo-vampire would have to kill again and again to remain "normal." As witnessed by the volume of vampire films, such an angle could have been a steady well to draw from. Sadly, by the late 40s, Universal Pictures was struggling. When IMR was released, Universal was just a year away from the ill-fated merger with Arthur Rank's other interests. Production of B-films, serials and low budget horror/sci-fi were seriously reduced. So, no ongoing stories of neo-vampires.

Minor Mad Scientist -- John Carradine's character, Dr. Drury, is the classic mad scientist. He lives alone in a remote country home. He is suspected by the locals of "performing unholy experiments." He has egotistical dreams of being equal to Galileo, Archimedes, Faraday, etc. And, to stay true to form, he is killed by his "monster." In this case, the unscrupulous and vengeful Robert Griffin, who, since he was in an asylum, is reminiscent of Frankenstein's monster having an abnormal brain.

Hound of the Invisibles -- A nice little touch in the screenplay is how Drury's dog Brutus "haunts" Griffin after he killed the doctor. Griffin's paranoia over the distant baying dog, mixed with his maniacal plans for revenge and wealth, are neatly reminiscent of the madness the original invisibility formula caused. While nothing is said of this, it is apparent. Perhaps the writer, Bertram Millhouser, expected audiences to know this already, so it need not be explained yet again.

Requisite Comedy -- Starting with the third film, The Invisible Woman ('40) the humorous-prankster angle of invisibility became a staple. Kitty's "revenge" on her mean boss is the lite and harmless version of IMR's much darker revenge. In the fourth film, Invisible Agent, ('42) the invisible man plays comical pranks on Nazis. In IMR, the invisible man plays a prank on the pub crowd. He guides Herbert's darts to the bullseye, no matter how absurdly thrown. Leon Errol, who plays Herbert almost upstages Jon Hall (who does have to be invisible much of the time). IMR has an interesting balance of comedy and grim drama.

Bottom line? IMR is sometimes described as the weakest of the invisible man films, but it actually holds its own. Granted, the trope is not new any longer, but the noir spin freshens it up. Robert Griffin is not a character to sympathize with, but then, neither are his victims (with the minor exception of Mark, who is shallowly drawn). IMR may not be gang-busters great, but it is decent B-movie entertainment.

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