The 1940s were not a great era for Universal Studios cycle of horror films.
To be fair, they did produce a number of quite good films, but they also made several very strange films and quite a few that were basically…there.
It was also their era for sequels.
Not only did their classic characters like Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman and the Mummy make multiple appearances, but even some of their lesser monsters like Paula Dupree, The Creeper and The Spider Woman returned.
The Invisible Man was no exception: seven years after his first appearance in 1933, he appeared in two sequels, including the comedy, The Invisible Woman. Two more sequels followed, one the wartime comedy, Invisible Agent, and the other this more serious film with Jon Hall as a far less sympathetic invisible man.
After furtive arrival on a cargo ship, Robert Griffin (who apparently has no relation to the Griffin of the first film!) tries to shake down his old friends who might have something to do with his mysterious disappearance some years earlier — and who definitely were his partners in a diamond mine they found.
We also know that he is an escaped murderer and lunatic — and, we should note, this was before he became invisible.
Which you have to admit is a new twist.
They throw him out of their house. Now, we all suspect that he’s been drugged, particularly as his hostess if played by none other than Universal’s own hard-working evil female of all trades, Gale Sondergaard!
However, the film loses interest in that question rather quickly (and in the suggestion that the two — or at least, Gale — might have been responsible for his disappearance) and we never do learn just how crooked they are — After all, their daughter is played by Evelyn Ankers, who played at least as many beautiful heroines as Gale did sinister villainesses.
Instead, Griffin runs into an isolated mad scientist, played by none other than John Carradine, and his collection of invisible creatures.
The next thing you know, Griffin is invisible and he’s out to get his revenge.
Just like the title says.
Curiously, this is a very different notion of invisibility from that found in the other films of the series. It doesn’t seem to cause madness, it doesn’t involve a lot of equipment, it’s just rather difficult to become visible again.
This leads to another first in the series, when we what amounts to a form of high tech vampirism.
The standout sequence here is a comedy dart contest at the local pub which is rather nicely done (and was borrowed more or less for Disney’s Now You See Him, Now You Don’t) although it hardly seems plausible that an invisible man running with a dart could manage to make it look halfway convincing — and, unlike all those classic cheating-at-sports moments in all those Disney family comedies that followed, it doesn’t work out well for the Invisible Man’s stooge.
It should come as little surprise that this has very little to do with the original H.G. Wells story. But then, that was true of all of this series, except for the very first film.
And, let’s face it, that’s generally true of most of the films based on Wells’ novels.
More surprising, perhaps is that it is directed by Ford Beebe, best remembered for directing such serials as The Phantom Creeps (with Bela Lugosi), two of the Flash Gordons, Buck Rogers, Jungle Jim — and the Universal Horror, Night Monster.
While entertaining enough, don’t expect a film of the same caliber as the original. Instead, this is an okay example of one of Universal’s later horror films. It certainly isn’t as dire as what happened to the Mummy in all those sequels, where he has become a shambling and crumbling slave with no will of his own. Sure, it reinvents the entire premise of the series, and is far more interested in that revenge plot than in anything that has to do with invisibility. But then, at least it does show a few signs of imagination here and there (although not too many) and even finds a new way for an invisible man to be threatening.
And, as is true of so many other movies, it really isn’t that bad…
Not as long as you keep your expectations low