Thursday, September 22, 2011

"I can stand there amongst them in the day and night and laugh at them. "

Read/Watch 'em in order: Entry #3 (The Invisible Man films)

I do this blog for several reasons. Obviously, it's in large part for self-promotion--done with the hopes that some of you will click on the links for my books and buy them. Or request your local library get copies.

Second, I feel it my duty to share my brilliant observations about all things geeky and thus bring an occasional glimmer of light to all your sad and dreary lives.

But yet another reason is that it serves as a reminder to me of books, stories or films I haven't revisited in years.

For instance, I haven't seen the classic version of The Invisible Man in a long, long time. So opting to discuss the films in that series gave me reason to watch it again.

And, gee whiz, it's a great movie. John P. Fulton is responsible for the often remarkable special effects. James Whale does a great job as directer, injecting the film with his usual sardonic and sometimes campy humor. This is really apparent early on, as reflected in the wonderfully colorful characters that the Invisible Man encounters in a village pub.

But the movie really belongs to Claude Rains. This was his American film debut and (despite never seeing him other than when swathed in bandages) he dominates every scene he's in.

The plot of the movie has him going mad--a side effect of the drug that makes him invisible--and launching a reign of terror across England. He drafts his former lab assistant--a sniveling coward named Kemp--to help him deal with several drawbacks of being invisible.

But Kemp betrays him and the police begin coming up with some reasonably effective tactics to stop him. The plot is very well constructed--with most events building out of the logical consequences of someone becoming invisible.

Still, it's Claude Rains' vocal performance that makes this a classic. His insane rants are intermingled with occasional attempts at trying to remain calm--giving the whole performance a feeling of pathos. My favorite scene might be when he confronts his lady love and struggles to regain his sanity, only to tumble over the edge into Crazy Town once more. With the important exception of Casablanca, I'd rate this as Rains' best movie performance.

The film is reasonably faithful to H.G. Wells' original novel, though it ramps up the title character's insanity and leaves out the social and political themes that Wells included in most of his novels. This was why Wells himself disliked the film, but I think he was wrong in this. Taken for what it is, it's one of the horror movie high points of all time.

Poor H.G. He was a brilliant man, but his science fiction ideas were so inherently awesome by themselves that no one ever noticed (or simply didn't care about) any larger socio-political themes he might have been trying to discuss. The coolness of invisible men, time machines, and Martian fighting tripods simply overwhelmed any deeper points.

The Invisible Man had several sequels made during the 1940s: The Invisible Man Returns (1940), Invisible Agent (1942) and The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944).  We'll be getting to all these films eventually. (We'll be leaving out 1940's The Invisible Woman because it's not a part of the same continuity.) Though none of these are the classic that the original clearly is, all are worthwhile and enjoyable B-Movies. All are worth a look.

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