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Monday, July 15, 2013

The Invisible Woman

Universal produced another invisible person film late in 1940. This was the same year as their sequel, The Invisible Man Returns (January, 1940). As such, one suspects that IMR was enough of a financial success that Universal sought to crank out a quick variation on the theme. The two stories are completely unrelated. The Invisible Woman (TIW) is a sci-fi comedy romp, light on the sci-fi. Writer Curt Siodmak, who worked on The Return…, is credited with the story for TIW, though other writers with more a penchant for comedy did the bulk of the screenplay.The cast included many talented, if second tier, actors and actresses. John Barrymore, the big famous name, starred as Professor Gibbs.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Richard Russell is a playboy whose penchant for gold digger women has left him flat broke. His long-time butler, George, threatens to quit, city Richard's profligacy. Among those is financial support for a wacky old scientist, Professor Gibbs. It turns out that Gibbs has developed an invisibility machine, but needs a human to test it on. So, he places a want ad in the paper. The ad is answered by Kitty Carroll, a fashion model at a big department store. Kitty and the other models are oppressed by their tyrannical manager, Mr. Crowley. She wants to be invisible for just a few hours so she can kick his butt. Gibbs makes Kitty invisible, but she escapes and goes and tyrannizes Crowley, telling him she is his conscience. The want ad was also noticed by a criminal boss hiding in Mexico. He sends his bumbling henchmen to get Gibbs' machine so he, Blackie, can return to the states. Invisible Kitty overhears all this, but Gibbs ignores her warning. She becomes invisible again. Meanwhile, Richard and George have left for a fishing trip to a remote lodge. Gibbs and Kitty drive up to meet them. While Gibbs is gone, the henchmen steal his equipment. Gibbs somehow makes Kitty invisible again, to prove to Richard that he has a million-dollar invention. Zany hijinx ensue per the usual invisible person gags. Kitty over indulges in brandy, which prolongs her invisibility. Despite early animosity between Richard and Kitty, they begin to like each other. They all return to Gibbs' lab to find his equipment gone He muses that without the special drug, the machine alone will do unpredictable things. Blackie has the machine set up and tests it on his lead henchmen. He comes out with a high girlish voice, but still visible. Blackie sends his henchmen to kidnap Gibbs for the secret. They kidnap Kitty and Gibbs. While in Blackie's hideout, Kitty drinks more alcohol, knowing that this will cause a relapse of invisibility. While invisible, she conks all the villains on the head with a big mallet. Richard arrives at the hideout. She lets him "save" her. Fast forward. Richard and Kitty have been married long enough to have a baby. George is rubbing alcohol on it's back. The baby disappears. "It's hereditary!" The End.

Why is this movie fun?
It's a comedy! Granted, it's not a particularly deep or clever comedy, but it is "good clean fun." Some of the writing gags are amusing, since they're delivered with such straight faces. For instance, George saying: "These days you can't believe your own eyes, even if you don't see anything."

Cultural Connection
War? What War? -- By late 1940, the war in Europe had been raging for over a year. France had fallen to the Nazis earlier in 1940. The Battle of Britain had been raging since mid summer. America was not inclined to get involved in another european war, The bombing of Pearl Harbor would be yet another year in the future. In TIW there isn't even a hint or mention of any war -- no spies, no "foreign powers" trying to get the machine, etc., even though the war was in full swing in Europe. The spirit of American isolationism can be felt.

Subtle Sexism -- Whereas the two prior feature film Invisible Men had waxed maniacal about ruling the world, when a woman was given the same ultimate power, her big dream is to kick her mean boss in the butt. Women just don't think big, don't ya see? Where the nakedness of the two prior Invisible Men was taken as just a matter of fact, several innuendo and allusions are made over the fact that Kitty is naked while invisible. Also, when Kitty gets drunk on brandy, her big concern is vanity, taking great umbrage that Richard implies that she's invisible because she's not pretty and probably stout. She shows off her legs to prove him wrong. At one point Gibbs says, "You know, if more women were invisible, life would be less complicated."

Star Gazing -- John Barrymore is the famous name. One of the three famous Barrymore acting siblings, this film came near the end of his life (ruined by alcohol). TIW was a bit of a slumming job for someone of his fame. Watch for Charles Lane as Mr. Crowley. People who grew up watching 60s TV comedies, such as The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, and Petticoat Junction will recognize him. Also playing a minor role as Mrs. Jackson is Margaret Hamilton -- forever famous as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. Also note Shemp Howard as Frankie, one of the bumbling henchmen. Shemp, brother of Moe and Curly, was not part of The Three Stooges act again until Curly's stroke in 1946. TIW was one of Shemp's solo acting gigs.

Bottom line? TIW is lite-fare as far as sci-fi goes. As a slapstick comedy, TIW is good ol' fashioned fun so mild that the kids can watch it. They won't get the oblique references to a naked woman (which is all fine), but they can laugh at frumpy men falling down on their back-sides, or bumbling crooks knocking over tables, etc. TIW maybe isn't worth a protracted search to find, but it came across one's path, it's not a bad way to spend 75 minutes.

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