Saturday, June 3, 2006

The Invisible Man (1933)

A mysteriously bandaged stranger arrives in Iping Village one snowy evening -- criminal or accident victim, no one knows. One thing's for sure: he's a grumpy bastard, especially if you interrupt one of his intense chemistry experiments or meals. Disrupt his work one time too many and it's not just the gloves that come off ... next thing you know, there's an invisible marauder terrorizing the countryside... Unlike other of H.G. Wells's works, from War of the Worlds to The Island of Dr. Moreau, Universal got the adaptation of The Invisible Man so correct, there's was no need to attempt a big-screen reboot (multiple sequels and rip-offs not withstanding) for nearly a century. James Whale's timeless direction is faithful to the source material, adding only an erstwhile love interest for Mister Invisible (thus allowing chances for some compassion, if not redemption), and simplifying his mode of disappearance (here just a poisonous, mind-altering combination of chemicals, down from Wells's multi-chapter pseudoscience explanation of magnetic vibrations, &c.). One thing left completely intact: Wells's humor and ironic detachment; Whale remains one of the few filmmakers, past or present, able to tackle the elements of mad-science SF and still tell a compelling, human story. Revolutionary special effects involving traveling mattes and double exposures are still effective (traveling mattes were only recently replaced by digital motion-controlled cameras). This was the debut film for Claude Rains, and subsequently made his career, largely thanks to his distinctive voice; he's seen for only a few seconds at the very end.

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