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Greatest Golden Age Sci-Fi Movies -1933: The invisible man

Updated on April 30, 2009

 Perhaps this is the finest science fiction film dating from before World War II, even if its reputation is somewhat less stellar than that of other movies which have been widely celebrated and just as widely imitated as Metropolis or King Kong. The wise choice of making a film from the famous novel by H.G. Wells "The Invisible Man", and without changing the actual story to too great a degree, most definitely hits the mark.

The plot from the H.G. Wells novel is quite well known by all: A scientist discovers a formula to become invisible, successfully experiments on himself, but over time becomes increasingly evil and thirsting for power, because his invisibility is quite unfortunately irreversible. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, thus the power of an man who can go anywhere, see anything, hear anything, and pretty well do anything he pleases without ever being noticed by anyone, can prove to be a truly absolute power. As it turns out, at the end of the motion picture the scientist finds that his astounding discovery is not so wonderful as he had believed, even if for a while it allows him to escape the police: His adventure can only end tragically. And so it does.

There is no doubt that between the idea of invisibility which is certainly one of the most original of all science fiction, and the movie's special effects which were truly impressive for the era, this film is among those few that are well remembered even though almost eight decades have elapsed since its release. The superlative pacing of the original novel by Wells, already very lean and without frills, harmonizes beautifully with the rhythms of the motion pictures of the era, one that was often marred by unlikely and illogical plots not at all free from inconsistencies.

This movie stands invisible head and shoulders above many other films from that age, and its greatness is surely evident even when viewed in this day and age after we, the audience, has grown accustomed to phenomenal special effects and screenplays which shatter the borders of the human imagination. There is much to be said for the power of simplicity and the hypnotic rendering of a story which draws the audience in and never lets them go.

The final touch, finally, is the unique and memorable interpretation of the great French actor Claude Rains. It is difficult to believe but Rains, while sacrificing his screen time to the fact that he was the invisible man and thus was unable to give the best of his acting talent in the performance, paradoxically became best known for this, the most famous of his many films! 

1933: The invisible man

Directed by
James Whale
Screenwriting by
H.G. Wells (for the novel)

R.C. Sherriff (for the screenplay)
Preston Sturges (not shown in the credits) 
Philip Wylie (not shown in the credits)

 Jack Griffin aka The Invisible Man - Claude Rains
 Flora Cranley - Gloria Stuart
 Dr. Arthur Kemp - William Harrigan
 Dr. Cranley - Henry Travers
 Jenny Hall - Una O'Connor
 Herbert Hall - Forrester Harvey
 Chief of Police - Holmes Herbert
 Const. Jaffers - E.E. Clive
 Chief detective - Dudley Digges
 Insp. Bird - Harry Stubbs
 Insp. Lane - Donald Stuart
 Millie - Merle Tottenham


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